These days, we all know about diamonds being one of the four suits of the playing card deck. But, interestingly, playing card suits have a long history. Perhaps dating back as far as the 13th century, and they haven’t always been the same suits as we know today.
Most people believe cards originated in China in the 13th century, where the “suits” were representations of increasing amounts of coins: coins; strings of coins (old Chinese coins used to be strung together by means of a hole through the middle); myriads of coin strings; tens of myriads.
In the 14th century, the Chinese system was adopted with variations throughout the Middle East and Asia, and became suits of coins, clubs, cups and swords. This system was, in turn, adopted by the Latin world of Europe, again with some variations. In the 15th century, German-speaking lands developed slightly different suits, so the Latin ones became hearts, bells, acorns and leaves.
Moving closer to Britain now:
The French replaced the German bells with tiles, the acorns with clovers, and the leaves with pikes (a sword with a pointed end). So, by the time cards reached Britain in the late 15th century, we had hearts, clovers, pikes and tiles.
Ok, the hearts is clear, but where do we get clubs, spades and diamonds from clovers, pikes and tiles? Well, the club suit actually has the symbol of the three-leafed clover, but we call them clubs based on an old Italian/Spanish word for a stick. The name spades comes from Italian too. “Spade” means swords in Italian, and this is represented by the pike symbol on the spade cards. As for diamonds, this is just from the shape – the French called them tiles (“carreaux”) but they became diamonds in the English speaking world.
So, next time you’re having a game of cards, you can bore – oops, I meant impress! – your friends with a bit of a history lesson!
Questions/comments? Please feel free to post!