Playing cards are a very familiar sight to most people. They are so common in fact, that it’s very easy to take for granted just how widespread, and well-utilised they really are. They also have a long and fascinating history, and, not so long ago, looked very different to the way that we know them today.
There are also some other curious and interesting facts about playing cards that you, and most people these days, may not know.
Nature, Time, and the Calendar
Most people are unaware that the suits, the royals, the colours, and almost every aspect of the common 52 card French deck is cleverly designed to have a numerical importance that represents some aspect of nature and time, mostly in regard to the calendar.
- The 2 suit colours, usually red and black, represent day and night.
- The 52 cards (of the French deck) represent the 52 weeks in a year.
- The 4 suits represent the 4 seasons. And also the four prime elements – earth, wind, fire, and water.
- The 12 royal/court cards represent the 12 months of the solar year.
- The 13 cards in each suit represent the 13 months of the lunar calendar.
- This one “may” be coincidence, as Jokers were a later addition, but the values of each card in a deck added together (with Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13) + 1 Joker, makes 365, the number of days in a solar year. And with +2 jokers = 366, the number of days in leap year.
In a tradition going back as far as the 14th century, each of the “face” cards (aka, the Royals, or Court cards) have famous figures associated with them.
The identities have changed over the eras, and there is some speculation as to some of the actual people that a few are meant to represent, but the list dating from the end of Henry V’s reign in England, and onwards however, is generally considered “the” list.
It includes figures such Julius Caesar as King of Diamonds, and Alexander the Great as King of Clubs.
Queens were a later addition to playing cards, added with the French Deck, and include Pallas (a goddess of Greek mythology) as Queen of Spades, and the biblical Judith as the Queen of Hearts.
Clubs, Clovers, and Acorns
The “Clubs” suit is, technically, more correctly called “Clovers”, as it was introduced with the French deck, and named “Trèfle” (“clover” in French) to replace the “Acorn” of the older German suit. Furthermore, the symbol (♣) is very obviously meant to resemble a three-leafed clover.
“Clubs” was the English name for the even older “Bastoni” (batons) suit, from the Italian-Spanish version, which was very popular in England up until the late 19th century. The symbol for this suit was literally a baton/club.
The English were so used to this name that it basically just stuck ever since, despite the different symbol used in the French deck.