In most decks of playing cards, there are 36 numbered cards (2s through 10s), 12 face cards (with a King, Queen, or Jack), and 52 total cards – 54 cards if you count the Jokers.
The cards are separated into four suits: Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs. And each of the four suits contains 13 cards.
When you add them all together, the 13 cards in each of the four suits make a total of 52 cards in a deck, which is considered standard today.
Table of Contents
There haven’t always been 52 cards in a deck. In fact, over the centuries, there have been several variations, e.g., 24, 36, 48, and basically every number in between.
However, 52 ended up becoming the most popular variation, although no one can really say why it turned out this way.
A number of opposing theories have tried to explain this phenomenon, but the more dominant theory is that British and French colonialism played a significant role, since it allowed their standard deck size of 52 cards to spread across the globe.
Another fascinating theory is that the number of cards in a deck corresponds to the number of weeks in a year.
According to some theorists, the two colors of red and black reflect day and night, respectively, while the four suits reflect the four seasons.
It gets even more interesting when you observe that there are 13 cards per suit, which supposedly matches the number of lunar cycles.
The 12 court cards are believed to match the 12 months within a year.
Contrary to popular belief, playing cards didn’t originate in Europe. They actually originated in China in the 9th century, according to scholars.
Common belief holds that the first printed playing cards were developed in China as a 32-card deck that was printed on a combination of bone, paper, and wood.
After their invention in China, it’s believed that they gradually spread to other parts of the world, including Persia, India, and Egypt, before being introduced in Europe.
It was when cards spread across the globe that other variations of playing cards were created.
Since their invention, playing cards have been a popular source of entertainment for several centuries across many different cultures.
To date, these are some of the most popular card games:
- Spades – A game that’s existed for nearly a century, Spades involves four players. To start off, you deal 13 cards to every player. You can make bets throughout the game if you want to spice things up. The objective of Spades is to take the smallest number of tricks that were bid before the current hand was played. This game, which hit its peak in the 1990s, can be played in person or online. It’s still one of the most popular card games of all time, and for many, it’s the most fun card game they can play.
- Poker – As one of the most famous gambling games in the world, poker usually makes people think of casinos, alcohol, and money. Because there are many variations of poker, you can constantly mix up your style of play. Poker, which is commonly played online, has become so popular in the US that it’s considered a sport instead of a game.
- War – Because the game requires no skill, War is often considered one of the easiest card games out there. To play, you only need two players and a 52-card deck. To start, you shuffle the deck and deal 26 cards to each of the two players. The two players lay down a card, beginning a war with their opponent. The higher value wins, and the player with the most cards at the end of the game is the overall winner.
- Rummy – Popular across the world, especially in India, Rummy has been a major gambling game in the US for quite a while. One factor that draws players is the fact that you only need two players and a 52-card deck. Unlike War, Rummy, which is considered a matching game, does require some amount of skill to get good at the game. Those with above-average memorization and matching skills might be able to make money by playing Rummy with other people.
The Ace of Spades, also referred to as the Spadille and Death Card, is considered by most to be the most valued card in a deck of playing cards in the English-speaking world.
The card’s actual value, however, differs from game to game.
Its ornate design traces back to the 17th century when King James I – and later Queen Anne – imposed a series of laws that required the ace of spades to bear the printing house insignia.
Over the centuries, the design of the card evolved, eventually becoming the subject of several design patents and trademarks.
For example, in 1882, George G. White was granted a design patent in the US for his design of the card.
His ace design, which featured male and female subjects leaning onto a spade from both sides, set a precedent for future ace designs.
Collecting playing cards is a highly popular activity that’s been around for a long time. As people begin collecting cards, they discover the wide range of cards that exist, including limited or elusive difficult-to-find editions.
Thanks to the internet, it isn’t hard to find and purchase high-quality decks of cards. There’s a wealth of options when it comes to sellers, including online retailers that focus on custom playing cards.
Collectors can also buy cards directly from creators through online shops or crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
For rarer or older items, one might have to visit a secondary market or even check out forums to locate harder-to-find playing cards.
As a result of crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, the popularity of playing cards has skyrocketed over the past decade.
Almost daily, new decks with original playing card designs are being released, and the supply is just barely keeping up with the soaring demand.
These are some of the world’s hardest-to-find playing cards:
- Original Stud Playing Cards – It was when Walgreens redesigned its Stud Playing Cards that the company took the playing card community by storm. These new decks, after all, were quite different from the original version, lacking the extremely thin stock, bright colors, and balanced feel that had made Stud Playing Cards so popular. As a result, fans rapidly purchased the limited stock of the original cards. Because of the extraordinarily high demand, one would now be hard-pressed to find Original Stud Playing Cards listed at a reasonable price.
- Original Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards – Around 50 years ago, Jerry’s Nugget Casino in Las Vegas created its own deck of cards that ended up never being released. Instead, these cards were kept in a storage unit for the better part of a decade before making their foray into the market as a $2 souvenir deck of cards. This is when Lee Asher, a magician, discovered – and ultimately popularized – the cards. Because of the deck’s enormous popularity, especially within the magician community, it’s quite difficult now to find a deck that isn’t insanely priced or isn’t a counterfeit. As a result of the incredible demand, Asher took matters into his own hands, creating his own version of Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards in 2019.
- Brown Wynn Playing Cards – Exclusively commissioned for the Wynn Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Brown Wynn Playing Cards boasts a unique feel, and many well-known musicians, such as Daniel Garcial and Chris Kenner, have referred to Wynn Playing Cards as the next Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards. As a result of this hype, the cards sold out almost immediately, leading to a shortage of this deck of cards.
- Scarlett Tally-Ho Playing Cards – Although the aforementioned cards have revolutionized the way playing cards look and feel, it’s the Scarlett Tally-Ho Playing Cards that have taken playing cards to an entirely new level. Named in honor of the creator’s daughter, these playing cards are recognizable by their fully customized face cards, which are decorated with metallic gold accents. The cards also feature a gorgeous back design and an incredibly distinctive tuck case. Because of their perfect mix of elegance and simplicity, these cards have been some of the most popular within the card-collecting community.
- Red Fontaine Playing Cards – Because cardist Zach Mueller was also interested in vintage casino card designs, he decided to make his own brand of custom cards. After introducing the cards on his YouTube cardistry channel, fans began to express interest in purchasing the cards. Not long after that, he made an Indiegogo campaign for his Red Fontaine Playing Cards. It only took 18 hours for the campaign to reach its goal. Little did Mueller know at the time that the cards would eventually dominate the custom playing card market.
Playing cards are produced by three main companies: Cartamundi in Belgium, Legends Playing Cards in Hong Kong, and United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) in the US.
Although there are other card-producing companies, these companies produce the majority of playing cards on the market.
In fact, they create tens of millions of decks each year.
If you bought a deck at a magic shop, casino, or superstore, chances are that your deck was produced by one of these three manufacturers.