Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The History of Playing Card design

Playing cards originally came from China where they were closely related to the money used at the time - there were a two different types of playing cards and designs, one which featured three suits, including:

Strings of Coins
Myraids of strings of coins

(This style pack was found in Northern China and known as Kwan Pai.)

The other type of playing cards were very similar having one suit more which was tens of myraids of strings. These were found in Southern China and known as Lut Chi

It is thought that some of these playing cards developed into Dominoes.

There are several different theories as to how Playing cards moved over to England, the most accepted one being that in the late 1300s Marmelukes of Egypt introduced their style of cards to Europe.

These are similar to those around today, consisting of 4 suits of 13 cards each. The suits were

The earliest references to playing cards in Europe are mainly in France and Germany, (although, different European countries each had their own variations, each ones featuring four suits of different styles)

German cards featured the four suits Acorns, Hawk Bells, Hearts and Leaves.

The french are responsible for the modern design of Playing cards, which was supposedly created by a french knight.

The French suits include:

Hearts - denoting the church
Diamonds - denoting arrowheads
Clubs - denoting husbandsmen
Spades - denoting the points of a Lance - symbols for the knights themselves.

The English adopted this style of playing cards, which were slowly refined over the centuries. It was around the 1860s that borders (featuring suit type and numbers) , numbers inscribed into the suits and having double ended figures were introduced to playiong card design. These features were readily adopted in America (but not so much Europe) were the joker was created.

Over time loads of different types of playing cards have developed, each type however still features the 4 main suits Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades, the designs have just varied in style.

I like the design of playing cards by Ruth Kedar (below, left) which is much although still decorative has more bright block colours used than a more traditional playing card pack.

I think that the Dirty Harry playing card is particularly interesting because of the way different textures and media have been used to illustrate Clint Eastwood and the character he plays. The background looks almost as if it is made from tissue paper.

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