A Knaverly Fool or A Foolish Joker?


Due to my interest in the Portuguese pattern- I received from roppo a gift of a craft book with the Tensho Karuta cards uncut within. I love these images! I am trying to work out two things. Firstly I have an interest in the Sicilian Tarot/Minchiate and apparently there is the thought that the Portuguese Pattern might have come from Sicily- but as yet there are not any cards remaining to support or investigate this thought. Secondly I am looking at the two males Knaves of the Portuguese Pattern(Cups and Swords), now seen in the Japanese Karuta cards copied from the cards of the sailors who went to Japan in 1540's.
Anyway to the point of the thread.
In Andy's Playing card site in talking about the Joker and the Fool it says..
The Joker is derived from the Ancient Tarot Fool...
then it says.....
The modern Joker, instead, has an American origin, though once again descending from Europe, in particular from Alsatia.
Officially, the Joker card was first used in the Unites States, during the second half of the 19th century, for playing the game of Euchre. This game was brought into the American continent two centuries earlier, by German or Dutch settlers; in fact, the same word "Euchre" is the English spelling of the old German term Juker, meaning "jack, knave", which later became the name of the deck's new subject, i.e. the Joker.
In this game, the most valuable cards are two Jacks (the one belonging to the trump suit, and the other one of the same colour), known in play respectively as Right Bower and Left Bower, a corruption of the German Bauer, "peasant" or "chess pawn", a name also used for the knave in older card games. Some versions of Euchre use a third Bower, called the Best Bower : the Joker was actually born to represent the latter card, although some players still prefer to use another standard subject of the deck, such as the 2 of Spades.
During the second half of the 19th century this extra card was given its present name "Joker", and by the 1880s it began to appear in Bridge decks as a standard, sometimes with a further extra blank card which could replace any of the subjects in the case they were damaged or lost. Only during the first half of the 20th century the Joker cards became two (usually one red and one black, to match the Bowers' colour, but sometimes one with colours and one in black & white). Some decks now have three, or even more.
Now which is it? The Joker was once a Knave or it was the Tarot Fool? I think maybe if there was an influence, it was from the Bateleur of TdM not the Fool, although in the early Sicilian Tarot the Fool is like a Court Jestor rather than a wandering vagabond
I made a copied drawing of the Tensho Karuta Knave of Swords (Playing a wind instrument)to show you what I mean. I think he is a Joker in the sense of the Joker of Playing Cards- and this would have been well known in Portugal prior to 1540.
Until I saw these cards I thought that the Joker was an American convention.


  • Unsun Karuta Knave.jpg
    Unsun Karuta Knave.jpg
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In the Portuguese pattern the Batons and Swords have grotesque masks/ faces in the center of the designs apparently (See Andy's Playing Cards page X) In Sicily the excavations of the Phoenicean Port area have found these clay Masks- all very similiar and possibly belonging to the Siculi- the aboriginal people that settled Sicily. It is thought they were from some pagan ritual somewhat similiar to the Greenman of Europe. I find it interesting this connection to Sicily, and wonder if the thought that the Portuguese pattern did have its origins in Sicily could be a correct speculation. ~Rosanne


  • Clay Mask Sicily.jpg
    Clay Mask Sicily.jpg
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Ah, Rosanne, let me explain about the Jokers in Kosaki's Tensho.

Original Tensho consists of 48 cards whereas Kosaki's of 54 cards. The artist added 4 tens and 2 jokers so that we can play his Tensho like an ordinary playing cards.
His jokers are not historical existence.

BTW, the hand-made decks of Kosaki's Tensho were on sale on the shopping page of that magazine. p.150. Limited 48 decks on sale, the price was 280,000yen (about $2500).
It seems all sold out!


Hehehe roppo! My wandering mind has been fooled again! Thank you for that information. Back to the drawing board again! I do love the cards though :D- have you had any mail yet? I hope so! That is a very expensive deck and I am glad it is sold out, so I can dismiss my longings.....~Rosanne


French or American?

I don't know if this will add more to the confusion, but as to the question whether the Joker is European or American: When I was little my aunt had a house in Alsatia where I sometimes spent my holidays. Thinking back, I was always interested in card games (funny, no?) and my aunt bought me a French game called Tarot. You can see all the scans on Taroteca: http://taroteca.multiply.com/photos/album/239

It has 21 Majors with scenes of what looks like 19th century life (no likeness to the Tarot Majors though, not that I can see anyway). They can even be used reversed, where they show a different scene.

This deck also has 4 court cards instead of the usual 3, and it has a Joker, which my aunt called 'Stiess' (don't know if that's the correct spelling; don't know where the word comes from either but it sounds German). This is the first card you can see on the above scan.

Anyway, this is an actual game that seems to have been around in Europe for a good while. I actually learned to play it (long before I knew anything about Tarot( and have since forgotten the rules).

So I guess what I'm trying to say, the Joker may well be a European tradition and may well go back to the Tarot Fool because the scenic cards are only 21 in number, so the Joker would make number 22. Perhaps...