Ace of Spades and How it Became the Death Card
The Ace of Spades is the most powerful card in a game of poker, physical or online. But a popular myth about it has grown into quite a symbol: the symbol of DEATH.
A twisted and ominous myth? In a deck of cards, an ace is equivalent to the first number. However, if the suit is spades, it becomes the opposite.
Intriguing? Then join us as we retrace the steps on how the Ace of Spades became the death card.
A Tax Like Hell
Since the creation of cards, it has already received taxations. But in the 1700s, cardmakers felt like Death is knocking on their door.
Queen Anne of England stamped an order that saw a hike in taxes, including cards.
As proof that dues have been paid, the Ace of Spades and the Queen Anne’s insignia would be signed by the manufacturer.
But getting the authentication needed to escape the kingdom’s wrath was taxing—and expensive—costing 12 more times as much as the cards’ selling price.
So to avoid paying a hefty sum, most merchants would risk the punishment of being hanged by counterfeiting the insignia.
Dead Man’s Hand – The Beginning of it All
While playing a game of poker, Hickok was shot from behind by Jack McCall in the Nuttall & Mann’s Saloon.
Because he was holding the cards when he met his untimely demise (including eights), it became known to the world as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
Becoming a Symbol of Death – Vietnam War
According to the widely circulated myth, the Ace of Spades’ depiction of death stemmed during the Vietnam War, between November 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975.
The Americans were fighting the Vietnamese, and two United States lieutenants devised a plan to inhibit fear from their opponents. They had a 52-deck card customized with only Ace of Spades.
The Viet Cong believed the Ace of Spades was a warning that death was coming. With the Americans knowing such belief, they rode on it and launched psychological warfare against their enemy.
American soldiers would intentionally leave out Ace of Spades to fallen enemies as a “warning” to those standing that death is coming to them. Thousands of foreboding Ace of Spades card was scattered across the jungle in hopes of sending the message that the Americans were “invincible.”
It did work, based on accounts. They claimed that the enemy fled the jungle because of fear.
Not only did it cause terror to Viet Cong, but it also boosted the morale of the American troops. It motivated them so much that more soldiers requested the United States Playing Card Company to send them decks consisting of only Ace of Spades.
The company happily obliged, even calling this request the “Secret Weapon.” Whenever they conducted raids, American soldiers would stick a card on their helmets as a sign that they were not there for “peace.” They would also scatter their special weapon throughout the raided village.
Impact to Culture
The Ace of Spades’ iconic meaning as a harbinger of death found its way into books, movies, and music. It also became an important piece of American history.
It was even used to boost the morale of American troops fighting the 2003 Iraqi War. US-issued customized decks bearing the face of most-wanted Iraqis were rationed to the soldiers. Saddam Hussein, who was killed eventually, was the one in the Ace of Spades.
The myth of the “Death Card” surrounding the Ace of Spades remains an intriguing aspect of its history. While the evidence is limited, the enduring allure and symbolism of the myth have solidified its place in the popular imagination, forever intertwining the Ace of Spades with themes of mortality and the enigmatic nature of warfare.