So much have been written here about the Kings Cup and the different drinking games using the standard deck of cards. But did you ever wonder how the playing cards the centerpiece for the games came into being?

Is this a product of boredom or a chronic gambler’s strategy to amass more wealth in the table?

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Well for the history buff, the playing cards was first recorded to be used in China during the 9th century in Tang Dynasty. Based on the early account of the historian Su E, the Emperor’s daughter Princess Tongchang likes to waste her time playing some “game of leaf” with 868 inscribed to it, representing the number of the members of the clan of her husband, the Wei clan.

The Song dynasty later developed it when flat papers became popular.  By the end of the dynasty, these playing cards have been used in several Asian countries through trade and migration. By the time of Ming dynasty, the face of the cards have been painted by several characters from a novel named Water Margin.

Based on another account  the design was coins, then coins connected and other designs. These playing cards have been popular in Northern part of China and was known as Kwan Pai. It was known as Lut Chi in Southern China with variations on its designs.

It later evolved into a sort of  a “money card” with four symbols: coins symbolizing cash, interconnected coins with numbers 1 to 9 and this has been sort of becoming part of trading. Historical accounts say the playing cards precede mahjong and dominoes.

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Through the Chinese trader as well as Portuguese explorers, the playing cards became popular in Europe. It was believed that the Egyptians have developed the first set of suits in tarot cards. This deck contains 52 cards with suits of sticks, coins, cups and arms. Then it was divided into King, Viceroy, Second Deputy. A complete deck of card was unearthed in  1939 in Istanbul Turkey by Leo Mayer.

The Indians have made their own distinctive variation on the playing cards by putting handpainted 10 persona of Vishnu and this became Ganjifa cards. Later called as set of  Dashavarat.

The cards further spread in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Then in Paris and United Kingdom. It is the royal houses who started playing with the cards during socials especially those in leadership like their knights.  In accounts of Charbot Poupart, the treasurer of Charles VI have paid for hand-painting of set of cards. And these cards are quite expensive as these have carved in wood block and hand painted depicting also the logo of the royal houses.  From the wood, then it was printed later in textile and later on paper for wider distribution.

Aside from the royal house logo, images of saints have also seen its printing in the set of cards. There are varieties in the number of suits in a deck: In Germany is has four suits, in Italy it got four (swords, wands, coins and cups.

It never came in accounts when exactly the “standard” became only four suits composing the heart, diamond, spade and club. It says these four suits symbolizes the weapons the knights have been using during fights. Then the royalties have been added- the King, Queen, Knight and Prince.

Then it is the English who added a design, making the four suits a replica. Later the Joker was added. Again it was not known why and when exactly it was introduced.

Now the card are widely used for games, like accompaniment for Kings Rule Cup game and other games best with drinking buddies or even for little kids. Cards are not just for gambling but for most for socialization but also to test memory, as Memory children card game would show. Its long history would show you that it started as a game but also served its purpose in trade and even in spreading religion across the continent.

So next time you hold that drinking cup and deck of cards, think of its fascinating evolution and symbolism- of how humanity developed its arts and way of socialization.

 

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