A Brief History of Playing Card Designs

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BetMGM May 16, 2022, 6:05 AM

Whether you enjoy playing casino table games or simply play card games in your downtime, the designs of modern-day playing card decks are extremely familiar to almost everyone. However, these decks couldn’t be more different for people who played card games in the past. Over time, we have seen the symmetry, usability and royals change in some way or another. The transformation in cards is noted worldwide, with most online casino games using the same pack – regardless of whether it’s in California, USA or Cape Town, South Africa.

Our modern 52-card decks are made up of four suits in red and black and two jokers and have gone through a huge transformation over the centuries. From Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas, they have travelled extensively and picked up a little bit of each destination they have landed in. 

In this blog post, we will take a look at some of the countries and cultures that have influenced the playing cards we have today, along with the best games to play at a casino with our modern decks.

Playing Card Origins

Of course, paper typically didn’t survive through the ages very well, especially when it was made hundreds of years ago. So, the exact origins of playing card designs remain a matter of speculation rather than set in stone.

We know that modern cards arrived in Europe in the late 1300s and early 1400s, but where did they come from? It’s believed that the decks that you now use in online casino games appeared in a completely different form many centuries ago in Asia.

Many believe that during the Tang dynasty in China, around the 9th century AD, playing cards were first used in games. It’s speculated that these cards were used as the stakes themselves during other games like dominoes and mahjong and eventually evolved into being used in the games themselves.

There is a belief that playing cards made it to Europe via Egypt during the Mamluk period. The decks had designs of goblets, swords, polo mallets, gold coins and other symbols associated with the Mamluk aristocracy.

Fast-forward to today, and cards can be tailored to any design, theme or era you desire. From Hollywood and cars to sports, you can buy a pack of themed cards for any occasion. Imagine playing cards with the faces of players from your favorite sports team. 

So, how to design a deck of playing cards? Traditionally, they are made of rectangular layers of paper or thin cardboard pasted together. Once this is done, it’s time to design your cards, allowing your imagination to run wild. 

How Europe Influenced Deck Designs

There were a couple of major influencers on card design in Europe after they arrived from Asia. Italy and Spain, as well as France, played a major part in the course of playing card design history.

Cards traveled to Europe in the 1400s, bearing the symbols of the Mamluk period that we discussed above – the cups, coins, swords and polo mallets. Over time, however, these were adapted and swords, clubs, cups and coins were soon the designs on the cards, and they are still used in Latin-style playing decks today.

One of the biggest influences that Italy and Spain had on playing decks was the introduction of a mounted king, two queens (one seated and one crowned) and a knave. The knave was changed to the jack once letters started to get printed on cards to not confuse the “K” of king and the “K” of knave.

Over in France in the early 15th century, the icons for the four suits of playing cards were developed. Although they were called coeurs, piques, carreaux and trefles, they were hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs. Another big change was that the French separated the cards into two red and two black suits, making it much simpler and clearer. It also meant that they were easier to print with stencils.

These small details implemented hundreds of years ago are still used by online gambling sites for casino table games such as online poker and blackjack. 

England Adds Importance to the Ace of Spades

Playing cards moved to England from Belgium in the mid to late 15th century, and the Rouen designs are what remain mostly in place today. Of course, it was in England that the suits got their English names, but it’s the honor that is now bestowed upon the ace of spades that was hugely important. This was largely due to the tax levied on playing cards.

Companies producing cards in England had to prove that they had paid the required tax before the decks could leave the factory, and this was initially done by stamping the top card, which was the ace of spades. However, in 1828, the government was keen to prevent tax evasion. They decided the ace of spades had to be purchased from the Commissioner of Stamp Duties, where they were specially printed with the manufacturers’ names and elaborate designs. Only in 1862 was this law reversed, but by then, the ace of spades was already seen as the most valuable card in the pack.

America Adds a Twist

Playing cards only made their way to the USA from England in the late 1700s to early 1800s, but there was still time for the Americans to add their own twist to playing card designs.

It’s here that the corner indices on playing cards were invented and added to make it easier for players to fan out their cards and easily see what they had in their hands. This small detail revolutionized the world of cards and casino games. Suddenly, spying on opponents’ cards became harder, making games fairer. Indices were patented in 1871 by the New York Consolidated Card Company, although they had been in use for some time before this. 

Another addition that comes from the USA is the use of the joker. It seems to have originated around the 1860s when the Americans decided to design and add a designated trump card to the deck. The first use of the modern joker was recorded in 1875.

Everyone Had a Part To Play

From China and Egypt to America, the playing cards we see and use today represent a beautiful collaboration from each region of the globe. Each innovation implemented by a country was developed from the previous nation. Rarely is something so widely used a combination of various cultures, eras and societies.

Play Card Games With Betmgm

As you can see, our modern deck has travelled the world for centuries, and every place has impacted the design and use of the cards in some way as part of their evolution. While the design of the cards might not have changed much recently, the way that they are used has, and now players can enjoy playing cards virtually through an online casino. They are even used as themes in other notable casino games, such as online slots.

If you play casino games and enjoy table games, then you are spoiled for choice at BetMGM. With games such as poker, blackjack, craps, baccarat and roulette, we are regarded as one of the best live dealer online casinos. We even have live dealer online casino games that give you the convenience of playing online with the unique atmosphere of playing in person, such as our popular online roulette casino.

Register with BetMGM to play card games, online slots and much more.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.