Note: The above modern representation of the King, Queen, and Jack is the result of the efforts of Mr. Azzedar-san, dated 2012. They are titled the Elvish Playing Cards.

Cards, as illustrations, developed in different countries in different manners. In England the cards were carved on wood blocks but were soon displaced from the representation of the members of the aristocracy and royal court to designs which represented nothing in particular. The artistry of the cards became the object of manufacture. In England it is maintained that Henry VIII stood model for all the Kings in the deck, and that the Queens were fashioned after the likeness of his wife and queen, Elizabeth of York.

In France the cards held no uniformity until around 1812, when an official design was declared and proclaimed. The cards were actually given a name. For example:

Rank:   Spades   Hearts   Diamonds   Clubs
King:   David   Charles   Cesar   Alexandre
Queen:   Pallas   Judith   Rachel   Argine
Jack:   Hogier   Lahire   Hector   Lancelot
David could refer to the biblical David, the second King of Israel, successor to Saul, or to Saint David, also referred to as Saint Dewi, who was a Welsh bishop and patron saint of Wales, who lived between 510 and 601.
Hogier is a reference to Hogier the Dane, the cousin to Charlemagne.
Charles is probably a reference to Charlemagne, also known as Charles I.
Judith is either Charlemagne's daughter in law or a biblical figure.
La Hire, who fought with Joan of Arc.
César is a reference to Julius César.
Rachel is a reference to the biblical Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob and who gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.
Hector, or Sir Hector is Lancelot's half-brother.
Alexandre is most likely a reference to Alexander The Great.
Argine is an anagram of Regina, which is the official title of a Queen.
Lancelot refers to the Knight in the Tales of King Arthur.

In Hungary, the manufacturers of cards decided to place the stage characters of the drama, Wilhelm Tell, written by Friedrich Schiller, on eight of the cards. They were divided up between the Major and Minor suit.

Suits   Majors   Minors
Acorns   Wilhelm Tell   Reszö Harras
Leaves   Ulrich Ruden   Walter Fürst
Bells   Vadász Stüssi   Itel Reding
Hearts   Herman Gezler   Pásztor Kuoni

There are also cards which are designated as National Suit Systems. Their designation follows:

English:   Spades   Clubs   Hearts   Diamonds
French:   Pique   Trefle   Coeur   Carreau
Translation:   Pikes   Clover   Hearts   Tiles
German:   Pik   Kreuz   Herz   Karo
Translation:   Pikes   Cross   Heart   Tiles

The names given to the cards are also different according to the language:

English:   Ace   King   Queen   Jack (Knave)
French:   As   Roi   Dame   Valet
German:   As   König   Dame   Bube
Italian:   Bastoni   Spade   Coppe   Denari
Spanish:   Bastos   Espadas   Copas   Oros

Background

Playing-cards are believed to have arrived in Europe from the East, specifically as developments of the cards used by the Mamelukes of Egypt. An almost complete pack of Mameluke playing-cards was discovered in the Topkapi Sarayi Museum in Istanbul by Mr. L.A. Mayer in 1939. His discovery remained little known until his original paper was posthumously published in book form in 1971. By this time it was possible to include details on the fragment of a similar card subsequently identified in a private collection.

This pack itself does not predate 1400, but the private fragment is tentatively dated to the 12th or 13th centuries. The reconstructed pack consists of 52 cards, with suits of swords, polo-sticks, cups, and coins, numerals from one to ten, and courts labeled "malik" (King), "naib malik" (Deputy King), and "thani naib" (Second Deputy). This is virtually identical with the Italian variety of Latin-suited pack, and the date of the other fragment clinches the argument that the Mameluke pack came first. Furthermore, the Arabic word naib, deputy, suggests the origin of Italian naibbe and Spanish naipes for the name of the game, the Game of Deputies.

Evidence is inconclusive as to whether cards arrived in Italy first, which had the major trade routes, or Spain, the country which was partly occupied by Moors at the time, but Italy probably was first since the Italian design is closest to the Mameluke design and the Spanish design suggests a later simplification of the Italian design. Since polo was unknown in Europe at this time, the Italians straightened the polo-sticks into ceremonial batons, but retained the other suits. The Spanish design uses knobby cudgels in their place.

Playing-cards are known in Persia and India at this time. Professor Michael Dummett postulates that there may have existed in Persia or central Asia a prototype 48-card game involving four suits with 10 numerals and two courts in each. Known as Ganjifeh to the Persians, it was transmitted by them to both eastern and western neighboring cultures. In India the name was taken over as Ganjifa and the number of suits doubled (8 x 12 = 96). In Arabia it became Kanjifah, a word appearing in an inscription on one of the Mameluke cards, and was expanded by the addition of a third court card (4 x 13 = 52).

Once the craze had hit Europe, it spread rapidly. Cards are first mentioned in Spain in 1371, described in detail in Switzerland in 1377, and by 1380 reliably reported from places as far apart as Florence, Basel, Regensburg, Brabant, Paris, and Barcelona. It is hard to place their existence in Europe back any further. They are notably absent from appropriate passages in Petrach, 1304 to 1374, Boccaccio, 1313 to 1375), and Chaucer, 1343 to 1400, despite the authors' evident interest in games.

Early cards were individually hand-made and painted, which made them expensive to produce and may at first have restricted the market to the aristocracy. Cheaper products for everyday use are well attested, but they must have disintegrated rapidly and been thrown away in thousands daily, just as they are today. The records make it clear that cards were popular at all levels of at least urban society throughout the 15th century.

Bridge Guys - The information provided here is only a small sample of the history of playing cards. The interested student of such cards with human figures can resort to the publication Facts And Speculations on the Origin and History of Playing Cards, authored by William Andrew Chatto in the year MDCCCXLVIII (1848) in Old Compton Street, Soho Square, London, England., and also a second reference is made to the publication Origin of Printing and Engraving on Wood by Samuel Weller Singer, which was published by T. Bensley and Son for Robert Triphook in Old Bond Street, London, England, in the year 1816.

 


     
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