The World of Playing Cards Logo
Published July 03, 1996 Updated June 12, 2023

16th century cards discovered in Peru

Fragments of playing cards and 2 dice were unearthed in a 16th century rubbish tip adjacent to a Spanish house in the lower Rimac Valley in Peru, providing evidence of games played by early Spanish settlers.

Peru Spain History Portuguese Pattern Add to Collection

16th Century Spanish Playing Cards discovered in Archaeological Dig in Peru

33 fragments of playing cards and 2 dice were unearthed in a 16th century rubbish tip adjacent to a Spanish house in the lower Rimac Valley in Peru, providing evidence of games played by early Spanish settlers. In amongst the rubbish associated with the cards there was also a paper document dated 1516.

The cards are from more than one pack, and fall into two groups. The first group comprises cards of the archaic Spanish-suited "Dragon" type of pack, whilst the remaining cards are of a different early Spanish-suited pattern. Together these cards provide stunning evidence of early Spanish playing card production exported to Central and South American countries very soon after the 'discovery' of the New World.

Archaic Spanish-suited 'Dragon' Cards

Above & Right: fragments of playing cards of the "Dragon" type made in Seville (Spain) discovered in archaeological excavations in the Lower Rimac Valley, Peru, during 1964-66. The backs of the cards, showing warriors and portraits of individuals in 16th century European fashion, were designed to wrap around the edges of the cards thereby providing a border around the fronts. This can be seen on the four of swords, the cavalier of coins, the two of cups and the fragment of the "Dragon" Ace at the lower left. The inscription "En Sevilla en Cal de la Sierpe" appears on one card. The two of cups is supported on two tiny dolphins. [Source of images: Cárdenas Martin, 1999]

The fragment of the King of Swords (right, enlarged) shows that the quality of the woodcutting is very fine and detailed. The colours used are: black, red, blue and ochre. These cards are example of a distinctive pattern known as "Dragon Cards" owing to the winged dragons or sea monsters on the four aces. The kings are seated on thrones. Cards such as these have been found in various parts of the world, having been exported by early Hispanic colonisers. Early Spanish/Portuguese type playing cards found in Netherlands →

This pattern has long been extinct. A fine example is preserved in the Archivo de Indias in Seville manufactured by Francisco Flores, along with a sheet of similar allegorical back designs with Mexican imagery, and the contract for one Alonso Martínez de Orteguilla to administer the manufacture and sale of playing cards in New Mexico in 1583 (see mock-up of four cards shown below). The deduction which might be made is that cards like these were being manufactured in Spain and exported into the newly colonised 'New Spain' since some time in the 16th century, possibly as early as 1516.

Cards by Francisco Flores, c.1560-80

Above: 5 cards from the second set discovered in the excavations, which belong to standard Spanish-suited packs of the day. Only the right-hand card appears to have the 'turned over' edges as in the first set, and they are of a simpler design on the front and back, which would amount to efficiency gains in production. Unfortunately no court cards are available to identify the pattern, but they are consistent with other known 16th century examples. As it happens, Seville was an attractive destination for gamblers during the sixteenth century   learn more →

avatar
1,432 Articles

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.


Related Articles

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

A limited edition art print of the 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil King of Diamonds

Woodblock and Stencil King of Diamonds

A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Hearts

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Hearts

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.

1984 Tarot de Madrid

Tarot de Madrid

Black-and-white photographs of models whose faces are made up using elements found on the major arca...

2023 Naipes de Personajes Granadinos

Naipes de Personajes Granadinos

Forty famous men and women with links to Granada, on a pack designed by Rubén Garrido.

2010 El Niño de las Pinturas

El Niño de las Pinturas

Forty-nine distinctive works by Spanish graffiti artist Raúl Ruiz.

1790 Pere Pau Rotxotxo Puigdoura

Pere Pau Rotxotxo Puigdoura

Spanish national pattern by Pere Pau Rotxotxo Puigdoura (1766–1797).

75: Early American cards

75: Early American cards

An overview of some of the early cards made in the United States.

2002 Mario Testino playing cards

Mario Testino playing cards

A selection of Mario Testino’s photographic work in various fields, notably fashion.

2023 Moorish Deck

Moorish Deck

Review of “Trzes’ Moorish Deck” facsimile published by Ulrich Kaltenborn, Berlin, 2023.

1988 El Jueves playing cards

El Jueves playing cards

Caricatures of 52 famous Spaniards for the satirical magazine “El Jueves”.

