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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Everything old is new again » » Why the pack contains the cards it does. (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Mike Baxter
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A quick search did not reveal that this subject had been discussed before (especially the part about the court cards). Apologies if it has.

Did you ever wonder why a pack of cards contains the cards that it does? We are more used than most to packs of playing cards and take pretty much for granted the actual set of cards that comprise a deck whose denominations and suits are recognised the world over, but it may be of some interest to learn of the general origin.

The pack is essentially based on the calendar with a card for each week in thirteen sets of four cards to represent the thirteen lunar months of a year. Taking the Jack as eleven, Queen as twelve and King as thirteen, there are three hundred and sixty four pips; the Joker was added to represent the 'missing pip' to make up the number of days in a year. For a time, decks had only one Joker and some producers included a second Joker to signify a leap year. Half of the cards are black to signify that half of the earth is in darkness representing the first element of time.

The court cards came a little later as did the present day suits. The four suits are supposed to represent the four great things in life- Love (hearts), Wealth (diamonds), Knowledge (cloverleaf, which was thought to be the first plant in the year to bloom and the last to die) and Death (spade).

The court cards themselves are meant reflect human nature with the younger Jacks, unlike the Kings, being more interested in Love than Wealth and power. If you compare the Kings and Jacks, the King of Diamonds is looking directly at the Diamond and therefore, he is seen in profile with only one eye showing while the Jack, still interested in Wealth but to a lesser degree, is looking towards the Diamond but not directly at it. In the case of Hearts, this is reversed with the Jack looking directly at the Heart while the King looks towards it but with less interest. The King of Clubs naturally seeks knowledge and is looking generally towards the club whilst the romantic Jack has other things on his mind and looks away. In the case of Death, both obviously look away, the older King to a lesser extent than the Jack who looks strongly away and so is again seen in profile. The Queens do not have intent feelings about anything (remember this is well before the suffragettes) but look towards Love, Wealth and Knowledge but away from Death.

Mike
Jordini
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You could try this thread here.

Also, try searching a bit harder, because I know that there are some very large threads discussing such matters. They are out there, you just need to find them. Smile
calexa
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Well, I think Mikes post was a good one. Thanks for that.

Magixx
Optimists have more fun.....
MField2000
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Mikel -- I'd be very interested in the source of your information, which does not agree with what I understand.

I believe the present day playing cards were derived from the Tarot deck, the major arcana (court cards) and minor arcana (spot cards). You can read more about this in John Northern Hillard's great essay in "Greater Magic" on page 1 titled "The Master of the Plkaying Cards" wherein he relates that, for example, the suits of the originalk cards were flowers (roses and cyclamen), wild men, birds,and deer -- with a fifth or alternative suit of lions and bears.

There are many other histopries of playing cards, but as I say not with the explanation you give.

The information you relate is, however, often used is a "backwards engineered" explanation to relate cards to fortune telling. The stuff about adding the joker to make the cards total 365 is especially wanky.

What's your source?

Matt Field
Jordini
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You guys, there was a HUGE discussion on all of this, and all these problems were addressed.
Mike Baxter
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Quote:
MField2000 wrote: I'd be very interested in the source of your information. The information you relate is, however, often used is a "backwards engineered" explanation. What's your source?


Matt, I think that you are quite correct regarding the "backwards engineered". It's a creative explanation, though. Wish I had thought of it!

Source: I have an email I wrote on April 18, 2000 where I sent this story to Frank Oden of theEYE (mentalist group). However, I recall that I had heard the story some years earlier (1996?) probably in the alt.magic group.

A Google search shows it attributed to: '© Kevin Gallagher August 2000'
http://www.magicweek.co.uk/magic_article......deck.htm
Jeff Hinchliffe
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Darwin Ortiz gives this explanation during his performance of 'Time and Again' on one of his Cardshark videos, though he uses the four suits to represent the four seasons, and the twelve court cards to represent the 12 months of the year...
Pick a card, any card...
Jaz
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It don't matter to me if Mike's info is accurate or not.
Opened my eyes to some possible patter lines.
jayp
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Yeah I liked that post, very interesting even if untrue.
abc
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You should really read thru the thread Jordini posted. It has great links and many interesting things about cards.
BTW Matt the Tarot comes from playing cards and not the other way around. Proof of playing cards exists as far back as 1377 but Tarot only appeared in the 15th century.
The reason I know this is because I use it when I do readings and only playing cards are available. How simple facts impress intelligent people.
Anubis
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Yeah, Jeff McBride goes through a story like this at the end of his 'Art of Card Manipulation: Volume 3' video. It's pretty interesting.
"Is this your card?"

