History of Five-Suited Playing Cards

An account of the manners and customs of Italy“…this fifth suit in both games is called by a name that answers to trumps in English” (Baretti, 1768).

VOL. II. CHAP. XXXIII. P. 217. LONDON 1768. 8°.

The man would certainly appear extraordinary, if not ridiculous, who should attempt to appreciate the different degrees of mental power possessed by the chief European nations, when considered as bodies opposed to bodies, and endeavour to form his estimate, either by drawing inferences from those portions of wit that they must necessarily employ when they play at their national games of cards, and from those resources of genius that must have been possessed by those amongst their respective predecessors, who first invented those games.

Forbearing therefore to enter into this subtle and odd disquisition, I will only observe, that it is not without reason the English are proud of their whist, the French of their piquet, and the Spaniards of their ombre1, which, as I take it, are the three best games of cards amongst the several that these nations possess. To obtain a victory or to hinder a defeat at any of these games, requires so much quickness and dexterity of mind, that I do not wonder if even men of good parts are flattered when they are praised for this accomplishment.

1 It ought to be spelled hombre, which in Spanish signifies a man.

Which of these three games required the greater effort in the invention, or demands most skill in the management, I will not take upon me to determine: but I think myself well intitled [sic] to say, that three or four of our Italian games of cards are almost as superior in both respects to whist, to piquet, and to ombre, as chess is superior to polish-drafts. The games I mean, are those which we form out of those cards called Minchiate and Tarrocco’s: the first chiefly in vogue all over Tuscany and the Pope’s dominions; the second in Piedmont and Lombardy. I crave the reader’s indulgence for endeavouring to give him some idea of both these games, just to make him sensible, that the Italians, who have often appeared great in the arts considered by mankind as great, are likewise great in those that mankind will regard as little.

Both the minchiate and the tarrocco’s consist of five suits instead of four, as common cards do. Four of those five suits answer exactly to the four common cards, with only the addition of one card to the three that are figured in each suit; so that, instead of king, queen, and knave, we have king, queen, horseman, and knave, both in the minchiate and the tarrocco’s. As to the fifth suit, it consists of forty-one cards in the minchiate, and of twenty-two in the tarrocco’s; and this fifth suit in both games is called by a name that answers to trumps in English. Both games may be played by only two, or only three people in several ways; but the most ingenious as well as the most in use, are two or three games that are played by four people; and more especially one against three, much after the ruling principle of ombre, and another played two against two, not unlike whist.

By this account the reader will soon comprehend, that each of these games must necessarily be much superior to whist and ombre, because of the greater number of combinations produced either by the ninety-seven cards of the minchiate, or by the seventy-eight of tarrocco; which combinations cannot but give a larger scope to the imagination of the player than the lesser number arising from the forty of ombre, or the fifty-two of whist, and oblige him to exert his memory and judgment much more than either at whist, ombre, or piquet.

I have heard strangers, unable to comprehend these our games, object both to the tarrocco’s and the minchiate, that they cannot be so diverting as the three mentioned, because they produce so many combinations as must prove too fatiguing. But if this argument carries conviction, we must course conclude, that chess is less delightful than loo, because it forces the mind to a greater recollection of its powers than loo. This reasoning is certainly just with regard to little and sluggish minds; but will not hold with respect to those that are lively and comprehensive. However, those Italians, whose minds are much too contracted and disproportioned to the tarrocco’s and the minchiate, or those who do not chuse [sic] to exert their talents too much, have still the means of diverting themselves with several other games at cards that require no greater compass of imagination, memory, and understanding, than whist, piquet, and ombre: and other still, that are upon a pretty equal footing with humble loo itself.

Let me add an observation more upon this subject. Many strangers are surprised that the Italians learn their games easily, and in a very little time play at them with as much skill as the best players among themselves. Hence, they infer kindly, that Italy abounds in gamblers more than their own respective countries. But is this inference very logical? I apprehend they would say better, if they would be pleased to say, that the Italians, accustomed to more complicated games, can easily descend to play those, which, comparatively speaking, require less wit and less attention.

