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~~ Gallery 11 ~~
Regional Cards

Spanish-suited Cards
· page 1 ·
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Homeland Patterns  -  I

go to
page 2
homeland patterns - II
page 3
early fancy patterns
page 4
South American patterns
page 5
the Cadíz pattern

Spain is the European country where the Arabs, who ruled over the southern territories throughout the Middle Ages, left the strongest cultural heritage, which obviously included playing cards. Sometime during the second half of the 14th century the earliest naiperos (playing card manufacturers) were probably already active in Catalonia, in the north-east of the country.
When a few decades later the tarot deck began to appear in Italy, unlike most other countries Spain remained impermeable to the novelty, and simply maintained the 48-card deck. More detailed historical notes are given in a further paragraph.

The early design of the Spanish cards borrowed the four suits from the Arabic ones, slightly changing the signs of the two long suits (originally featuring scimitars and polo sticks) into something more identifiable by the local folk, i.e. straight swords and rough cudgels.

the shapes of suit signs in Spanish patterns:
from the left, Castilian, Catalan and Cadíz
The three court cards in each suit, which in the Arabic decks were identified only by their names, were illustrated, and their ranks were turned into a knave (formerly, the second viceroy), a cavalier (former viceroy), and a king, the only one that was not changed.
Page 5 shows a sample picture of early Spanish cards, from the turn of the 1500s.
The early Spanish pattern differred from the one that during the same years developed in Italy from the common ancestor, i.e. the Mamlûk cards. For almost three centuries, in both countries playing cards underwent a parallel development.
Then, when the south of Italy fell under the Spanish rule (17th century), the naipes spread to the southern and central areas of the country, leaving a deep influence on many local patterns, although the latter took their final shape much later, in the 19th century (see the Italian gallery for details).

very similar aces of Cups from an
early 19th century Spanish edition
and (right) the Italian Sarde pattern

Traditional Spanish decks are made of forty-eight cards; each suit has pip cards from 1 (ace) to 9, ending with a knave, a cavalier and a king. The latter bear a tiny numeral index: 10, 11 and 12, respectively. As of the 17th century, some players began to discard the 8s and 9s; the oldest game known that required a forty-card deck was El Hombre (presently known as El Tresillo). Still today several editions are produced with forty cards only; in these ones, each suit runs from 1 (ace) to 7, ending with the three courts. Since the latter always keep their standard indices (10, 11 and 12), in these editions a gap seems to exist between the 7 (the highest pip card) and the following value, i.e. the knave (10).

Baraja Española No.1,
Castilian style by Fournier (Spain)

Fournier's only double-headed edition, called Gemela (No.275)
The Spanish court cards are always single-headed, with the exception of a variety once printed by Fournier, called Gemela ("twin"), with double-headed subjects.

In most editions with forty-eight cards, two extra subjects are very often added to the deck: they compare to jokers, and in Spanish they are called comodines (more or less, "handy cards"). There is no fixed illustration for these two cards: they sometimes feature a label, or a logo, or a fancy personage, or whatever design the manufacturer finds suitable.

In all Spanish decks, regardless of the pattern, each subject is framed by a black line, whose top and bottom part follows a given scheme according to the card's suit:
  • a continuous line, for Coins
  • a line broken once, for Cups,
  • a line broken twice, for Swords
  • a line broken three times, for Batons

Baraja Española in Castilian style by Naipes Briscia (Hong Kong,
despite the Spanish name), manufacturing cards mainly for export


The early stages of playing card making in Spain were largely based on the Moorish cards, that had reached the country sometime during the 14th century. Surviving samples of this period are so scarce that we can merely imagine how the first attempt to define a local pattern aimed at making the complicated clusters of "strange signs" found in Arabic decks easier to understand for Spanish players. Nevertheless, the structure of the deck remained unchanged, i.e. values indicated by pip cards and courts, divided into four suits (see The Tarot and Other Early Cards, page XV); the same word for "playing cards", naipes, comes from naîb ("deputy, viceroy"), the subject that in the Mamlûk deck is second in rank to the king.

