Cards in the World

“Who cares about you?”, said Alice.
“You re nothing but a pack of cards!”

Such was the manner Lewis Carroll s famous character sought to defend herself from her potential enemy the Queen of Hearts who demanded, quite literally, her head.

Many besides Alice, have lived with, feared, loved and hated that uniform deck we call playing cards. Fortunes won and lost; lonely hours passed quickly; skill and memory honed; friends finding good reason to be together; magicians enchanting audiences with their illusions; fortunetellers deceiving customers with fanciful predictions...

But where the decks come from?

Decks are objects of popular use for many centuries. Simple pieces of cardboard or plastic, little is known about its origin. They are, however, complex products of specialized graphic arts industry.

Well newer than other types of games - like the board and data existing for thousands of years before the birth of Christ - the decks revolutionized playful activity, adding an uncertainty component to disputes. Besides the luck factor, incorporated into games through the data included is the ignorance of some of the letters involved, increasing the flavor and the difficulty of matches.

Dominó Mahjong
The Chinese use the term "pai" (literally meaning sign), whether referring to playing cards, dominoes or the Mahjong tiles.

s is the case with many common objects of ancient origin, it is not possible to determine who invented this traditional instrument or where and when that happened. The earliest records show references to playing cards starting in the late thirteenth century in China. However, the modern deck, with which we now play poker, bridge, buraco and truco, appeared in Europe at the end of the fourteenth century (around 1370), brought by the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt at the time and maintained strong trade relations with Italy and Spain. From these countries, the deck spread rapidly throughout Europe and beyond to colonies and countries in other continents, and is now found the world over.

Cartas Mameludas
With examples dating back to the 13th century, the Mamluk cards gave rise to the modern deck.

Use and Abuse

Throughout their history, cards have been used for a variety of purposes, although that of serving as game paraphernalia is the original and most common application. They are also continually used in the artistic performances of professional and amateur magicians.

Their use as an aid in predicting the future is mentioned in the eighteenth century. The connection between tarot cards and fortune-telling is very popular. Historical data show, however, that tarot cards were created in Italy in the mid-fifteenth century, possibly in the city of Ferrara (where the first documentary references on their existence were found). They were created for a specific type of game which, with certain variations, is still played in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France, although it is almost unknown in England and the Americas, where the cards are considered more esoteric. Historical studies have shown that tarot was also used for divination purposes in the eighteenth century.

Foi ainda veículo interessante de divulgação de conhecimento durante os séculos 17 e 18, através de vários baralhos com finalidades educativas. Alguns desses exemplares são até hoje fontes de informações e pesquisas sobre história, geografia e costumes da época. Seu uso extensivo faz com que seja comumente utilizado como veículo publicitário.

A qualidade do material com o qual é normalmente fabricado (cartão), escasso na época em que o baralho surgiu na Europa, fez com que folhas já impressas, mas ainda não cortadas, fossem utilizadas na encadernação de livros, como papel moeda e até como base para o revestimento de edificações. Baralhos antigos são, normalmente, encontrados nestas formas.

Some play, others manufacture...

Card manufacture was one of the most important industries in the Middle Ages. The first engravings printed in large quantities were decks of playing cards. Nevertheless, their use (and even possession) was repeatedly banned by governments as they were understood to be a vice, causing workers to withdraw from productive activities. Paradoxically, various governments used the production of playing cards as a source of income, imposing taxes on their manufacture. Until today, various religions still condemn their use.

In Brazil, cards made ​​in Portugal were used. Our own industry would only emerge in the nineteenth century. Today, Copag leads in the production of quality cards and forms part of the Cartamundi Group, one of the largest conglomerates in the business of issuing and manufacturing playing cards. The company s diverse catalog of products enjoys worldwide acceptance among casinos and private players.

Varieties? Lots!

For many people, decks of cards are all alike. Indeed, the spread of games such as poker and bridge established a world standard design that is used and recognized everywhere, and produced by almost all manufacturers.

However, if we ask people from different countries what the king of hearts is like, we will receive different answers. A number of different versions of this figure can be seen in the illustration, as they are represented in various decks commonly used in games in different locations around the world.

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Copag 139 Experience

  • Cartas do Mundo

    France (Paris pattern)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Spain/Argentina (Castilian)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Uruguai

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Munich (Bavarian)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Milan (Milanese)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Bologna (Tarocchino)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Switzerland (Jass)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Berlin

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Ziraldo

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Molina Campos

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Salvador Dalí

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Cassandre

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Jeu de Marseille (Surrealist)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    José de Guimarães (FISM 2000)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    EPOC - Leonor Décourt

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Sonia Delaunay

  • Cartas do Mundo

    China

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Korea

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Índia

  • Cartas do Mundo

    Persia (now Iran)

  • Cartas do Mundo

    European country

  • Cartas do Mundo

    European country

  • Cartas do Mundo

    European country

  • Cartas do Mundo

    European country

  • Cartas do Mundo

    European country

More than a few artists have used playing cards as platforms for creativity. Consequently, we have the so-called fantasy decks, designed by famous artists such as Salvador Dalí and important graphic artists such as Ruth Kedar, who also designed the Google logo. Some are so far removed from traditional designs that we can barely recognize them as playing cards.

Playing cards forever?

We already have virtual decks on our computers, where we can play solitaire and even poker with other players around the world. However, traditional cards, whether paper or plastic, are still widely used in all locations, even in space. On February 6, 1971, astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell played a game of gin rummy on the moon, on board the Apollo 14 lunar module.

What other privileged creation of someone unknown to us, having appeared centuries in the past, will be among our objects of common use in centuries to come? Would anyone dare to speculate?

back to top