1980 Naipe Navarro

Naipe Navarro

Historical figures and artefacts from Navarre with designs by M. Sinués for the Navarre Association ...

1981 Bankunión playing cards

Bankunión playing cards

Ingredients and recipes for 24 dishes from different regions of Spain.

1972 Souvenir Playing Cards of Egypt

Souvenir Playing Cards of Egypt

55 different photographic views of Egypt in full colour.

1885 Baraja Mística

Baraja Mística

‘Baraja Mística’ satirical playing-cards featuring revelling clergy published by Litografía Fernánde...

1450 Early German playing cards

Early German playing cards

Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.

1870 José Maria Durán

José Maria Durán

Spanish Catalan pattern by José Maria Durán, Barcelona, c.1870.

1872 Spanish Political pack

Spanish Political pack

Satirical playing cards manufactured by Francar y Cía depicting political situation, Barcelona, 1872...

1860 José Cumplido

José Cumplido

Raimundo García pattern produced by José Cumplido in Madrid, dated 1860 on the four of coins.

1879 Juan Humanes y Cía

Juan Humanes y Cía

Raimundo García pattern published by Juan Humanes y Cía, Madrid, 1879.

1850 Pou y Cía

Pou y Cía

Catalan pattern made by Pou y Cía, Madrid c.1860.

1885 Nueva Baraja Taurina

Nueva Baraja Taurina

'Nueva Baraja Taurina' designed by Pedro Maldonado, Madrid, c.1885.

1790 Amorcillos

Amorcillos

‘Amorcillos’ (Cupids), a masterpiece from the golden age of Spanish playing cards by Clemente Roxas,...

1802 Félix Solesio e Hijos

Félix Solesio e Hijos

Félix Solesio e Hijos - Real Fábrica de Madrid - Spanish National pattern for Venezuela

1805 Four Empires - Clemente Roxas

Four Empires - Clemente Roxas

‘Four Empires’ playing cards produced by Clemente Roxas, c.1805.

1815 Llombart Costume Pack

Llombart Costume Pack

Military-style costume pack made by Anton Llombart, Barcelona, 1815.

1821 Juan de Brugada

Juan de Brugada

Spanish National pattern by Juan de Brugada e hijo, Real Fábrica de Madrid, 1821.

1693 Infirrera

Infirrera

Italo-Portuguese-suited cards by Andrea Infirrera with the arms of Malta, 1693.

1890 Portuguese cards for Brazil

Portuguese cards for Brazil

Portuguese-type cards made in or for Brazil, c.1890.

1650 The Parisian Tarot

The Parisian Tarot

The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s, with imagery and design synthesizing several influences.

1850 Aluette by Dieudonné Jeune, Orléans, c.1850

Aluette by Dieudonné Jeune, Orléans, c.1850

Aluette game by Fabrique Dieudonné Jeune, Orléans, for Spanish market, c.1850.

1986 Baraja Española de Pintores Murcianos

Baraja Española de Pintores Murcianos

A Spanish-suited pack as conceived by 48 different artists from the region of Murcia.

1991 Baraja Napoleónica

Baraja Napoleónica

Re-edition of a French-suited Spanish pack from the Napoleonic era, with designs by J. Carrafa.

1983 Baraxa Galega

Baraxa Galega

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

1977 El Desnudo en el Arte

El Desnudo en el Arte

The Nude in Art / El Desnudo en el Arte, Spain, 1977 (reprint 1990)

2018 Baraja del Camino de Santiago

Baraja del Camino de Santiago

Designs by Guitián, published by Ideas Peregrinas, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, c2018.

1992 Naipes Expo ’92

Naipes Expo ’92

Naipes Expo ’92 souvenir playing cards manufactured by Naipes Comas, 1992.

1975 Baraja Fiesta Taurina

Baraja Fiesta Taurina

‘Baraja Fiesta Taurina’ bullfight playing cards published by Heraclio Fournier, Spain, 1975.

1991 Secretos de Oriente

Secretos de Oriente

Secrets of the Far East playing cards featuring the designs of Violeta Monreal , Spain, c. 1991.

Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado: Pintores y familias reales / Painters and royal families playing cards.

1983 España Imperial

España Imperial

España imperial / Imperial Spain playing cards with artwork by Serny, published by Heraclio Fournier...

1988 Medieval Life playing cards

Medieval Life playing cards

‘Medium Aevum’ (Medieval Life) playing cards designed by Violeta Monreal, published by Heraclio Four...

1880 Four Continents playing cards

Four Continents playing cards

made by Fulladosa y Comp of Barcelona