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Woodblock Cards

Card games were first known to be played in ancient China in the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty’s rule. Quickly these games became popular in other parts of the world. In the earlier years, card games were mostly played with cards that were made from different materials.

The most common materials used for making cards in the earlier centuries were palm leaf, wooden sheets, seashells and even tortoise shells. For Royalties, the playing cards were often made from expensive material like silver or enamel leaves that were engraved with intricate designs and then decorated with various precious stones. Wood was the most common material used for making playing cards, until it was replaced with cardboard and paper. The woodblock cards also became quite popular later.

Woodblock printing is basically a technique which is used for printing, patterns, images or text which is widely used throughout Asia. However, it first originated in China as a method for printing paper and textiles.

First steps of woodblock printing

The earliest examples of woodblock printing being used and which has still survived, is a printed cloth that dates back to before 220 and a 4th century cloth from Egypt. The best known Japanese woodblock printing art is known as Ukiyo-e. It is believed that in Europe, card printing began only in the 15th century, before that the playing cards were mostly imported from other countries that had been producing them since long.

From all the evidences and written documents that date back to that era like prohibitions and statutes it can be understood that in England, the playing cards were already being used before the 15th century. The woodblock printing technique is found throughout Central and East Asia. Initially, woodblock printing was only used for textiles, but by 1000 AD woodblock printing on paper had already begun in Egypt. In Europe the technique was only used in the 1300s. Woodblock printing on papers and books for images only started in 1400 in European countries.

As soon as paper was freely available and woodcut, which used to be engraved with various designs, began to be made, they quickly became a part of the culture and tradition in various cultures and religions. Very soon woodblocks were used for printing playing cards as well, which were till then made by hand and painstakingly painted. Not many woodblock cards are available today, since there are easier ways for manufacturing playing cards. However, it is still possible to make handmade playing cards with the help of engraved woodblocks. These woodblocks can be used for printing the designs on the plain playing cards, which can then be colored with stencils or with any other method.

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