Since its origin in Europe, the 52-deck playing cards entertained humankind for over 650 years. Many table games (and now online games) utilize these cards to crown winners and losers alike.
Games such as Blackjack and Poker have no value or construct without the value associated with each card.
A single card represents nothing without specific cards from the same deck forming patterns. But, of course, game rules determine winning patterns, and some are obviously more valuable.
Playing cards are as commonplace as a hamburger, and we all know and recognize them. Have you ever wondered about the significance of symbols and numbers in cards? It seems so outdated.
The next time you play with cards, take a closer look at them. Besides the design of the four suit symbols, what’s up with the face cards?
Have you noticed each of them being uniquely designed? For example, only the Queen of Spades holds a scepter in her hand. The other Queens hold flowers.
Is the King of Hearts actually pushing a sword through his own skull? Have you noticed the Ace of Spades symbol is larger than the others? Who is Jack, and why does he look so sad on the Clubs card?
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Numerology plays a prominent role in the number of cards, ranks, and suits. The real reason thereof is a mystery, but scholars believe it connects to the various calendars.
The 52 cards in a deck equal the 52 weeks in a year. Within the cards, the 4 suits depict either the 4 seasons, 4 compass points, or the 4 societal classes.
Every suite carries 13 ranked cards, which probably relate to the 13 lunar months. As the card’s rank increases, it equals modern numbers and ends in the royals.
These four ‘face-cards’ represent the ruling class during the 1300s and are widely known as the ‘royals.’
The Ace is an interesting card. Initially, it represented the number 1 in a deck of cards. The word “ace” originates from a French word borrowed from Latin, meaning the smallest Roman coin value.
So, its primary worth was that of the lowest rank in the suits. This later changed during the 1400s to 1700s, when the Renaissance period was in full swing.
The Ace card got promoted to the highest valued card. The symbol represented the modern era replacing the medieval one.
It also signified the standing of individualism in the royal social hierarchy at the time. There are no two ways about it; in the 52-card deck, the Ace card could crush royalty.
Now let’s take the case of the Ace of Spades. The symbol on the card is larger compared to the other Aces.
This is because the royal palace enacted laws that the highest card displays the printer’s logo. As a result, all card makers had to pay taxes on their goods, and the tax collectors stamped the highest card.
As this was the Ace of Spades, their large stamps often decorated the card. However, the ‘tradition’ remained, and the Ace of Spades still carries the large emblem.
To add insult to injury, many card manufacturers tried to dodge the taxman. When they got caught out, their punishment was death. To this day, the Ace of Spades remains associated with bad luck.
The Jack face-card was initially called the ‘knave,’ which is somewhat archaic. However, the English applied the word to ordinary folk, servants, and even troublemakers.
The cards carry the first letter of each ‘royal’ in both opposite corners. The King and Knave cards could thus not both be ‘K.’
So, the king card got to keep his initial, and the knave became Jack. At the time, Jack was a name dished out to the regular guy on the street. Much like we know Tom, Dick, and Harry today.
During Medieval times, various items portrayed the differences in the societal class systems. For example, chalices represented the clergy, coins illustrated merchants, and batons portrayed the working class.
Swords signified the upper class and military groups at the time. Remember that all of this is conjecture by historians, but let’s stick to this assumption.
It makes more sense than some of the others out there. It is clear that the deck of cards represents a value system.
Back on topic, the items described for the class categorization got replaced by more modern symbols.
The chalice became the Heart, and the coins morphed into Diamonds. In the other two suits, batons transformed into Clubs, and swords changed to Spades.
Initially, the Joker card was not part of a deck of cards. In the 1800s, a popular game called euchre added two additional cards.
They were called the Imperial Bower cards. One bowed to the left and one to the right. The Joker, also known as the Court Jester, fits with the royalty theme throughout the card deck.
Games that did not include the Imperial Bower cards used them as replacement cards. In some card contest versions, the joker card became the ‘wild’ card.
To conclude, nobody knows all the answers to the what and why questions relating to playing cards. What seems clear is that the symbolism on the cards relates directly to a societal class system.
The cards were most probably designed and custom-made for nobility or even royalty. One last interesting topic. Remember the King with the sword through his head?
They also call him the “Suicide King.” Sorry to disappoint, but his history is not as gruesome as you might think. Apparently, the sword should be in his hand, but a printing error caused the eerie mishap.
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