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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.

Taxation on Spanish Playing Cards

Taxation on Spanish Playing Cards.

Origins of Taxation on Spanish Playing Cards

The Spanish playing card monopoly was first established in 1543. It was divided into several regions including Aragon, Toledo, Castile, Seville as well as Mexico and ‘New Spain’. Leases for these respective monopolies were awarded on a competitive basis to the highest bidder and subject to strict controls. Lease holders also enjoyed the protection of laws governing the playing card monopolies, which included the outlawing of contraband playing cards and protection against Moors, Turks, Pirates, Corsairs and enemies of the Catholic Faith. Manufacturers were required to sell their packs of playing cards at prices controlled by law. Whilst the different regional monopolies were subject to different fiscal and administrative regimes, it is not clear whether any regional differences existed in the style or design of the playing cards themselves.

Sevilla, XVII Century

Examples of sixteenth century Spanish playing cards manufactured in Seville with distinctive designs were unearthed in Peru during archaeological excavations,  click here. These were similar to cards printed by Francisco Flores. However, these early cards bear no resemblance to the seventeenth century cards produced in Seville which are shown below:

Spanish playing cards, Seville, 1638

Above: Spanish playing cards, woodcut & stencil, Seville, dated 1638 on the Ace of Cups. The Ace of Batons and the Two of Cups have small naked figures adorning the suit symbols. The Ace of Coins has a two-headed imperial eagle. Inscriptions on the cards read: "En S (en Sevilla) Con Licencia del Rey." These cards were discovered inside a wall during the demolishing of the former Granada prison, and were probably handled by gambling card players running a racket inside jail. Image of cards in the Fournier Museum, Alava, taken from: Agudo Ruiz: Los Naipes en España, Diputación Foral de Álava, 2000.

Revenues from the Seville playing card monopoly, which also included Granada and the Canary Isles, reached twelve million maravedis when it was acquired by Francisco de Zayas for a ten year tenure. Cards made in Seville during this period have official signatures on certain cards as proof of taxes paid to the treasury.

Above: Spanish playing cards, woodcut & stencil, made in Seville, dated 1647 on the Two of Coins. Official signatures on certain cards were proof that taxes had been paid to the treasury. Image of cards in the Fournier Museum taken from: Agudo Ruiz: Los Naipes en España, Diputación Foral de Álava, 2000.

Above: Spanish playing cards, woodcut & stencil, made in Seville, late XVII centiry. Several cards bear legends relating to the royal licence for the administration of the sale of playing cards. Two Sotas also have banderoles with the text 'En Sevilla'. Image of cards in the Fournier Museum taken from: Agudo Ruiz: Los Naipes en España, Diputación Foral de Álava, 2000.

Seville was a favoured location by gamblers  read more →


Madrid, 1879

References: Agudo Ruiz, Juan de Dios: Los Naipes en España, Diputación Foral de Álava, 2000

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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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