Latin American Playing Cards

Playing Cards in Central and South America

Playing cards had been introduced to the Americas with explorers such as Columbus or Cortés, whose fellow countrymen were keen gamblers. On his first voyage, Columbus discovered San Salvador Island, Hispaniola (now occupied by the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Cuba, and on his second voyage, Puerto Rico and Jamaica (1493). The following year, the Catholic Monarchs and John II of Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas to apportion the rights to future discoveries, drawing a line along the meridian 370 degrees west of Cape Verde Islands and granting Portugal all of the territory to the east of that line and Spain all of the territory to the west of it (1494). By 1576 the Spaniards began to establish playing card monopolies in their South American dependencies from which they gathered revenues for the Spanish crown. The first of these was in Mexico and another important one was the Royal Factory at Macharaviaya. Revenue from the tax on both imported and locally manufactured cards was a significant addition to the Spanish treasury.

More recently, in Latin America juntas and dictatorships have prevailed in many countries, but by the end of the 20th century authoritarianism had retreated and democracy moved forwards: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico and El Salvador developed multi-party systems and their economies changed, all of which affects the types and quality of playing cards found there today.

Native Indian cards are a curious spin-off and the Apaches in particular, but also other tribes and ethnic groups made their own cards modelled on the Spanish pack.

During the 18th and 19th centuries Italian card makers such as Pedro Bosio, Agostino Bergallo and Giuseppe Cattino supplied Spanish-suited playing cards to Spanish colonies in South America. During the 19th century the main market of the Cadiz naiperos was exporting to Latin America and the Philippines, as well as the many Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the United States. In 1903, for example, 76,060 decks were exported to U.S.A. Cards were also exported from Belgium and various European manufacturers such as Fournier, Comas, DondorfGoodallGrimaudMüller  USPCC and C.L. Wüst. These were usually in the Cadiz pattern. For example, Dougherty manufactured Spanish-suited cards for sale in Mexico and South America beginning in 1882.

Argentina    Bolivia    Brazil    Chile    Colombia    Costa Rica    Cuba    Dominican Republic    Ecuador    El Salvador    Galapagos    Guatemala    Honduras    Mexico    Nicaragua    Panama    Paraguay    Peru    Puerto Rico    Uruguay    Venezuela

You can click the countries on the map...

Spanish playing cards from c.1500-c.1800

Above: Spanish playing cards exported to new Spanish colonies from c.1550 onwards. Cards like these would have been in use for the first 200-300 years or so after the first Spanish settlers arrived. (click the images to see more)

Pre-Columbian Art

Ever since Europeans reached America in 1492 and the Spanish plundered the Aztec and Inca Empires (1520-1530) plenty of exotic objects have ended up in European collections. The mysteries of the Mayas, Aztecs, Incas and other indigenous peoples have grown ever since, and their artefacts are often featured on playing cards.


Join the Newsletter

Editor’s Picks

Playing cards have enormous educational value, with a long history and many diverse types and graphical styles from around the world... View More →

back to top