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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.

Native Indian Hand-made Cards made on rawhide

Native Indian hand-made cards made on rawhide

When supplies from Mexico or elsewhere were not available, Indian decks were manufactured on rawhide or horse skin in imitation of Spanish-suited ones. Usually they had 40 cards for playing the game ‘monte’ which was popular amongst the Indians, including the Araucanians of South America. Packs were probably also produced as tourist bait and sold to anthropologists and collectors.

Above: cards from an Apache Indian pack painted on rawhide and obtained from an officer in the United States army in 1869. [Cards reproduced in Tilley, 1973, page 72].

Above: North American Indian cards, cut out of hide and painted by themselves. [Cards in the National Museum, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. reproduced in Morley, 1989].

Native Indian Cards

painted by themselves

Above: cards painted on rawhide, believed to have been made by Mapuche Indians of Patagonia. [Cards in the collection of Museo de América, Madrid].

Above: cards painted on rawhide by Apache Indians.

I am indebted to Prof. Harold Wayland for his kind advice regarding the contents of this page. Click here to see more Apache cards.

See also: Las Cartas de Tacuabé

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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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