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Early References

Out of an apparent void, a constellation of references in early literature emerge pointing to the sudden arrival of playing cards, principally in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy around 1370-1380.

Early References

Early references to Playing Cards

Playing Cards are believed to have originated in China and then spread to India and Persia. From Persia they are believed to have spread to Egypt during the era of Mamluk control, and from there into Europe through both the Italian and Iberian peninsulas in the second half of the 14th century.

The game of playing cards was in vogue in West European countries by around 1375...

The history of playing cards in Europe commences around 1370-1380. Out of an apparent void, a constellation of references in early literature (inventories of possessions, edicts, city chronicles and account books) emerge pointing to the sudden arrival of playing cards, principally in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy and very soon afterwards we hear of them being banned by the authorities. As well as the documentary evidence, we can also look at contemporary illustrations of card playing. Of course dice and certain board games were already long-established, and so playing cards were a new addition to the repertoire of gambling pastimes. But they brought with them anti-social behaviour on account of the dishonesty or cheating which occurred in the less-reputable gaming houses. This led inevitably to bans and prohibitions as preachers demonised the game and the authorities devised ways to regulate the new craze. At the same time, we learn that upper classes and nobility enjoyed courtly games and also spent sums of money at gambling   see ‘Playing Cards and Gaming’ →

gamblers playing cards

Above: card playing and gambling was a magnet for anti-social behaviour on account of the dishonest characters, card-sharps, pimps and braggarts who were drawn to the less-reputable gaming houses. A whole underclass of confidence tricksters and professional swindlers were attracted to the gambling dens.

Card playing in the 21st century has also migrated to online gaming. For these reasons it is interesting to look into the history of cards and where it all began. In order to better understand this aspect of our cultural heritage, the following recorded facts and other data relating in any way to the history of playing cards (including tarot) are being presented in chronological order.

50 A.D. CHINA According to Chinese chronology, the art of printing was discovered in China at this period, under the reign of Ming Tsong the First, the second emperor of the Tartarian dynasty.

105 A.D. CHINESE INVENTION OF PAPER The Chinese official record dates the invention of paper.

6 or 7 C. EGYPT Earliest examples surviving of textiles printed with wood blocks in Egypt.

c.750-800 CHINA The Kuei t'ien lu, a book of anecdotes written in the eleventh century by the historian Ou-yang Hsiu, has been cited as placing the invention of playing cards in the middle of the T'ang dynasty (618-906), that is to say, about the time when the earliest books were printed in the 9th. century. However, in early references such as this one, the Chinese word for playing cards (yeh tzu) apparently implied dominoes or domino cards, which are early ancestors of what we think of today as playing cards.

764-770 JAPAN First authenticated prints rubbed from wood blocks (text) are Buddhist charms printed in Japan.

868 CHINA Earliest picture printed from a wood block is in a roll of the Diamond Sutra by Wang Chieh, but which must have had predecessors. Examples of colour printing from woodblocks also date from about the same period. By the tenth century AD printing on paper was widely available in Dunhuang and was popular as a cheaper way of producing images. As in Europe six centuries later, the earliest use of printing in China was fuelled by the desire to spread religious texts and images.

950 IMPORTATION OF ORIENTAL PAPER INTO SPAIN It was not until two centuries later that any European manufactory was established, the first known being at Xativa, near Valencia. France followed suit before the end of the XII c., and Italy, which founded its earliest factory at Fabriano about 1276, remained the most important source of supply in Europe throughout the XIV c. Manufacture was introduced into Germany in the last decade of the XIV c., in England at the end of the XV c., but in the Netherlands apparently not before the XVI c. During the XV c. Germany as well as France gradually became self-supporting in paper; South Austria would turn more to Italy for supplies; England to France and Italy by sea, and the Netherlands chiefly from France and Germany. It seems unlikely that any large supplies of paper were available before the latter part of the XIV c., and this was probably an important factor in determining the period at which the printing of pictures was introduced.

969 CHINA The earliest certain date for Chinese playing cards is an entry in the 'Liao shih' of T'o-t'o, a history of the Liao dynasty (907-1125) written in the 14th. C. saying that Emperor Mu-tsung played cards on the night of New Year's eve.

1041-49 CHINA First record of the use of moveable type, made from earthenware or tin, but which were never largely used.

1300 CHINA Use of moveable wooden type.


Arrival of Playing Cards into Europe

1347 BUBONIC PLAGUE The ‘Black Death’ first touched the West, and within a few years perhaps a third of the population of Europe perished in the epidemic of 1347-50. The plague was a disaster for European trade and ruined those industries which needed a large labour force such as agriculture, mining and fisheries. Playing cards do not appear to have existed in Europe at this time. Important 14th century writers such as Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer and Boccaccio never mentioned playing cards in their writing.

