See also: Card game

The standard deck of cards used in most parts of the world consists of 4 suits:

Each suit has 13 cards including an Ace (which usually equates to 1), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, and King for a total of 52 cards in a deck. The Jacks, Queens, and Kings are known as face cards or court cards because they contain a picture on them as well as a value. As a general rule, each card in a suit has a greater "value" than its predecessor, with the Ace frequently used as both the highest and lowest card, while no suit outranks any other. However, there is no actual standard value associated with any card - each card game has its own separate rules for card and suit values.

The earliest documented use of playing cards was in eastern Asia and used in the game of dominos. Instead of mixing up the dominos and allowing the players to choose them, the paper dominos were simply shuffled and dealt. The use of decks with four suits is believed to have started in the Middle East (coins, cups, swords, and sticks), and later imported to Europe in the late 14th century. The Middle Eastern coins became diamonds, the cups (a symbol for love) became hearts, swords became spades, and sticks/staves became clubs. At this time, all cards were hand painted and owned only by the most wealthy. With the invention of woodcuts, playing cards were able to be mass produced.

France provided the concepts behind today's deck of cards. The use of simple shapes and colors allowed for increased popularity of various games. The original face cards actually represented historical figures (see below). France exported their popular playing cards throughout the world, with shipments eventually making it to the American colonies.

Additional practical improvements were made to the deck in America including the use of double headed court cards (so you wouldn't have to flip your cards over to view the pictures), varnished surfaces for easy shuffling and dealing, card marking, and rounded corners. Some sources state that the Joker was also introduced in America, while other sources say that is was part of the original French deck. Strangely enough, American sources attribute the Joker to the French, and French sources attribute it to the Americans. No one seems to want to claim it.

Historical Figures in the Deck

The original French cards were actually named and designed after popular historical figures. It should be noted that today's cards no longer hold any strong relation to these people. Representations have changed due to copying, differing artist renditions, and company branding that little remains linking them to this history.

♥ Hearts

♦ Diamonds

♣ Clubs

♠ Spades

Other Interesting Cards

☻ The Joker

Not belonging to any suit the joker is most assuredly a card imported through the influence of Tarot's The Fool. The Joker is most commonly used as a wild card or as a trump card. While it is not part of the standard deck of cards, it has uses in numerous games and therefore in included by most manufacturers. It is the most commonly collected card by those who... well, collect cards.

A♠ Ace of Spades

Ever wonder why the Ace of Spades is different than the rest of the Aces? It's a tradition held over from when there was reason for the distinguishing mark. Cards were seen by Kings and Queens as a source of income for their kingdom. As a result, consumers were required to pay a tax for each deck of cards purchased. Because the Aces have the most "white space", it was relatively easy to stamp the card with the seal indicating the proper fees had been paid. Over time, it simply became customary to stamp the Ace of Spades. The mark is still on our cards today simply out of tradition (plus it gives the card manufacturers a place to put their name and trademark information).

Probably the most common playing card manufacturer (at least in the US) is the United States Playing Card Company. This company is the maker of Bicycle brand (aka Rider Back) cards, Bee brand cards, and Aviator brand cards. Because of the pattern on the back of the cards, Bees and Aviators are well known by magicians and those that cheat at card games because they can easily bottom deal and perform other slight of hand tricks without the viewer/player noticing.

The Rest of the Deck

A♥ 2♥ 3♥ 4♥ 5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥ 9♥ 10♥ J♥ Q♥ K♥

A♦ 2♦ 3♦ 4♦ 5♦ 6♦ 7♦ 8♦ 9♦ 10♦ J♦ Q♦ K♦

A♣ 2♣ 3♣ 4♣ 5♣ 6♣ 7♣ 8♣ 9♣ 10♣ J♣ Q♣ K♣

A♠ 2♠ 3♠ 4♠ 5♠ 6♠ 7♠ 8♠ 9♠ 10♠ J♠ Q♠ K♠

Interesting Facts

  • There are 52 cards in a standard deck of cards
  • There are 52 weeks in a year (52 weeks x 7 days in a week = 364)
  • There are 13 cards in each suit (A,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,J,Q,K)
  • There are 13 lunar months in a year, each with 28 days (13 months x 28 days per month = 364)
  • If you add up the values of all the cards in the deck (with A=1,J=11,Q=12,K=13) you get (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13)*4 = 364
  • OK, so this one doesn't match up. There are 365 days in a year. Sue me. It's still cool. Maybe if you add 1 to 364 for the joker...


  • (this is an incredible site even though it is on the evil Geocities)
  • (in French)
  • and thanx to m_turner for the suggestions/constructive criticism/input