Cumberland Times-News

Maude McDaniel - Living

January 28, 2012

Wondering? Here’s how cards began

(Continued)

It was a bad habit, always connected to gambling, that rather took over the world. The soldiers who survived brought back the one thing that had relaxed them in between bouts of mortal combat in the not-so-Holy Wars. For that reason, or just on its own, it earned the hatred of the Catholic Church, which, from the pulpit, banned cards and card-playing in Swiss and Italian towns as early as 1367. Other European towns followed suit, so to speak.
Not that it made any difference. Card-playing spread like wildfire. So did the Church’s hatred of it, both Catholics and later, when they happened, Protestants. From the 14th to the 20th century many religious people in America, like my father in his early years, followed a long tradition of disapproval for cardplaying.
But it was impossible to wipe out. Not that anyone but the church wanted to do that. Cards spread across Europe, usually in the form of decks with 10 numbered cards called pips and higher ranking cards called court cards.
In early days there were suits of “flowers, bears, hares, parrots, lions, deer, leaves, acorns, and wild men.” ( I got all this information from Early American Life, February 2009, in an article by Amy Poole.) They were probably a lot less boring than the present kings, queens and jacks which got their start in England and remain virtually unchanged in their general appearance since the 15th century. The classic costumes are (even now) basically from the English court of Henry Vll.
A very early reference to cards in the New World tells of Columbus’ men, unregenerate gamblers, throwing their cards overboard, hoping to please God when a storm blew up. Later, not having learned much, they made new cards out of the “leaves of the copas tree, which greatly interested the Indians.” The Puritan streak took over the New World in the early 1600s, and card playing was banned both in Virginia and New England , where children and servants were “for the second offence to bee publicly whipt.” It wasn’t easy being a colonist in those days, especially a virtuous one.

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Maude McDaniel - Living
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