What Do the Symbols on Playing Cards Mean?

The current common symbols — hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades — on playing cards likely developed from Germanic playing cards, which were drawn from the natural world and included hearts, acorns, bells and leaves. While hearts stayed the same, leaves morphed into spades, the acorns to clubs and the bells to diamonds.

While other known sets of playing cards have existed throughout history — such as the 13th century Egyptian deck, which included the four suits of sticks, coins, swords, and cups — it’s more likely that the modern deck as we know it has a Germanic origin. Germany was able to export cheap decks of playing cards to other European countries and outward from there, so their symbols were significantly more widespread than any others. The use of playing cards spread via trade and colonialism and slowly evolved from country to country into the cards being used today.