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Playing Cards

packs, games, introduced and hearts

CARDS, PLAYING. Cards for playing games of chance are of the most remote antiquity and are used in almost every country, and the games played are as various as the size of the packs and the designs on the pasteboards. In his Rape of the Lock' Pope charmingly describes those most common in Anglo Saxon countries: Behold four kings in majesty revered, With hoary whiskers and a forky beard; And four fair queens whose hands sustain a flower, The expressive emblem of their softer power; Four knaves in garbs succinct, a trusty band, Caps on their heads and halberts in their hand; And party-colored troops, a shining train, • Drawn forth to combat on the velvet plain.

Playing cards were introduced into Europe about the middle of the 14th century. They probably came from Asia, either introduced by returning crusaders or through commerce with the Saracens and Moors of Northern Africa. An old Italian chronicler supports the latter view, for he says : " In the year 1379 the game of cards was introduced into Viterbo (in central Italy), coming from the land of the Saracens, where it is called naib." At first, packs of cards were painted by hand and the price was very high. The accounts of the French king Charles VI, for the year 1392, show the payment to a painter of a sum equal to $500 "for three packs of cards in gold and various colors, ornamented with different designs." Even before the invention of printing from movable types, the new art of " block printing" (engraving) was applied to the manufacture of playing cards, between 1420 and 1430. The result was that the price was greatly reduced and the use widely spread. The city of Ulm in Germany became one of the chief centers of the manufacture.

It would be a dizzy chase to follow in detail the evolution of the pictured royalties on the cards and their " shining trains." One theory holds that on the early Italian cards the four " suits" represented the four classes of society—nobles, peasants, clergy, and citizens. The early German cards, however, mark the suits respectively with hearts, bells, leaves, and acorns. Our familiar hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds come to us from the French.

The "face" or "court" cards of the early packs were the king, knight, and valet (" jack" or " knave," at times known as the court fool). The Italians sub stituted a queen for the knight, and this is now the usual custom. Today 52 cards usually make up the pack in America, with a 53d card called the "joker" added for use in certain games.