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Mamlûk Playing Cards


The deck consists of four suits: cups, coins, swords, and polo sticks (staves). The first scholar to write on these cards in English, Leo A. Mayer, thought there were five suits. But this was questioned by other scholars, and the general opinion is now that the deck has only four suits. Besides these suits there is one quite different card, showing only a crescent. Mayer remarked that this might or might not be the Islamic equivalent of the Joker. This suggestion is an error, as the joker is a fairly recent American invention.

Despite missing cards, Mayer believed that each suit consisted of ten number cards and four court cards: a King, a Governor, a Second-governor, and a Helper. It is now generally agreed that the two cards, called "The Helper" by Mayer, actually were the missing kings of the appropriate suits. Acknowledging this makes the deck more complete, transferring the two "Helpers" to be the two missing kings in the same suits. This shows that the deck has only three court cards.

On the basis of the typical decoration, it was possible to confirm these cards as being of Mamlûk origin and to date the deck to the 15th Century.

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The Mamluk playing cards were discovered at the Topkapi museum in Istanbul by L.A. Mayer who wrote a treatise on this deck in 1939. He described them as actually being two incomplete sets, with some cards rather different and cruder than the rest, probably made later to replace missing original cards.


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Publishing details

In 1972 a reproduction and reconstruction pack of the Mamluk cards was published by Jan Bauwens and Aurelia Books of Belgium.

Deck creation and/or publication process

To be added

Additional Information