Although playing cards are very common objects, still there is something special about them. They have the ability to recall sweet memories from our childhood in an eye-blink, flying us back to long-forgotten times. No matter how many video games, PlayStations, tablets..etc we possess, somewhere in a drawer in our house lies a deck of playing cards as well. Let’s see some surprising facts about them.
1. PLAYING CARDS ORIGIN FROM CHINA
Regarding the origin of playing cards the most reliable hypotheses is that they were invented in China during the Tang dinasty in the 9th century as a result of the usage of woodblock printing technology and there were 30 cards in a deck.
Ancient Chinese playing cards
From China they spread to India and Persia, they reached Europe around 1360 arriving from the Mameluke Empire of Egypt. The Mameluke suits were goblets, gold coins, swords, and polo sticks. Italy and Spain transformed them into batons/staves, swords, cups, and coins. German card makers had acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells. The French version of playing cards appeared around 1480, they simplified the German shapes into trefle (clover), pique (pike-heads – a type of weapon), coeur (hearts), and carreau (paving tiles). (Source)
In England spread the French version but they used different names: Hearts♥/ Clubs♣/Diamonds♦/ Spades♠
Mamluk playing cards
2. FACE CARDS WERE DESIGNED AFTER REAL PEOPLE IN HISTORY
Each face cards (Kings, Queens, Jacks) are based on real historical figures. The designs originated in France, where playing cards were enormously popular among the aristocracy during pre-revolutionary times. They have all evolved over the years, and the four Kings as we know them today first appeared in the 18th century. Source
King of Spades ♠ – David King of Hearts ♥ – Charles (possibly Charlemagne, or Charles VII) King of Diamonds ♦ – Julius Caesar King of Clubs ♣ – Alexander the Great
Queen of Spades ♠ – Pallas (another name for the goddess Athena) Queen of Hearts ♥ – Judith (biblical figure) Queen of Diamonds ♦ – Rachel (biblical figure) Queen of Clubs ♣ – Argine (an anagram of Regina (latin for “queen”)
Jack of Spades ♠ – Ogier the Dane/Holger Danske (a knight of Charlemagne) Jack of Hearts ♥ – La Hire (comrade-in-arms to Joan of Arc, and member of Charles VII’s court) Jack of Diamonds ♦ – Hector Jack of Clubs ♣ – Judas Maccabeus, or Lancelot
3. THE SYMBOLOGY BEHIND PLAYING CARDS
The two colours represents day and night. The red cards implies noon, and the black cards implies night.
4 suits represents the 4 seasons:
Hearts♥ = Spring
Clubs♣ = Summer
Diamonds♦ = Fall
Spades♠ = Winter
The 4 suits also represent the four natural elements: ♥ = Water , ♣ = Fire , ♦ = Earth , ♠ = Air
The oldest full deck of playing cards known, circa 1470-1480. The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Source: http://www.businessinsider.com
In 1983 the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought a 52-card deck of South Netherlandish playing cards $143,000. The cards dated from the 15th century and were in incredible condition — but they were almost lost to history. An Amsterdam antiques dealer was sold the pack back in the ‘70s for $2,800. It is now accepted that this is the oldest known full deck of playing cards in the world.
The cards themselves are also very interesting. Instead of the suits we know today, the four card categories are based on hunting gear, including hunting horns, dog collars, hound tethers, and game nooses. (Source)
5. THE SUM OF A PACK OF PLAYING CARDS PLUS A JOKER IS 365
If you add up all 52 cards in a deck of cards considering Ace as 1, Jack as 11, Queen as 12, and King as 13 plus one for a Joker is 365, the number of days in a year.
6. BICYCLE CARDS: THE MOST ICONIC CARDS THAT HELPED AMERICAN TROOPS TO ESCAPE FROM GERMAN CAPTIVITY
The most iconic card decks in history are probably the Bicycle brand playing cards produced by the U.S. Playing Card Company. They are dating back to 1885, Since then Bicycle cards have been used by magicians, gamblers and card players all over the world.
In the 2nd World War special decks of Bicycle cards were sent to American POWs. When the cards got wet they peeled apart and by assembling them in a particular manner they revealed a secret escape map , This way captured soldiers could escape from captivity.
Decks of these cards are said to have helped at least 32 people escape from Colditz Castle and prompted some 316 escape attempts. No one knows for sure how many decks were produced, but the only two known surviving decks are in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. (Source)
Escape map by Bicycle Playing Card Co.
7. ACE OF SPADES CARDS WERE USED BY U.S. TROOPS AS A PSYCH WARFARE DURING THE VIETNAM WAR
American soldiers with a deck of Ace spades / Photo credit:www. gizmodo.com
The ace of spades is traditionally the highest card in the deck of playing cards. In legend and folklore, it is also known as the Death Card.
In Vietnam, entire crates of Ace of Spades cards were shipped by the company to U.S. troops as it was believed at the time (later proven to be a myth) that the Viet Cong soldiers were superstitious of the card and would flee battle at the sight of seeing it resting upon the body of one of their dead. (Source)
8. KING OF HEARTS IS ALSO KNOWN AS THE “SUICIDE KING”
The King of Hearts – which is by the way the only King without a moustache – holding a sword behind his head, is sometimes nicknamed the “Suicide King”. This is a result of centuries of bad copying by English card makers where the king’s axe head has disappeared.
Above: eight versions of the ‘battle axe’ king from various periods and locations, illustrating how the King of Hearts in modern standard playing cards derives from a late-medieval design. Top Row (left to right): 1) fifteenth century French. 2) Anglo-French, late 15th/early 16th century. 3) Spanish 16th century. 4) French 17th/18th century. Bottom Row: English cards from 17th century to late 19th century. Source: http://www.wopc.co.uk