1364 St. GALLEN (Switzerland) An ordinance forbade dice games, allowed board games, but left cards unmentioned.

1371 CATALONIA (Spain) the word naip is defined as “playing cards” in the Llibre de Concordances, a Catalan rhyme dictionary compiled by the poet Jaume March, suggesting that playing cards were already known.

1376 FLORENCE 23 May. A game called ‘naibbe’ is forbidden in a decree, with the implication that the game had only recently been introduced there.

NOTE: In the above two references, the word naip or naibbe is used for playing cards. This appears to derive from the Arabic na’ib (deputy, viceroy, governor) who is a court figure in the Mamluk cards. However, the Arabic word for playing cards is kanjifah, which is related to the Persian ganjiveh and Indian ganjifa. This supports the belief that whilst playing cards originated in China, they then spread to India and Persia. From Persia they are believed to have spread to Egypt during the Mamluk era, and from there into Europe through both the Italian and Iberian peninsulas in the second half of the 14th century.

1377 BASLE “Tractatus de moribus et disciplina humane conversationis” written by a Dominican friar by the name of John.

Wherever in Western Europe man turned his eyes, he was confronted by the majesty of the church. Everything he did was approved or disapproved, blessed or cursed, interpreted and solemnised by the Church. He was baptised by it, married by it and buried by it. He called on angels, saints and martyrs for help, visited shrines and holy wells, made oaths on sacred relics. The Church dominated men’s minds and imagination...   more →

The pack described by him in his sermon “in its common form, and that in which it first reached us”, comprises four seated kings, on royal thrones, each one holding a certain sign in his hand, of which signs some are reputed good, but others signify evil. Under which kings are two ‘marschalli’, the first of whom holds the sign upwards in his hand, in the same manner as the king; but the other holds it downwards in his hand. After this there are ten other cards, outwardly of the same size and shape, containing pips one to ten, making a total of 52. This description corresponds not only to our modern poker pack, also to many German packs, but also to the Egyptian Mamluk pack which has a “First” and “Second” viceroy (Na’ib). Brother John forgot to describe the suit signs, however.

He goes on to describe variant packs containing queens, or two kings and two queens each with their ‘marschalli’, or packs containing five or six kings each (i.e. 5 or 6 suits) with ‘marschalli’, or even four kings, four queens and so on making packs of up to 60. It calls for raised eyebrows, however, that so many ‘variant’ packs existed so short after the introduction of playing cards, unless somehow, the craze for new games was quite unbridled. We can see packs fitting these descriptions from fifty to a hundred years later (Stuttgart pack, Ambras Hofjagdspiel, Liechestein pack, Master of the Playing cards, de Dale, etc.), but how can they be explained so soon?

1377 PARIS Ordinance forbade card games on workdays.

1377 SIENA Reference to playing cards.

1378 REGENSBERG Reference to playing cards.

1378 ITALY the Proviggione refers to a 'ludus qui vocavit naibbe' ('a game called cards').

1379 St GALLEN (SWITZERLAND) Card games prohibited.

1379 VITERBO, ITALY The year in which it is claimed that a new game called 'nayb' was introduced by a 'Saracen' (= Oriental, Arab or Muslim). In other words, playing cards had just been imported into Italy.

This is the much-quoted reference in the "Chronicles of Viterbo" (Viterbo, in Italy, is a little Northwest from Rome). Three such chronicles exist, all fifteenth century, each of which relies on an earlier chronicle for pre-fifteenth century records. These three chronicles all refer to what is evidently the same 1379 entry (now lost), which when reconstructed, must have read: "Anno 1379. Fu recato in Viterbo il gioco delle carte, che in Saracino parlare si chiama Nayb" ("In the year 1379 there was brought to Viterbo the game of cards, which in the Saracen language is called 'nayb'").

Whilst not actually stating that the game of cards came to Viterbo from the Muslim world, nevertheless the reference does have certain strong implications. This Arabic word "nayb" does not mean 'playing cards', however, but "deputy" or "viceroy" (i.e. "Jack" or "marshall"), and is the name of the second and third court cards in the Mamluk pack. This suggests that the Italians couldn't pronounce the Arabic word for playing cards, which is "kanjifah", but found the word "nayb" easier, and so it caught on. This word also turns into the Spanish word "naipes" which is used today.

The three surviving "Chronicle of Viterbo" manuscripts are: One written by Fra Francesco d'Andrea de Viterbo, O.F.M. An edition published by Francesco Cristofori in 1888, is based upon the original manuscript, said to be very difficult to read. This account ends in 1450, but a large portion was written in 1435. The relevant passage reads "Fu recato in Viterbo il gioco de le carte, che in Saracino parlare si chiama Mayb."

Another was written by Niccolo de Niccola della Tuccia (born 1400), and goes down to 1476. This was edited and published by Ignazio Ciampi in 1872 although allegedly relying on 17th and 18th century MMs. "Fu recato in Viterbo il gioco delle carte du un saracino chiamato Hayl" or "che in saracino parlare si chiama nayl."

