The Fascinating Meaning Behind Playing Cards

Image: Culture Club/Getty Images

Despite the vast range of gaming options nowadays, many people maintain that you still can’t beat an old-fashioned card game from time to time. But even though playing cards have been around for ages, their origin is actually unclear. It’s possible they trace back to India, but there are others who believe they were created in China or Arabia. Regardless of their beginnings, though, the symbols adorning them have undeniably evolved in fascinating ways.

Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

A playing card has a specific value based on the number of symbols – or “pips” – on its face. These pips correspond with a certain category known as “suit.” Generally speaking, these are nowadays clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades – yet this wasn’t always so. Other suits such as swords, coins and cups have, at one time or another, been previously utilized.

Image: duncan1890/Getty Images

It’s not entirely clear why each suit had specifically been selected for playing cards – but there are theories. One of these ideas, for example, has suggested that the symbols were actually representative of societal stature. For instance, swords may have been used to symbolize warriors, while coins were used as a nod to traders.

Image: SchulteProductions/Getty Images

Suits have been swapped around throughout the history of playing cards, but the images on “face cards” have often endured. In France and Britain, for instance, king cards still represent Alexander the Great, Charles I, King David and Julius Caesar. But queens, on the other hand, have changed with the times, and locations. In fact, in Spanish decks they were actually supplanted by knights.

Image: FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The ace card supposedly has its roots in political actions. In 1765 English businesses producing playing cards were ordered to pay a tax. In order to prove that this fee had been paid, an ace of spades symbol was impressed upon some cards. This particular tradition has outlived the tax itself, which was finally done away with in 1960.