Researching woodcut playing cards

For Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Knights, I’d like a late medieval woodcut printed style for the playing cards.

Woodcut printed cards probably came to Europe in the 1300s but had been in China and Japan since the 700s.

The medieval age ended in the 1400s but knights went beyond that and the earliest recorded piracy on the high seas was the 14th Century BC!

So far so good on the time period, but what about the weapons in these games?

Cannons, knives, crossbows, and maces were in existence before the 1400s. But I wondered about blackpowder pistols and grenades.

The first European handheld cannons were in the 1400s  – essentially pistols (but not flintlock) – and the first cast iron hand bombs (grenades) appeared in Europe in 1467.

Why the historic fuss over a light casual filler game?

It’s purely a personal thing – I think being rooted in history adds a bit for some players.

Of course, having cards that can return a lost pirate as a Pirate Ghost or a dead knight as a Phantom Knight isn’t historically true, but it is accurate with people’s beliefs throughout time that ghosts and spirits may exist. =)

In this search of woodcut playing cards, I came across some historic trivia and it’s a wonder that we have card games at all!

St. Bernadino printed as a holy card (aka St. Buzzkill)
  • 1377 Paris – An ordinance forbids card games on work days.
  • 1379 Switzerland – Card games prohibited.
  • 1382 Lille (France) – Dice & card games are forbidden.
  • 1395 Amsterdam – Playing cards are authorised (yay!) but forbidden 2 years later in Leyden (boo!).
  • 1397 Ulm (Germany) – Prohibition against playing cards.
  • 1397 Paris – Working people are once again forbidden to play dice & card games on work days.
  • 1402 Ulm – Written reference to Kartenmaler & Kartenmacher (card painter & maker) means that playing cards are a thriving business.
  • 1404 France – Cardinal Louis de Bar forbids the clergy from playing card games.
  • 1423 Italy – St. Bernadino of Siena preaches against games and playing cards – urges sinners to repent and burn them. Later, St. Bernie convinces an out-of-business playing card maker to print holy cards! *good grief*
  • 1423 Nuremberg (Germany) – Woodcut printed card manufacturing is a regular trade. o/

And it wasn’t until the end of the 1700s that card backs were printed to reduce card marking on plain white card backs.

Have a great weekend! =)

1414 Barcelona (Spain) - Uncut Moorish card sheet printed from woodblocks with bold black outlines (hey, the first Print-and-Play!)
1414 Barcelona (Spain) – Uncut Moorish card sheet printed from woodblocks with bold black outlines (hey, the first Print-and-Play!)
1638 Sevilla (Spain) – Later cards but printed with woodcuts and painted using stencils – I like the faded look and misalignment on the colours, much like cheap newspaper comics

More info can be found online and particularly at Early references to Playing Cards