A third, written by Giovanni de Juzzo de Covelluzzo (died 1480), which goes down to 1479, has not been published in its entirety. It has been quoted by Ciampi (above) and by Feliciano Bussi in "Istoria della Citta di Viterbo", Rome 1742: "Fu recato in Viterbo il gioco delle carti, che venne de Seracinia, & chiamasi tra loro Naib."

Discrepancies between these respective chronicles are due to mis-readings, mis-spellings and copyists' errors, and we can fairly safely reconstruct what must have been the original entry.

1379 CONSTANCE (SWITZERLAND) Reference to playing cards.

1379 BRUSSELS The first documentary evidence of playing cards in Belgium occurs in the Audit Office Register in the State Archives in Brussels. It is dated 14 May 1379 and reads in translation: "Given to My Lord and Lady on the 14th day of May, to purchase a pack of cards: 4 peters, 2 florins, making 8 sheep". (Note: a 'peter' was a gold or silver coin bearing the effigy of the Apostle Peter. 'Sheep' was the nickname given to a gold coin stamped with an Agnus Dei (used in France, Flanders and Brabant). "My Lord and Lady" were Duke Wenceslas of Luxemburg and Duchess Joanna of Brabant). Further references to purchases of playing cards follow in the same account book, some made by one Ingel Van der Noet (cost: 2 sheep), some by Colin Creevers, another by a certain Geerard, etc. One may infer that card games were very popular at the court of Brabant.

They played for high stakes at the Court, and the account books reveal exactly how much they lost. This makes one suspect that, just as online poker is very popular today and easy to access, a veritable craze for card playing existed in certain circles during the 1370s and 80s.

Duchess Joan of Brabant and her husband Wenceslas of Luxembourg who commissioned packs of playing cards in 1379

Alexandre Pinchart, writing about the same story in 1870, cites an account book of Wencesles and Jeanne, who reigned in the old duchy of Brabant from the year 1355, that describes a fête held at Brussels in 1379 at which cards were played. On the 14th. of May, 1379, the receiver general of Brabant gave to Monsieur et Madame four peters and two florins, valued at eight and a half moutons, to purchase a pack of cards, "quartespel mette copen". It is believed that this was a pack of 78 hand-painted cards on parchment, probably worked with gold. On the 25th June of the same year he paid some more money to Ange Van der Noel for a game of cards that the duchess had bought from him.

On August 28th 1380, there is paid by order of Jeanne to a certain master who had delivered "three pairs of cards" a sum of two old half crowns. On November 21st following, one of the servitors of the duchess received a florin for the purchase of a similar game. The cost of a pack of playing cards seems to be going down during the course of these purchases, perhaps cheaper cards were available as well as expensive hand-painted ones. The new phenomenon of gaming with playing cards would have given craftsmen an opportunity to satisfy the demand and make profits. There are apparently more such entries concerning both the duke and the duchess for sums of money spent on cards.

1380 BARCELONA The inventory, dated 26th October 1380, kept by the Barcelona merchant Nicolas Sarmona, who lived in St. Daniel's alley (Callejon San Daniel), lists "unum ludus de nayps qui sunt quadraginta quatour pecie" ("a game of cards (naips) of 44 pieces"); a strange number which could equally well refer to two sets of tarot trumps (if they existed as early as this) or to a (normal) deck with 4 cards missing (an incomplete pack). The same word for cards seems to have been used as in the Viterbo reference above.

1380 RODRIGO BORGES, Perpignan Described as "pintor y naipero", and is the earliest named card-maker.

1380 NUREMBERG References to playing cards.

1381 MARSEILLE The notarial archives speak of nahipi which means ‘cards’.

1382 LILLE An ordinance of the city of Lille, dated 1382, when Lille belonged to France, forbade various games including dice and "quartes" (an early word for cards, in distinction from nahipi as used in the 1381 reference).

1382 NURENBERG References to playing cards.

1382 BARCELONA The special Register of Ordinances in the historical archives of the city of Barcelona, for December 1382, includes a text prohibiting several games, including dice and cards, to be played in the house of a certain town official, subject to a fine of 10 "soldos" for each offence. It would take another 70 years or so for treasury authorities to raise revenues from playing cards by imposing taxes on their sale.

1384 VALENCIA 23rd June "Un nuevo juego llamado de los naipes" ("a new game called naipes") was prohibited by the Consul General of the city, as though it had only recently come to official attention.

