The "Portuguese suit system," also referred to as the "Italo-Portuguese system," was once widely used in Portugal, Sicily, Malta, and other regions connected to Portuguese colonization and trade. However, this system is now largely outdated. It is worth noting that the boundaries and simultaneous diffusion of the different variations within these regions and Europe as a whole are not clearly defined. Moreover, this system had an impact on Far Eastern countries, including Japan. Additionally, remnants of the Portuguese suit system can still be found in early Spanish and Italian playing cards, specifically in Minchiate packs, while it continues to be preserved in the Sicilian tarot to this day.
Malta was ruled by the Order of Saint John as a vassal state of the Kingdom of Sicily from 1530 to 1798. A thriving playing-card manufacturing industry had flourished there since 1684. The example of cards with dragon aces shown here is believed to have been made by a Spanish cardmaker, A.Infirrera, whose name is on the four of cups, whilst the date 1693 appears on the two of coins. The kings have Maltese crosses on their chests and the four of coins has arms said to be those of the Grand Master of Malta of that time.
The cards have a centrally-placed index at top and bottom, placed within a rectangle, and there is also an inner rectangle in the design of each card. The index letters refer to the card rank and suit names in Italian (rather than Portuguese). The kings are seated and hold shields. The maids also hold shields and those of swords and batons are battling with serpent-like creatures, similar to those depicted on the aces.
Denning, Trevor: “What Are Infirrera Cards?” in The Playing-Card, Journal of the IPCS, Vol. 16 number 3.
Salvatore Bonaccorsi, Nicola De Giorgio, Emilia Maggio: The origins of the "Portuguese" suit system for playing cards and tarots in Sicily Section II►
Giovanni Bonello: “Maltese Playing Card Makers 1684-1750” in The Playing-Card, Volume 32, Number 3, IPCS 2005.
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.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
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Advertising pack for the food producer Bischofszell, designed by Heinz Looser-Brenner, with non-stan...
Modern designs by Italian artist Marcello Morandini using the simplest of forms and colours.
Trappola pack of 36 double-ended cards published by Anton Herrl, Graz, Austria.
Review of “Trzes’ Moorish Deck” facsimile published by Ulrich Kaltenborn, Berlin, 2023.
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
Antique playing cards in Vittoriosa Church Museum dating back to the Knights of Malta period.
Tulsa City-County Library System Annual Report playing cards, USA, 1983.
Stars of Country Music playing cards with non-standard suit symbols, USA, 1995
A vastly expanded pack with 8 suits for playing traditional or new games, devised by Roger Howard Bu...
Courts in medieval costume holding both French and Italian/Spanish suit-signs.
XV Century Spanish-suited playing cards with moorish influences
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A five-suited set of playing cards published by Fleet and Case Games Ltd., Rainham, Kent, UK, c.1980...
Portuguese pattern playing cards published in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, late 19th century.
Archaic Spanish-suited playing cards published in Toulouse by Antoine de Logiriera (1495-1518).
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.
On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collect...
Five Suit Bridge was invented in Vienna in 1937 by Walter W. Marseille and Dr. Paul Stern.
Antique deck of old Bohemian playing cards of the German type manufactured by Georg Kapfler and date...