Fifty Two Pickup: The History of Playing Cards

Playing cards have become the cultural symbol of Las Vegas and gambling, of luck and fortune. However, long before sin city, playing cards were being used for many different purposes, of both entertainment and money-making ventures. The modern deck of cards is made up of 52 small, laminated pieces of thick paper, that have various symbols on them to identify the four different suites of a standard deck. When people play cards, they are dealt a certain number of cards, depending on the game that is being played; this is called a hand. Playing cards can also be used for magic tricks, building a house of cards, for board games, or casino games. These cards actually go back as far as the Tang Dynasty in China in the 9th century, when emperors entertained themselves by playing games with hand stamped cards. Since then, these little cards have become a symbol of competition, money, and fun across the world.

Each culture uses different symbols and signs. While the United States uses the symbols of a king, queen, jack, as well as spades, hearts, and diamonds, other nations used different symbols and colors to play cards. U.S. cards use two colors in their playing cards, black and red. Islamic cards, dating back to the 15th century, have elaborate patterns and designs, almost resembling oriental rugs. European playing cards are somewhat similar to the United States, but have variations of the traditional queen, king, and jack. The cards are often much more detailed and include a lot of symbolism, color, and some even designed to tell stories.

Not all playing cards must be used for games. Tarot cards are a type of card used, theoretically, to help tell someone’s fortune or future. These cards have long been a part of the occult, gypsy communities, and businesses who specialize in fortune telling. Each card is a symbol of future events in a person's life, and when a hand is drawn, the cards combine together to form that person’s potential future path.

Novelty decks are also used in some instances to provide entertainment, or to be a souvenir. These cards were simply meant to serve as décor items, or as a form of advertisement, and have limited value when playing a card game, but are frequently collected by card and gaming enthusiasts. In the United States, the traditional-style of playing card was especially popular in the days of the Old West, when cowboys, and outlaws alike, would gather at local bars to play a game of poker. Today, poker is one of the most popular games in the world, and even has a televised “World Series” event. Playing cards can take on many shapes, colors, designs, and forms. All over the world, these little pieces of paper have become the source of fun and enjoyment for countless people.