N. B. I have not wrote this short chapter for the perusal of those who make it a point to contemn all frivolous amusements, and look upon themselves with a great reverence because they always detested gaming. I intend it only for those connoisseurs in ingenuity, who know that cards have not only the power of rescuing the ordinary part of mankind from the torpid encroachments of dulness [sic], but of affording also an efficacious refreshment even to the thinker, after a long run of deep meditation.

Singer, Samuel Weller, and Robert Triphook. “Appendix No. 9.” Researches into the History of Playing Cards and Printing. London: Robert Triphook, 1816. Print.

Researches into the History of Playing Cards and Printing“…the suits, five in number, are Hares, Parrots, Pinks, Roses, and Columbines…” (Singer, 1816).

Among other very curious Cards in the collection of Mr. Douce, is part of a pack of which the second plate affords specimens: the suits, five in number, are Hares, Parrots, Pinks, Roses, and Columbines: there are four figured cards to each suit, King, Queen, and two Landsknechte, or Knaves; one probably intended for the King’s, and the other the Queen’s attendant. The numerical cards in each suit appear to have been ten in number1, the disposition of the objects on them, is singularly fanciful and ingenious. The animals and figures are very artist-like, and they are engraved in a superior manner. From the evidence of style, they should seem to be by Martin Schoen; and the costume of the figures, which belongs to the sixteenth century, seems conclusively to establish the fact. It is very extraordinary that we have here, as in the oriental Cards, the number of suits increased; a strong circumstance in favour of their derivation from the East.

1 BARTSCH, in his Peintre Graveur, vol. x. p. 70. 75. has described sixty-five of these cards, but as he had never seen any tens among those which had come under his cognizance, he erroneously concludes that one of the figured cards represented that number, notwithstanding Heinecken had asserted that tens were found in the pack. Bartsch does not seem to have been aware of the figured cards in the game Tarocco, to which I am strongly inclined to suspect that these cards belong. It will be evident, that as there are five suits, of fourteen cards each, the number of the pack would be, when complete, seventy. They were made at Cologne, and possibly are of as early date as 1470. Mr. Ottley is in possession of some round prints, by Martin Schoen, of the same size and style of execution; which appear to have been intended for a species of Heraldic Cards, as they consist of figures holding shields, whereon are various coats of arms.

Among the earliest as well as most elegant specimens of engraved cards executed in the fifteenth century, is the pack before adverted to at page 45, as in the possession of Mr. Douce, and which are there said to resemble the works of Martin Schoen; they are interesting, not only as specimens of the ingenuity exercised in inventing varieties of ornamental cards at this period, but as examples of the high pitch of perfection to which the graphic art had attained soon after its invention. These cards consist of five suits: hares, parrots, pinks, roses, and columbines: each suit has four figured or court cards; King, Queen, Knight, and Knave, so that a complete pack would consist of seventy cards, of which we have only seen thirty-six. Bartsch has given descriptions of such of them as he had seen, but he does not attempt to decide upon the artist who engraved them, merely calling them the work of an anonymous artist of the fifteenth century. The ingenuity displayed in the arrangement of the objects upon the numerical cards, will be sufficiently apparent from the four of parrots and nine of rabbits, which are exhibited among our specimens in the second plate of engraved cards; and an idea of the figured cards may be obtained from the Knave of rabbits and of parrots given in the same plate: four more of these cards are copied in Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes, but his copies do not afford so correct a representation of the style of the engraver as the very excellent facsimiles which Mr. Swaine has executed for this work. Mr. Douce’s specimens are forutunately accompanied by the frontispiece or wrapper intended for these cards, consisting of three crowns, emblematic of Cologne, and a scroll upon which we read SALVE. FELIX. COLOGNIA. so that whoever was the artist, it appears he was then resident in that city.

Singer, Samuel Weller, and Robert Triphook. Researches into the History of Playing Cards and Printing. London: Robert Triphook, 1816. 45-47, 205. Print.

