Memorable Moments in Playing Card History

The first form of playing cards was first introduced many centuries ago in China, during the Tang Dynasty. Chinese gamblers used symbols of currency to differentiate between the suits. By the 14th century, playing cards were introduced to the Europeans, through the Middle East, where they began their journey to become the card decks we all know and love today.

Small straight in playing cards

1371 & 1377: As far as documented evidence goes, here’s where it can be traced back to. It was in Spain, in a Catalan rhyming dictionary that playing card were first officially noted. Just a few years later, the first detailed description of playing cards was documented as well, by John of Rheinfelden, a Swiss monk.

1380: Not long after, cards began to boom all over Europe! People were abuzz from Florence and Brabant, to Paris and Barcelona, all looking to get their hands on a deck. Everyone wanted to get in on the action.

1440: Johann Gutenberg’s printing press was not just profitable for the press. It allowed playing cards to be mass-printed and produced, instead of hand painted as they had been previously.

1480: Playing cards had solidified their suits. While different from the suits we have today, cards of this era were adorned with hearts, bells, leaves and acorns — suits that had been adopted from the Germans.

Late 1400s: Things turned around for the ace, which was previously regarded as a low card. It began to adopt a special significance, encouraging players to regard it as the highest in the deck instead.

Early 1500s: Rouen, a card-making company of that time, began illustrating cards with the familiar king, queen and jack that we still use today.

1674: Charles Cotton published the first unofficial manual for playing cards, called Compleat Gamester. His aim was to lay down the law and hammer down distinct rules for the most popular card and dice games of his time.

1711: For the first time, playing cards became regarded as a taxable good.

1793: Following the French revolution, authorities banned the use of royal figureheads on playing cards. But not for long! Twelve years later, Napoleon appeared, and overruled the illustration ban.

1834: Poker appeared on a river steamer in Mississippi! It was here that the first documented game was said to have been played.

Mid 1800s: Card name abbreviations started appearing in the corners of cards. It’s said that this was around the time that eha “knave” became the “jack” — so it didn’t overlap the K abbreviation for the king. The famous joker card also began to circulate.

1935: A fifth, green suit is introduced and named the “crowns.” As you can guess, this didn’t take well, and was abandoned shortly after.

Today, millions of people play cards around the world, and it’s a good thing too! If playing cards had not been such a successful invention, what would we have done?!

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