Moorish playing cards, two uncut sheets, early fifteenth century. These two uncoloured, uncut sheets of early Moorish playing cards were formerly preserved in the Instituto Municipal de Historia in Barcelona. They were first brought to light by Simon Wintle in 1987 and described by him in: A 'Moorish' Sheet of Playing Cards, in "The Playing Card" Vol.15 no.4, 1987, IPCS, England. (The original article can be downloaded here.) The cards are printed from woodblocks as bold black outlines. No court cards are present and the numerals evidently ran from 1-10. The four aces (top row, left) illustrate the suit symbols: a downward-pointing sword, complete with hilt; an ambiguous, curved shape which might be seen as a curved club (on what is probably the two of 'clubs' we see two curved strips not crossing but juxtopposed); a simple disc or coin decorated with concentric circles; and a stemmed cup or goblet resting on a triangular base. Unlike the remainder of the pack, these four aces also have geometrically patterned borders.
The earliest historical reference to specifically moorish designs in Barcelona is dated 1414, and subsequent discussions have led to the conclusion that these cards are possibly the earliest set of European playing cards that have come down to us. The pack was made before the 10s had been suppressed, and are possibly of Christian manufacture in imitation of some Muslim prototype. From the ambiguous form of the 'baton' suit sign one gets the impression that the card-maker was not sure what the corresponding symbol in his prototype was supposed to represent. In addition they have a striking stylistic similarity with the Islamic Mamluk cards preserved in Istanbul. Indeed, they look like a plainer and more rudimentary version of the same thing, which suggests that there may already have been an established style of 'Moorish' playing cards being produced in Spain since the earliest times after their introduction.
Finally, we can note that in the left-hand specimen the borders of each card suggest that the backs of the cards were folded around to make a margin around the fronts of the cards, as in Italian cards and some other 15th century Spanish cards. Was this method of production inherited from Moorish cards? The outwardly curved two of 'batons' also resembles the arrangement of swords in the archaic 15th century Italian suit system.
Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Wüst Spanish pattern c.1910 advertising Cuban ‘Tropical’ beer.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.
Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.
Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
Persian Miniatures, made in Hungary c.1990.
Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.
Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.
Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.
Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.
A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.
This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.
Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.
Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.
Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.
Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.
A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.
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 collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).
Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.
Notgeld - Emergency Money - was in rare cases issued on playing cards.
There are some interesting packs from Goodall in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Gold plated souvenir playing cards from the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel in Dubai.
1st edition of famous Bicycle Playing Cards printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., Cincinnati, 1885.
Primiera Bolognese by Modiano, c.1975
Facsimile edition of Swiss suited deck first published by Johannes Müller in c.1840.
Archaic Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly by Pedro Varangot in 1786.
Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly in 1682.
“Money Bag” pattern by Hermanos Solesi, late 18th c.
Illustrated playing cards featuring comical engravings and rhymes about saints, c.1740.
Kem ‘Spanish’ playing cards appear to depict Spanish conquistadors © 1994.
Navarra pattern by an unknown cardmaker with initials I. I., 1793.