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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

J. M. Gandarillas, Buenos Aires, c.1815

Playing cards believed to have been designed in 1815 by the Chilean immigrant Manuel José Gandarillas in Buenos Aires and published the following year.

Playing cards made in Buenos Aires, 1815

Manuel José Gandarillas

The illustration below shows a sheet (uncoloured and anonymous) of playing cards believed to have been designed in 1815 by the Chilean immigrant Manuel José Gandarillas in Buenos Aires and published the following year. The style of the cards closely follows the Spanish "National" pattern, but with local symbolism added to several cards, e.g. the flower on the four of coins is Argentina's national flower, 'flor del seibo'.

Close examination of the drawings in Gandarillas' pack shows that although he was closely following the typical Spanish "National" pack of the day, or even that of a few decades earlier, nevertheless, some idiosyncrasies or deviations can be identified in the designs.

Playing cards made in Buenos Aires, 1815 Playing cards made in Buenos Aires, 1815 Image courtesy Dra. Graciela Bercoff, curator of the Archivo General de la Nación.

The ace of coins features the Argentinean coat-of-arms, which had been ratified at the Constitutional General Assembly in 1813. In 1815 Buenos Aires was only a province of the River Plate region, occasionally spelt "Buenos Ayres", (and hyphenated in our example). It did not become the capital city of the Republic of Argentina until 1882.

The laurel wreath on the four of cups symbolises liberty and The Independence (from Spanish government) is represented by the rising sun. The two of coins bears the words "America del Sud": at this time there was a movement for a South American Republic (República de Sud América), involving national heroes such as Simón Bolivar and General San Martín. The final outcome was the diverse collection of individual countries existing today. The sun shown on the five of coins is the sun found on the Argentinean national flag.

Images courtesy of Dra. Graciela Bercoff, curator of the Archivo General de la Nacion, Buenos Aires.

See also:   Spanish Playing CardsPhelippe AyetBaraja MoriscaHistory of Playing CardsSeville 17th CenturySpanish National PatternThe Money Bag patternPedro BosioGothic Spanish-Suited CardsRotxotxo InventoriesNavarra XVII CenturyQuercia y PossiNaipes ArtiguistasMacharaviayaFrancisco Flores16th Century 'Rimac' CardsSpanish-suited playing cards made in GermanyJoan BarbotSimon Wintle's Spanish-Suited packAnabella Corsi's Naipes La Criolla

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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