From here they eventually made their way through the Middle East and North Africa into Western Europe, and that's where the first definite record of playing cards can be found in the late 1300s. Italians, French, and Spanish playing cards weren't standardized like today, but used suits with a variety of symbols such as clubs, swords, and bells, and also had varying numbers of cards in a deck. The French were especially renowned for their playing card manufacturers, and today's playing cards are largely based on old French designs.
The backs of playing cards were originally blank, but over time things were added like images on the card backs, corner indices, double ended artwork for the court cards, and coatings on the paper. Playing cards were at one time called "pasteboards", and were originally thick and bulky. But improvements in manufacturing led to thinner playing cards, with improved quality and handling.
Prior to the adoption of indices, one manufacturer used miniature pictures of the card on opposite corners, which were called "Triplicates", and the indices we use today were developed in competition to these, and were first described as "Squeezers" in light of the ability to hold a larger hand of cards.
Share some of the fascinating ways playing cards have been used throughout their history, besides more obvious uses like card magic, and for playing the thousands of custom game card that exist. But even decks used for card games come in different sizes, e.g. containing 32 cards, or 40, 48, 52, and even 78 or more. So a deck of cards can mean a lot of different things, and many of the games played with them are very regional.
Playing cards have been used very seriously for fortune telling, sometimes with individual cards having fortune information on them. Tarot decks typically have 78 cards, and each of the 22 trumps in these decks has a different picture and is assigned a different meaning. While such decks are sometimes used for the occult, many of them do have fantastic designs and artwork. This makes them very collectable, and even Tarot decks that are barely 20 years old can be worth large sums.
Playing cards were also used for educational purposes (e.g. to teach math, science and more). Souvenir decks have been popular, because they have a picture on each individual card. When these started being produced in the 1890s, photography was still quite new and expensive, so a souvenir deck functioned as a nice miniature photo album.
Because cards originally had plain white backs, they proved useful for note-taking, indexing, invitations, coupons, IOUs, and more, especially in a time when paper and cardboard was rare and expensive. Besides these secondary uses, there was even a time in the 1700s in Quebec when they were used as money cards.
There are also people who build enormous card houses with playing cards, made out of hundreds of decks of cards.
In today's market, some publishers like Theory11 devote a lot of attention to producing high end tuck boxes, and it is a big part of the marketing. While today's techniques may be new, the idea of an attractive tuck box is not new, and throughout the history of custom playing cards there have been manufacturers doing interesting things with the card boxes.
Tom explains that originally playing cards were just packaged in relatively plain paper wrappers, and there was no box at all. As the 1800s progressed, wrappers made way for something more sturdy, which led to the development of all kinds of boxes. Various interesting packaging was used, including boxes that had outer and inner cases, and small drawers. Congress Playing Cards used a packaging that would display the designs of the deck on the outside of the box.
After showing a lovely custom wooden box for the Circus Transformation Deck that was produced in 1988, Judy explains what transformation decks are, showing some example cards.
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