A Study of a Playing Card Pattern, OR: Who is the Suicide King?

Alexander, le Roy de treffle, from the English/ Anglo-American pattern (“poker” cards).

  1. from Rouen, dated about 1567 and manufactured by Pierre Marechal
  2. my pack, about 1600
  3. London, 1750
  4. modern Bicycle
King of clubs through the ages

King of clubs through the ages

Notice that the pattern allows for design advancement (double headed, for example) but it appears the strongest influence for centuries is a sort of printer’s game of telephone, where subtle distortions caused by less skilled craftsmen who became further and further from the source material. It should be noted that the attire on some cards predates the earliest known examples by decades.

20140916_225636-1[1]Let’s look at a different king…
(Left to Right, top to bottom)
1. late 15th century, probably Lyons
(color soon)
2. 1567 Rouen pack
3. Latin suited pack, late 16th century,
reproduced by  Simon Wintle
4. London, about 1750
5. Guyenne pattern, 1777
6. Modern Bicycle

This so-called “suicide king” is found in many packs over the centuries, including the Provence and Languedoc patterns as well. He has suffered the effects of this telephone game, and over time the battle axe of an attacking king becomes more obscure in its rather cramped space. English card makers ultimately turned this axe into a sword.
Any implications of suicide, or even murder from another court card, are late introductions.

The mirror image versions  and flexibility with suits are also a side-effect of copying, passing on equipment, tax ordinances, etc.

Replicas of the packs from Rouen and London (as well as others) are produced by these folks: http://www.historicgames.com
Replicas of the Latin-suited pack can be found here:
http://www.wopc.co.uk

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