The origin of playing cards

Collection of playing cards

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those history classes you might remember from your school days. Even if you’re a regular card player in casinos, you may never have paid much attention to the decks themselves. But we think you’ll be interested to know how they originated.

Cards. All in good time.

Time, and more specifically calendar years, play an important role in playing cards. To be punctilious, in fact they arguably play the most important role. But why?

If you add up the values of all the cards in a deck, including the joker, you get 365, which represents the 365 days of the year. And the two colours that show the cards in the deck symbolize the two parts of the day: day and night. In each deck, there are 52 cards, which in turn represent – you guessed it – the 52 weeks that make up a year. As if that weren’t enough, the four suits in the deck symbolize the four seasons.

Finally, there are 13 cards in each suit. Okay, we know you think that a year has 12 months, not 13, but what there are in a year are 13 lunar cycles or phases, which is a measure of time that existed long before the year was divided into months. Add to that the interesting debate around the number of zodiacal signs, after NASA apparently included a 13th constellation: Ophiuchus. Not very easy to pronounce, is it?

Whether all of the above is deliberate or merely a happy coincidence remains a mystery, but it seems to us that it’s too many coincidences to be just a coincidence. In any case, they make for a good story!

Some more fun facts about the cards

Here are a few more timely and easy-to-digest facts to surprise your friends with. Or to read them, find them fascinating, and then forget about them altogether. Whatever you prefer.

  • Cards were already being played as far back as the 9th century.
  • The earliest decks of cards were engraved on bone, wood or paper.
  • Las Vegas casino decks are only used for about 12 hours before they are discarded, because in that time, they are dealt and used many, many times. In addition, changing them so frequently helps to prevent players from being able to notice and take advantage of any identifying marks or bends in the deck.
  • There are so many different ways to shuffle cards that the likelihood of someone having done it exactly the same way twice in the entire history of the world is minimal, if not virtually impossible.