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playing card

one of a set of cards that are numbered or illustrated (or both) and are used for playing games, for education, for divination, and for conjuring. Modern cards are divided into four suits--spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs, symbolized respectively as follows:

There are 13 cards in each of the four suits. The set of 52 cards together is known variously as the pack or the deck. Two jokers, bearing the image of a medieval court jester, are usually included with the standard 52-card deck, although they are not always used in play.
The avatara and ten of Parashurama, round, painted ivory Indian cards, probably from the Deccan, 18th century. By courtesy of the Deutsches Spielkarten Museum, Bielefeld, Ger.

Though where and when cards originated is uncertain, China seems the most likely place, and the 7th to the 10th century the earliest probable time. An Indian origin has been suggested by the resemblance of symbols on some early European decks to the ring, sword, cup, and baton classically depicted in the four hands of Hindu statues. Yet another theory is that both cards and chess are derived from ancient divinatory procedures used by primitive peoples. Nor is it known how cards were introduced to Europe. Some early decks had symbols resembling the Chinese markings and may have been taken back by a Venetian, possibly Niccol Polo or his more famous son, Marco, during travels to and from China in the latter half of the 13th century. Another speculation is that cards may have been brought from Arabia by the Gypsies, but the Gypsies did not reach western Europe in appreciable numbers until after cards had become firmly established. If an Arab origin is to be sought, the Saracen invasion of Sicily or the Moorish conquest of Spain could provide a link. The Spanish word for cards, which is naipes, and an earlier Italian word, which is naibi, are probably of Arab origin. There are references to cards in Italy from 1299; in Spain, from as early as 1371; in the Low Countries, from 1379; and in Germany, from 1380. A French manuscript of the early 14th century contains a reference to cards, and in 1392 the registers of the Chambre des Comptes of Charles VI recorded the purchase of three games of cards "in gold and diverse colours." In England by 1465 the use of cards was well enough established for manufacturers to petition for protection against imports. Cards may have first reached the Americas with Columbus, and they became firmly established there with the arrival of the English, French, and Dutch colonists. Cards are now played throughout the world. The 52-card French deck, now standard throughout the world, evolved from the numbered cards of the Tarot deck. The deck, in usual descending order of rank, consists of an ace, king, queen, jack (formerly knave), and nine numerals (10 to 2) in each of four suits. A German deck of 32 cards and a Spanish deck of 40 also evolved, but modern games requiring a short deck are usually played by removing cards from a standard deck.

The suits had different names and often different symbols in the various countries. The English adopted the French symbols: the French pique ("pike") looked like a spade to the English; the carreau ("square") became the English diamond, the trfle ("trefoil") became the English club, and the coeur ("heart") remained heart. The spread of games such as Whist and Piquet, and later Contract Bridge, made the 52-card deck current among card players throughout the world. The making of cards has been closely linked with the development of printing. The earliest cards were hand-painted, but it would appear that German production in the 15th century almost certainly was so large as to mean that wood-block printing must have been employed. German cardmakers may, in fact, have been the first wood-block engravers in Europe. The great diversity of early decks gradually lessened, influenced by 15th-century French exporters, whose simple designs became widely popular. Modern variations of those designs may be found primarily in the design of the court cards (kings, queens, and jacks); those in English decks, for instance, show figures dressed in the style of Henry VII. The traditional superstition of gamblers and the more modern tendency to preserve fragments of the past have tended to prevent change, including official attempts in some countries to provide proletarian substitutes for the court cards. The standard modern card measures about 2 1/2 3 1/2 inches (6 9 cm) and is doubleheaded to aid recognition, with indices at two opposite corners. The backs are printed with identical designs, patterns, or pictures. A full deck, including two jokers, is printed on pasteboard consisting of two sheets gummed together with black paste to ensure opaqueness. The spades and clubs normally are printed in black, the hearts and diamonds in red. Each card is stamped out with a die and simultaneously given a knife edge; sometimes the edges are lacquered. Almost invariably the manufacturer's seal is affixed to the wrapped deck. Governments have often found cards to be a useful source of revenue. In 1615 James I of England granted letters patent for a duty on imports, and in 1628 Charles I taxed manufacturers at a rate gradually increased to the considerable sum of half-a-crown per pack. After 1765 the tax paid was shown in the design of the ace of spades, printed officially by the commissioner of stamps. The heavy impost caused a boom in second-hand sales and a traffic in forged aces of spades, but since 1862 the tax has been moderate. In some countries, however, manufacture is a state monopoly. The high taxes imposed in Austria led to the printing of oversized cards, which were trimmed and cleaned when their edges became soiled. High taxes also encouraged the invention in the 1930s of playing cards printed on plastic, which far outlasted those printed on pasteboard.

