These ancient playing cards were discovered inside the binding material of a printed Catalan book dated 1495. As there are no other surviving examples, it is likely that it is a sole remnant of an archaic Spanish-suited pattern, perhaps used in a particular area, which has been superseded. The four female Sotas (not Queens) stand inside niches and on circular bases; they are quite similar to those in later Portuguese packs. But are they female, or in fact young male figures? They wear long robes reaching the floor and each holds their respective suit symbol in their right hand.
It seems likely that the complete pack contained 48 cards = 4 sheets of 12 cards. We do not know whether the kings were seated or standing, or whether there were cavaliers or knights on the missing cards. The batons are knobbly and arranged in a similar way to what we know today as Spanish: we might expect the cups, coins and swords to be similarly arranged. The four aces are decorated with primitive acanthus leaves or foliage, and two of them are also supported by lions.
If the Latin suit system, including the Spanish variant illustrated here, derived from Islamic cards, then we have an early example of cards faithful in some ways to their Islamic origin, produced at a time when possibly both styles were still in use, and before other versions of Spanish-suited cards were adopted. See also: Moorish Playing Cards • Mamluk Cards • Master of the Banderoles • Gothic Spanish Cards.
The materials used in card games are very perishable so surviving early specimens are very rare. More than one example has come to light inside book bindings when these needed to be repaired, as in this case. Because games are a magnificent way of promoting social relationships, as well as “unleashing passions”, these late fifteenth century playing cards give us a sense of how the Catalan capital absorbed foreign cultural elements and in turn spread their own style abroad.
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.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
Review of “Trzes’ Moorish Deck” facsimile published by Ulrich Kaltenborn, Berlin, 2023.
Historical figures and artefacts from Navarre with designs by M. Sinués for the Navarre Association ...
‘Baraja Mística’ satirical playing-cards featuring revelling clergy published by Litografía Fernánde...
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
Satirical playing cards manufactured by Francar y Cía depicting political situation, Barcelona, 1872...
Raimundo García pattern produced by José Cumplido in Madrid, dated 1860 on the four of coins.
‘Amorcillos’ (Cupids), a masterpiece from the golden age of Spanish playing cards by Clemente Roxas,...
Félix Solesio e Hijos - Real Fábrica de Madrid - Spanish National pattern for Venezuela
The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s, with imagery and design synthesizing several influences.
Aluette game by Fabrique Dieudonné Jeune, Orléans, for Spanish market, c.1850.
A Spanish-suited pack as conceived by 48 different artists from the region of Murcia.
Re-edition of a French-suited Spanish pack from the Napoleonic era, with designs by J. Carrafa.
Baraxa Galega designed by F. Perez Llamosas and published by Naipes Heraclio Fournier, 1983.
Designs by Guitián, published by Ideas Peregrinas, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, c2018.
‘Baraja Fiesta Taurina’ bullfight playing cards published by Heraclio Fournier, Spain, 1975.
Secrets of the Far East playing cards featuring the designs of Violeta Monreal , Spain, c. 1991.
Museo del Prado: Pintores y familias reales / Painters and royal families playing cards.
España imperial / Imperial Spain playing cards with artwork by Serny, published by Heraclio Fournier...
‘Medium Aevum’ (Medieval Life) playing cards designed by Violeta Monreal, published by Heraclio Four...
American Civil War centennial playing cards designed by Teodoro N. Miciano and published by Fournier...
Antique playing cards in Vittoriosa Church Museum dating back to the Knights of Malta period.
Baraja conmemorativa del 130 aniversario de naipes Heraclio Fournier (1868-1998) Spain, 1998.