4 of Coins
(mid 1500s)
The introduction of human figures for representing court cards, and the loss of the 10s, are the most distinctive features that characterized the earliest Spanish patterns, yet without a fully defined design, also due to the rather rough woodblock engravings which did not allow a detailed rendering of the subjects, in particular of the suit signs.
The earliest decks with a clear Spanish design date to the second half of the 16th century; some of them were made in France as export products for the Spanish market.

some cards from an uncut sheet (c.1500);
the 2 and 4 of Coins feature the crest of Aragon

modern deck, based on the early Franco-Spanish pattern,
privately manufactured by Simon Wintle (U.K.)

The picture on the left show a sample from an uncut sheet dating back between the late 15th and the early 16th century (left), while on the right is a modern deck, kindly provided by Simon Wintle, both a collector and the author of unique packs, based on original illustrations: though not a replica, the latter deck can be considered a fair example of what Spanish playing cards might have looked like 500 years ago.
Collectors interested in obtaining Simon Wintle's limited edition deck may contact him by e-mail, or visit his website.

Although a real pattern had not yet been steadily reached, some common graphic guidelines already included typical details, among which cavaliers riding disproportioned horses with stout legs, a long and thin ace of Batons, often held by a child, a six-pointed star that filled the central space of the 4 of Coins, and most of all the two heads on the large central pip of the 5 of Coins, facing each other, said to represent Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, who had got married in 1469 and had united the country under the same crown.

early deck printed by Santillana in Toledo, 1610
(from the Fournier Museum in Alava-Gasteiz, Spain)

In the 17th century the manufacturer Pere Rotxotxo of Barcelona created a slightly modified design, largely based on the previous editions, but with enough details to be considered a pattern of its own.

17th century Spanish card
from Bayonne
In particular, the continuous or broken frames that indicate the suit were introduced for the first time, and the kings acquired the typical shape still found in the Catalan pattern (described in page 2). The 4 of Coins no longer featured a six-pointed star, but either a crest or a small genre scene, and so did the other 4s as well. Also the typical expression Ahí va (or Aí va) gradually appeared on the cavalier of Cups, and survived up to nowadays (see page 5).

17th century Spanish cards
from Bordeaux
This pattern stabilized over the following two centuries, both in Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Toledo, Valencia, etc.) and in south-western France (Bordeaux, Bayonne, Toulouse, etc.); some French card-makers even settled in the north of Spain. These cards were also taken to Spanish colonies in central and southern America, where they took root, as well (see page 3).

replica of a deck printed in Sevilla, in 1647
(from the Fournier Museum in Alava-Gasteiz, Spain);
a standard unbroken frame was still used
During the 1800s, attempts of creating new house patterns were made by in various parts of the country, but most of them were not very successful, and died out within a few decades. The only three that met the favour of the local players were a special "luxury" edition created in 1810 by Clemente Roxas of Madrid (see page 2), the Cadíz pattern, named after the southern city where it was born in the early decades of the century, and the Castilian pattern (this name was devised only in recent times), created by the end of the same century by the famous manufacturer Fournier.

Meanwhile, also the national pattern that had been used so far underwent slight changes, developing into the present Catalan pattern.

During the 20th century, while the popularity of the Castilian pattern grew among the local players, up to the point of becoming the new national pattern (Baraja Española), the other two gained a greater popularity abroad, in some Northern African and South-East Asian countries (Cadíz), and in Latin America (Catalan).

replica of a Spanish deck printed in Valencia, in 1778
(from the Fournier Museum in Alava-Gasteiz, Spain);
the suit frames are present, as well as the expression
Aí va featured below the cavalier of Cups

go to
page 2
homeland patterns - II
page 3
early fancy patterns
page 4
South American patterns
page 5
the Cadíz pattern


actual translation
SOTAKNAVE (Spanish-suited decks)
PAJEJACK (French-suited decks)


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