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Playing Cards in Brazil

Colonial Times

Barcos e dinheiro

Sailors played cards during quiet periods on long trips across the Atlantic. The inhabitants of Brazil brought their playing cards from Portugal and needed to save this fragile instrument, which was sensitive to the heat and humidity of the country and to the lively circumstances to which it was subject.

This continued for two centuries. Far from the eyes of the crown and favored by the scarcity of this material, there were attempts to print cards in Recife and Rio de Janeiro in the eighteenth century, although these were duly confiscated by authorities for infringing upon the monopoly of the Portuguese crown.

In 1769, the Royal Factory of Playing Cards was created in Lisbon, linked to the Royal Printing Works, with the privilege of manufacturing and selling throughout the kingdom and colonies. The price of 100 réis was then set for a deck of cards in Portugal and 150 réis for Brazil and other areas overseas.

While the Royal Factory sustained high profitability throughout the kingdom, the authorities across Brazil were alerted to counterfeiting. The game Voltarete was then in vogue.

Barcos e dinheiro

New winds

The coming of King John VI and his court to Brazil in 1808 boosted economic activity, with the opening of ports and creation of the Royal Printing Works in Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, the Royal Factory of Playing Cards was attached to the printing works and came to have a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of decks. In 1818, the concession was delivered to Jaime Mendes de Vasconcelos & Co. The contract was eventually terminated for nonpayment in 1823, subsequently ending the monopoly of the state.

In the years that followed, decks imported from Europe (initially from France and Germany, and later from Belgium) started to become available. As capital city of the Empire and economic center of the country, Rio de Janeiro attracted immigrants, including engravers, who increased the quality of production.

The nineteenth century ended with the appearance of two cigarette manufacturers in Recife that took advantage of their printing capacity to produce playing cards: Moreira & Co. and Azevedo & Co., worked respectively with the “Caxias Factory” and the “Lafayette Factory”, both founded in 1884. In São Paulo, V. Steidel & Co. produced lithographic cards.

A question of names

Until the second half of the nineteenth century, cards in Brazil predominantly used the Latin suit. The names designating the four groups were consistent with their design: gold was represented with coins, and cups, swords and clubs were easily recognizable. With great influence from France and northern Germany, via Portugal or directly in Brazil, decks using the French suit began to spread. However, in Brazil the names used for suit symbols remained the same, although this no longer makes much sense: gold is used for diamonds, cups for hearts, swords for spades, and sticks for clubs.

Linha de Reis Linha de Damas Linha de Espadas

The start of COPAG

Decks from companies such as Wüst and Dondorf, both of Frankfurt, were exported to Brazil at the turn of the century. It was precisely with the third Wüst standard deck that Albino Dias Gonçalves chose to start his new business, Albino Gonçalves and Co., in 1908 in São Paulo, importing cards from the German company. Ten years later, the company changed its name to Companhia Paulista de Papéis e Artes Gráficas (C.P.P.A.G.).

Documento da Companhia Paulista de Papéis e Artes Gráficas Taça/troféu símbolo da Copag
To the left, a document from Companhia Paulista de Papéis e Artes Gráficas; to the right, Copag s cup/trophy symbol.

It was at this time that poker started to become popular. In 1923, the company s symbolic issue appears, the "139". The deck used the second version of the "Trophy Whist # 39" design, from the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), with large indexes. The joker used in this deck inspired the famous cup/trophy that became the Copag icon.

In 1930, the company began printing the cards with the acquisition of off-set machines. The closing of casinos and gambling prohibition in 1946 did not prevent the company s growth. After all, to the pre-electronic society, cards provided a great deal of entertainment. The games of bridge and buraco gained many supporters.

Internacionalization

The facilities were transferred to the Manaus Free Trade Zone in 1987, establishing Copag da Amazônia. In the late twentieth century, Copag acquired the company Soimca (Sociedade Impressora Caxiense), which maintained good distribution in the south of the country with its Spanish deck, and especially with the "Penguin" deck. The acceptance of Copag plastic decks in casinos throughout the Americas attracted the Belgian Cartamundi Group, one of the largest playing card manufacturers in the world, which acquired 50% of the company s capital in 2005. Today, Copag is the only producer of quality playing cards in the country.

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