We can't say for sure exactly where playing cards came from, but lost of historians think the Chinese probably came up with them. How they spread from China to Europe and the rest of the world is another mystery - one theory says Marco Polo brought them back in the 13th century from the court of Kublai Khan. Others think they were brought back from India or the Middle East by Crusaders or maybe even gypsies.
What we do know for sure is that they used to be a really big deal. The first decks were hand-painted and quite pricey. By the 14th century, woodcut techniques developed and it was easier to mass-produce decks of cards, making them more accessible to people who weren't wealthy merchants or members of royal courts. Decks from the Mamelukes of Egypt were adorned with swords, polo sticks, cups and coins (sounds a lot like tarot cards). The French gave us the suites we typically use today - hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds. Americans added the joker to the deck in the 18th century.
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