CURATOR’S COMMENT: Card-O-Rama Exhibition

History of Playing Cards

The earliest playing cards are believed to have originated in Central Asia. The cards were hand-painted and only the very wealthy could afford them until mass production of playing cards across Europe started with the invention of woodcuts in the 14th century.

At one time, the king of hearts represented Charlemagne, the king of Diamonds was Julius Caesar, the king of clubs was Alexander the Great and the king of spades was King David from the Bible? These fascinating identities, along with special designations for the other court cards, were bestowed by the French who were instrumental in bringing the pleasures of card play to people in Europe and the New World.

It is from French designs that the cards we use today are derived. France gave us the suits of spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, and the use of simple shapes and flat colors helped facilitate manufacture.

Americans began making their own cards around 1800. They invented the Joker.

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