The history of playing cards is not clear. However the cards, are pieces of cardboard, oblong in shape, bearing certain figures and spots; specifically, playing cards used in various games of chance and skill.
Playing cards is probably an invention of the East. Some assert that the Arabs or Saracens learned card use from the gypsies and spread it to Europe. The course of card-playing’s diffusion through Europe shows that it must have come from the East, for it was found in eastern and southern countries before in the West.
Historical traces of card use are found in Italy, Germany, France, and Spain. The first cards were painted, and the Italian cards of 1299 were so. Germans discovered card printing between 1350 and 1360. The Germans have, however, made many changes to the cards, both in the figures and the names.
The lanzknechtsspiel, which is regarded as the first German game with cards, is a German invention. There was an imitation of this game in France, in 1392, under the name Lansquenet. This game continued to be played there until Moliere and Regnard, and perhaps even longer. The first documented trace of card-playing in France occurred in 1361, and Charles VI amused himself with it during his sickness at the end of the 14th century. Modern figures were invented in France between 1430 and 1461.
It has been said that cards were known in Spain as early as 1332; but what is certain is that card-playing must have become prevalent in the century, seeing that it was prohibited by Castile’s John I. in 1387. Mr. De la Rue, the largest manufacturer of cards in England, obtained in 1832 a patent for various improvements in their manufacture.
The figures on cards had been generally produced by the outlines first being printed from copper plates, and the colors then filled in by stenciling. Mr. De la Rue’s process was to print them from colored types or blocks exactly in the same way as calico printing, but all the colors were oil. As early as the 15th century an active card trade sprung up in Germany and was chiefly carried on at Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Ulm. Demand from France, England, Italy, Spain, and other countries produced significant prosperity among the manufacturers.
In England, card manufacture flourished especially under Elizabeth reign. But no sooner had cards come to be generally used in Europe, than they were prohibited by several governments, partly from moral considerations, the first games being games of chance; partly from considerations of political economy, as in England, where the importation of foreign cards was considered injurious to the prosperity of home manufacturers.
The prohibition, however, only increased card taste. In England, under Richard III. And Henry VII, card-playing gained popularity. The latter monarch was very fond of the game, and his daughter Margaret was found playing cards by James IV of Scotland when he wooed her. The popularity that cards gradually obtained in England may be inferred from the fact that political pamphlets under the name of “Bloody Games of Cards”, and kindred titles, appeared at the commencement of the civil war against Charles I One of the most striking publications of this kind was one in 1660 on the royal game of ombre. Pepys, on 17 Feb. 1667, states that on Sabbath evenings he found “the Queen, the Duchesse of York and another or two, at cards, with rooms full of ladies and wealthy men.”
The modern pack of cards, used in most familiar games, is 52 cards, containing four suits; clubs and spades (black), and hearts and diamonds (red). Thirteen cards compose a suit, consisting of a king, queen, knight, or jack. In addition, there are ten pip cards and pop-cards ranging in spots from one (ace) to ten.
The figures of the four suits are supposed to have been originally intended as symbolic representations of the four prestigious classes of men. The names attached to these figures in England arose from a misapprehension of the names originally assigned to them. Thus, by the hearts are meant the gens de choeur (coeur), the choir-men or ecclesiastics, and hence these are called “copas”, or chalices, by the Spaniards; whose word Espada, sword, indicating the nobility and warriors of the state, has been corrupted into the English spade.
The clubs were originally trifles (trefoil leaves), and denoted the peasantry; while citizens and merchants were marked by diamonds (carreaux, square tiles). The word knave (German, knab, boy), was used, of course, in its old sense of servant, or attendant on the knights. The natural rank of the cards in each suit is king highest, and so on down to ace lowest; but in many games, this rank is varied, as in Whist.
There the ace is put highest of all, above the king: in écarté, where it is put between the knave and the ten: and in bezique, where it is made the highest, but where the ten is placed between it and the king; in quadrille, the rank of some of the cards is variable in every hand. Sometimes the pack of cards is reduced to 32, by excluding the six, five, four, three, and two of each suit; it is then called a ‘‘piquet pack.”
An immense variety of games may be placed with cards, some involving chance only, others combining chance and skill, the most satisfying furnishing intellectual amusement. There are round games, in which any number of people can participate, such as poker, hearts, loo, etc.; games for four persons, such as whist, in its different forms, and euchre; for two, such as piquet, écarté, bezique, cribbage, and pinochle, closely resembling bezique and at present much played in the United States; and there is one game, solitaire, played in many ways, at which a single person often finds both restful diversion and pleasant occupation for the mind.