It is commonly believed that playing cards originated in Central Asia when the Chinese in the 10th Century began using paper dominoes by shuffling and dealing them in new games.
Four-suited decks with Court Cards evolved in the Muslim world and were imported by Europeans before 1370. These cards were hand-painted and only the very wealthy could afford them.
The invention of wood-cuts in the 14th century by Europeans began mass production of playing cards.
It is from French designs that the cards used in the Old West derived. The French gave us the suites of Spades, Clubs, Diamonds and Hearts, which became the standard in England first and then in the British Colonies of America.
Americans began making their own cards around 1800. Yankee ingenuity soon resulted in refinements such as; double-headed Court Cards, varnished surfaces, rounded corners and corner markings. Americans also added the Joker around 1870.
Playing Cards have evolved over time. When first introduced they had plain backs, no rounded corners, no indexes and they were not double-ended.
The earliest example of double-ended cards date around 1861 but they didn't take root until the 1870's. Painted backs began showing up in the mid 1800's. Indexes ( the little numbers in the corner of each card) were introduced shortly before the 1870's and rounded corners showed up around 1875.
The Joker also showed up in the 1870's. First called the "Best Bower", then the "Jolly Joker" and eventually just " Joker.
The cards to the right date to 1882 and show some of the changes taking place as cards are "modernized". Pictured is the Joker and Ace plus the back of the cards. This deck, even though still made of pasteboard and having square corners the cards are coated with a varnish. They are double-ended and have corner numbers. These are the kind of cards that Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, Luke Short and Wyatt Earp would have played with.
By 1895 playing cards looked much like the cards we play with today. The only exception would be the size of the numbers in the corner. Todays cards have a larger appearing number than did the cards of the 1800's.