1389 ZURICH References to cards.

1390 VENICE & HOLLAND References to cards.

1390 GERMANY In this year the first paper mill was established near the Nuremberg.

1391 AUGSBERG Reference to cards.

1392 JACQUEMIN GRIGONNEUR He was paid 56 "sols Parisis" for three packs of gilded cards, painted with divers colours and several devices, to be carried to the king for his amusement. This oft-quoted reference is an extract from the 1392 accounts of Charles Poupart, treasurer to Charles VI, and for some time was believed to refer to the so-called "tarot of Charles VI" or "Grigonneur tarot" in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, because of M.C.Leber's suggestion in 1842 to that effect.

Doubtless stimulated by the high prices obtained for beautiful cards by the illuminators and miniature painters, the engravers and carpenters must have contrived means of producing these items as well, thereby securing for themselves a share of the business.

The Church took a strict, prejudicial view on what it saw as lewd, frivolous, fickle or dishonest behaviour. Members of the clergy would certainly not approve of card playing if it had anything to do with gambling or fortune telling. Moralising tracts were published expressing disapproval of gambling as a mortal sin which might offend God and destroy lives.

Laws and royal decrees were passed forbidding card games from an early date, most likely directed at gambling and immoral behaviour including card sharping and swindling. But these were not of much use as the games were so popular. The authorities then realised that playing card production had to be be controlled by an official bureaucracy, or in many cases playing card monopolies were set up and taxes raised for the treasury.

1392 FRANKFURT-AM-MAIN References to cards.

1393 ITALY References to children playing cards.

1393 DIJON Earliest reference to a woodcutter doing work probably intended for printing is a record of payment in 1393 (in the accounts for works in the Chartreuse of Dijon) to a certain 'Jehan Baudet, charpentier, pour avoir fait et taillie des moles et tables pour la chapelle de mon signeur audit Champmol dicte la chapelle des Angles, a la devise de Beaumez'. This 'tailleur de molles' was probably cutting his blocks for printing textiles for altar hangings or similar work, after designs by the painter Jean de Beaumetz. There are various other slightly ambiguous references probably to textile blocks, such as in 1327 and 1328 to 'tapis d'entailleure' and 'deus dras ovree de entailleure de brodures' by a certain Jehan Herenc of St. Omer; in 1391 payment at St. Omer to Johannes Cruspondere 'pro factura ymaginum lignearum'. Although there is ambiguity in these early references between sculpture and cuts for printing, the small fees paid suggest wood blocks.

1395 FEDERICO DE GERMANIA, BOLOGNA A certain Federico de Germania sold 'cartas figuratas ad imagines et figuras sanctorum' at Bologna. There is no proof that he printed his cards from blocks, but as the document concerned accuses him of coining false money, this makes it more likely that he was able to cut blocks. It is interesting to note that in France early woodcuts seem to have sometimes been regarded as 'malefacons' (i.e. contraband) in the eyes of the guild of imagiers.

1395 AMSTERDAM playing cards are authorised by an Amsterdam Charter (chess, ball games and cards) but were forbidden two years later in Leyden.

1397 ULM Prohibition against cards.

1397 PARIS On the 22nd January, 1397, the Prevot of Paris issued a decree forbidding working people to play at tennis, bowls, dice, cards and ninepins on working days. It has been pointed out that for cards to be obtainable so readily by the working people, that a cheap and simple method must have been employed to manufacture them, and this is offered as possible evidence that printing must have been known about.

However, the most ancient cards which survive today are all hand painted, and records exist of other such cards being made, as well as for whom, and the price paid for them. The only references to cheaper varieties of cards are these prohibitions against their use, whilst the wealthy evidently were allowed to indulge.

1397 LEYDEN References to playing cards including a prohibition.

1398 ULM, GERMANY Earliest reference to the term 'Formschneider' in German documents, but which possibly also refers to the cutter of blocks for textile printing and is no certain limit for the introduction of prints from woodcut on paper. Various early writers have speculated concerning where this habit of card-playing was introduced from. The foregoing evidence at least confirms the possibility that they were introduced from the East since the requisite techniques seem to have been known and practiced there for longer than in the European continent. We may very reasonably, therefore look for indications and evidence from such parts for their earlier existence.


c.1400 EGYPT A passage in Ibn Taghri-Birdi's "Annals of Egypt and Syria" (dealing with events of the year 1417-1418) mentions that the future sultan al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad won a large sum of money in a game of cards. This confirms that playing cards were known in Mamluk Egypt not long after they first appeared in Europe. The text reads:

"The reason for the seizure of the aforementioned Akba'i [the governor of Syria residing in Damascus] was that the Sultan al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad [reigned from 1412 to 1427] had, in the days when he was emir, purchased a youth for 2000 dirhams which he had won playing 'kanjafah' [or 'kanjifah']. Al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad was at that time a qa'id and he was playing cards with one of his comrades and had won many dirhams from this man. Then the aforementioned Akba'i was brought into his presence together with his dealer. He [al-Mu'ayyad] was taken with him and he purchased him. The dealer then sought out his [al-Mu'ayyad's] bursar in order to collect the price of the aforementioned Akba'i, but he could not find him; so al-Mu'ayyad himself paid him the price from the dirhams which he had won gambling…"

The name of the game -- 'Kanjafah' -- is apparently of Persian origin, and from this extract it can be seen that it was a gambling game involving high stakes. Al-Mu'ayyad was appointed emir in 1399, and elected sultan in 1412, and so the account refers to somewhere within these dates.

