Italy’s original tarot cards as I have said, were named according to the objects depicted on them: Chalices, Swords, Money, and Batons (in Italian, Calici, Spadi, Denari, and Bastoni).  But in modern Italy, the suits (with the French symbols) are named Cuori (hearts), Picchi (pikes), Quadri (squares), and Fiori (blossoms).

Germany names the suits Herz (hearts), Piks(spades), Karos (diamonds), and Treff (clubs), using the same symbols as France.  The original names and symbols for the suits were Acorns (Eichel) for Spades, Bells (Schellen)for Diamonds Leaves (Blätter)for Clubs, and Herz, as today.  These can crop up in packs produced today; also, the old names are sometimes applied to the new symbols.

In Spain, the suits are Copas (cups), Espadas (swords), Oros (gold pieces), and Bastas (clubs).  “Copas” is applied both to the old “chalice” symbol (which was formely called Caliz) and the new “heart” symbol.  Until fairly recently the second suit was represented by swords, but these have mostly been replaced on modern packs by the spade symbol, though the name “swords” has remained.  Similarly, the lozenge-shaped diamond symbol has replaced the representation of a coin on the third suit.  But generally for the fourth suit both the old representation (that of a bludgeon) and the old name “Bastas” have remained.
English names seem to have come from several European sources.  The Hearts suit corresponds to the French Coeur and the German Herz; but the name of the next suit, Spades, seems to reflect an Italian or Spanish influence (Spadi or Espadas).  Or perhaps the name comes from the appearance of the symbol: It looks like a spade to the English (though like a pike to the French or the Germans).  The suit of Diamonds is connected with the old Italian “Money” suit, but the symbol is lozenge-shaped like the French tile.  And so with the English Clubs: the name resembles the Italian (or perhaps German ) but the symbol is the French trefoil.

An exploiding mine; and  a diversionary attack.  These play poker cards correspond to the seven, eight, and nine of Clubs in today’s packs.

During the last 500 years there have been many attempts by card designers to introduce new symbols.  Animals, flowers, birds, fishes, cutlery, and domestic crockery have all appeared  on the suits at various times.  Presidents, commissars, industrialists, and workers have been used to symbolize the social distinctions in democratic and communistic regimes, as have the abstract ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity, and health.  Early in the 15th century there was a German pack with the suits symbolized as offertory boxes, combs, bellows, and crowns; and Italy and Spain produced some equally original designs.  A similar change recently was in South Africa where, since the break with the Commonwealth in March 1961, the suits have become Powder Horns (Hearts), Wagon Wheels (Spades), Tent Pegs (Diamonds), and Shoes (clubs).  South African court cards have also been changed – from ace to president, king to commandant, queen to vrou, and jack to bore.

Other countries have generally retained card games monarchies without change, or at any rate without lasting change.  What have often changed are the actual personalities who were the original “models” for the kings, queens, and jacks.  The four kings, for instance, originally represented four great monarchs of history, the ones most likely to be remembered and admired by 14th century Europeans: Charlemagne (Hearts), who was the king of the Franks from a.d.  768 to 800 and emperor of most of western Europe until 814; David (Spades) the shepherd and singer who became the Hebrews’ king; Julius Caesar (Diamonds); and Alexander the Great (Clubs).


Three sets of court cards are examples of the past variations in card design between different countries variations that still existed as late as the 18th century.  Left, the appearance of the four queens from a French pack (dated 1752) is already highly stylized.  In contrast, the German kings (above ) also from an 18th century pack-are of standard Tarot design, though the suit symbols are the same as those used today.  The Spanish jacks (above right), dated 1800, are marked with the old Tarot symbols (as were all other Spanish cards of the time).

In some packs, though, either Julius Caesar or Alexander appeared as the king of Hearts.  That king has also been given a hairy skin (possibly as Esau), and has appeared as a likeness of Constantine, Charles I of Britain, Victor Hugo, and the French solider-politician General Boulanger-though the last portrait was swiftly expunged from the series after Boulanger’s suicide in 1891.  All the kings of Hearts other than Charlemagne, however, have had brief tenures.  The superman hero who reigned over Europe for 46 years is still identifiable in most modern packs by carry-overs from older cards: his wealth of ermine and his left-handed grip of his sword (originally a battle-ax).