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History of Playing Cards

This is not a magic trick, but it is worth looking over if you do card tricks. Something to certainly make any magic trick a little more interesting is to tell your audience something interseting that they don't know. Since you're preforming card tricks, why not tell them a little bit about the history of playing cards?

The mystery of playing cards is that we don't know exactly who invented them.

Playing cards date back to somewhere between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1100. There is reference to them in an ancient Chinese dictionary that said they were originated during the time of Seun-Ho around 1120. Supposedly, he used them to amuse and entertain himself and the people he lived with. In Egypt and India they were used for religious purposes.

Playing cards started off as what we now know as Tarot cards, the cards now used by palm-readers, witches, and other fortune tellers who practice in both black magic and white magic.

We know that King Chales VI of France had special cards made for him by a painter at the time. In one of his diaries it notes the playing cards were used for "diversion.". Royalty were many of the first users of playing cards. We can assume that they were used for gambling, telling the future. And with that, it couldn't have taken long for the first card trick to be invented, any time money or future fortunes are involved!

At first because they were so expensive -- the printing press hadn't exactly been invented yet -- that only royalty and the supremly rich used them. Perhaps that added some mistique to them by the common people.

At first, cards were round in shape. If you've ever dropped a deck of cards, you can appreciate how much easier it would be to pick them all up and get them aligned with circular cards! In about 1500, the cards changed and started depicting the kings and queens that ordered the cards. That's also the time that they became rectangular. At one point, cards became outlawed aroudn 1541, with the king only allowing the commoners to play them around Christmas time.

You can imagine that perhaps the first card trick invented used marked cards. Unlike today, when a card gets slightly bent or warped or nicked, you can just go out and buy another deck for a few dollars. But back then, people would use the same decks of cards for years. You could put a tiny scratch on the back of a card at one of your friends houses, and be able to come back years later and still have the same scratch -- of course, that is also true today, especially if your friends are like mine and use the same deck for years and years!

Also, cards have a strong relation to dominoes and dice, which were other popular games of the time.

Howard Thurston, the great magician and illusionist, used cards in his act. Houdini deemed himself "King of Cards" and entertained for huge audiences. Cardini was a magician who also focused on cards in the early years.

Card Tricks have become more popular in recent times because of the fact that everyone can relate to them, and just about everyone owns a deck of cards. For that reason, card tricks are within reach of just about anyone who wants to get started off in magic. Many of the greatest magicians of all time first got interested in magic when someone showed them a card trick.

Also, with Texas Hold 'em becoming so popular lately, I think it has brought a renewed interest to card tricks. Just as Blackjack rose to popularity in the 70's, with books by Ken Uston and others explaining how to win at Blackjack.

Here are some other quick facts about cards that I sometimes use in my act:

There are 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year.

Their are four suits in a deck of cards: Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, and Spades. Their are four seasons as well.

Their are 13 values in each suit: Ace, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Jack, Queen, and King. There are 13 lunar cycles in a year. (Remember that one, I know it'll come up on Jeopardy one day!)

At one point, each court card: (The Jacks, Queens, and Kings) all represent a real member of royalty.

About this history of cards:

This is just a brief history of the origin of playing cards, with some random facts. I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy, although I've been using this info for a long time. The point of this is that it will add entertainment value to your magic show if you talk even just a little bit about the history of playing cards.