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Published January 31, 2010 Updated July 28, 2023

Gothic Spanish-suited cards

These cards may be a typical example of early 'standard' Spanish playing cards, maybe from before Columbus sailed for the 'New World' which were imitated by German engravers who wished to export their wares back to Spain.

1515 Catalonia Spain Gothic History Archaic Patterns Spanish Suited Add to Collection

Gothic Spanish-suited cards, 15th century

Gothic Spanish-suited cards discovered in the cover of a book published in 1519; uncut sheet showing 15 cards. Some time may have elapsed between the rejection of the sheet by the playing-card printer, its being made into board and the board finally being drawn from stock for use by the bookbinder.

The style and costume of the figures places it between 1460 and 1470. All the ‘sotas’ are female, standing three-quarter profile, upholding their suit symbols. The clubs are hefty tree branches - not slender rods as in Italian cards. The numeral cards have been decorated by the addition of extra motifs which are not essential to the design, i.e. cavorting putti, and in this and other respects they are related in design to the pack by the Oberdeutscher Stecher, engraved in the 1490s, and also the uncut sheet by the Master of the Banderoles, engraved in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, and which also feature naked children deporting themselves. The coins all feature the shield of Aragon.

These early Spanish playing cards, maybe from before Columbus sailed for the New World, contain female maids, or ‘sotas’, which are seen in other early Catalan cards as well as Portuguese cards.

Gothic Spanish-suited cards detail from Gothic Spanish-suited cards

Above: uncut sheet showing fifteen playing cards, 15th century. Discovered in the cover of a Catalan manuscript of 1519 (discovered by Enrique Claudio Girbal). Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Barcelona). Size of original: 263 x 296 mm.

Looking at the layout of the cards on the sheet, we note that the woodblock had five cards in each row, and that a missing row at the top might have contained the four kings and a cavalier. If this was the case, then it is still unclear whether the complete pack might have contained 48 cards, 52 cards or some other number.

See also:   Spanish Playing CardsPhelippe AyetBaraja MoriscaHistory of Playing CardsMaster of the BanderolesSeville 17th CenturySpanish National PatternThe Money Bag patternPedro BosioRotxotxo InventoriesNavarra XVII CenturyQuercia y PossiGandarillasNaipes ArtiguistasMacharaviayaFrancisco Flores16th Century 'Rimac' CardsJoan BarbotSpanish-suited playing cards made in Germany.

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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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