Hi, my name is Josh, and I’m a History Channel-aholic.
[All other uber-dorks together now, “Hi, Josh.”]
Hi. Jess had a hair appointment last night, so that left me and the boy to ourselves. After fits of schizophrenia, going from hysterical laughing to uncontrolled screaming (I know he has more teeth coming in, but I’m gonna blame it on Mommy not being there), I changed him and put him to bed. Jess hadn’t come back yet, so I flipped on the tube and found this show on the “History of Playing Cards”, not to be confused with the “History of Card Playing” or even the “History of Playing Cards” meaning the same.
It started with the whole history of the Chinese and Indian and even Egyptian involvement in the paper making process. Blah, blah, blah. Then it gets to the part wherein the cards begin to be taxed by William III. The tax begins at six pence, which is like five dollars today, for one pack of cards. Then it goes to two shillings and six pence, or twenty-five dollars. The packs didn’t even cost that much themselves. Reminds me of cigarettes. So that sounds interesting enough, but it’s the way they were taxed that brings us to the Ace of Spades.
Before the packs began being taxed, there were many foreign cards coming into England, which of course had to be stopped. To ensure this, the king ordered all incoming packs to be seized and destroyed. All local printers were to provide their own seal on the printed side (will come back to that) of the Ace of Spades. The group given the charge of running all this was called The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards. That doesn’t sound at all Masonic. So you could buy a pack of cards, minus the Ace of Spades, but if you wanted the Ace, you had to pay the tax and it had to be stamped on the face of that Ace. So in that sense, the Ace of Spades was literally the most valuable card in the deck as it was really the only thing you were paying for.
Naturally this led to counter-fitting operations which led to people being hanged for such illegal activities. Believe it or not, gun slingers in the old west weren’t the first to lose lives over playing cards. Again, that’s “playing cards” the noun, not “playing cards” the action.
So back to the “printed side” story. Initially, cards only had print on one side, the face. This left the other side totally blank and provided a great canvas for letters, art, coupons, advertisements, anything. As expensive as the cards got, this was still the cheapest paper most people could buy. Later, back designs were added to prevent cheating. Most packs of cards today still use standard pictures for all the faces of the deck except the Ace of Spades. It’s the only card face that manufactures really make their own. And it all had to do with taxation.
I enjoyed the show, learned some new things about cards. Hope this wasn’t too exciting for you. Since you made it all the way down here, here’s something for ya. Jess put new pics up last week of Owen being silly at La Hacienda and in front of the dish washer. See the link at right called “Family Photos”.