The origins of the modern day playing cards have their roots in 14th century Europe, but probably were first used in the Middle East, specifically in China after the invention of paper. It is speculated that the use of Swords, Cups, Coins, and Batons (or sticks) as the suits by the Italians came from the Mamelukes of Egypt who used that form in their 52 card deck.
The standard use of Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, and Spades was first used in France in the late 1400’s. The symplicity of these symbols meant that other than the court cards (The King, Queen, and Jack), they could easily be reproduced by stenciling. France became the leading exporter of cards by the 16th century, prompting the English to form an association of playing card manufacturers who were granted a Royal Charter in 1628. The authorities also decided to levy a sales tax on them, when they realized that money was being made and lost based on the popularity of playing cards – this tax lasted all the way up to 1960.
The Americans (specifically Samuel Hart) are credited with introducing the Joker in the 19th century. The reversible court cards were first introduced by the French, but it was patented in Great Britain in 1799 by Edmund Ludlow and Ann Wilcox.
As cards from before the 19th century are extremely rare, collectors tend to focus on Victorian and 20th Century packs, with popular subjects including advertising cars and children’s games. As with other collectibles, condition is extremely important in determing value, with packs in their original boxes or wrappers commanding the top prices.