Designing History of Playing Cards


We live in the present. We plan for and worry about the future. History, though, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and expecting what is yet to come, PokerLion says why bother with what has been?

Any topic of study needs explanation: its advocates must make clear why it is worth attention.

Just as interesting the game of real money poker is, the playing cards in the deck is identically intriguing! The history of playing cards design is pretty

Playing cards are the major element to play poker online or offline, that doesn’t matter. Today, we will focus on the designs of the playing cards. Let’s peep into the beautiful past for some time together:

For over six centuries the playing card has been selected as a means for aesthetic endeavour, artistry and decorative design, ranging from hand-painted and engraved cards for medieval patrons, to the chromo-lithographic delights as well as the transformation cards of the nineteenth century, along with the designer and art packs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Early Playing Cards

The earliest playing cards were hand-painted, frequently gilded, and designed to be gorgeous objects. Not only were cards gilded and painted in numerous colours, and not just decorated with decorative patterns, but often the designs themselves revealed great artistic skill, harmony of colour and grace of forms.

Etymological evidence suggests that the Arabs introduced playing cards into Europe in the second half of the fourteenth century and that European cards evolved from the suit system and composition of these cards.

Just like the present days, playing cards in the early day served two purposes: gambling and to play poker, the game of skill. Evidently both these games existed in Europe since the introduction of playing cards. Prohibitions of card playing and denunciations by preachers display their extensive use for gambling. But, instances of playing cards being used for games of skill are recorded as well.

Evolution of European Cards

The original European mentions to playing cards date from the 1370s and come from Catalonia (Spain), Florence, France, Sienna, Viterbo (Italy), southern Germany, Switzerland and Brabant. None of the earlier cards has survived. The earliest surviving cards are from the fifteenth century.

The diverse cultural context led to the diversity of playing card types. While France was the leading centre for manuscript illumination, Germany led woodcut and engravings, which have a close resemblance to printed matter. The Renaissance flowered in Italy, whilst Moorish influence endured in Spain until the 15th century.

The rise in demand for cultural objects led to the inventing of faster and cheaper production methods, movable type, woodcuts, multiple copies, paper instead of parchment. As card-playing turned out to be more popular, the production was sped up by these substitute processes, including hand-made cards, cards printed from woodblocks or using stencils, or other unplanned techniques.

Costly playing cards were produced from engravings in copper using the skills of the goldsmith. With greater designing details and more naturalistic uses of line, the playing cards were considered as valuable items. They were frequently produced for collectors.

The craftsmen’s tradition all through the medieval era was to work from sketch-book models, collected on scraps of vellum. These models were copied again and again, so that images spread between workshops and from master to pupil. Images collected during journeys abroad frequently contained errors of scrutiny and ratio which were compounded by subsequent copying.

Designs would have been influenced by written texts and moralised stories. Plants from the herbal, birds and insects from the Books of Hours, beasts from the bestiary, all suggesting a symbolism, a semiotic language, echoed the daily earth of popular beliefs and proverbial wisdom. The deck of playing cards gained a format and structure of its own, and turned to be a new language.

Numerous early instances of playing cards are preserved inside the covers of old books, where they were used as pasteboard to stiffen the covers. This is lucky, as nearly all the other sources have died.

The designs of the modern playing cards embrace a balance between artistic possibilities and utilitarian constraints. The basic purpose to play poker with the cards hasn’t changed much in the last few centuries, but the fundamental precepts and principles of design and print have been endlessly evolving and improving to the present day.

In around 1820 Hunt was the first maker to refashion his design with a total redrawing, in which he tried to rationalize a few of the idiosyncrasies which had crept into playing card designs. In 1832, following an effort to bring in new ‘modernized’ designs, Thomas De la Rue imitated the former wood-block style in the new technique of letterpress. These designs were then redrawn with more beautification and became the basis for all their double-ended courts.

In 1840 Reynolds also modernized its court card designs with an overlay of ornamental scroll-work and patterning on the clothing. Other makers experimented with novelties or versions in the design details, such as crowns, headgear, faces, etc. Charles Goodall, for instance, produced ‘modernized’ court card designs, with a few curious features, that did not last long.

In the year 1860, Goodall produced totally fresh design in double ended format only, and which is still in use today in numerous imitations globally. In 1862, the taxes or duty on playing cards was reduced from one Shilling to three Pence led to boost in the sales of them and without doubt new players were tempted entering to play poker. Manufacturers, in general, began taking pride in the quality and elegance of their designs, so as to attract the best clients.

Thus began the new designing era of playing cards and the gradual evolution of these cards came in the poker game!

Keep the good luck in store for the next visit at the poker table!