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A refreshing drink and a company of friends. If you cannot go outside, chances are that you will spend your time with the new card deck you got as a gift last week. There is certain magic in the way you cannot predict which card you are going to pick next, a sort of lottery even. The crispiness of new cards when you begin to sort them adds to the attraction and addiction of playing cards. The uneasiness in your mind when you are nearing the end of the game and don't know when the game might turn in your favor adds to the excitement.

No one really knows where playing cards really came from. Some people think it was China, others believe it was India, and still others claim it was the Near East. Cards didn't reach Europe until around 1300. The earliest playing cards are believed to have originated in Central Asia. Documented history of card playing began in the 10th century, when the Chinese began using paper dominoes by shuffling and dealing them into new games. Four-suited decks with court cards evolved in the Moslem world and were imported by Europeans before 1370. In those days, cards were hand-painted and only the very wealthy could afford them, but with the invention of woodcuts in the 14th century, Europeans began mass-production.

You probably have noticed that in every deck of playing cards, the ace of spades is different from the other aces. The central spade symbol on the ace is bigger than any other symbol in the deck. And there's a reason for it.

In past centuries, governments in Europe always put a heavy tax on decks of playing cards. No one could sell a deck of cards without a tax stamp showing that a tax had been paid on the deck. Card makers decided to put the tax stamp on the ace of spades, the highest-ranking card in the deck. So people got used to seeing an ace of spades that was different from all other cards, with the large tax stamp in the middle.

Later, when tax stamps no longer had to be placed on every deck, card makers continued to make the ace of spades different from the other three aces. Even today, the ace of spades in a deck usually carries the name of the card maker or his trademark.

About the four suits, from the very beginning, almost all decks of playing cards had four suits. The names of the suits and their symbols were different in various parts of Europe. In Italy, where the first European playing cards were made, the suits were called cups, swords, coins, and rods (or clubs). Some people believe that the four suits stood for the four classes of people in Europe during the middle ages. The cup represented the chalice used in church, and therefore stood for the clergy. The sword stood for the military; the coin represented the merchant; and the club stood for the farmer.

In Germany, the suits were different. The cup became the heart, a symbol of courage and power, while the club became the acorn. The French used the heart, but changed the club to a cloverleaf, the English took the design of their cards from the French. But they called the tile a diamond, and for the clover leaf used the older name club.

But it is known that the king of hearts represented Charlemagne, the king of diamonds was Julius Caesar, the king of clubs was Alexander the Great, and the king of spades was King David from the Bible. These designations were given by the French who played a pivotal role in introducing cards in Europe.

In today's playing cards, the kings, queens, and jacks wear clothes from the period of the English King Henry VII, who ruled in the late 15th century. But did you know that early decks had four picture cards instead of three, that included the king, queen, jack, and the knight.

Americans invented the joker in the card deck. It originated around 1870 and was inscribed as the 'Best Bower', the highest card in the game of Euchre. Since the game was sometimes called 'Juker', it is thought that the Best Bower card might have been referred to as the 'Juker card' which eventually evolved into 'Joker'. By the 1880s, certainly, the card had come to depict a jocular imp, jester, or clown. Many other images were also used, especially as jokers became vehicles for social satire and commercial advertising. Similarly, the backs of cards were used to promote ideas, products, and services, and to depict famous landmarks, events, and even fads.