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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.


REFERENCES:

  • 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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Baraxa Galega 1983

Baraxa Galega

Baraxa Galega designed by F. Perez Llamosas and published by Naipes Heraclio Fournier, 1983.

Bertschinger y Codina 1850

Bertschinger y Codina

Fantasy Spanish-suited playing cards by Bertschinger y Codina (Barcelona), c.1850.

Bibaraja 1977

Bibaraja

Amusing designs of boys as circus performers by Alberto Muñiz Sánchez.

Blancanieves 1992

Blancanieves

Blancanieves (Snow White) card game published by Heracliio Fournier, 1992.

Cádiz Pattern playing cards

Cádiz Pattern playing cards

Cádiz Pattern playing cards

Cadiz-Catalan style pack 1896

Cadiz-Catalan style pack

High-quality standard designs by Sebastián Comas y Ricart, Barcelona, Spain, 1896.

Canary Islands Souvenir 1970

Canary Islands Souvenir

Canary Islands Souvenir by Heraclio Fournier, c.1970.

Capel Vinos 2001

Capel Vinos

Advertising playing cards for Capel Vinos S.A., manufactured by Naipes Comas, 2001.

Caperucita Roja 1981

Caperucita Roja

Caperucita Roja card game published by H. Fournier, 1981.

Cards for export to Peru by Heraclio Fournier 1960

Cards for export to Peru by Heraclio Fournier

'El Caballo' brand (No.5P) playing-cards manufactured in Spain by Heraclio Fournier S.A. especially for the Estanco de Naipes del Perú, c.1960.

Cartas Blancas Self-improvement playing cards

Cartas Blancas Self-improvement playing cards

Cartas Blancas Self-help playing cards

Catalan Playing Cards

Catalan Playing Cards

With a distinct history stretching back to the early middle ages, many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation from the rest of Spain.

Chinese Costumes 1984

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

Chocolate playing cards with scenes from World War 1 1920

Chocolate playing cards with scenes from World War 1

An extraordinary Spanish pack of chocolate advertising playing cards dating from 1920.

Cigarette Cards and other ephemera

Cigarette Cards and other ephemera

Cigarette Cards, Trade Cards, Miniature Playing Cards and other ephemera.

Cine Manual + Periquito 1927

Cine Manual + Periquito

“Cine Manual” by Antonio Vercher Coll (1900-1934) and published by Reclamos Cimadevilla, Valencia, c.1927.

Classic 1959

Classic

“Classic” playing cards designed by Paul Mathison inspired by classical mythology, 1959.

Clemente Roxas double-ended Spanish pack 1814

Clemente Roxas double-ended Spanish pack

Double-ended Spanish-suited playing cards published by Clemente de Roxas in Madrid, 1814.

Come to Chew Playing Cards 2013

Come to Chew Playing Cards

Aleix Gordo Hostau from Barcelona, Spain has created the Come to Chew pack, inspired by bubble gum artwork and characters

Corrida de Toros 1969

Corrida de Toros

Bull fighting card game publshed by Naipes Comas, 1969.