We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is the History of Playing Cards?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Sports n' Hobbies, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Playing cards may date as far back as seventh century China, and they were certainly well known in China by the 11th century. Their history is complex and, at times, difficult to verify, thanks to the fact that playing cards tend to decay in a very short period of time, making it difficult to track down historical examples of playing cards. Playing cards are also quite diverse, with different regions having different suits and different numbers of cards, which can sometimes be frustrating for travelers.

The origins of playing cards are believed to lie in China, and they probably spread outwards, first to India and later to the Middle East. As playing cards moved across Asia, the suits and numbers of cards mutated, with decks including anywhere from 36 to 72 cards, with three, four, and five suits, and sometimes even more. By the late 14th century, playing cards had been introduced to Europe, where they proved to be extremely popular.

Early playing cards were produced by hand, making them extremely expensive, and they were also larger than the playing cards used today. Only the elite would have been able to play cards, leading some societies to associate playing cards with the upper classes. In addition to being used for playing games, playing cards have also historically been used for cartomancy, a form of fortune telling which utilizes playing cards. The Tarot deck which is famously used in cartomancy, incidentally, is also used to play card games in many parts of Europe.

As a general rule, playing cards could be divided between pip and court cards by the time they reached Europe, with suit cards representing royalty while pip cards were marked with varying number of objects representing their suit.

With the development of woodcuts and later the printing press, playing cards became more accessible to the masses, and a number of variations on the basic playing card design emerged. Most English speakers are familiar with the so-called “French” system of playing cards, which includes 52 cards divided into hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades, with 10 pip cards and three court cards in each suit. In the 1800s, Americans added the joker, while the concept of “aces high” emerged during the French revolution.

It is also possible to find playing cards arranged into Latin suits: chalices, swords, money, and batons are used to represent the four suits in places like Spain and Italy, while Germany and parts of Eastern Europe seem to prefer the Germanic suits of hearts, acorns, bells, and leaves. Asian playing cards get even more complex, like Japanese hanafuda or “flower cards,” and Indian playing cards with suits which represent the elements associated with various gods.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Pippinwhite — On Jan 28, 2014

I have heard that the faces on the face cards represent historical and/or mythical figures. For instance, the King of Hearts was said to represent Charlemagne; the King of Diamonds was Julius Caesar; the King of Clubs was Alexander the Great and the King of Spades was King David of Israel. If I remember correctly, the Queen of Hearts was said to represent Helen of Troy -- appropriate for "the face that launched a thousand ships."

So play a hand of poker and get a history lesson thrown in.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Sports n' Hobbies, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Sports n' Hobbies, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.