Card Games

How Did the Playing Cards Get their Symbols?


Like most people reading this blog post, you too may have grown up playing card games like rummy with your loved ones and owned a physical card deck at some point of your life. However, have you ever thought about the origin of a card deck? Playing cards have a fascinating history and have undergone a significant evolution through the years. Many countries have adapted their color, symbols and designs to reflect their own cultures. In this blog post, we will find out how the standard card deck got its symbols. 

The beginning

The origin of playing cards is a topic of debate among many historians even today. According to some old transcripts and research, they first appeared in China under the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century. They used leaves as cards to play courtship games. However, the first ever record of playing cards dates back to the 14th century. Johannes, a German monk, recorded his observations about the popularity of playing cards and card games in different parts of the world. 

Evolution of card suits

  • French and German suits

At the beginning of the 15th century, the Germans used hearts, acorns, leaves and bells as card suits. Each of the symbols depicted the culture and lifestyle followed by the locals in Germany. 

Around the same time, the French also got inspired by the card suits used by the German people. However, they went a step further and divided the card deck into two colors: red and black. The French also made changes to the German suits, which were later adapted to become the modern-day card deck. The bells were replaced by diamonds and the acorns were replaced by clubs. The leaves were replaced with spades, but the hearts were retained.

  • Latin suits

Latin suits are highly inspired by tarot cards, which are predominantly used in astrology. European card makers referred to their designs and used clubs, coins, cups and swords as their card symbols. These suits have laid the foundation for the Spanish and Italian card decks as you can still find their imagery in their card suits today.

  • English suits

Before the 16th century, the French card makers had to pay high taxes and hence, were forced to move their operations to Belgium. Due to this, the English started trading the French playing cards and finally renamed the original suit to the modern-day card symbols: hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. 

The English playing cards featured lavish French designs until the ban on the trading of foreign playing cards in the 1600s. As a result, the English began manufacturing their own cards to capitalize on the popularity of playing cards and card games. 

The importance of card deck symbols

We all know that a standard deck of cards features 52 cards, 4 suits and 2 colors. However, do you know about the significance of each suit and what do each of them  represent? Many historians have their own theories about the card deck symbols. Some believe that each symbol represents the four different classes of medieval society. However, there is no strong evidence to prove this claim. For instance, the coins (which later became diamonds) stand for the merchant class in the Latin suits. However, according to the French cards, the diamonds represent the high class and the wealthy lords of France. 

On the other hand, many historians believed that the 4 different suits represented the four components of nature: water (hearts), earth (diamonds), fire (clubs) and air (spades). The symbols are also believed to represent the four seasons of the calendar year by a few experts.

Ace of spades

Before the French Revolution, the ace was the lowest-ranking card. However, this card later became the highest-ranking card, depicting the victory of the peasant class over the royalty. It was around this time that the ace of spades emerged as a prominent card.

During the 18th century, the English imposed taxes on card producers. As a proof of tax paid, the card makers placed a special stamp on the ace of spades card. This later evolved into a lavish design, which was difficult to replicate. 

It is amazing to see how playing cards have been meticulously engineered to become what they are today. Card decks are a great source of entertainment and you can use them to play a variety of card games. Out of these, rummy is one of the most popular card games of all time. In recent years, it has become one of the most sought-after online card games in India. If you know the rummy rules and strategies, you can become an ace player and win amazing cash and other prizes. Junglee Rummy is the best platform to try your hand at rummy tournaments and take home lakhs and crores of rupees. Download the app now and get a welcome bonus up to ₹5250! Happy gaming!

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