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~~ Gallery 20 ~~
Expressions And Proverbs
Featured By Regional Patterns
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opened June 3rd 1999


In a number of regional patterns, some of the cards traditionally feature a phrase, a motto or a proverb.


Italian decks
Phrases or proverbs can be found in several northern Italian decks: they always appear in aces, and their meaning suggests that they might have been expressions likely used while playing, more than having a relation with specific games.

In the Bergamasche pattern, only the ace of Batons has the short text "VINCERAI" (You Will Win), evidently a wish of good luck.


The Trevigiane pattern has three expressions.
The ace of Cups says "PER UN PUNTO MARTIN PERSE LA CAPPA" (By One Point Martin Lost His Cloak), a proverb still popularly used today, not only around Treviso and Venice, where these cards are from.
The ace of Swords has "NON TI FIDAR DI ME SE IL CUOR TI MANCA" (Don't Trust Me If You Have No Guts), referring to the suit symbol and, metaphorically, to the player's courage in card games.
The ace of Batons says "SE TI PERDI TUO DANNO" (If You Lose, The Worse For You), probably referring again to card games.


A peculiar case is that of the Triestine deck: all four aces have text, but the ace of Coins features different ones, according to the two most common versions:
the one by Modiano says "NON VAL SAPER CHI HA FORTUNA CONTRA" ("it's no good knowing who has bad luck"), while Dal Negro's has "SON GLI AMICI MOLTO RARI QUANDO NON SI HA DANARI" ("friends are very few, being without money"): a play on words, since danari, i.e. the suit, also means money.
Other texts are in common: the ace of Cups says "UNA COPPA DI BUON VIN FA CORAGGIO FA MORBIN", ("a cup of good wine gives courage"), referring to the symbol of the suit.
The ace of Swords has "IL GIUOCO DELLA SPADA A MOLTI NON AGGRADA" ("many dislike the game of swords"), probably with a meaning of disliking duels, both actual and metaphorical ones.
Lastly, the ace of Batons says "MOLTE VOLTE LE GIUOCATE VAN FINIRE A BASTONATE" ("often games end up in cudgel blows"), a very clear reference to the many brawls due to card games and, once more, to the suit symbol.


Instead, none of the decks used in central and southern Italy feature any written text: this is just one of the many details which show how different the development of playing card patterns has been throughout the country.





Spanish decks
A peculiar text in some Spanish-suited decks, particularly in the Cadíz pattern, is the one appearing in the cavalier (or 11) of Cups, "AHÍ VA" or "AHÍVA", which is an actual exclamation, more or less as the English "good heavens!" or "boy!".
It is not found in all Spanish packs, though: for instance, the national standard pattern (Baraja Española) does not have it, while it is always featured by the Cadíz pattern and by all the ones which are closely related to the latter (like the Cuajo Filipino). The reason for which this card bears the expression is not known. The Spanish collector Heraclio Díaz made the following comment:
(...) These words started to appear on the card in the 17th century, but nobody knows their actual meaning, so that "AHÍ VA" is now said to be the "aenigmatic expression of the Spanish deck".
Another curious expression, "DE UNA HOJA", appears on the 2 of Cups of the deck called Las Dos Tigres: this is basically a Cadíz pattern, originally produced for south-eastern Asian countries.
These three words read "from a single sheet". The same collector Heraclio Díaz suggests that this is likely to be a reminiscence of old playing card manufacturing, when the two faces of the cards used to be printed on separate sheets and then stuck together: decks printed on single sheets, of better quality, were very likely to mention this as a luxury feature.










German decks
The German regional pattern Sächsicher Bild once was made in a single-headed version, now obsolete. The word Schwerter-Karte (or Schwerdter-Karte in older editions), meaning "sword cards", can be read on its daus of Acorns.

courtesy of André Müller
This is actually an alternative name of the pattern, referring to the crossed swords often featured in the same daus card, on two shields held by a bear in the lower half of the card, which form the insignia of the duchy of Meissen. Curiously, when the pattern developed the double-headed version, the bottom part of the subject turned no longer visible, so the name Schwerter-Karte was abandoned.





German, Austrian and Hungarian tarot decks
In German and Austrian Tarock decks, one of the scenes featured in trump number II shows an eagle with a crown and sword, perching over a stone that bears the words INDUSTRIE UND GLÜCK (literally "Industry and Luck"), a text after which many playing card collectors refer to this pattern.

Although the illustration of this trump card never changes, some decks do not feature the same words, but the meaning of the text always has some relation with luck: the sample shown on the left, from a Hungarian Tarokk, says SZERENCSE FEL ! ("Good Luck !"), while the same card from an old deck shown in John McLeod's Rules Of Hungarian Tarokk says AUDACES FORTUNA IUVAT (Latin for "Luck Helps Those Who Dare").

The same pattern is also used in the Czech Republic (see Taroky in the regional tarot gallery, part III), but in editions from this country the rock where the eagle perches features no text at all.




Oriental decks
Most of the writings found in the many patterns from the Far East are not really interesting ("made by...", "trade mark", etc.).
But in a few cases, an unusual text with an exhortation not to use the deck for gambling games is found either on single cards or on boxes. In all countries of the East, gambling is frowned upon, in any of its forms, and this gives enough reason for such messages.
The sample shown on the right comes from the Japanese pattern called Mefuda (see the Japanese gallery · page 4 for further details). All the 1s, 2s, 3s and some of the 4s of the deck feature four characters that read "not for money".

The 4 of Coins of the single-suited Komaru pattern (below, on the right) has a vertical text that reads harinuki; this is the technique used in the making of these cards, by which *******.
Instead, two regional varieties of the flower card or Hanafuda group, namely the Kintokibana and Echigobana (left), feature excerpts of traditional tanka poems. These are merely decorative, and should not be mistaken with the so-called "100 Poets" deck (see Uta Karuta).
Lastly, some Chinese editions (on the right) feature a text similar to the one of the Japanese Mefuda cards, that reads "not for gambling, for amusement only" on the flap of their box.



OTHER GALLERIES

special illustrations advertisement decks sizes, shapes and colours standard pattern variants tarots non-suited cards Mercante in Fiera cards Uta Karuta and Iroha Karuta
regional patterns: Italy regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Germany regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: Sweden regional patterns: Portugal regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

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