Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Playing Cards over Time and Place

I began looking at images of old playing cards and realized it's a mania as powerful as stamp collecting.

Playing cards probably developed in China, along with the invention of paper and with other ‘suit’ games like Mah Jong and dominoes. One of the earliest references to cards in China was in the Tsin dynasty when T'ao K'an (259-334 AD) was reported by a local chronicler to have "flung into the river the wine cups and yü-p'u [Chinese cards] of his subordinates, remarking, 'Yü-p'u is a game for drovers, and swineherds' ".

Early Chinese Playing Cards

But the first reference in Europe was in 1377 – where the suits of cups and swords were added to those of coins and strings of coins adapted, in Chinese cards, from the circles and bamboos taken from Mah Jong. Non-figurative court cards were added on the journey to the west through the Islamic Empire. To be replaced by figurative cards of kings and their attendants of knights on horseback and foot-servants. Queens still do not appear in the card sets of many European countries, such as Spain. And Switzerland retains, from early German cards, the banner for the tens.

As well as the traditional designs ...

Traditional Designs - James Hardy, London (1827)

... there are lots of interesting variations, according to time and place, for example ...

Islamic (C15) - King of Coins and 5 of Sticks or Bamboos

French Court Cards - Kings (c1500)

Revolution Playing Cards (c.1689)

Morden's Playing Cards (1676)

Astronomisches Kartenspiel - German Astronomical Cards (1719)

King, England (1805)

Hall & Son playing cards, England (1806-10)

J.G. Cotta (1805)

German publisher J.G. Cotta, active in Tübingen (early 1800's)

Various German Cards (from 1825 to 1868)

G.Payer (c.1850)

Shakespeare' Goodall and Son London (1893)

F. Piatnik & Söhne, Wien 1895

Netherlands (1920)

'Vanity Fare' Set (1920's)

Sumio Kawakami's woodblock prints, by Okuno Karuta, Japan (1939)

Concentration Camp Deck, Dachau (1945)

And what post would be complete without some examples of those fag nude cards of the 1960's and 1970's ...

... which I reckon are great for the guys' hair as much as anything else!


  1. Nick me mate,

    edible 70s pics (but not entirely my cup of tea, no)

    OTOH, absolutely brainfood-smargasbord feast (I know: my spelling remains god-awful)

    This (ONE) time thanks for the playing cards - way more than real life edible guys (but by a very slight margin/thin line there :P)

    ABHs (yes I am 1/8th Australian and ever so slightly places ;P),


  2. they're not exactly what i dream of either - but an interesting (i think) part of gay social-sexual history. and the thot plickens (correct spelling - with respect to the colour of any of your hirsute bits! BTW, 'smörgåsbord' is the correct way, with the diacritical marks if you are going swedish - but what the fuck do i really know - not much my friend! and what are the other 7/8 bits. i'm the same french - i'll tell the rest if you tell! HUGHUGHUGHUGHUG

  3. Nick, me First Mate

    My 1/8 bit of aussie (grandma asked me most vehemently not to use 'ozzie') comes from my GrGrPa who went to Australia from Brazil but struck gold somwhere in Victoria (literally) and made it back to Canada, ofall places. All Gold long dissipated by now(I hope they enjoyed it to the maximum). So I am 1/8 Aussie, 2/8 Canadian, 2/8 English and 3/8 Portuguese. Dark blondish, btw, so I may not qualify as aussie-blondish at all, you tell me ;)



  4. ok peter, i think the jury is still in debate over this one - ozzie-ish maybe - a photo would sort it out, you know ... ? my relos came here in 1851 to bendigo - in the gold rush, so probably knew your GrGrPa!

  5. Never really thought about the different types of playing cards through history. lol

    Although I think those last playing cards would be a bit too distracting for me!
    BTW, if I was playing with those cards, I'd be hoping I'd always get the 2 of spades!

  6. hey greg, it's the 2 or 9 of diamonds for me! if i had to choose one of these.

  7. Playing cards are fascinating. Did you know that the kings all supposedly represent specific historical kings? If I'm remembering these in the right order, the King of Spades is supposed to be Israel's King David, the King of Clubs Alexander the Great, the King of Hearts Charlemagne, and the King of Diamonds Julius Caesar. At least, that's according to João-Baptista's Portuguese blog, Gay Alfacinha LX.

    I suppose that implies that all the queens are real queens, too--but I don't know which ones.

  8. hey keith, yep i was aware that the kings represented historical figures and actually had it in the post but cut it out with a lot of other stuff before i posted - it was getting too long. i identified all the different kinds of attendants were ... blah blah! a lot of the cards are like little works of art!