While selling games from the past at Renaissance fairs and historial reenactment events I've often been asked why the traditional French suits of hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds have become the international standard. Recently I found a partial explanation...

During the 1400's Germany was a major producer of inexpensive playing cards. Although German printers experimented with a wide range of suit signs, cards using the primary traditional German suits of bells, acorns, leaves and hearts can still be found today. The early decks were produced through wood-block printing and then stencils were used to add colors. One of the problems with those symbols was that they needed black outlines and detail lines to make it clear what they represented. Also, many early German cards had little incidental illustrations on every card in the deck, thus all of the cards in a deck needed at least a two-step printing process.

French suit signs appeared about the 1480's, and because they were simple one-color shapes and included no additional illustrations, all the pip cards could printed quickly, with a couple of strokes of a stencil brush instead of having to print the black outlines, wait for the ink to dry, and then stenciling  additional colors to fill in the details on every card. Only the 12 face cards in a French deck needed more than one step to be printed. This made French suited cards quicker and cheaper to print.

As a result, during the 1500's France became a major exporter of cards to England as well as various areas of continental Europe. By the 30 Years War (1618-1648) France had even taken over exporting cards to several countries that had previously used German-suited cards probably by virtue of the lower cost of production for French decks, as well as the fact that simpler designs made them easier to recognize quickly, especially in a dark tavern, or candle-lit room.

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Comment by Charles Knutson on June 22, 2012 at 2:21pm
Yeah I was looking into that and figger I've got stuff to contribute.
Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on June 22, 2012 at 2:18pm

I think your going to like this group


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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.


Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.


Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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