10 Things You Didn’t Know About Playing Cards

10 Things You Didn't Know About Poker

The 54 card deck used for many of today’s most popular casino and other card games has a history stretching back to antiquity. Found in homes and casinos across the globe, playing cards hide ancient secrets and symbols in plain sight:

1. Four Kings

The four kings in a modern deck of playing cards are thought to represent four of history’s most famous monarchs. The King of Hearts is thought to represent Charlemagne, the King of Diamonds represents Julius Caesar, the King of Spades symbolises the Biblical King David, and the King of Clubs depicts Alexander the Great.

2. The Curse of Scotland

The 9 of Diamonds is sometimes referred to as the ‘curse of Scotland’. This is because the card was originally referred to as ‘Justice Clerk’ by card players, alluding to the hated Lord Justice Clerk Ormistone. Others believe the card developed its poor reputation as the trump card in the game of Cornette, introduced to Scotland by the unpopular Queen Mary.

3. Moustaches and Hearts

Only one of the kings in a deck of playing cards has no moustache – the King of Hearts. It is believed that the King of Hearts did originally have a beard, but that this disappeared as a result of imperfect copying of the cards over the years.

4. Short-handed in Europe

Virtually every European nation has its own version of the traditional card deck. What many nations share in common is that their decks traditionally feature 40 cards or less, retaining all the court cards, but with the suites only reaching a maximum value of 7.

5. Chinese Roots

Playing cards are believed to have originated in China during the last part of the 10th century, coinciding with the invention of sheet paper. It is postulated that these paper cards spread from China into the Middle East, and that they were eventually introduced to Europe by the Malemukes of Egypt. The regular playing cards used today are based on the traditional French format.

6. Founding Fathers

United States founding father, Benjamin Franklin, is believed to have been amongst the first manufacturers of playing cards. Franklin apparently used his printing press to mass produce playing cards for the American public.

7. The French Revolution

The French Revolution resulted in several changes being made to the card deck, some lasting and some temporary. After the revolution the King, Queen and Jack were removed from the deck and briefly replaced by Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. One change that did remain permanent was the elevation of the humble Ace to the most powerful card in the pack, signifying the triumph of the peasant over royalty.

8. German Cards

German cards differ in several respects from those found across the border in France. The traditional suites are replaced by Hearts, Bells, Leaves, and Acorns. German cards also come in four rather than two colours, with yellow and green added to the traditional red and black. Nowadays German cards are used primarily to play the game of Skat.

9. Jokers

Some believe that the joker is a remnant of the Fool found in the Tarot card deck. Whilst the symbolism of the card is likely to derive from the Tarot card, its name is thought to come from the German ‘juker’, an adaptation of the name of the card game Euchre. The joker has trump value in Euchre and was first added to the regular card deck in 1870.

10. Occult Undertones

The early history of playing cards is inseparable from their use for divination. The earliest playing cards often had four court cards, the king, queen, knight and valet – all used in the French Tarot. The different suites could quite feasibly also have been derived from the cups, swords, pentacles and coins of the Tarot.
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