Playing cards

Although playing cards were invented in 9th century China, with the idea spreading throughout the world to Persia, Egypt and India, it was not until the invention of printing that the playing cards we know could be possible. They were printed from woodcuts and coloured by hand at first, and later the colours were stenciled on before colour printing took over. The idea of four “suits” was invented in Europe, along with “Kings” and other royalty by the late 14th century, so that placks of 56 cards contained a King, Queen, Knight and Knave in each suit. The King was the highest value card until the late 15th century, when the “Ace” replaced it, being adapted from Dicing. Cards with their value printed in the corners grew from 1700 on and in English packs the “Knave” became known as the “Jack.” Then it was found that square corners became tattered and could give away particular cards, so round corners were adapted, along with backs printed with designs to hide wear and tear and to discourage tell-tale writing on the backs. Jokers are a recent addition to a pack of cards and have no standardized appearance, so each publisher tends to design them separately from the other cards, adding their own variety of illustration, so that Jokers have themselves turned into collectible items.

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