From the repeated municipal regulations forbidding card-playing, to be found in the Burgher-books of several cities of Germany, between 1400 and 1450, it would seem that the game was extremely popular in that country in the earlier part of the fifteenth century; and that it continued to gain ground, notwithstanding the prohibitions of men in office. There are orders forbidding it in the council-books of Augsburg, dated 1400, 1403, and 1406; though in the latter year there is an exception which permits card-playing at the meeting-houses of the trades. It was forbidden at Nordlingen in 1426, 1436, and 1439; but in 1440 the magistrates, in their great wisdom, thought proper to relax in some degree the stringency of their orders by allowing the game to be played in public-houses. In the town-books of the same city there are entries, in the years 1456 and 1461, of money paid for cards at the magistrates' annual goose-feast or corporation dinner.
From William Andrew Chatto: Facts and Speculations on the Origin and History of Playing Cards, London 1848, Chapter 3, The Progress of Card-Playing.

Hand-painted playing card, 15th century
Image by kind permission of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards Collection 1401 BARCELONA Inventory of Barcelona merchant Miguel Ca-Pila includes a pack of large cards, painted and gilded.

1402 ULM Earliest documentary reference to the term 'Kartenmaler' or 'Kartenmacher' (painter or maker of playing cards). We can presume that the production of playing cards must have been a thriving industry, especially at Ulm, at the end of the XIV and beginning of the XV c. The probability of woodcuts having been used in their production by about 1400, or even earlier, cannot be disregarded, even though there are no surviving examples.

1403 RAIMUNDO DE SENTMENAT During his stay at the Castle of Jerica, the King of Aragon (Martin the Humane) asked to be sent 'un Joch de naips'.

1404 SYNOD OF LANGRES Laurentii Bochelli, writing in 1609 in Decreta ecclesiae Gallicanae, relates that at the Synod of Langres in 1404 Cardinal Louis de Bar, Bishop of Langres, forbade the clergy from indulging in various games including cards.

1408 In the inventory of the goods of LOUIS DE VALOIS and his wife Valentine, nee Visconti, Duke and Duchess of Orleeans, begun at the order of their son Charles on the day of his mother's death in 1408, there are listed "ung jeu de quartes sarrasines" and "unes quartes de Lombardie". Louis and Valentine were married in 1389, and she could have brought the cards with her from Milan then. Later examples of Lombard tarot packs reveal many similarities to Saracen cards in the suit sign styles, although there is no other evidence that they were in existence in 1408, let alone 1389. Here they are called 'quartes' and not 'tarots' in any case, which leaves us thinking that they probably were regular Italian playing cards. The concurrence of Islamic and European playing cards ('quartes') in lists of property such as this gives weight to the hypothesis of the Islamic origin of playing cards in Europe, and certainly to the fact of European/Muslim interchange as far as playing cards were concerned.

Moorish-type playing card probably printed in Spain, 15th century.1414 BARCELONA Two distinct Barcelona inventories have entries "j joch de nayps (or 'nahyps') moreschs". An example of 'Moorish playing' cards has been discovered in Barcelona: moorish.pdf

1421 JAIME ESTALOS "Grabador de naipes"


1423 ST BERNADIN OF SIENA "Charticelles seu Naibos" sermon. Bologna appears to have been a hotbed of gambling in the early XV c., and it needed St. Bernardino to persuade players to burn their cards. He preached at the church of San Petronio, Bologna, against the vices of gaming in general and playing cards in particular. He spoke of a pack of 56 cards, including queens, without mentioning atutti, suggesting either that they did not exist, or were acceptable.

The story goes that when hearers threw their cards into the fire, a card-maker who was present and heard the denunciations even against those persons who supplied the obnoxious article, exclaimed: "I have not learned, father, any other business than that of painting cards, and if you deprive me of that, you deprive me of life and my destitute family of the means of earning a subsistence." To this the Saint replied, "If you do not know what to paint, paint this figure, and you will never have cause to repent having done so", and showed the card-maker the figure of a radiant sun, having in the centre the sacred monogram I.H.S.

See: original story here

Burning of cards

Above: as Europe emerged from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, what was formerly seen as a morally corrupting vice was transformed into an everyday artefact that has been in the background of our daily lives for over 600 years.

1423 NUREMBERG Card-making was a regular trade in Germany in the fifteenth century, and the terms 'Kartenmacher' and 'Formschneider' are used distinctively, sometimes entered on the same page of civic archives. There was, then, a distinction between these vocations, although the followers of each business perhaps belonged to the same guild or company. In some towns the term 'Formschneider' does not occur at all in the XV century, suggesting that block-cutters had no special guild, but belonged to the larger class of carpenters.

1427 TOURNAI Tournai was a centre of the arts, where numerous artists and craftsmen resided. Many of these also made playing cards for the then flourishing trade.

In 1427 two master card-makers in Tournai, Michael Noel and Philippe du Bos were admitted as masters in the painters' guild. They each registered his chosen mark: one was a rose, the other a wild boar. Each master card-maker had as his helpers those who prepared the colours, les broyeurs; those who applied the colours, les bruneteurs or licheurs en couleurs (mixers of colours); and those who prepared the paper, les carteurs. Their duties were clearly defined by the rules of the guild, which also stipulated which colours were to be used. The relatively large numbers of masters and apprentices recorded in the guild registers in the latter fifteenth century suggest that card making must have developed into a sizeable local industry. The register contains the names of many women who worked in the industry.

Stuttgarter Kartenspiel, c.14301427-31 STUTTGART HUNTING PACK Numerals 1-9, banner 10's, 3 courts per suit. Total = 52 cards. In the suit of stags and dogs the courts are all ladies, she corresponding to the under valet stands in a garden, and the queens are seated on thrones. The suits of ducks and falcons are all men, princes and mounted kings. The valets are reminiscent of the pages in the Goldschmidt/Guildhall cards. The numeral cards do not appear to have been copied from a pattern in quite the same way as the Master of the Playing Cards, since each figure is individual.

1428 MIGUEL DE ALCAYNIS and the sons of the painter BARTOLOME PEREZ, all from Valencia, received a commission from Queen Maria, wife of Alfonso the Magnanimous, to draw, paint and finish off a pack of cards. At the same time, the queen sent payment for the paper that would be necessary.

1429-56 DIEGO ALFONT, Valencia JUAN ALVAREZ " Cardmakers.

1430 ANTONIO DI GIOVANNI DI SER FRANCESCO 'Pittor di naibi' of Florence. Whilst filling in his income-tax returns, he mentions amongst his property 'wood blocks for playing-cards and saints'.

1434 Queen Mary (already referred to under 1428) is recorded as having received a small box with a very beautiful pack of cards, offered to her by the mercer Miguel de Roda. (A mercer was formerly a dealer in small wares, although later became a dealer in cloth or silks).

c1435 FRESCO BY PISANELLO Card playing in the court of Prince Borromeo.


1439 BARCELONA An inventory entry of this year records "x jochs de naips moreschs; iij altres jochs de naips plans petits". Some form of "moorish", Islamic or Mamluk-type playing cards were evidently well-known in Spain at this time.

1440 STRASSBURG A certain Johann Meydenbach is referred to specifically under the two crafts of 'Briefmaler' and 'Formschneider'. 'Briefmaler' means the painter or illuminator of short documents, a lower class in the hierarchy of illuminators of manuscripts, and is unlikely to have been used loosely to include cutter of woodblocks. There was probably less distinction between the 'Briefmaler' and the 'Kartenmaler', the latter being perhaps the lowest class of illuminator.

Visconti di Modrone tarocchi card, first half of fifteenth century. Cary-Yale collection. 1440 MILAN Around 1440 Decembrio, the official biographer of Filippo Maria Visconti, third duke of Milan, wrote that the duke enjoyed playing at a game that used painted figures. Decembrio also wrote that duke Filippo paid 1500 gold pieces to Marziano da Tortona for a pack of cards decorated with images of Gods, emblematic animals and figures of birds.

Marziano da Tortona is alleged to have painted the 'Visconti di Modrone' pack of tarocchi cards.

1441 VENICE, ITALY Woodcutters and makers of playing cards, in a request to the Council of the city, ask for protection against the foreign import which they declared had ruined their trade. As a result, regulations were made forbidding the import of every kind of print, including textiles and cards, under penalty of forfeiting such articles and being fined. This order appears to have been aimed at German card makers.

"mccccxli. Oct 11. Whereas the art and mystery of making cards and printed figures, which is used at Venice, has fallen to total decay; and this in consequence of the great quantity of playing cards, and coloured figures printed, which are made out of Venice; to which evil it is necessary to apply some remedy; in order that the said artists, who are a great many in family, may find encouragement rather than foreigners. Let it be ordered and established, according to that which the said masters have supplicated, that, from this time in future, no work of the said art, that is printed or painted on cloth, or paper, that is to say, altar pieces (or images) and playing cards, and whatever other work of the said art is done with a brush and printed, shall be allowed to be brought or imported into this city, under a pain of forfeiting the works so imported, and xxx livres and xxii soldi; of which fine one third shall go to the state, one third to the Signore Giustizrieri Vecchi, to whom the affair is committed, and one third to the accuser. With this condition, however, that the artists, who make the said works in this city, may not expose the said works to sale in any other place but their own shops, under the pain aforesaid, except on Wednesdays at S. Paolo, and on Saturday at S. Marco, under the aforesaid penalties." Then follow the subscriptions of the Proveditori del Comune, and Signori Giustizieri Vecchi.

