13 Possibly True Bizarre Moments in the History of Playing Cards

Travis Nichols
May 26, 2016 · 4 min read

Accounts of the centuries-long history of playing cards are full of guesses and conflicting information. While we know that playing cards originated in Imperial China in the 800s (or, wait, 1200s?), it gets hazy from there for the next thousand years or so. It’s all trade routes and and war paths and you’ll never believe what the Persians are up to stuff.

So, after countless hours of research, dissecting and deciphering auld documents, and bribing/blackmailing various historians and museum personnel, I have assembled a list. A list of 13 possibly true bizarre moments in the history of playing cards.

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More on these cards below!

  • The Ace of Spades was used unofficially as psychological warfare in the Vietnam War, because the Ace of Spades was the card of death to the Vietnamese. Also, the Jack of Clubs instantly makes Danish people suuuuuuuper hungry.
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  • Spades were originally spear tops. Clubs were sticks. Diamonds were crooked squaresies. Hearts were butts.
  • In the traditional English/French deck that you’re likely used to, the King of Hearts is the only king without a mustache. For soup reasons.
  • Further, the King of Hearts isn’t stabbing himself in the head. The original illustration clearly shows a novelty Crusades back scratcher.
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  • Fully waterproof cards are a thing, you weird slob.
  • After emerging from the collapse of the Serbian Empire in the 14th century, the short-lived Kingdom of Prilep (present-day Macedonia) briefly became the world’s leading manufacturer of playing cards. Prilepian decks contained 7 suits: clubs, coins, stacks of coins, knives, crooked squaresies, butter beans, and poppies (yes, that kind). Each suit held only four cards: kings, feudal lords, Wild Draw Four, and young kings.
  • The most popular card game in the world is Solitaire. We’re all alone. So very alone.
  • If you were to like go to Switzerland and be like let’s play cards to somebody, they’d be like okay and pull out some cards and you’d be like whaaat because the cards are like you know like different?
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Hahaha! OMG what even like whaaat?
  • One of the first questions asked when learning a new game is always, “Are Aces high or low?” One of the last questions asked is always, “Is it so silly that my favorite thing to dip these SCOOPS!® chips in is nothing? They’re just so good on their own, right? Am I so weird?”
  • I had a great-grandmother who was vehemently against gambling. However, she played cards with a church group. If she lost, no biggie. If she won, she put the dirty, dirty devil money in the collection tray, cursing the entire congregation.
  • Jokers weren’t included in decks of cards until 1837. Sixes were added in 1994.
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Stephen, Duke of Slavonia: “Do ye have any sixes?” Ugrin Csák, Archbishop of Kalocsa: “What be these sixes ye speak of?”
  • When Gutenberg delivered the printing press to Europe, playing cards immediately ceased being a plaything of the rich. Countless card painters lost their positions in noble households and began spending their days lounging about in cafes, giving birth to what we now know as “coffee shop art”.
  • In 2015, a drone 3D printed the first VR deck of cards. It raised $100 million in funding at a $25.5 billion valuation.

Are cards done evolving? Man, heeeeeeeeeck no. Look around. There are a fafillion variations, reimaginings, and new designs in gas stations, pharmacies, and nerd dispensaries across the world. I mean… UNO. Tarot. Pokemon. Cards Against Humanity. The Misc. Goods deck.

And now, the HECKADECK. It’s the deck you know and love… and so much more. There are eight suits. The usual suspects, and also knives, acorns, clouds, and planets. Further, each suit has zeros, elevens, and Beasts. Aaand there are arrows, talismans, two-suited Hunters and Travelers, and, well, dang. Lots of others. Go here to get a HECKADECK of your very sweet own.

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