Everyone knows what a set of playing cards is, what a set of playing cards looks like, and at least how to play Go Fish. But there may be more to the common playing card than you thought. The history of the standard deck of playing cards we have today is rich, and the colorful tales that go along are enchanting. Take a moment to learn some of the history behind the standard playing card deck so that the next time you play a hand of poker you can impress your friends with these fun facts. One: A Royal Beginning It’s hard to imagine how something like a standard deck of cards came into existence, and it’s equally difficult to imagine how a small deck of cards became such a staple in the lives of mankind. Oddly enough, it all began in China. Did you know that a princess was the first person ever documented to play a card game? Chinese princess Tongchang is described as playing a card game known as the “leaf game.” The Chinese invention of paper sheets (as opposed to scrolls) further lent to the concept of card games. Interestingly, the first book on record that deals with the subject of cards was written by a Chinese woman from an early dynasty. It would appear that clever women played a big role in the invention of playing cards. Two: Tarot Card Suits When playing cards emerged from Egypt sometime in the first half of the 14th century, they had already begun to develop a set of four distinct suits. The idea of suits most likely originated in the Middle East, and may have been modeled off of early tarot card suits. Designs on the cards were grouped into categories of cups, swords, disks, and staves. Interestingly, these designs are still being used on traditional present day playing card decks in areas like Italy and Portugal. Most places, however, now primarily use the evolved version: suits of diamonds, spades, clubs, and hearts. These designs were created by the French, who put their own personal flare into the depictions. The “disks” originally depicted were a form of money, which morphed into the present day diamond suit. The elegant spade replaced the original depiction of a sword. The cups on thetarot-designed cards stood for love. These were obviously replaced with the well-known heart design. Lastly, the suit of sticks evolved into clubs. Three: Face Cards with Real Faces The French didn’t stop their creative flourishing there, either. You may not realize that the face cards you are so familiar with are the portraits of actual figures with historical prominence. The King of Diamonds resembles Julius Caesar, the king of clubs represents Alexander the Great, and the King of Spades supposedly represents King David from the Psalms. The King of Hearts holds the most intrigue, remaining the subject of many artistic and cultural references. This “moustache-less” king closely resembles Charlemagne, a King renown for expanding his own kingdom dramatically. Interestingly, the King of Hearts is also known as “the suicide king,” because it appears that he has a sword entering the side of his head by his very own hand. However, many experts believe that the sword does not have the appearance of a noble’s sword. Instead, many believe that the card depicts an attempt on Charlemagne’s life. Four: Aces and Taxes If you’ve spent any time with a deck of playing cards, you have probably noticed that the Ace of Spades looks different than the others. The extra space you’ve noticed on your Ace of Spades card was originally kept there for a tax paid stamp. As mentioned earlier, France was heavily involved with the development of playing cards. French rulers decided that taxing the Ace of Spades card would be a clever way to receive more money. When taxes had been paid, the card was stamped and considered legal. No silly taxes are being charged on Ace of Spades cards today; instead, card companies print their logo or trademark information in the space previously used for a tax stamp. Evolving over time, and after many quirky innovations, the “leaf game” variety of playing cards in China became the 52-card deck we know and love. After learning these four fun facts, you can now consider yourself a little more knowledgeable about the common card—and better yet, you can impress your colleagues.