Usually, I think more about how much money I’m about to lose in poker than the cards I’m playing with. I decided to take a closer look into the history of a deck of cards and found some pretty interesting stuff.
Over the centuries, decks have been made up of many different variations of cards – 24, 36, 40, 48, and nearly any number in between. British and French colonialism likely played the biggest part in what is now the standard as the French deck size was 52 cards.
So, why 52? One theory is the number of cards corresponds to the number of weeks within a year. The colours red and black are said to represent day and night while the four suits relate to the four seasons.
Things get a little stranger if you notice that there are 13 cards in a suit that (rounding up) match the number of lunar cycles in a year. The 12 face cards (King, Queen and Jack) represent the 12 months of the year. Then add up all the symbols in a deck of cards and you’ll get 365.
Face cards (King, Queen and Jack) are known as court cards to the British.
Most scholars agree that the first decks of cards originated in 9th century China. This was in the form of a 32-card domino deck printed on paper, bone and wood.
Casinos use larger symbols and characters on their cards so it’s easier for security cameras to pick up any suspicious card activity. A new deck has to be signed-off on by a pit boss or dealer before it’s reshuffled.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is home to the oldest deck of cards known to be in existence. From mid-15th century Netherlands, the hand-painted tarot deck is still in excellent condition.
In the 1970s, a collector bought that deck of cards for $2,800. After researching their history for several years, he sold the deck to the Met for $143K!
In Las Vegas, decks of cards are changed out anywhere from one to twelve hours. This depends on how busy the casino is and if the cards are shuffled by a machine or by hand. This is done to prevent players from marking cards to get an advantage.
When a casino deck of cards is retired, every card needs to be accounted for. The deck is then shredded or given an intentional imperfection. Usually, it’s a hole punched through the middle of the entire deck.
Playing with a traditional deck of 52 French cards, you’ll find some famous faces on your cards including, Julius Caesar as the King of Diamonds, Lancelot du Lac as the Jack of Clubs, Alexander the Great as the King of Clubs and Greek goddess Pallas Athena as the Queen of Spades.
Cards played an interesting role during World War II. The US government worked with Bicycle (a card maker) to create special decks for American prisoners of war (POWs). When the cards got wet they would peel apart to reveal bits and pieces of maps to assist POWs in escaping.
The ace of spades was used by American Soldiers during the Vietnam War. An unfounded rumour was popularized that Vietnamese traditions said the spade was a symbol of death and ill-fortune. Despite the ignorant thinking, it was common to mockingly leave an ace of spades on the bodies of killed Vietnamese soldiers.
The United States Playing Card Company is said to be the biggest manufacturer of playing cards in the world. They produce popular brands including, Aviator, Bee, Tally-Ho and Bicycle.
You may notice cards in a casino have a different feel to them. That’s because they are made with 100% plastic to stay durable and prevent tampering from players.
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