Costume Cards
Many interesting and unusual card decks were designed in 18th and 19th century Europe. Cards were made in different sizes, colors, and even different shapes. THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE

nonstandard playing cards

Nonstandard playing-card decks abounded in Europe from the 17th to the 19th century. In England, from about 1670 to about 1720, a series of historical playing cards was issued. They were engraved with intricate comic-strip drawings, each depicting a significant event relating to the title of the deck. About 15 such decks were designed, among them "The Knavery of the Rump," satirizing the Rump Parliament of Oliver Cromwell, "The Reign of Queen Anne," and "Marlborough's Victories." Many beautiful decks of cards were made in 18th- and 19th-century France. Of great interest are the revolutionary decks, which, instead of kings and queens, had cards representing "citizens," and the exquisitely hand-colored costume cards, dating from the mid-19th century. The court cards of these latter decks represented actual people, dressed in the sumptuous costumes of the period. Perhaps the most intriguing of all decks of cards, however, is the transformation deck. In the early 19th century, when no indices were yet used on cards, people would amuse themselves by trying to create drawings based on the pips, or suit symbols, on the cards. The term transformation refers to changing a plain card to a work of art. About 75 such decks were printed.

card games
Recorded evidence of the existence of playing cards--usually in the form of ordinances prohibiting their use--does not appear in Europe until the 14th century. (The varieties of Chinese and Indian cards are far older.) Tarot cards were the first type to appear in the Western world. Neither the origin of the tarot deck, nor its original purpose, is known with certainty. The popular belief that the deck was devised for fortune-telling is denied by many scholars. Designed in the Middle Ages, the tarot deck reflected medieval society, where kings ruled a world that was divided into four broad classes: the church, the military, merchants, and farmers. Thus, in addition to the cards of the major arcana--the symbolic picture cards for which the tarot deck is still famous--the deck included 56 cards divided into four suits: cups (the church); swords (the military); pentacles, or 5-pointed stars (merchants); and batons (farmers).

These first decks were made by hand, and only the wealthy could afford them. When the printing press was invented in the 15th century, cards were reproduced by means of hand-colored woodcuts and, later, engravings. Their popularity spread rapidly across the continent. The old tarot cups soon became hearts, the swords became spades, the pentacles became diamonds, and the batons, clubs. In Germany, however, hearts, leaves, acorns, and bells illustrated the four suits. The French had the greatest influence on the creation of the modern deck. They eliminated the major arcana and combined the knight and page, reducing the size of the deck to 52 cards and simplifying the suit symbols to plain red hearts and diamonds, black spades and trefoils (clover leaves). This simplification allowed the deck to be more easily printed and lowered its cost. The French also began to identify the court cards. The king of hearts was Charlemagne, for example; of diamonds, Julius Caesar; of spades, King David; and of clubs, Alexander the Great. Card designs remained basically the same until the mid-19th century. Double-headed court cards, and indices--the small suit-number identification in the card corners--were both innovations of the 1800s. Card backs were usually plain until the 1850s, when the English artist Owen Jones designed a number of ornate backs. Complex back designs then began to be printed on most decks. The first joker appeared in 1865 in an American deck. Although early card makers often signed their products, the inventors of card games remain anonymous. From the 17th century on, innumerable books on "gaming" accompanied the card-playing fever that had developed with the increasing availability of cards. The first accurate compendiums of rules, however, were those of the English writer Edmond Hoyle, in his treatise on whist (1742) and his later works on other games. His books became immensely popular, and the expression "according to Hoyle" still means to play strictly by the rules. Most card games can be classified according to their basic structure. Games of rank include the various tarot games and the many games based on the old game of triomphe (triumph in England), a trump-card game that evolved into the German skat, as well as whist, euchre, ecarte, and bridge. These games are usually played with three or four players, each bidding for the opportunity to play out their hand by specifying the number of tricks (one trick being the cards played in one round) the hand may be able to take. Tricks are taken by the cards of highest rank. The trump suit outranks all other suits. Games of combination can be divided into two types. The first are those which require combinations of sets (3 or 4 cards of a kind) or groups (3 or more cards in sequence). The second are those which require groups of cards that add up to a predetermined score. Poker and all games fall into the first group. The second group includes cribbage and games such as casino and blackjack. In some games, where both combination and rank are important, the object is to score combinations and also to win points by rank. Bezique, a 19th-century French game, was the forerunner of , several versions of which are widely played in the United States. The primary object of such games is to "meld"--to declare certain cards or combinations that are each worth points--and then to take tricks using both cards of ranked value and trump cards. In solitaires, games played by one person, all the cards in the deck must be brought into a predetermined order according to certain rules. There are at least 350 solitaire versions; some can be played with two or more players. The most popular card games in gambling casinos are blackjack and its variants. These are also known as banking games, because the casino's dealer opposes all other players and controls the deal and the "bank." Blackjack (vingtet-un) is the generic casino game. It requires players to ask for cards one at a time until they reach a total of 21 or a number as close as possible to but less than 21. Baccarat and chemin de fer are similar, except that only two or three cards are dealt, and the winning number is 9. Another large category of card games are those played by children. Many involve simply collecting combinations ("Have you any threes?" "Go Fish"--whereupon the first player takes a card from the pile of undealt cards) or being quicker to slap or cover a card (Slapjack, Spit). Some children's games, however, are fairly complex (Concentration, Cuckoo, Frogs in the Pond). Special decks of cards designed to teach (for example, Authors, which features pictures of famous writers; or Geography, with maps of continents and countries) have also been popular.

Margery B. Griffith
Bibliography: Consumer Guide Staff, All Time Favorite Card Games (1997); Diagram Group Staff, The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Card Games (1995); Duncan, D., Best American Card Games (1995); Morehead, A. L., ed., Official Rules of Card Games (1978; repr. 1996); Parlett, D., A Dictionary of Card Games (1992) and Oxford Guide to Card Games (1990); Scarne, J., Scarne's Encyclopedia of Card Games (1983; repr. 1995); Walker, B. G., The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History, and Symbolism (1984); Wood, B. H., and Ings, F. R., Popular Card Games (1994); Wowk, K., Playing Cards of the World (1982), Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia