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Published June 07, 2022 Updated June 07, 2023

Portuguese-suited cards

Portuguese-suited cards with dragon aces, made in Italy, 1613.

1613 Italy Alla Colonna History Archaic Patterns Portuguese Pattern Add to Collection

‘Portuguese’-suited cards with dragon aces and king (seated), maid (standing) and cavalier court hierarchy, made in Italy. The swords are straight and intersecting, with the date 1613 visible on the two of swords. The maids of cups and swords hold shields bearing a column suggesting the cardmaker 'Alla Colonna in Piazza Nicosia' believed to be in Rome. Small details of design correspond closely with other ‘Portuguese’-suited packs made at this time, with index letters and numbers at the top and bottom center of each card.

Note: The names of the suit systems do not indicate their country of origin. The label 'Portuguese' is simply convenient to indicate association with a particular country, but the system was not confined to that country alone. It travelled with Portuguese colonialists and traders to South East Asia, as well as being used in Brazil, Sicily and in certain tarot packs. It was also carried abroad by Spanish sailors and explorers. The dragons on the aces were copied on all derivatives produced in India, Indonesia and Japan etc, hence they are often called ‘Dragon cards’.

Portuguese-suited cards made in Italy, 1613. © The Trustees of the British Museum Portuguese-suited cards made in Italy, 1613. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Above: two fragmentary uncut sheets of Portuguese-suited playing cards made in Rome, Italy, 1613. © The Trustees of the British Museum • Museum number 1896,0501.1089

References

O’Donoghue, Freeman M: Catalogue of the collection of playing cards bequeathed by Lady Charlotte Schreiber, Trustees of the British Museum, London, 1901 (Sheets Italian 1) [digital version here]

Dummett, Michael: The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City, Duckworth, 1980

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

Founder 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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