Facts and Speculations on the Origin and History of Playing Cards“…it is by no means unlikely that a fifth suit might have been introduced by the artist, with a view of giving variety to the game…” (Chatto, 1848).

In the circular cards described by Bartsch and Singer, the inscription on the Ace of Hares is in Latin, and the initials of the engraver, T. W., are wanting. From a wrapper, of which a fac-simile is given by Singer, it would appear that those cards were engraved at Cologne; and it has been supposed that they are of as early a date as 1470. They are unquestionably the work of either a German or a Flemish artist; and some amateurs of engraving have erroneously ascribed them to Martin Schön, or Schöngauer. Bartsch, in his description of them, includes a fifth suit, namely, that of Roses; and says that each suit consisted of thirteen cards, which would thus give sixty-five pieces for the complete pack. Mr. Singer, also, in his account of such of those cards as were formerly in the collection of Mr. Douce, gives it as his opinion, that the complete pack ought to consist of five suits of fourteen cards each,—in all, seventy pieces.1 Mons. Duchesne, however, thinks that those authors are wrong, and that the complete pack consisted of only four suits of thirteen cards each, as displayed by those preserved in the Biliothèque du Roi. But as he entirely overlooks the difficulty of accounting for a suit of Roses, engraved in the same style, he does not seem to be justified in pronouncing so decisively that Bartsch and Singer are wrong in supposing that a complete pack consisted of five suits; for it is by no means unlikely that a fifth suit might have been introduced by the artist, with a view of giving variety to the game, but which might have been subsequently discarded, as inconsistent with the old established principles of the game, and as only making it more complicated, without rendering it more interesting.

1 Bartsch, Peintre-graveur, tom. X, pp. 70-6. —Singer, Researches into the History of Playing Cards, p. 45-6, also pp. 205-8.

Chatto, William Andrew. Facts and Speculations on the Origin and History of Playing Cards. London: J.R. Smith, 1848. Print.

“…the fifth suit being composed entirely of picture cards…” (Steele, 1901).


The early history of card playing is so incomplete that any new fact concerning it should be brought to light at once. There is probably no subject of equal obscurity concerning which so many wild guesses and assumptions have been made and published as authoritative history. It is my object to-night to trace out and put on record what is known of the origin of playing cards, and of their development during the first century of their history. Two important documents have been brought to light since the history of cards was last written, which render extremely doubtful the theory of their origin previously entertained. The first of these is a description, some twenty years ago, by Sir E. A. Bond, of the treatise of Johannes Teutonicus, de moribus et disciplina humane conversationis (MS. Eg. 2419); the second will be dealt later.

Journal of the Society of ArtsAs you are aware, there are two principal varieties of playing cards: —The whist* pack of four suits, and those derived from it by the suppression of some of its cards, and the tarot pack of five suits, the fifth suit being composed entirely of picture cards, and being a permanent set of trumps. We cannot say what were the distinguishing marks of the first cards, but the first suit-marks known to us (1423) were cups, swords, clubs, and money—a set which more readily lends itself to decorative treatment, as you will see from the slides before you, than ours—of French origin. The German marks—acorns, bells, leaves, and hearts—may be earlier, but of that we have no evidence. The French suit-marks were in use before the middle of the 15th century, while English playing – cards were at that period of French or German origin. In the case of the tarot pack there are three varieties—the tarot, the minchiate or germini, and the tarocchino packs. As we now know it the tarot pack contains four suits of fourteen cards each (cups, swords, clubs, and money), king, queen, knight, and knave, and ten plain cards. The fifth suit has the following cards and numbers figured: —The fool.  1. The juggler.  2. The empress.  3. The emperor.  4. The papessa.  5. The pope.  6. Temperance.  7. Love.  8. The triumphal car.  9. Force.  10. The wheel of fortune.  11. The hunchback.  12. The hanged.  13. Death.  14. The Devil.  15. The arrow.  16. The star.  17. The moon.  18. The sun.  19. The angel.  20. Justice.  21. The world.  The order and the names of these cards are sometimes varied, the subjects are invariable. The minchiate or germini pack has the same four suits of fourteen cards, except that in the suits of cups and money the knave is replaced by a waiting maid, but the fifth suit is now made up of forty-one cards which bear no name. They are: —The fool.  1. The juggler.  2. The grand duke.  3. The emperor.  4. The empress.  5. Love.  6. Temperance.  7. Force.  8. Justice.  9. The wheel of fortune.  10. The triumphal car.  11. The hunchback.  12. The traitor.  13. Death.  14. The Devil.  15. The tower.  16. Hope.  17. Prudence.  18. Faith.  19. Charity.  20. Fire.  21. Water.  22. Earth.  23. Air.  24. Libra.  25. Virgo.  26. Scorpio.  27. Aries.  28. Capricornus.  29. Sagittarius.  30. Cancer.  31. Pisces.  32. Aquarius.  33. Leo.  34. Taurus.  35. Gemini. The star. The moon. The sun. The world. The angel.

