The standard English design of playing cards has been little altered over the centuries, and originated in the reign of Henry VII. It consists, of course, of the suits of diamonds, spades, hearts and clubs, with kings, queens and knaves for court cards. During the Restoration, however, and following European precedent, it was discovered by both Puritans and Royalists that playing cards could be used for educational purposes. This was done by simply modifying their standard patterns to leave room for the desired information. Disreputable 'gaming' was thus transformed into basic learning. As Virginia Wayland, an authority on seventeenth-century educational cards, has put it: 'Puritanical England was a fertile field for these cards that "were not cards" in the traditional pattern. For a populace just escaping from the severe discipline of the Commonwealth, here was a way to salve the conscience and still indulge in a popular pastime.' 1 The British, nevertheless, went one better than the Europeans by also inventing political playing cards. These included such gems of satirical diatribe as 'The Horrid Popish Plot' (1678) and 'The South Sea Bubble' (1720).
Relich, Mario, Pope, Thackeray and Africana in Non-Standard English Playing Cards of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century, Kunapipi, 12(1), 1990.