Playing cards are highly renowned all across the world, especially for playing skill-based games such as rummy. Although there is no certainty to the evolution of playing cards, many cultures claim it to be their lace of origin. But the story behind the modern four suites on our cards is quite different.
Today, people may be well-versed with the different card games and might even enjoy playing them, but rarely does anyone sit down to ponder the mystery behind their origins. Modern-day cards are, in a way, a great marvel of engineering, history and design. These 52 graphic tablets may appear to be just some random designs, but these represent the cultural imprints revealing popular customs in reality.
The 4 suites that we see commonly on cards today are a unique combination of Latin, French and American cultures. And here we are about to find out how.
The History of Chinese and Latin Card Suites
The earliest card games were trick based, and the introduction of different suit colours added another level of depth and strategy. The Chinese money-suited cards are believed to be the ancestors of Latin suits. The former was based on different denominations of currency, ideally comprising Coins, Strings, Myriads and Tens of Myriads. However, as the popularity of playing cards spread to Central Asia, these were renamed to Cups, Swords, Coins and Clubs, where the clubs represented Polo Sticks. However, Europeans changed it to the modern-day Clubs symbol, since Polo was not very well-known to them.
The Latin cards, too, had four different types of suites, varying from region to region. These included Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and the extinct archaic type. Although, there were only slight variations in design, distinguished by the pips of their swords and clubs. The Portuguese introduced cards to Japan, where again, there were significant changes in the suites. The Japanese used cards with 12 suit colours, each representing a distinguished month of the year.
The German and French Connection
The German card manufacturers began experimenting with different card suites sometime during the 15th century, majorly to replace the Latin Suites. The first decks thus made comprised of 5 suites, the additional one being a suit of shields. The Swiss-Germans designed their own playing cards with suits symbolising acorns, roses, shields and bells around 1450. The Germans then adopted the 4-suit cards, changing roses and shields respectively to hearts and leaves. The French adopted this latest deck, with just slight changes of using trefles (or clubs), carreaux (or Diamonds), piques (or Spades) and coeurs (or Hearts).
The English Developments
Prior to the 16th Century, French card makers were required to pay high taxes and as a result, moved their operations to Belgium. This allowed the English to start trading French playing cards, thus renaming the suits to modern-day card symbols, i.e., Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds. These featured lavish French designs until the ban of foreign cards trading in the 1600s. This was when the English began manufacturing their own playing cards to cash on their wide popularity.
It is mesmerising to learn so much about the evolution of modern-day cards and how they were intricately planned and designed. Apart from our regular playing cards, there are many other different card decks too, such as Tarot cards, UNO cards, etc. that are quite in vogue even today. However, with the playing cards only, anyone can play a multitude of card games such as rummy, Satte-Pe-Satta, Texas Hold ‘em, BlackJack, etc. Although, of all these 13-card rummy is the most popular in India, and if you know the rules well, you can also play it online while competing with lakhs of players from across the country.