"No."
*throws deck*
barnos
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Dave Forrest has an effect in his Ripped and Repaired booklet called Dear Diary. Its all based around the similarities between the calendar and a deck of cards. Basically after some date selecting shenanigans, the note in the diary is shown to predict the selected card.
Jonathan Townsend
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They thought they had counted the arms and faces of Chtuhlu. And made a counter spell for each of the fifty two ways it might come at them. Then one day the sleeping god rolled over a bit and took them all out in fell swoop. All that was left of them and their spells were the cards. All fifty two were found among the debris. And two more. Scholars have examined the images and the cards for generations and have yet to decide which two where drawn by the dreaming one. In the years and generations that have gone by, some have changed the figures, replacing the stars with simpler diamonds, replacing the spiral conch symbols with the pawn brokers sign, replacing the fronds of seaweed with hearts and the deep sea fish with that light themselves in the deep with diamonds, yet none have dared change the number and nobody in the industry will discuss the strange crowd forming allure of a game known today as solitaire.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
mrmystic
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Mfield2000 has the right idea. Modern playing cards are dirived from tarot cards of old using only the minor arcana, without the major arcana(or picture cards).

I once played poker with a deck of tarot cards, I got a full house, and three people died.
Jonathan Townsend
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http://www.villarevak.org/misc/tarotl_1.html

History and storytelling have their places. Good to know what comes from where.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Payne
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Quote:
On 2005-10-29 01:12, mrmystic wrote:
Mfield2000 has the right idea. Modern playing cards are dirived from tarot cards of old using only the minor arcana, without the major arcana(or picture cards).

I once played poker with a deck of tarot cards, I got a full house, and three people died.


Actually this is back wards. Playing cards came first, appearing in Europe around the middle of the fourteenth century. Tarot cards arrived latter, somewhere in the early part of the fifteenth century.
They were used exclusively for game playing and were not utilized for divination until the mid to latter part of the eighteenth century.
"America's Foremost Satirical Magician" -- Jeff McBride.
mrmystic
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At one time, the king of hearts represented Charlemagne, the king of Diamonds was Julius Caesar, the king of clubs was Alexander the Great and the king of spades was King David from the Bible? These fascinating identities, along with special designations for the other court cards, were bestowed by the French who were instrumental in bringing the pleasures of card play to people in Europe and the New World.

The earliest playing cards are believed to have originated in Central Asia. The documented history of card playing began in the 10th century, when the Chinese began using paper dominoes by shuffling and dealing them in new games. Four-suited decks with court cards evolved in the Moslem world and were imported by Europeans before 1370. In those days, cards were hand-painted and only the very wealthy could afford them, but with the invention of woodcuts in the 14th century, Europeans began mass-production

It is from French designs that the cards we use today are derived. France gave us the suits of spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, and the use of simple shapes and flat colors helped facilitate manufacture. French cards soon flooded the market and were exported in all directions. They became the standard in England first, and then in the British Colonies of America.

Americans began making their own cards around 1800. Yankee ingenuity soon invented or adopted practical refinements: double-headed court cards (to avoid the nuisance of turning the figure upright), varnished surfaces (for durability and smoothness in shuffling), indexes (the identifying marks placed in the cards’ borders or corners), and rounded corners (which avoid the wear that card players inflict on square corners).

Americans also invented the Joker. It originated around 1870 and was inscribed as the "Best Bower," the highest card in the game of Euchre. Since the game was sometimes called "Juker," it is thought that the Best Bower card might have been referred to as the "Juker card" which eventually evolved into "Joker." By the 1880s, certainly, the card had come to depict a jocular imp, jester or clown. Many other images were also used, especially as Jokers became vehicles for social satire and commercial advertising. Similarly, the backs of cards were used to promote ideas, products and services, and to depict famous landmarks, events — and even fads.

During this same period, cycling — on unicycles, bicycles, and tricycles — was taking the country by storm. It was also in the latter part of the decade that Russell & Morgan, the forerunners of the United States Playing Card Company, decided to produce a line of cards of the highest quality. Employees were asked to suggest an attractive name for the new product, and a printer, "Gus" Berens, offered "Bicycle." His idea was enthusiastically accepted, and the Rider Back made its debut in 1887. Since then, while the Bicycle brand has featured dozens of different designs, the Rider Back has never gone out of production.

Today, people all over the world are familiar with the traditional red or blue back showing cupid astride a two-wheeler. The brand has become synonymous with quality and is still "the world’s favorite playing card."
Magiguy
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There's also a cool treatise called "The Story of Each Playing Card," by Geo M. MacKenzie. Good luck finding a copy, but if you do I recommend you snatch it up. In addition to the story behind the origin of each card it includes a brief history of playing cards, in general. Fun reading.
coupcoupdaddy
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They tried to bolt the doors, but the jester would always show up anyway.
foreign correspondent, z and lt



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Clay Shevlin
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I don't know if this title was mentioned (probably so if the discussion was in depth) in the threads alluded to in this thread, but a decent book of playing card history which also happens to have a conjuring bent is Taylor's THE HISTORY OF PLAYING CARDS WITH ANECDOTES OF THEIR USE IN CONJURING, FORTUNE-TELLING AND CARD-SHARPING, the first edition of which was published in 1865. A recent reprint may be had for a reasonable sum by searching the internet. Clay
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