Answering the question of who invented playing cards isn’t easy because it wasn’t just one inventor. Playing cards have been a popular pastime for centuries, with a rich history dating back to the 9th century in China. The exact origins of playing cards are difficult to trace, but it is believed that they were invented as a way to pass the time and to entertain. As magicians, we often take for granted the amazing journey these 52 little cards have taken to arrive in our hands today.
The earliest known playing cards were created in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). These cards were made of paper and were used for a game called “leaf,” which is similar to the modern game of blackjack. The suits in these early cards represented coins, strings of coins, myriads (tens of thousands), and tens.
Playing cards eventually made their way to the Islamic world, where they were used for a variety of games. The first recorded use of playing cards in the Islamic world was in 969 AD, in a book called “The Book of Games.” The suits in these Islamic cards represented cups, coins, swords, and polo sticks. These were games to pass the time, rather than magic tricks, but it shows that cards have always been developed as a form of entertainment right from the beginning.
Playing cards made their way to Europe in the 14th century, where they were initially used for divination practices. The first recorded use of playing cards in Europe was in 1367, when the Spanish ambassador to the court of King Charles V of France gifted a deck of playing cards to the king. The suits in these early European cards were swords, cups, coins, and batons.
Over time, playing cards became more popular in Europe and were used for a variety of games. The most popular game during this time was called “tarot,” which was played with a special deck of tarot cards that contained symbolic illustrations. These tarot cards were used for divination and other occult practices, as well as for playing games.
In the 15th century, playing cards began to take on the form that we are familiar with today. The suits of spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs were introduced, and the court cards (kings, queens, and jacks) were also standardized. The modern deck of playing cards that we use today was developed in France in the late 15th century.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, playing cards continued to evolve and spread throughout Europe and the Americas. Many new games were developed using them. One of the most popular card games during this time was whist, which was developed in the 1640s and became the national card game of England. In the 18th century, playing cards were introduced to the Americas, where they quickly became popular. In the early 18th century, the French colony of New Orleans became a centre for gambling and playing cards, and the city was home to many gambling halls and saloons. One of the most popular card games in the Americas during this time was the game of faro, which was played with a special deck of cards called a "faro deck." Faro was played in many gambling establishments and became a popular pastime in the United States. In the latter half of the 18th century, a new type of playing card called the "pattern card" was introduced. Pattern cards were decorated with intricate patterns and were used for a variety of games, including solitaire. During the 18th century, playing cards also began to be used for magic tricks and illusions. Magicians would use special decks of cards to perform tricks, and playing cards became an important tool in the world of magic. In the 19th and 20th centuries, playing cards continued to evolve and become more widespread. During the 19th century, the industrial revolution made it easier to mass-produce playing cards, which led to a decrease in price and an increase in popularity. Playing cards became a common form of entertainment, and various new games were developed using them. One of the most popular card games during this time was poker, which originated in the United States in the early 19th century. Poker quickly became a popular pastime in saloons and casinos, and it continues to be a popular card game today. In the late 19th century, a new type of playing card called the "trick-taking game" was introduced. Trick-taking games involve players trying to win the most tricks (sets of cards) during a hand. One of the most popular trick-taking games is bridge, which was developed in the United States in the early 20th century. During the 20th century, playing cards continued to grow in popularity and were used for a variety of games. In 1952, the United States Playing Card Company introduced the modern deck of playing cards that we use today, with the addition of the jokers. This company could be said to have invented playing cards in the standardised form we use today. In the latter half of the 20th century, playing cards were also used for collectible card games, such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. These games involve collecting and trading cards with different illustrations and abilities, and then using them to battle against opponents. Today, playing cards are enjoyed by people all over the world and are used for a wide variety of games, from classic games like poker and bridge, to modern collectible card games. Despite the many changes that have occurred over the centuries, playing cards remain a beloved pastime for people of all ages. You may be interested in this further reading: How to Break in Your Playing Cards How to make your playing card last longer