The history of playing cards in Spain
People have been playing card games since ancient times, and although there are several theories on the matter, it’s believed that the tradition began in China.
The first recorded evidence of card games dates back to the 7th century. The tradition spread from Asia to Europe, and was introduced in Spain in the 15th century. The earliest historical reference made to card games in Spain appears in the 1837 law of Juan I, which forbade the use of cards for the first time. Card games would be banned on many more occasions throughout history.
A Spanish deck of cards has always been divided in 4 suits, called: Oros (“golds” or gold coins), Copas (cups), Espadas (swords), and Bastos (clubs). These symbols supposedly represented the 4 social classes divided by the feudal society: royalty, clergy, military, and common people.
The Spanish deck of playing cards doesn’t include any female figures. This feature, along with the highly detailed graphics, makes these cards unique among the playing cards of the world.
Spanish cards used to have several different design patterns that existed simultaneously: The Cádiz pattern, the Castile pattern, and the Catalonian pattern, although the differences were minimal.
The definitive design was created by Augusto Ríus and marketed by Fournier in 1889. The design has lasted until today, although it has been modified a bit.
Manufacturing new cards required authorization from the Spanish crown to avoid possible cheating, as cards were the cause of constant feuding.
Another distinction of Spanish playing cards is the use of “pintas”, broken lines on the top and bottom of the face of the cards that allowed players to see the suits of their own cards without revealing them to others.
Numbers were added 100 years later and two versions of the deck were created. One numbered from 1 to 7 and 10 to 12 and another one which included the 8 and the 9, although most Spanish card games don’t make use of those two numbers.
The most popular card games played with Spanish cards are el mus, el tute, el chinchón, la brisca, and el cinquillo.