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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.

Playing cards in the Dominican Republic

Playing cards in the Dominican Republic

Playing cards in the Dominican Republic

Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola in 1492, and it later became the major launching base for the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean, as well as the American mainland. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern part of the island, whilst Haiti occupies the west.

The Spaniards were fond of gambling and brought their dice, cards and recreational games with them. Early 16th century Spanish playing cards would have been available in Santo Domingo, similar to those discovered in Peru, and Spanish playing cards would have been used for the next 250 years or longer, until French-suited cards were introduced.

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.

Cards commonly found for sale today include the ubiquitous "Briscas" Spanish-suited playing cards, made in Spain, Hong Kong or China, and which turn up in souvenir shops in most Latin American countries, as well as tourist souvenir packs like those illustrated below.

Dominican Republic souvenir playing cards © A.F. Dominican Republic souvenir playing cards © A.F.

Above: Souvenir playing cards from the Dominican Republic, unknown manufacturer, made in China. The ace of spades and jokers have the initials A.F.© and the plastic box has "Republica Dominicana" printed on the lid.

Dragon Cards by Francisco Flores Spanish National Cards by Felix Solesio
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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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