playing card suit column comments

In re this column:

“The Germans originally used hearts, acorns, bells, and leaves, which you occasionally still see in Eastern Europe”

I would like to point out that in Bavaria, hardly “Eastern Europe”, cards with these suits (and an additional face card) are still used today quite frequently in a ridiculously complex “trick” game called Schafkopf (and its easier counterpart Bierkopf for people to drunk to keep the rules straight).

A few more words on German-suited cards:

I have three decks of hearts/acorns/bells/leaves cards, all from Germany. The “hearts” suit is also known as “Rot” (red). Two are Skat decks, and the third is for a Pinochle-type game called Gaigel. Actually, they don’t have an additional face card: their picture cards are Konig, Ober and Unter. “King” is obvious, but the other two are probably best translated as “Overman” and “Underman,” which sounds too much like the Ambiguously Gay Duo to me.

Schapfkopf is actually considered the easier predecessor of Germany’s national card game, Skat. Schapfkopf is apparently also played in Wisconsin, and Skat in Texas, amongst German-immigrant populations there.

Similar to the German-suited cards are the Swiss cards: shields, acorns, bells and flowers. Swiss cards are unique for being numbered 2-9 (the 2, “Daus,” usually serves as their Ace), “Banner,” which has the same role as our Ten, and Konig, Ober, Unter.

And the only thing I can say about the column is to add that the French-suited cards got a big boost from a feature of theirs which was probably accidental. You can split the pack not only into the four suits but also into the two colors, black and red. The use of “color” was a critical feature of many gambling games, whose play contributed greatly to the spread of French-suited cards to England, and as a consequence the United States and eventually the world.

In Spanish playing cards (40 to a suit, there are no 8, 9, 10s) the suit are

  1. Oros (gold) which correspond to diamonds
    • Bastos* (cudgels) which correspond to clubs
  2. Copas (cups) which correspond to hearts
    • Espadas* (swords) which correspond to spades.

Even when using a “normal” deck, many Spanish speaking people would use the “spanish” equivalent

The Spanish names for the “normal” suits are:

  1. Corazones - Hearts
  2. Tréboles - Clubs (it actually means clovers)
  3. Diamantes - Diamonds (sometimes called “cocos” (coconuts) in Peru)
  4. Espadas - Spades

I’m surprised that Cecil didn’t mention the relationship between playing cards and the older fortune telling cards (Tarot).

Tarot decks are close to what Cecil refers to as “early Italian” designations: Cups, Swords, Pentacles (Coins), Wands (Batons).

Playing cards are pretty much Tarot decks with the major arcana (aka trumps) removed, with the exception of the Fool, which I would guess became the Joker.

Anyone have any better insights?

I agree with the previous poster, that the suits corresponded to the minor arcana of the Tarot – less of course, the Knights of each suit, or combining the Knight with the Knave to get the Jack.

The suits corresponded somewhat to how Cecil described, but I’ve got a little additional detail. Please be kind: this is from memory, and I’m not claiming to be a Tarot expert.

Swords (modern Spades): Action, violence, maleness, element of air. Face cards indicated someone of dark skin and hair.
Wands/Staves (modern Clubs): Growth, generative spirit, maleness, element of fire. Face cards indicated someone of fair hair.
Cups (modern Hearts): Love, emotion, femaleness, element of water. Face cards indicated blondes.
Coins/Pentacles (modern Diamonds): Wealth, exchange, femaleness, element of earth. Face cards indicated red hair.

That’s pretty much about right. It’s been 15 years since I did a reading, but that’s what I remember.

Well, it’s a good thing he didn’t, because they’re not older. The oldest playing cards (Italian-suited) are from the early 15th century, and the oldest tarot cards are from at best the early 16th century.

Furthermore, tarot cards weren’t used for cartomancy until the 18th century. Before that, and for that matter to this day in France and Italy, they were used for games. The most familiar one is jeu de tarot, for which you can still buy packs for in France. The “minor” suits are the familiar French hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds, and the “major” suit has 22 cards like a tarot deck, only with secular images.

Essentially, the tarot deck was created as an extension of the regular deck, not the other way around. Before tarot, card games didn’t have a “trump” suit. (You can see the trumpless feature in older games like Piquet.) The tarot deck was a combination of our familiar deck plus an old suit-less Italian deck now lost to antiquity. The “major” suit served as the first trump suit. The “Knight,” or Chevalier in jeu d’tarot, was not unique to the tarot deck either. Many 15th-century decks contained 52 or 56 cards.

And there’s no direct connection between the Fool (l’excuse in jeu de tarot) and the Joker. The Joker was an American invention of the 19th century. It eminated from Poker, when some players started using the “blank card” (i.e., the card placed in many decks to replace a torn or lost card) as a wild card. Eventually, playing-card manufacturers started putting the figure of a clown on a card–really, more like a court jester, to fit the theme of nobility on the picture cards. That it became similar to the Fool of tarot cards was a happy accident. In France, where tarot packs are widely used, few “standard” decks carry the Joker.

Lastly, the Knave and the Jack are the same card. Both names were used for the card to the 19th century (Jack was considered “lower class”), but “Jack” won out when cards started carrying corner indices. “J” differentiated it from the “K” for King.

My sources: A History of Card Games, David Parlett; Collecting English Playing-Cards, Sylvia Mann.

Very interesting. I did not know much of that.

BTW, I didn’t mean to imply Tarot cards were solely for fortune telling - it’s just what most people think of them as, these days.

Yes, Sheepshead (English translation of Schapfkopf) is played in Wisconsin. It uses a partial dek of normal playing cards. The 2-6 cards are removed to give a 32 card deck… The rules aren’t actually that hard, but learning to play well takes a lot of practice.

Duke - I question your sources assertion that the joker was developed in poker. Most books on card games and the origin of card games seem to indicate that the joker is a product of the American game Euchre.

As for Skat, it’s probably the best 3-hander out there. It seems ridiculously complicated (the bidding system is a bit odd), but it’s not that bad. Three of us with a book on card games figured it out pretty much after an hour, but to learn accurate bidding takes about eight hours or so, if you have good experience with trick-taking or point-trick taking games. Anyhow, I highly highly highly recommend it.

Tarot/Tarock games are still popular today, and there are several different types of decks in use. There’s a 78-card deck is popular in France. There’s a 54-card popular in Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, and Switzerland. And then there’s the Italian decks which are usually from 62-64 card decks. In fact, a French Tarot game (as well as Skat) is included in Holye’s Card Games 2003.

And I also agree with Duke. Everything I’ve read says that tarot decks were originally used as playing cards. Only later did they become associated with fortune-telling and the occult.

The source was right: I was wrong. You’re correct, pulykamell, the Joker was first used in Euchre. One of the dangers of quoting from books from memory, I suppose.

I read someplace that the four Kings in thedeck represent four great kings

Hearts: Chralemagne
Spades: David
Diamonds: Julius Caesar
Clubs: Alexander the Great