A Moorish Sheet of Playing Cards
By Simon Wintle
The Playing-Card, the Journal of the International Playing-Card Society, Vol.15:4 (1987)
Introduction: Whilst visiting the Instituto Municipal de Historia in Barcelona last Christmas, we stumbled across a rather special sheet of unidentified playing cards. At first glance, they look hardly like playing cards at all, and to an unacquainted observer would be disregarded.
Consisting of three rows of four cards, printed in heavy black outlines on whitepaper, the sheet shows 12 cards. Examination of the edges of the sheet reveals that original block contained at least four more cards, but which would have been cut off our example. On the first row are an ace of swords, vertical and pointing downwards, followed by what we must consider to be the ace in a suit equivalent of batons, ie. curved clubs, polo-sticks or similar. The third card in the row is an ace of coins or discs and the fourth an ace of cups. Admittedly, the cup does not look quite the same as a cup on ordinary European playing cards, but comparison with other Arabic cards permits this association. These four cards are distinguished from the others on the sheet by their broader borders which incorporate a sort of spiral ribbon round a central shaft, with floral motifs at each corner.
The remaining eight crds are the 2, 3 and 7-10 of cups, the 2 of coins and a 2 of the curved batons suit already described. Three of these cards are additionally decorated with flowers, buds and leafy patterns. The design of the ‘two of batons’ resembles the design of the swords card in the early variant form of the Italian pattern, which became extinct by the sword 16th century. The presence of a 10 on this sheet is an important clue, as we shall see, not only because it allows us to be fairly sure that the complete pack would have contained 52 cards, but also helps us to date it in relation to other Spanish packs which, generally, contained 48 cards, without 10′s.