Mundo Naipes

The Game Spreads

Card games spread across Europe like wildfire. Various regions quickly adopted the practice. From the north of Italy to regions which now form part of Germany, France, Switzerland and western Austria. From Spain to the Atlantic coast of France, Sardinia, southern Italy and Portugal. In various other waves of expansion, playing cards spread throughout Europe. From there, they moved on to European colonies in the New World. In Asia, the cards returned as a new type of game, unrecognizable to some and the fruit of new acculturation to others, as in the case of the Portuguese cards which transformed into various typical Japanese games.

But if the new games became "fashionable" in various regions, there was a need to manufacture instruments to play them. The "new" printing techniques with woodblocks and, subsequently, using metals, created a new class of expert craftsmen for this object of consumption. One of the oldest records on the manufacture of playing cards was fruit of recent research: it is known that Rodrigo de Borges produced decks in the city of Perpignan (an influential Catalan town, now part of France) in around 1380. Starting in 1400, a number of references speak of manufacturers in Bologna (1427), Limoges (1428), Venice and Avignon (1441), Strasbourg (1448), and several other locations.

Origens do baralho Origens do baralho Origens do baralho

Many of these manufacturers modified the designs they saw on cards brought from other regions, adapting them according to local and personal tastes and customs. Consequently, a large variety of "regional" card standards and designs were quickly created and adjusted to the customs and variations in game rules that appeared in each region. The variety in designs and games reached its peak in the late nineteenth century, at which point there were nearly a hundred different types of decks associated with various European regions.

The creativity of manufacturers and craftsmen generated new designs for figures as well as the symbols representing suits. Modifications were being introduced to the original Mamluk cards which used coins, cups, swords and polo clubs. The oldest card suit system, the Italian, is very close to the Mamluk cards and is without doubt a direct copy. With the exception of polo clubs, unknown to the Europeans (but used in a very popular sport practiced by the Arabs), all other designs were used. The polo clubs were replaced with generic clubs. Spain and Portugal also followed the Italian and original Mamluk suits, creating a set that is now generically referred to as the Latin suit.

Perhaps the Swiss suit was the first example of creative modification. A radical change was made. Instead of cups, swords, clubs and coins (gold), we have shields, roses, acorns and bells. Records of decks using this system date back to around 1450. In the next decade, Germany became involved, probably using the Swiss suit as a reference, but changing shields for hearts and roses for leaves.

Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço Naipe Suiço
Swiss Suit
Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão Naipe Alemão
German Suit

Lastly, the French manufacturers, perhaps more practical and seeking greater production, simplified the symbols used for the suits of their decks, creating four simple, monochromatic and easily reproducible figures, which most people would now unequivocally identify as the suits of playing cards. Records show this to have occurred around 1480.

  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo
  • Cartas do Mundo

The shaping of European regions into the countries that formed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century restricted varieties of regional patterns. However, we still find several specific models of decks in popular use in specific areas. The Venetian design (one of the oldest known) and that of Bologna, as well as several others, are still popular in Italy today. Munich and Berlin have their own specific designs, differing from each other and from the cards of other regions. Although restricted to a small region, the Swiss from Zurich and the surrounding area still play the game of Jass. The game is of Dutch origin, but played with a specific deck with a unique suit system, designs and structure. In France, a national standard established in the nineteenth century is recognized as peculiar to the country.

But it was the city of Rouen, in northern France, which gave us the deck design that is in common use today.

back to top