Museum of Playing Cards (Paris)

During the past week we spent some days in Paris and we were staying at a hotel in the suburb Issy-Les-Moulineaux (1). One of those days, I had to spend some time while Luca was studying and I decided to go and visit the Musée Français de la Carte à Jouer (French Museum of Playing Cards), which I learnt that same day that it was located just some blocks away from our hotel.

The museum is the only museum dedicated in France to playing cards and one of a few in Europe (apparently it received in 1999 the European prize for the museum of the year). The museum covers the origin of playing cards (certainly from the far East, even if there are different hypothesis), the uses they are given (to play, to learn (to memorize things, to learn to count…), to fantasize (tarot)), some historical facts related to the cards, etc.

At first I thought it would simply cover the playing cards we are used to when playing poker or bridge and explain different games, but I was mistaken. It did not enter into the games themselves, but it covered many other types and variations of cards, used for different games. Think of role plays, think of the cards used in games such as Monopoly, think of theme cards, etc…

As always that one visits a museum I was looking for some practical take away to learn.

  • Taxes: it was Charles V (or I, in Spain) who charged taxes over playing cards for the first time in history, in Castile in 1543. That measure was quickly copied in other countries. In France, those taxes were introduced by Henry III in 1581. In the France right after the revolution a fiscal framework for playing cards was established that lasted till 1945. It reserved to the National Print the right to print in black the cards of the figures… In England it was ace of spades the card that the administration kept the right to print.
  • Spanish playing cards: in the picture below you may see 3 packs of Spanish playing cards, printed by Heraclio Fournier (2). You may notice that the suits are different, using golds-cups-swords-batons instead of spades-hearts-diamonds-clubs. Secondly, you may notice that there are slight differences in the figures are dressed and the symbols are drawn. That is because the 3 different sets use different portraits:
    • (left) today’s called Catalan portrait: that was the old Spain’s national portrait, not used anymore in Spain but the one most often exported (to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil…).
    • (middle) Cadiz‘ portrait: also derived from the national Spanish portrait but differentiated in kind of clothes used and the inscription “Ahi va” (there it goes!) in the knight of cups. This portrait is also mainly used in exports (Mexico).
    • (right) portrait of Castile: its creation is relatively recent (end of XIX), at the initiative of the company Fournier, and is the one commonly used in Spain nowadays. (3)
Sets of Heraclio Fournier palying cards (printed in Vitoria, Spain).

Sets of Heraclio Fournier playing cards (printed in Vitoria, Spain).

If you happen to be by Issy-Les-Moulineaux, I recommend the visit of the museum (4.5 euros entrance fee).

Finally, the museum includes a documentation centre of the village which includes a small room dedicated to the history of aviation in Issy. This makes the museum a must-see of Paris (4). But I will discuss that in another blog post.

(1) If you are curious (as I was) about the etymology of the name of the village, Issy-Les-Moulineaux, can be found at the corresponding article of the Wikipedia. As a side note: the termination -y in the name of several villages in France is derived from the Latin -acus (“land of”), as Luca explained in her blog post “Ac Alors!“.

(2) There is in Vitoria a playing cards museum related to the company, see information about it here.

(3) I will leave to another day the explanation of my firm belief on the superiority of the Spanish game mus over any other playing card game that the reader may know.

(4) To my taste, at par with the Louvre museum ;-).

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One response to “Museum of Playing Cards (Paris)

  1. Pingback: Issy-Les-Moulineaux: cradle of European aviation | The Blog by Javier

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