Playing Cards – Almanacs Of A Bygone Era

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Playing cards have been with us since as early as the fourteenth century. The mysteries that are yet to be found in them are so numerous. These game implements can give us an idea of the typical attributes & culture of an era, its beliefs, ideas, experiences, and way of life.

Medieval playing cards display a lot of individualism and the freedom of expression. When the Renaissance came the curiosity of the world around grew, the art became truer to life, and explorers were born. Then during the Industrial Revolution the production of the cards were made by power-driven machines in factories.

From playing cards we can learn about craftsmanship, the assembly and amalgamation of elements & materials. These cards have been the focal point for design, invention, or advertisement almost like a cigarette pack-sized almanac of a bygone era.

These decks have a tremendous educational worth, an extensive history and myriads of types & styles all over the world. Some have historical value, others political, then there are souvenir decks for tourists.

The early allusions to playing cards in Europe came from Brabant, Catalonia (Spain), France, Florence, southern Germany, Sienna, Switzerland, and Viterbo (Italy) in the 1370s. No cards from this era have survived but some sources point out that cards were gilt or painted in gold as well as various other colors all done by hand. This hints on the fact that these were luxury packs.

The Medieval theme took pleasure in ornate & colorful designs and miniature art was very much appreciated and applied. But that does not mean that people of this age were lesser in intelligence & sophistication and did not value art & culture as we do nowadays. Their designs are indicative of vivacity & refinement. This practice reached a plateau then the designs shifted to the grotesque, mechanical, or superficial.

The earliest cards that have survived the passing of time came from the 15th century. A deck from the collection of the dukes of Bavaria in 1430 had suits of stags, ducks, falcons, & hounds in reference to the courtly hunt. The original set included 52 cards-the number cards (1 through 9 plus a banner card) designate by repeating the sign of the suit. The court cards illustrated the suit symbols in harmonious relationship with the human figures- falcons & ducks with masculine courts while stags & hounds with feminine courts.

Whether we regard them as a game or a merchandise, an artifact or something that keeps people together, the fascination with imagery, balanced symmetry and peculiar symbols, is the binding cord that we have in common.

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