Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our Enduring Love Affair with Cards

As soon as cards became popular in Europe in the Middle Ages, card printers sprung up as a new industry in Europe. These printers made only cards, not books or newspapers. Cards have a fascinating history in both senses, playing cards and tarot or fortune telling cards. Even in playing cards, there were differences from time to time and place to place. The four playing card suits were not always diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades. Not surprisingly, playing cards made the trip across the Atlantic when Europeans came to this continent.

To this day, there are companies who make not just tarot, but interesting artistic playing cards as their only business. If you look at playing cards in the U.S. today, mostly they are pretty identical looking, and unfortunately the colorful jokers have given way to advertisements. But if you look at playing cards made in Europe, they show flashes of creativity and innovative design, not just with the jokers, but even with the pips (the cards from one to ten).

There are artists in Europe who create limited edition signed and numbered prints of their sets. They just like being creative and treat making decks as an art form. In other cases they may not be numbered and signed, but artists just enjoy creating these works on a smaller scale that a person could carry around with them, or just keep in a desk drawer or on a coffee table, simply to admire them at their leisure, the same way we keep art books on coffee tables.

Some decks are beautifully created and then printed on a large scale, but if they do not become best sellers, the publishers quit printing them.

Cards have a universal appeal. You can find them in about every home. There are a variety of games that can be played with them, and before TV became a ubiquitous form of entertainment, playing cards after dinner was something that families and friends did for entertainment. I helped my kids to learn their numbers by playing cards with them. Cards and making music were entertainments that people made for themselves. For a very small amount of money, you could buy a form of entertainment that could provide many hours of fun. Games that did not involve gambling for money were popular with both young and old people, and there were games in which playing for money is the main attraction.

No wonder Europeans developed a long lasting love affair with this new form of entertainment which is so simple that people can play quite a number of games besides blackjack or poker, and yet, even at this date, people still invent new games to play. So even though many things have evolved, 600-700 years after cards became popular, they still are, even though we have computers, video games, TV, DVDs and all sorts of other things to play with.

There is still a lot of magic, both in the little playing card deck, and in tarot decks. There is no end to the love affair that we have with cards.

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