All this goes to show that the playing-card business must have been flourishing for some while before this date, in order for it to be described as "fallen to total decay". We have several earlier dates pointing to the existence of cards and of knowledge of printing techniques in general in Venice and Italy from 1379 onwards.

Ambras Hofjagdspiel, c.1440-50 1440-50 AMBRAS HOFJAGDSPIEL. 'The pack of Princely Hunting Cards of Ambras'. 56 cards: numerals 1-9 + banner 10's. Four courts per suit, mounted kings and queens, upper and under knaves. Falcons, herons, hounds and lures. Attributed to Konrad Witz and his workshop at Basle.

1443 BERNARDO SOLER "Grabador de Naipes".

1443 JUAN BRUNET, a catalan card-maker recorded as being a member of the "Cofradia de los Merceros" ("Union" or "Guild of Mercers" or "Haberdashers") before amalgamation with the playing card makers.

1444 LYON There are numerous records of 'Tailleurs de molles de Cartes' at Lyon from 1444.

c.1446 MASTER of the PLAYING CARDS Numerals at least up to nine, with four court cards per suit. Lions/bears, wild people, antelopes, birds. Seated kings and queens, ober and unter knaves. The fact that these are engraved may indicate the greater estimation in which line-engraving was held than woodcut.

1449 ISABELLE OF LORRAINE A series of 16 cards is described in a letter dated 1449 from Jacobo Antonio Marcello, a servant of King Rene of Anjou, to Isabelle of Lorraine, first wife of King Rene.

1449-53 ARNALDO BRU, Barcelona.

Detail from Flemish Hunting Deck, c.1475-80

1450 DAS GULDIN SPIL The Dominican Meister Ingold, who in 1450 wrote a work in the Alsatian dialect called "Das Guldin Spil", lists the four suits as Roses, Crowns, Pennies and Rings.

15c Alejandro Bussero, Ramon Esquert, Miguel Fabra, Miguel Ferrer, Martin Gallart, Pedro de Laredo, Francisco Lleonart, Antonio Pelegri, Bartolome de Primerant, Miguel Sanz, Ramon Veya, recorded as card-makers from Barcelona during the fifteenth century. There was also the Borges family, from Rosellon, as well as several Castilian, Andalucian and French card-makers. There was clearly a lot of movement and interaction between artists and craftsmen in this region.

1456 RODRIGO PADROLO, Barcelona.

1457 TREATISE OF THEOLOGY written by Saint Anthony, Bishop of Florence, refers to playing cards and Tarot, thus suggesting that they were separate games.

1460 BARCELONA An inventory entry reads: "jochs de nayps plans, y altres jochs moreschs".

1461 REGENSBERG A certain Wenczl is noted in records as 'Maler' and 'Aufdrucker' at Regensberg.

1463 PARLIAMENT ROLLS In the third year of Edward IV, (March 4, 1463 to March 3, 1464) a statute was issued prohibiting, as from the following Michaelmas day (Sept, 29, 1464) the importation into England and Wales of various "chaffares, wares, ou choses desoubs escriptes." The "chaffares, wares, or things written below" were numerous and miscellaneous, including fire-tongs, dripping pans, dice, tennis balls, pins, pattins, pack-needles, painted wares, daggers, woodknives, bodkins, tailor's shears, razors and "Cardes a jouer."

1464 BASLE Reference to Lienhart Ysenhut, Heiligenmaler, Briefmaler and Kartenmacher.

1465 PRINTING PRESS In the inventory of a certain Jacoba von Loos-Hensberge who died in the Bethany convent at Malines in 1465, are mentioned a press for printing wood blocks, nine wood blocks for printing images, with 14 other stone blocks (or small stone stamps.

the Master of the Banderoles, c.1470

c.1470 MASTER P.W's CIRCULAR CARDS. Cologne. Total of 72 cards. 1-10, ober and unter, mounted kings and queens in roses, carnations, rabbits/hares, parrots and columbines. Plus two extra cards. Whilst the kings and queens are mounted, the knaves are differentiated by the upper or lower placing of their suit signs, and by the fact that the upper one is running and the lower one standing. There are various copies of this set of cards, and sometimes cards within the same set appear to have been made by different engravers. Furthermore, ther have been disagreement regarding the precise composition of the pack, some people reckoning it only to have consisted of numerals 1-9, or in four suits instead of five.

