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MIKE KEELER: Both Sin and Salvation Have Their Standards

Mike Keeler

Every deck of cards is pretty much the same. Same number of cards, same suits, same face cards and number cards. But it wasn’t always that way. When the first playing cards entered the western world in the 1300’s (courtesy of Italian traders returning from the Orient), they were a hodgepodge of different versions. The earliest deck that resembles our modern version appeared in Rouen, France in 1565. After that time, card-playing became increasingly popular throughout Europe.

Someone soon realized that cards are for gambling, gambling makes money, and that revenue can be taxed. That someone was King James I of England. In 1611, he standardized the English card industry around a consistent deck, and required that card manufacturers be licensed and pay a fee to the crown for every deck they printed.
The “King James deck” is therefore a snapshot of the European world view of 1611. The number of cards represents the 52 weeks of the year, broken into four seasons (suits), ruled over by famous Jewish, Greek, Roman and Medieval nobles, who may also represent the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The Kings are largely believed to be David (Spades), Charlemagne (Hearts), Caesar (Diamonds) and Alexander (Clubs). The Queens are the Greek Minerva, Judith of France, and the biblical Rachel.  The fourth is Argine, an anagram of “Regina” meaning “Queen.” The Jacks are the soldiers Ogier, La Hire, Hector and Judas Maccabee.
There have been a few changes since then. Jacks were originally called Knaves, but it was confusing to have both “K”s and “Kn”s in the corners, so a term was stolen from the game All Fours, where the Knave of the trump suit is called the Jack. Aces became more powerful than face cards after the French Revolution, to symbolize the power of the common man over the King. The Joker is an American invention, naturally. It began as the highest card in Euchre, also spelled “Juker,” and evolved from there.
But for the most part, the modern deck owes its form to King James.  So when you are sitting at a blackjack table in Sin City, you have him to thank for your hedonism (if you are winning) or for your guilt (if you are losing).
Thankfully, you can also look to him for possible absolution.  Just go up to your hotel room, open up the night table drawer, and there it is: the King James Bible! Yep, it was also standardized by King James I, and in that same fateful year of 1611.
Whether it’s sin or salvation, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. And James is the King of it all.
Mike Keeler

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