Who Designed the Deck of Cards?

A deck of card is everywhere. We see them waiting in line at a supermarket, on a billboard by the freeway, in a magician’s hand and even some children’s books. The spades, diamonds, hearts, and clovers along with the face cards with kings, queens and jacks are a familiar site to all of us. But who came up with this and what do they mean? Why did they choose the four shapes and why do all the face cards look different?

The four suits (spades, diamonds, hearts, and clovers) originated from France in approximately 1480. The spade was copied from the leaf and club from acorn from the German suits while hearts stayed the same the whole time, diamonds came about from coins. Also, in the 15th century, the Europeans changed the face cards to represent members of royalties (kings, queens) and a servant, or knave which is now commonly called a Jack. Each of the face cards have their own unique name, not used by many people.

The King cards are named after many great kings of the past. The King of spades is named after King David, king of hearts Charles, king of diamonds as Julius Caesar, and finally the king of clubs as Alexander the Great. The Queen cards are named after famous female figures from both mythological and real history. The King of Spades is named Pallas, who is the daughter of Triton and a foster parent to Athena in the Greek mythology, queen of hearts as Judith, who is infamous for slaying Homofernes, queen of diamonds as Rachel, and queen of clubs as Argine. Lastly, the Knave or the Jack cards are named after famous right hand man for a king. Jack of spades is Ogier the Dane, a knight of Charlemagne, jack of hearts as La Hire, a comrade of Joan of Arc, jack of diamonds as Hector from Troy, and lastly jack of clubs as Lancelot from the round table of King Arthur.

Other designs such as the index in the corner enabled players to hold the cards in one hand rather than two to look at the full picture of the card. The knave was originally indexed Kn but since it looked similar to the King’s index so they borrowed the term jack from the game All Fours to replace knave in 1600s but it was once considered vulgar to use the term Jack. The reversible court or face cards are made so that the players are not tempted to turn upside-down face cards the right side up, resulting in hinting the other players that they have some sort of a face card in their hands.

People say that the deck of cards holds religious, metaphysical, or astronomical symbolism. Four suits as four seasons, 13 cards as 13 phases of the lunar cycle, red and black for day and night, 52 cards as the number of weeks in a year, and with all the numbers added up, resulting in 364 days representing a year. Other nick names for each card exist, such as Beelzebub for duce of spades and what not. Now the next time you play cards with your friends, throw in some excitement by using some of these terms to amuse them and bring a little fun to the table.

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