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Som-Card-Gmes-art - 10/14/18


"Period Playing Cards and a few Selected Games" by Maestra Giata Magdalena Alberti.


NOTE: See also the files: games-cards-msg, Cards-a-Dice-art, Playing-Cards-art, Tarot-Crd-Ruls-art, taverns-msg, papermaking-msg, games-msg.          





This article was added to this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium, with the permission of the author.


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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



You can find more work by this author on her webpage at:



Period Playing Cards

and a few Selected Games

by Maestra Giata Magdalena Alberti


Cards appeared in Spain and Italy about 1370, but they probably came from Egypt. They began to spread throughout Europe and came into England around 1460. By the time of Elizabeth’s reign, gambling was a common sport. Cards were not played only by the upper class. Many of the lower classes had access to playing cards. The card suits tended to change over time. The first Italian and Spanish decks had the same suits: Swords, Batons/ Clubs, Cups, and Coins. The suits often changed from country to country. England probably followed the Latin version, initially using cards imported from Spain but later relying on more convenient supplies from France.


In Orleans, France (1408) an inventory of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans lists “ung jeu de quartes sarrasines and unes quartes de Lombardie” (one pack of Saracen cards and one cards of Lombard, Dummet 42). Italian cards featured the latin suits of coins, cups, batons, and swords. Italian cards influenced Spanish, German, and French cards… which then influenced English cards. German and Swiss cards favored shields, acorns, flowers, and bells while the English used the French system of suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades). During the Elizabethan era in England cards were block printed, unwaxed, bore a single image in the center of card, and had blank backs.


Two of the most popular games in Italy, where tarocchi (tarot or tarock) or trionfi (trump) decks were used, were scartino and imperiali. These decks had 78 cards; four suits numbered one through ten, a page, a knight, a queen, and a king, twenty-one tarots which acted as trumps, and a fool which acted as an ‘excuse’ or a special trump. The tarot deck was not originally used for divination, but for a trick-taking game that is one of the oldest card games known. The numbers on the trumps are the only thing that matter, the images have no effect on the game itself and as such could be altered at the engravers whim (Ortalli 24).


Most of the decks that have survived use the French Suits: Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds. In England even before Elizabeth I had begun to reign, the number of cards had been standardized to 52 cards per deck. Interestingly, the lowest court subject in England was called the “knave.” The lowest court card was therefore called the knave until later when the term “Jack” became more common.



Archaeologia by Daines Barrington, 1787

The Game of Tarot by Michael Dummett, 1980

The Prince and Playing Cards:The Este Family by Gherardo Ortalli, 1996


Game of Ruff (Italy, 1522) –


Needs: standard deck of cards, four players. Aim: to score nine points. Players agree on a stake. Deal 12 cards to each player and turn up remaining top card on deck to determine trump suit. The player with the Ace of the trump suit declares “I have the honour”, and scores a point for each of the four honour cards they hold (Ace/Asso, King/Re, Queen/Regina, Jack/Fante). The player to the left of the dealer leads and all players follow suit. Aces high or trumps takes the suit. If they cannot follow suit, they may play any card. The winner of the trick leads. The players gain one point for every trick taken. If there is no winner, another stake is required and another hand played.






Maw was developed in 16th Century Ireland and was a favorite in the British Isles. The object of maw is to win three tricks or prevent other players from doing so. It can be played with anywhere from 2 to 10 players. A pot is decided and the winner gets the pot. If there is no winner, a second hand is played and the first to win three tricks gets the pot. Each player is dealt give cards from a 52-card deck. The top card of the remaining cards is flipped up to determine the trump. Regardless of suit, the trump cards rank; five, jack, ace of hearts, ace of trump, king queen. If the trump suit is red the remaining cards rank from 10 down to 2, and vice-versa if the trump suit it black. Non-trump cards of the same color rank the same as trump cards. The person to the left of the dealer leads, playing one card. The other players must follow suit or play a trump. If a player can do neither, she may play any card. A player can hold the five and jack of the trump or the ace of hearts if they choose, but lesser trumps must be played if the player can not follow suit.