1470-1519 PEDRO BORGES, BARCELONA. Another member of this dynasty of card-makers.

1474 JOAN SANT CLIMENT of Valencia, Spain, was a card-maker and a poet. He is recorded to have participated in a literary competition with a work entitled "Trobes en llaor de la Verge Maria" which became the first work printed in Valencia.

1474 ULM A manuscript chronicle states that: 'playing cards were sent in large bales into Italy, Sicily and other parts by sea' in return for spices and other merchandise. Ulm was another city that produced remarkable woodcut books, as well as playing-cards.

1475 BAPTISTA PLATINA, writing in his treatise De Honesta Voluptate, recommends cards as a beneficial after-dinner game for gentlemen, to divert their minds and thereby improve digestion. He warns against cheating or desiring to gain anything.

1476 Reference to a prohibition of dice and card games by Ferdinand and Isabella, referring to the kingdom of Castilla. Apparantly this is the first genuine reference to cards in that area (as distinct from Catalunya).

A 1480 document sets forth numerous technical regulations governing the card makers of the Tournai guild (Belgium). Cards were printed or stencilled on bleached and browned paper pasteboard and painted with distemper in colours such as scarlet, vert-de-gris, white and black. The use of gold, silver or azure required an extra payment to the guild.

1605 Many card games developed in the 17th century one of them being "Veintiuna". The first written reference is to be found in a book of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, and a gambler himself. The main character of his tale is proficient at cheating at "veintiuna" (Spanish for twenty-one), and stated that the object of the game is to reach 21 points without busting. This short story was written between 1601 and 1602, so the game was played in Castilia since the beginning of the 17th Century or even earlier. Later references call veintiuna the game blackjack and that is the name used today.

1990 Playing cards become digital and with the growing popularity of the PC more people are playing on their computers.

interior view of playing card workshop where colouring, polishing and cutting operations are taking place

Above: interior view of playing card workshop where colouring, polishing and cutting operations are taking place.   Learn more →

Dibujo anónimo del siglo XVIII

By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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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.

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1910 C.L.Wüst Poster Stamps

C.L.Wüst Poster Stamps

A set of advertising poster stamps for C.L.Wüst playing cards.

1880 Dutch costume playing cards from an unknown maker

Dutch costume playing cards from an unknown maker

Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.

1860 Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

1705 Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.

72: The Ace of Spades

72: The Ace of Spades

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

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

A. Camoin & Cie

A. Camoin & Cie

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.

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

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.

1584 Toledo, 1584

Toledo, 1584

Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.



Eurotrotter by La Ducale, c.1980s.

2003 Alice


Alice with artwork by Jesús Blasco, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Gulliver im Land der Zwerge

Gulliver im Land der Zwerge

Gulliver in the Land of Dwarfs quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pößneck.

1981 El Gato con Botas

El Gato con Botas

Puss in Boots card game manufactured by H. Fournier, 1981.

1500 Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern

“Deck with French suits”

“Deck with French suits”

A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.

2013 Crikey!


Crikey! Classic British Comics playing cards published by Bird Playing Cards, 2013.

1989 Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes deck with caricatures by Jeff Decker published by Gemaco Playing Card Co. 1989

1950 Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels card game no.293 published by Piatnik, c.1950.

1951 Authors


Authors quartet game published by Whitman Publishing Co., 1951.

Dickens Snap

Dickens Snap

Dickens Snap, c.1890.

1888 Heraldic playing cards

Heraldic playing cards

Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.

1698 Le Jeu de la Guerre

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras, published by Jeux et Jouets Français. Paris, early 1900s.

1864 Corner Indices

Corner Indices

Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.

Mary Whitmore Jones and her Chastleton Patience Board

Mary Whitmore Jones and her Chastleton Patience Board

Mary Whitmore Jones and her Chastleton Patience Board by Tony Hall.

1800 Baraja Carlos IV by Félix Solesio, 1800

Baraja Carlos IV by Félix Solesio, 1800

Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.

1908 Wonderland Misfitz

Wonderland Misfitz

Wonderland Misfitz by C.W. Faulkner & Co. Ltd, c.1908.

2019 World of Harry Potter

World of Harry Potter

World of Harry Potter playing cards produced by Winning Moves under Waddingtons Number 1 brand, 2019.

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

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.



Boekenkwartet featuring illustrations from children's books, 1970s.

1759 Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables playing cards by I. Kirk, c.1759.

2018 Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland playing cards designed by Sasha Dounaevski, 2018.

2000 Martín Fierro

Martín Fierro

Naipes “Martín Fierro” based on the epic poem by José Hernandez.

2019 On The Cards

On The Cards

A Motley Pack - transformation playing cards & ‘On The Cards’ book facsimile published by Sunish Chabba, 2019.

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.

1878 Tyrolean Playing Cards

Tyrolean Playing Cards

Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.

2005 Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, 2005.

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.