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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Maya Playing Cards

The designs of Mayan artists shown here give a general idea of their enormous artistic and cultural potential.

Maya Playing Cards, c.1991

Productora de Naipes y Confetti S.A. de C.V. (Pronaco), Mexico

With their imagination, skill and aesthetic perfection, the designs of Mayan artists shown here give a general idea of their enormous artistic and cultural potential. Mayan glyphs and artistic representations have been incorporated into the cards which also maintain the familiar numerical characteristics of Anglo-American playing cards. In addition to the Arabic numbering, each card also contains the Mayan equivalent of playing card suits and simple Mayan numbering. The set includes a multi-lingual leaflet published by Mundo Maya / Creaciones Artesanales del Sureste and a booklet describing the history of the Mayas, inside a specially made artesanal box.

Maya Playing Cards (Naipe Tipo Maya) manufactured in Mexico by Pronaco S.A. de C.V., 1991

Above: Maya Playing Cards ('Naipe Tipo Maya') manufactured in Mexico by Pronaco S.A. de C.V., Georgia 167 Col Napoles Mexico 03810 D.F. 1991. Using a bark paper background (Amate) the central space area of each card has been used to place the hieroglyphics or images corresponding to days, months, gods or important characters. The back design represents a stucco piece forming part of a death offering discovered in the tomb located inside the pyramid known as 'The Temple of the Inscriptions" at Palenque, Chiapas.


Detale de una página del códice Trocortesiano

Above: detalle de una página pictogramas del Códice Trocortesiano, siglo XVI. MUSEO DE AMÉRICA   more


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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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Maya Playing Cards

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Guatemala

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Native Indian Hand-made Cards made on rawhide

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Latin American Playing Cards

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Pre-Incas & Incas Souvenir Playing Cards, Cusco, Peru, 2000.

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Las Cartas de Tacuabe by Manos del Uruguay

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