Harbinger of Death: History Behind the Ace of Spades


Posted: May 28, 2020

Updated: May 28, 2020

Various incidents and observations prompt us to give things a symbolic meaning. For example, in poker terminology, the combination of a 10 and a 2 is called the Doyle Brunson Hand. However, why the Ace of spades is associated with bad luck and even death? In order to answer this question, we will need to take a look at the history behind the Ace of spades.

What is so special about the Ace of spades?

The Ace has always had a special place in the card mythology, especially the Ace of spades. You might also notice that the Ace of spades has a lot of decorative elements, compared to the other Aces in the deck. Even online gambling sites in the US still use a unique design for this card. This tradition goes back to the 1603-1625 time period. At that time, King James I issued a decree, which made it obligatory to print the information about the manufacturer and trademark on the first card of the deck. As you might already guess, the first card was the Ace of spades.

Later in 1711, Queen Anne introduced the stamp duty on card manufacturing. All of the company owners had to sign the Ace of spades in order to indicate that they have paid a tax on manufacturing costs. The process of signing was time-consuming and after a while, card manufacturers designed a special emblem for the first card of the deck. Though, a tax on playing cards was in operation up until 1960. 

Harbinger of death

But what about superstitions that surround this card? There are several legends that claim that the Ace of spades is an ominous symbol that foreshadows death. For instance, gangsters are believed to put this card into the hands of their victims. Moreover, soldiers of the US army put the Ace of spades on dead bodies during the Vietnam War. 

History Behind the Ace of Spades
Do you believe in superstitions?

However, the link between the Ace of spades and death goes back to Queen Anne’s reign. Despite the fact that the tax on playing cards has been around for a long time, it was raised drastically in 1711. And as the tax was 12 times the price for manufacturing the cheapest deck of cards, some manufacturers didn’t want to pay the duty. This was a capital offense which subjected to the death penalty. As a result, a lot of people started to associate the fake stamp on the Ace of spades with a harbinger of death. 

After 151 years, the companies started to use their own unique stamps. But even today some online poker sites in the US still use the traditional stamp design. For example, you can check the card design of the Intertops Poker

The highest and the lowest

Have you ever wondered why the Ace is the highest and the lowest card in several games of cards? According to one legend, the Ace used to be the weakest card before the French Revolution. However, after the Revolution happened, it was decided to reorganize the card hierarchy. As a result, the Ace was renamed to Law. And in order to highlight the meaning, the Law became the highest card. Some people believe that due to this shift the Ace can be the highest and the lowest card in blackjack. 


To date, we still believe in the sacral meaning of the Ace in table games and even fortune-telling. However, now that you know the history behind the Ace of spades, there is no point in being superstitious about it. 

Click here to visit the Intertops Poker site

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