A History of a Deck of Cards and Its Suits
Cards, known as Saracen cards, were introduced to Europe in the second half of the 14th century. The people in more rural areas, having survived the “Black Death” were moving to the cities. Here they began a class of merchants and artisans who became middle class urbanities. Coming out of the dark ages with its superstition, ignorance and poverty, guilds and universities made a reappearance, scientific experimentation was once again allowed and thrived, and the populace now had time for leisure and play.
During the early Renaissance, books, cards, and paintings were manufactured by hand. A community of art and science appreciators formed and became the primary factor in the spread of card games across Italy. By late–th century many illustrated card-manual manuscripts had appeared in a number of key cities in several countries, including Viterbo near Rome in Italy, in Paris, and in Barcelona. Thanks to traveling artists and scholars, the popularity of the game steadily grew: in the early 15th century a single craftsman sufficed to satisfy the card requirements of a city; but by mid century there was need in multiple fulltime shops.
Not everybody welcomed the innovation: the foreign form of entertainment contained a threat to more and morality; gamblers and betters consorted with the devil and during the protestant Reformation the cards were called “devil pictures.”
Nonetheless, the fashion persisted. Mary, Queen of Scots liked to bet big even on Sundays and by late 17th century London published The Compleat Gamester, describing over a dozen game types and the basic strategies for all of them. In Venice, special facilities – casini – admitted privileged aristocrats for card games and courtesans. From there, a game called primero spread to Europe and later transformed into poker.
After a while, the game was played and enjoyed by women as well as men, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants as well as courtesans and aristocrats. The suits at the time from a popular Swedish deck were in order of rank: sun, king, queen, knight, dame, valet and maid. In Florence, cards were depicted as nude dames and dancers, with dancers being the lowest rank.
Interestingly, the number of cards in a deck at the time was not standard, consisting of 30-40 or 52 cards. The designs also varied considerably. The suits most preferred were symbolic of wealth, food, military security as well as popular sports of the court:, coins, cups, sabers and clubs. Some of the symbols familiar to us today were typical of those in France: in red, Coeurs (hearts) stood for the church, and correaux (a rectangular floor tile) was a sign of the merchant class; in black, piques (spear and arrow heads) represented state authority, and trefles (trefoil clover leaf) denoted farmers. Somewhere along the line, a brave artisan exchanged the vice-royals symbol with queens.
Time passed and the deck of cards we recognize today was formed, whereby a deck of 52 cards with- various rankings compiled 4 different suits. The familiar Clubs, Spades, Diamonds and Hearts are the suits with Aces, Kings, Queens and Jacks usually weighing in at a value of 10. The non-face cards, 2 through 10 are each counted at face value.