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Playing Cards from Spain

SPAIN has played a pivotal role in the history of playing cards in Europe and Latin America. One view is that the early history of playing cards in Europe was related to the invasion of North Africa, Spain and Sicily by Islamic forces during the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt which ended in 1517. This coincided with the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada (13th - 15th century), the last Islamic stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula, which was linked to North Africa via the Strait of Gibraltar. Spain has had a complex colonial history and Spanish playing cards have travelled to the ‘New World’ where the legacy of Spanish-suited playing cards still prevails today from Mexico to Patagonia, as well as other remote parts of the globe.

Spanish Cup suit sign
Spanish suit symbols are cups, swords, coins and clubs (termed copas, espadas, oros and bastos) but the form and arrangement differs from Italian cards.

An abundance of early literary references are in the Spanish language. Playing cards have been popular in Spain since their very first introduction there. Early sources refer to playing cards and card games in dictionaries and merchants’ inventories, to various card-makers and to prohibitions of card games, mostly around Barcelona and Valencia, in the late 1300s and early 1400s. Historical archives from Barcelona, 1380, mention a certain Rodrigo Borges, from Perpignan, and describe him as “pintor y naipero” (painter and playing card maker). He is the earliest named card-maker. Other card makers named in guild records include Jaime Estalós (1420), Antonio Borges (1438), Bernardo Soler (1443) and Juan Brunet (1443). The types of cards mentioned include “large cards, painted and gilded” as well as “Moorish” cards and “small” cards.

Maciá pattern

With the marriage in 1468 of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the Spanish nationality came into existence in its definitive form. The catholic monarchs inherited the trading routes linking the Cantabrian ports with Flemish and French production centres. To this they soon added trade routes to England, North Africa and Italy. Catalonia experienced a revival of its importance in the Mediterranean reaching as far as Egypt. And, of course, Columbus discovered the 'New Indies' in 1492… thus Spain became a sort of emporium for the exchange of goods and artefacts from a very broad compass reaching almost literally to all four quarters of the globe.

Some of the earliest-known tarot cards, hand painted and illuminated in the 15th century, were supposed to have been discovered in Seville although the game of tarocchi has never been played in Spain. At the same time many Spanish-suited packs were engraved in Germany during the second half of the fifteenth century. Other 15th and 16th century evidence of Spanish playing cards have turned up in Latin American museums and archives. An interesting example are the archaic Spanish-suited cards unearthed in the Lower Rimac valley, Peru during archaeological excavations which are very similar to cards by Francisco Flores preserved in the Archivo de Indias (Seville).

Above: detail from “La Sala de Las Batallas” mural painting in El Escorial palace (Madrid) produced by a team of Italian artists, late 16th century.

The Spanish state playing card monopoly was first established during the reign of Felipe II, in the 16th century. It was divided into several regions, including Mexico and ‘New Spain’, Toledo, Castile and Seville. Leases for these respective monopolies were awarded on a competitive basis to the highest bidder and subject to strict controls. Lease holders also enjoyed the protection of laws governing the playing card monopolies, which included the outlawing of contraband playing cards   read more →.

Spanish playing cards are today divided into several distinctive types or patterns, some more ancient than others, which are often associated with different regions, as well as a wide range of non-standard cards which testify to the creative genius of Spanish artists. The suits are usually numbered through 1 - 12. A peculiarity to be observed in Spanish cards is that the suits of cups, swords and clubs have respectively one, two and three gaps or intervals in the upper and lower marginal lines of every card, called pintas.


  • Agudo Ruiz, Juan de Dios: Los Naipes en España, Diputación Foral de Álava, 2000
  • Denning, Trevor: The Playing-Cards of Spain, Cygnus Arts, London, 1996
  • Pratesi, Franco: Cinco Siglos de Naipes en España, in La Sota nº 16, Asescoin, Madrid, March 1997, pp.27-51

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Baraja Edad Media 1993

Baraja Edad Media

Baraja Edad Media, fantasy Spanish-suited medieval playing cards published Mas-Reynals, Barcelona, 1993. Designed by M. Malé and illustrated by V. Maza.

Baraja El Quijote 1981

Baraja El Quijote

Baraja El Quijote, facsimile of original deck designed by E. Pastor, reprinted by Naipes Heraclio Fournier, Spain, 1981.

Baraja Española de Pintores Murcianos 1986

Baraja Española de Pintores Murcianos

A Spanish-suited pack as conceived by 48 different artists from the region of Murcia.

Baraja Fiesta Taurina 1975

Baraja Fiesta Taurina

‘Baraja Fiesta Taurina’ bullfight playing cards published by Heraclio Fournier, Spain, 1975.

Baraja Gallega 2002

Baraja Gallega

Baraja Gallega designed by cartoonists and caricaturists Pinto Chinto (David Pintor & Carlos López) in 2002.

Baraja Gaucha 1998

Baraja Gaucha

“Baraja Gaucha” fantasy deck designed by Mateo Tikas Plechas for Argentina, 1998.

Baraja Hispanoamericana 2003

Baraja Hispanoamericana

“Baraja Hispanoamericana” published by Asescoin, with artwork by Ortuño, illustrates memorable people from the discovery, colonisation and subsequent liberation of Hispanic America

Baraja Historica de Madrid 1992

Baraja Historica de Madrid

“Baraja Historica de Madrid 1992” playing cards designed by Alberto Pérez and published by Asescoin for 1994 Convention.

Baraja Hoja de Afeitar 1938

Baraja Hoja de Afeitar

La Baraja 'Hoja de Afeitar'. Baraja de Hojas Maravilla descalificadas como de primerísima categoría.

Baraja Literaria 2002

Baraja Literaria

“Baraja Literaria” Spanish pack with cartoons by Serafín, published by Asescoin and manufactured by Naipes Comas, 2002.

Baraja Marinera 1995

Baraja Marinera

‘Baraja Marinera’ designed by Francisco Javier San Juan, published by Asescoin (Madrid), 1995

Baraja Mística 1885

Baraja Mística

‘Baraja Mística’ satirical playing-cards featuring revelling clergy published by Litografía Fernández, Madrid.

Baraja Mitológica 1815

Baraja Mitológica

“Baraja Mitológica” was first published in Madrid in c.1815 by Josef Monjardín from engravings by José Martínez de Castro.

Baraja Morisca — Early XV century playing cards 1420

Baraja Morisca — Early XV century playing cards

Primitive Latin suited pack, dated by paper analysis as early XV century, which makes this one of the earliest known surviving packs of playing cards.

Baraja Napoleónica 1991

Baraja Napoleónica

Re-edition of a French-suited Spanish pack from the Napoleonic era, with designs by J. Carrafa.

Baraja PEPLVM 2004


Baraja PEPLVM features cartoons by Ortuño of famous actors and actresses in roles from epic Roman movies.

Baraja Taurina by Simeon Durá, c.1916 1916

Baraja Taurina by Simeon Durá, c.1916

Baraja Taurina manufactured by Simeon Durá (Valencia) for Chocolate Angelical, first published in 1916.

Baraja Turística de España 1966

Baraja Turística de España

Baraja Turística de España by Heraclio Fournier, 1966.

Baralla amb Iconografia Medieval Valenciana 1998

Baralla amb Iconografia Medieval Valenciana

Issued to mark the opening of line 3 of the metro in Valencia, 1998.

Baralla Galega 1983

Baralla Galega

'Baralla Galega' designed by X. Cobas and published by Imprenta Comercial Imprent S.A., La Coruña (Spain) in 1983