A card game called Scartino, the favorite of the Este family, is one of which we hear much from a brief period around 1500: there are over a dozen references to it between 1492 and 1517. We have no idea how Scartino was played, although it appears to have demanded a special type of pack; for instance, Lodovico il Moro wrote in 1496 to Cardinal Ippolito d’Este complaining that the latter had not sent him the carte de scartino that he had promised, and there are other references to orders for packs of Scartino cards. The game seems to have originated from Ferrara: it was a favourite game both of Beatrice d’Este, wife of Lodovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, and of Isabella d’Este, wife of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. Isabella also loved to use her impresa, or device, embroidered on her robes and painted on the playing cards. The name Scartino is presumably connected with the verb scartare, ‘to discard’, and games are often named after their most characteristic or novel feature. It is therefore a possibility that this was a trick-taking game in which a new practice was introduced, namely that the dealer took some extra cards and discarded a corresponding number. If so, it could be that it was from Scartino that this practice was taken over into Tarocco games, in which it had been previously unknown, and that Scartino, after its short-lived popularity, died out, having made a lasting contribution to card play. This, of course, is the merest guess: Scartino may not have been a trick-taking game at all, but, say, one in which the winner was the player who first contrived to get rid of all his cards after the fashion of a stops game.


Many wonder if it was appropriate for women to play cards. We know the Isabella and her sister-in-law Elisabetta were known to sit in the afternoon and “together they sang French songs and read the latest romances, or played scartino, their favorite game at cards, in the pleasant rooms which Francesco had prepared for his bride on the first floor of the Castello, near the Sala degh Sposi. Together they rode and walked in the park and boated on the crystal waters of the lake, or took excursions to the neighboring villas of Porto and Marmirolo.”


A letter of August 1493 quoted by Malaguzzi-Valeri and by Luzio and Renier appears to imply that Scartino was a three-handed game. The earliest reference is from 1492; one is from 1509, one from 1517, and all the rest from the 1490’s. Several concern the obtaining or ordering of packs of Scartino cards (para de carte da scartino or para de scartini), which appear all to have come from Ferrara; what was special about these cards there is no way of telling. It is just conceivable that Scartino was itself a particular type of Tarot game, and that these were therefore Tarot packs of a special type; but, unless they were very special, it does not seem very likely that Lodovico Sforza should have been having to obtain Tarot packs from elsewhere. Most of the references are about games of Scartino being played.


We learn from Isabella d’Este’s brother-in-law letter to the Marquis in 1503 that playing cards was her regular pastime: “Yesterday I went with this illustrious Madonna and Signor Federico to the school of Messer Franceso, whose scholars recited a fine comedy exceedingly well. It was a very pretty sight, and pleased us all highly. Afterwards we drove as usual to take the air in the town, and returned to the Castello about five o’clock; and Madonna (Isabella) sat down to cards to spend the evening after her usual custom, and played till after eight. Then she rose from the table and told me that she would not come to supper as she felt pains, and went to her room, and we sat down to table, and I supped in the Castello. And before we had finished, the said Madonna gave birth to a little girl, and although we greatly desired a boy, yet we must be content with what is given us.”




Cartwright, Julia. Marchioness of Mantua

F. Malaguzzi-Valeri, La carte di Locovico il Moro, vol. 1, Milan, 1913, p. 575;

A. Venturi, ‘Relazioni artistiche tra le corti di Milano e Ferrara nel secolo XV’, Archivio Storico Lombardo, anno XII (pp. 255-280), 1885, p. 254;

A. Luzio and R. Renier, Mantova e Urbino, Turin and Rome, 1893, pp. 63-5, especially fn. 3, p. 63;

A. Luzio and R. Renier, ‘Delle relazioni di Isabella d’Este Gonzaga con Lodivico e Beatrice Sforza’, Archivio Storico Lombardo, anno XVII (pp. 74-119, 346-99, 619-74), 1890, p. 368, fn. 1, and pp. 379-80;

A Luzio I precettori d’Esabella d’Este, p. 22;

G. Bertoni, ‘Tarocchi versificati’ in Poesie, leggende, costumanze del medioevo, Modena 1917, p. 219;

Diario Ferrarese of 1499 in Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 24, p. 376.


