A Handful of History
1. The next time you do a card trick-remember this. You're playing with history. The playing cards we use today are much like those used for hundreds of years. The most interesting things are the suits and face cards. A "suit" of a playing card is not a thing to be worn. It means Hearts, Spades, Diamonds or Clubs. The figures are placed on each card with the number or value of the card. The face cards are the Jacks, Queens, Kings, and, of course, the Jokers.
2. What do you think the suits stand for? Let's take the Hearts first. When you say that an athlete has a lot of heart, what do you mean? You mean that he is brave. So, you see, the King of Hearts is a "brave king".
3. Look at the design of the Spade on a card. The word "spade" comes from the Italian word which means “sword”. With a little imagination, you can see the handle and the blade. Of course, the blade has been made much shorter on the card.
4. The diamonds and Club designs also have interesting stories. The Diamond design is one that you probably know already. It stands for the expensive gems that you and I have seen in jewelry stores. At first it stood for the rich traders who found and sold such gems. The Club looks a little like a three-leaf clover design. Its shape came from a French design with three leaves. It has the lowest rank of the suits.
5. Now you see how some suits of playing cards have more value or power than others. The face cards are usually powerful in any card game. The King is one of the strongest. There are four different Kings, and each one stands for a real person. The King of Hearts first meant Charlemagne. He lived about 800 years after the birth of Christ. He was one of the most powerful kings in Europe after Julius Caesar of Rome. Julius Caesar, by the way, is the King of Diamonds.
6. We must go further back in history to find out the names of the two other kings. The young Alexander the Great of Macedonia is the King of Clubs and King David is the King of Spades. David is the person who killed the giant Goliath. When someone talks about a David and Goliath, he means that a smaller, or weaker, person is trying to fight a very large and strong enemy. David beat Goliath and became a king. He probably never thought that he would have a place in playing cards.
7. We must go back to the Bible and the times of David again to find two of our queens. Rachel was a famous woman in the Bible. She is the Queen of Diamonds.
8. Remember that the heart stands for bravery. A very brave woman is the Queen of Hearts. That was Judith, who killed an enemy general.
9. When Alexander the Great was a general, one of the important woman goddesses was Athena. She stood for wisdom. Athena is the Queen of Spades.
10. Queen Elizabeth I of England is thought to be the Queen of Clubs, She ruled England when America was mostly a wilderness.
11. The Jacks are sometimes called Knaves. A Knave is usually a person who gets into trouble. But the playing cards stand for famous knights in history. These men made themselves famous for their courage and bravery, but they were not kings.
12. The Joker of the card deck is the one that doesn't always fit. He is sometimes used as an extra card. He sometimes becomes more powerful than any other card. He does not stand for anyone person like some of the other cards. But I think that you can see what his name means.
13. So, you see that you can hold some history in your hands. History from King David to Queen Elizabeth is all on the front of playing cards.