Basler Spielkarten, Holzschnitt, schablonenkoloriert. Basel, um 1500. Foto: Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum

History of playing cards

The origin of the card games is still unknown. Its origins were found in Korea and China in the 12th century. Countries such as Persia and India with their high cultures are also obvious. The card games reached Europe in the 14th century via the Far East, through the Silk Road and by sea. The foreign images have been changed and persist for centuries.

Even after 500 years, the cards can still be recognized. An example of this is provided by a playing card from Basel, which was printed around 1500: in late Gothic fashion with sleeve skirt and pointed shoes as well as the typical fool’s cap, with a clamp and fool’s stick in hand, the card is still recognized today as a bell-under.

Jass is a Dutch game with 36 cards, which reached Switzerland in the last third of the 18th century with Protestant mercenaries. The game quickly gains popularity and displaces the Tarock, which was brought to Switzerland by Swiss and French mercenaries from Upper Italy. Today, only Visperterminen and Surselva play with the 78 cards and the Italian colour signs cup, coin, sword and rod.

Not only the Jas – farmer – also called the trump nine “Nell” recalls the Dutch origins. The first recording of the Jassen dates back to 1796 from Schaffhausen: two pastors sue two farmers who played “for a glass of wine” with a game “which is called the Jassen”. It is no coincidence that the city of Schaffhausen developed into a centre of Swiss playing-card production.

Jass is a generic term for card games. Most variants are played as follows: a suit is declared a trump card. From this color, the Under or Puur is considered the highest trump with 20 points, followed by the “Nell” with 14 points. Points are also available for the way: a sequence of cards in one suit or all equivalent cards of the four different suits. It is usually played counterclockwise. The goal is to win or sting with the highest value of the first suit played.

Evolution of the Bell Unders


Solothurner Spielkarte. Schellenunter. Solothurn, 1743. Holzschnitt, koloriert. Drucker: Rochus Schaer. Foto: Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum


Schaffhauser Spielkarte. Schellenunter. Schaffhausen, Um 1800. Holzschnitt, schablonenkoloriert. Drucker: David Hurter. Foto: Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum


One-headed map picture by Jakob Peyer. Most likely creator of today's map image. more than 100 years later, today's map image is still clearly recognizable.


Riedweg Spielkarten. Schellenunter. Baar, 2018. Vektorillustration, digital. Offsetdruck

The game can be played with the French, German or Austrian hand. Depending on which region you are in, the typical maps are taken. The exact origin of the Swiss Jassgraben along the Aare and Reuss is unclear. The two rivers were once considered a natural border, in addition the areas in the west were under French influence, in the east under German influence.

A special feature of the Swiss game is the colour Schilten. It goes back to citizens emancipated by the nobility, who also gained coats of arms. Thus, the Basel merchant Heinrich Halbisen printed the cards made in his paper mill with his coat of arms: half a horseshoe. The remaining three colours roses, bells and acorns are probably a variant of the German map picture with bells, heart, foliage and acorn.

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