A playing card deck is made up of 52 cards. There is a standardized deck that has been adopted by casinos across the globe – including online casinos like this one: https://games.paddypower.com/. From a traditional game of Poker to Solitaire, there are plenty of games that require a deck of cards to play. But have you ever looked closely at a deck? Spades, Diamonds, Clubs, and Hearts – those four famous suits. But, where did the suits come from and is there a story behind a deck of playing cards?
There have been many interpretations throughout the years as to what makes up a deck of playing cards. Read on to discover multiple different theories and stories, as well as the incredible history that a deck of cards has.
China is often regarded as the original birthplace of a deck of cards, particularly during the Tang dynasty. Experts have searched scrolls from the Tang dynasty for several years, discovering what is called the ‘Game of Leaves’. This game is believed to be the first reference to playing cards as we know them today. Although their exact purpose has been disputed, these playing cards contained suits of their own.
Coins (1), a string of 10 coins (10), myriads (100) and ten strings of myriads (1,000) represented the value of each suit. After the four suits were established, they were then built upon using numbers 1 through to 9, with each suit receiving an ‘honour card’ – which today we would relate to as a face card.
Many people also regard Egypt as a source of introducing playing cards to the world. The Mameluke suits of cards included a sword, coins, polo sticks and cups. Yet the Mameluke deck of cards differed from the Tang dynasty version, having three ‘honour cards’ – King, Vice King, Second Vice king.
Fast forward a few centuries and playing cards became popular in Europe. Whether it was the Chinese or Arab decks that made their way to Europe is unknown, but it is in Europe that playing cards developed their modern style.
One of the earliest references historians have of playing cards in Europe is in France. The original cards included the suits: Cups, Swords, Coins and Batons and each suit had 14 cards. The additional card, the ‘Cavalier’ was the lowest of the picture cards and would sit between what we know today as the Jack and the 10.
In Europe, each nation developed different suits, some even had an additional fifth suit. It wasn’t until the 1400s that Europe developed the suits that we know today: Spades, Clubs, Diamonds and Hearts. The French claim it was a famous knight, by the name of Etienne Vignoles, who designed them to accompany his game of Piquet.
The game of Piquet is said to originate as a game of knights and chivalry. The suit of Hearts relates to the Church; Diamonds denotes the arrowheads used by archers; Clubs signifies the farmers, whilst the suit of Spades was a symbol for the lances and knights themselves – although some theories claim they represented the military, peasantry, clergy and aristocracy. The popularity of the game spread throughout Europe, carrying the suits with them. Although some countries altered the suits to suit their nation, some of these style decks are still used today.
The use of playing cards spread throughout the globe thanks to colonialism; the French and British carried these cards on their journeys, sharing and trading with them as they went. During the 20th century, the French style of cards became the standard deck used in casinos worldwide, and their popularity has grown ever since.