* Though whist is of course a comparatively modern game, the name is convenient.

The established theory of the origin of playing cards is that the tarot pack of 78 cards was the form in which cards first appeared in Europe, that the whist, picquet, and tarocchino packs were derived from this subsequently by suppression, and the minchiate pack by addition of some cards. This theory is further complicated by some speculations as to the nature of naibi, the popular Italian name for playing cards at the end of the 14th and throughout the 15th century. This theory may be most conveniently studied in Merlin’s “Origine des cartes à jouer,” Paris, 1869. It is however, put out of court by a more attentive study of the known facts.

The earliest dated mentions of playing cards are at Brefeld in 1377 (Switzerland) and Viterbo in 1379—the dates of their introduction respectively. A possibly earlier mention occurs in a notice of a MS. chronicle where treating of the origin of the fratelli, it lays down as one of their rules “Non getti dadi, ne tocchi naibi”: “Not to throw dice nor handle cards,” but as I cannot trace the MS. I can offer no opinion of the date of it. The treatise of Johannes Teutonicus (1377) speaks of cards as newly introduced and of unknown origin, and describes a pack of four suits of the familiar German pattern, king, upper knave, lower knave, and 10 to ace. The well-known Stukeley cards are of this pattern. The author however suggests that a queen and two attendant damsels might be introduced, and his praise of the game as a recreation, even for a preaching friar, shows it had not developed into an instrument for gaming.

Steele, Robert. "Early Playing Cards, Their Design and Decoration." Journal of the Society of Arts XLIX.2522 (1901): 317. Print.

The Pocket Book of Games“Five-suit poker made a better game…” (Morehead, 1944).

In 1938 there appeared a five-suit deck, having the usual 52 cards of the standard deck plus a complete fifth suit. In the United States this fifth suit was green, called EAGLES, and marked by an appropriate symbol; in England it was blue, called ROYALS, and marked by a crown. A five suit Bridge game was widely played for some months, but was soon forgotten. Five-suit poker made a better game, but can seldom be played today because the cards are no longer generally on sale.

Morehead, Albert H. The Pocket Book of Games: 150 Most Popular Card Games, Dice Games, Word Games, Party Games, Board Games, Gambling Games. New York, NY: Pocket Books, Inc., 1944. Print.

Poker possibly originated from a card game played with a 25-card deck of five suits (Kotar, 2009).

While poker is typically the game portrayed in the fictionalized accounts of steamboat gambling, the conventional European games of whist, brag and euchre were often played alongside western favorites such as Three Card Monte, Faro and Brag. The actual game of poker possibly originated from a 16th-century Persian card game called “As Nas,” played with a 25-card deck of five suits, similar to five-card stud.

Kotar, S. L., and J. E. Gessler. The Steamboat Era: a History of Fulton’s Folly on American Rivers, 1807-1860. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2009. Print.