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Exploring the Global History of Card Games


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Playing cards have undergone a radical journey to reach the 52-card deck that boasts four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades) and 13 numbered (1-10) cards per suit that we know today. In fact, the history of playing cards is so extensive that historians cannot guarantee an exact date or country of origin in which cards were first used as entertainment.

Estimations believe the first playing card was invented in China during the Tang Dynasty around AD 900. Still, the modern-day variation of playing cards has evolved and taken inspiration from multiple continents over the course of centuries before the Bicycle Brand cards, we know and love today arrived.

With that said, join us as we explore the evolution and piece together the origins to understand the transformation of playing cards further.

Ancient origins

As previously mentioned, historians speculate the origins of playing cards stem from China during the Tang Dynasty. Around 900 AD (ish), it's believed that the innovation of woodblock printing technology created by the Chinese is linked to the potential first-ever card games.

References from a ninth-century text The Collection of Miscellanea ad Duyang alleged that in 868, the female offspring of China's Emperor, Princess Tongchang, participated in card games with the Wei Clan, her spouse's family.

Travelling throughout Asia and the Middle East

By the 11th century, playing cards had spread through Asia and eventually reached Egypt. The oldest known playing cards are at the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece. Four of these card fragments belong to the Keir Collection and are dated between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Early European card games

Some historians believe the earliest record of playing cards in Europe was due to a ban on card games in Switzerland in 1367. But as there isn't enough evidence to support this, absolute confirmation for Europe's earliest records is confirmed from 1377, as Florentine banned playing cards on this date.

Early European card designs involved swords, coins, and polo sticks, amongst other unique symbolism, and you'll find these patterns still being used in Latin decks today. The popularity of playing cards in Europe can, with confidence, be traced and confirmed from 1377 and beyond.

Evolution of French playing card

Following widespread usage in various European countries, professional card makers in Germany began printing decks around the 1400s. Early editions of those decks were coloured by hand after printing.

As Italy, England, and Germany each modified suits during the 1400s and 1500s, it wasn't until the French permanently arranged the suit order of king above queen that we started to see early signs of what a playing deck resembles today. In playing cards history, this style, the earliest reflection of what we know today, was widely used.

Between AD 1600-1800, playing cards begin to resemble today's deck. However, the comparison is still far off with complications such as wear and tear.

Agen invented reversible court cards in 1745, a Frenchman responsible for significant innovation in playing cards. However, his creation wouldn't surface within his country of origin because national authorities banned court card printing. It was, however, emulated by central European neighbours of France, and this style arrived to Great Britain in 1799.

Card games & gambling in America

The United States is home to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas, so it's interesting to know that the production of paper playing cards likely didn't happen until after the Revolutionary War (1776) because those circulating the USA before this were probably printed in England and shipped to the Colonies.

Games played during this period weren't close to the Best Online Blackjack UK Sites of today's standards. Still, early US card makers of the 18th to mid-19th centuries undoubtedly began to manufacture stronger, more durable decks.

One of America's most significant contributions to playing cards was the creation and introduction of the Joker card. It was devised to be the third trump of a deck but would later function as a wild card around 1875.

Again, the USA makes even bigger strides in card-making as Russell, Morgan, & co-produce the first Bicycle Brand cards. One of the most revolutionary moments in Bicycle Brand production came toward the end of WW1, as decks under the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) (formerly Russell, Morgan, & Co) with the Bicycle brand were made for US soldiers. Each branch of the US armed services received unique decks printed in 1917, but they were limited and later removed from production lines entirely. Such production assisted Bicycle cards into the front runner we know today, specifically in the USA, where this brand reigns supreme.

The demand for high-quality cards was unprecedented when gambling was legalised in the USA (for a second time) in 1931. The USPCC took the most significant share in the evolving casino market and remains an industry leader today.

Modern card games

We've come a long way from the Chinese production methods of woodblock printing and playing cards popularity. Not to mention the endless different card games that are played, but whether it's blackjack, poker, rummy, or uno, the USPCC pretty much controls the entire industry, leading the world in designing and producing quality cards. Cartamundi UK is the No 1 manufacturer in Great Britain, but they can't keep pace with the USPCC, who've produced billions of playing cards since their inception in 1881.




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