From Whence Cometh our Cards 






 The Chinese Encyclopaedia Chung Tze Tung, published in 1678, dates the invention of playing cards to 1120 AD in China, although it is claimed elsewhere that there was a game played in what is now Iran as early as 2000 BC. If one were able to deal four hands every minute since then until the present day, the possible permutations of a pack of cards would hardly have begun to be completed !! No wonder there is so much fascination in our wonderful game.

Playing cards have always been associated with games of chance, fortune-telling and gambling. Into which of these three categories bridge fits I leave to your imagination. We all know characters whose styles of play fits each of these three bills, sometimes all at the same time!

The first European cards appeared in Italy in the 12th century and for the next few hundred years they were the exclusive playthings of the aristocracy. The cards were painted by hand and Royalty and courtiers spent many idle hours with them. The Court cards, Kings, Queens and Jacks still reflect this noble beginning. The four suits didn’t appear until the mid 14th century in France; Spades were originally Royalty or Military, Hearts were Clergy, Diamonds were Merchants and Clubs were Peasants and the ranking of the present day suits reflects the relative importance in the middle ages of the various classes. In India and Iran there was a four caste system with similar reflections in the cards.

In 1765, the British government levied a tax on all packs of cards. The Stamp Act made it law for all decks to be sealed with a duty to insure against marked cards and this duty was not repealed until the middle of this century.