Playing Card Styles


Master P W of Cologne’s pack of seventy-two rounded playing cards is generally believed to be his last work in the medium of engraving. This card, the 9 of hares, is 6.3 cm in diameter and was made circa 1500 in Koln, Germany. It comes from a pack of seventy-two round playing cards and is unique in having five suits, rather than the customary four: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares. The images on the cards depict plants and animals based on the study of nature, rather than of model books as previous engravers of cards had done (VAM).



An early use of the woodblock for printing was for making playing cards. Surviving examples of printed cards date to as early as about 1420. This sheet is thought to have been made by an artist called F. Durand in Rouen or Lyons in the first half of the 16th century. It has not yet been cut, showing the way in which cards were made for economy, printed many to a sheet and cut at a later stage. The high quality of detail and careful application of hand-colouring suggests that this pack was intended for a well-off client. It is an uncut sheet of playing cards, containing eight subjects, four Kings and four Queens bearing titles of legendary and historical personages (VAM).

French Woodcut From 1500s




Victoria and Albert Museum


Bassetta (by Modar)


Basset is a multi-player gambling game created in the middle of the 15th century in Italy.


The number of players determines the number of standard 52-card decks used. The number of decks to use are:


1 deck – 2 to 3 players and a dealer

2 decks – 4 to 7 players and a dealer


And so on. Each additional deck allows up to 4 more players.


·      Thirteen cards are dealt, face up, to each player.

·      No cards are dealt to the dealer.

·      Each player then decides which of his own cards he will bet on.

·      Betting is done by placing the wager upon the card being bet on.

·      Any or all the cards a player has may be bet on.

·      Wagers may be of any value (although “House Rules” can set a limit on the wagers).


·      Bets have to be made by all players before the next step in the game is taken.

·      Next the dealer turns one card face up from the remainder of the deck, dealt from the bottom.

·      The dealer wins all bets placed on cards that match this card’s rank.


·      The dealer then deals two cards off the top of the deck, face up.

·      The dealer wins all bets placed on cards that match the first card’s rank.


·      The dealer pays all wagers that match the second card.

·      Once a wager on a card has been lost, the card is taken out of play.


·      Once a wager on a card has been won, the player has a choice: He may a) take the card out of play and keep the wager won, or b) leave the card and wager (the original amount only) in play.


·      To signify that a winning card and bet is left in play, a corner of the card is turned up.

·      If a card is left in play after winning and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

·      If a card is left in play after winning and it wins again, it is paid off at 7 times the original bet.

·      A card that has won twice can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it.


·      To signify that a 2-time winning card and bet is left in play, two corners of the card are turned up.

·      If a 2-time winning card is left in play and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

·      If a 2-time winning card is left in play and it wins again, it is paid off at 15 times the original bet.


·      A card that has won three times can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it.

·      To signify that a 3-time winning card and bet is left in play, three corners of the card are turned up.

·      If a 3-time winning card is left in play and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

·      If a 3-time winning card is left in play and it wins again, it is paid off at 30 times the original bet.


·      A card that has won four times can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it.

·      To signify that a 4-time winning card and bet is left in play, all four corners of the card are turned up.

·      If a 4-time winning card is left in play and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play.

·      If a 4-time winning card is left in play and it wins again, it is paid off at 60 times the original bet.


·      A card that has won four times is taken out of play.


SOURCE: http://jducoeur.org/game-hist/game-rules.html



Copyright 2013 by Gigi Coulson. <FleurtyHerald at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>



Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org