The Combination of Images and Text
When playing cards have titles or legends these reference a written/literary tradition of some form. It connects the image to a wider cultural sphere, extending the visual impact.
The Combination of Images and Text on early playing cards
Many early playing cards had titles or legends alongside the images. These referenced a written/literary tradition of some form (historical, religious or secular literature, legends, etc), connecting the image to a wider cultural sphere, extending the visual impact. For example, French court cards were given names of heroes of antiquity, such as Caesar, Charlemagne, Paris or Lancelot, thereby connecting to the written body of French literature. This tradition goes back to the fifteenth century or even earlier. Some historians believe that court cards are actually based on these historical personages, but this is not necessarily true.
But many early cards were unnamed and unnumbered, so they were understood by card players on their own terms. If the cards are just images, with no title or legend, then the images must speak for themselves. There is no explicit reference to any text, or suggestion that the cards are based on historical persons.
The advent of printing with movable type boosted the spread of literacy and the playing card was also used as a medium to propagate the printed word.
Thus the presence of printed text or titles on playing cards adds a new level of meaning and raises their cultural status to a more rational, literate or pedagogic level; a vehicle for political or educational purposes (as well as a game of luck and skill). Today of course this might be an advertising message.
The early Arabic Mamluk cards incorporated calligraphic texts, rhyming aphorisms, evoking thoughts of a religious nature, on the court cards (inside the blue areas). But because of Islamic law, instead of images of human figures we see only abstract geometric designs on the rest of the cards. The written words transform these into sublime messengers.
These Arabic playing cards are believed to be the progenitors of playing cards in the West more →
In the case of tarot trumps the early examples are unnamed and unnumbered. Again, they were implicitly understood or memorised by the players. In some instances initial letters or monograms were added to denote a secret meaning which is often lost.
Legends and numbers were added later to tarot trumps to denote their value or hierarchy so that a canon was established which today we take for granted. Some people believe the tarot cards are a channel for esoteric thought. There were exceptions to this: Animal Tarots and other games with non-standard trump cards did not usually have titles or metaphysical associations.
The phonetic alphabet is a unique technology which, through its uniform and sequential logic, has created civilized man, with codes of law, ledgers and ultimately, printed books. In a humble way, playing cards have participated in this development by becoming a medium for the message....
Member since February 01, 1996View Articles
Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.
Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.
Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.
Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.
Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.
Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.
Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.
A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.
This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.
Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.
Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.
Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.
Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.
A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.
On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).
Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.
Notgeld - Emergency Money - was in rare cases issued on playing cards.
There are some interesting packs from Goodall in the last quarter of the 19th century.
1st edition of famous Bicycle Playing Cards printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., Cincinnati, 1885.
Primiera Bolognese by Modiano, c.1975
Facsimile edition of Swiss suited deck first published by Johannes Müller in c.1840.
Archaic Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly by Pedro Varangot in 1786.
Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly in 1682.
“Money Bag” pattern by Hermanos Solesi, late 18th c.
Illustrated playing cards featuring comical engravings and rhymes about saints, c.1740.
Navarra pattern by an unknown cardmaker with initials I. I., 1793.
Anonymous archaic Spanish Suited pack, c.1760
Geographical playing cards sold by Henry Brome, second edition, c.1682.
French suited German engraved cards c1610 to 1650,