Playing card

card used as one of a set for playing card games

Playing cards is the name for the 52 cards used in card games like poker, bridge, blackjack, solitaire and other games.

A game of l'hombre in Brøndum's Hotel
by Anna Palm de Rosa, 1885
Paul Cézanne's The Card Players, 1895
The King of Hearts

There are 52 basic cards in a deck (not including the jokers). These cards have a suit and a number (called the value or rank). There are 4 suits and 13 ranks in each suit. Decks may include a wide variety of regional and national patterns, and different deck sizes. The English pattern of cards is so widespread that it is often also known as the International or Anglo-American pattern.

Chinese playing card c. 1400 AD, Ming Dynasty, found near Turpan, 9.5 by 3.5 cm.

Usual signs: spades (♠), hearts (), diamonds (), clubs (♣).

In some countries different suit signs may be used. In central Europe, there are cards with the suit signs of acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells. In Spain, Italy and Latin America, there are playing cards with the suits of clubs, swords, cups, and coins and Aces



2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack or Knave (J), Queen (Q), King (K), Ace (A).

Number of cards


For many games, the Jokers are removed from the deck, making the total number of cards in the deck 52. Sometimes the deck is reduced to 40, 36, or 32 cards for playing certain games, like belote, sheepshead or euchre.[source?]

Tarot cards


There are various types of tarot cards. Tarots are commonly used for fortune-telling, although they can also be used for playing games. Conversely, people have also used standard playing cards for fortune-telling.


Early French playing cards

Playing cards have been found in 9th century China, Tang dynasty.[1]

Playing cards first entered Europe in the early 14th century, probably from Egypt. The suits were very similar to the tarot suits of Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins. These designs are still used in traditional Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese card decks.[2]

The first documentary evidence is from Vitoria-Gasteiz (now Spain) in 1334, in which the Knights of the Band are forbidden to play cards.[3] The next record is from Catalonia in 1371.[4] Wide use of playing cards in Europe can be traced from 1377 onwards.[5]



The method of making cards has stayed the same for over a century.[6] Cards are two thin pieces of paper stuck together with black paste. Both outer sides are printed. Inside is the design of the card face, the outer is the design for the pack as a whole. The black paste is essential to prevent sight of the face coming through when light shines on the face side. The use of the paste is the reason cards are sometimes called "pasteboards".[6]

One or two packs at a time are printed on large sheets of paper, already pasted. The individual cards are stamped out by a machine which acts like a cookie-cutter. It cuts 36,000 cards per hour. A tiny fraction of a second later the edges of the cards are squashed extra-thin. This is not obvious to the naked eye, but the effect is that the cards slide easily past each other during shuffling.[6]

Printed paper cards hold about 97.5% of the world market. Plastic cards do exist: they were first invented in the 1930s. They last longer than papercards, but have only 2.5% of the market.[6]


  1. Needham, Joseph 2004. Science & Civilisation in China. vol 1, Cambridge University Press, pages 131/2, 328, 334. ISBN 0-521-05802-3
  2. Donald Laycock in Skeptical—a handbook of pseudoscience and the paranormal. Imagecraft, Canberra, 1989, p67. ISBN 0-7316-5794-2
  3. "History of the Mus". Ontario Basque Club. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  4. J. Brunet i Bellet 1886. Lo joch de naibs, naips o cartas, Barcelona, quote in the "Diccionari de rims de 1371 : darrerament/per ensajar/de bandejar/los seus guarips/joch de nayps/de nit jugàvem, see also le site
  5. Banzhaf, Hajo (1994), Il Grande Libro dei Tarocchi (in Italian), Roma: Hermes Edizioni, pp. 16, 192, ISBN 88-7938-047-8
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Francis, Henry G. et al 1984. The official encyclopedia of bridge. New York: Crown, p267. ISBN 0-517-55272-8

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