CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 8, 2015 – This week our quest into solving the great mythical trivia of the 21st century involves a children’s toy, playing cards and a famous egg.
1 – The Kings in a Deck of Cards were Historic Figures: Although it sounds plausible, the story is a myth. The urban legend is that the four kings in a deck of cards represent actual historic rulers; spades belong to King David, clubs are Alexander the Great, diamonds equal Julius Caesar and hearts depict Charlemagne.
Though playing cards existed in some form in early civilizations, it is believed they did not appear in Europe until the late 14th century. Initially there was no standard number of cards for a deck, but the four suits were indeed part of the original composition.
Italian decks contained 56 cards denoted by suits that included cups, swords, coins and batons. The royalty cards were kings, queens, knights and knaves.
As card games grew in popularity, decks began to be mass produced. At approximately the same time, the knave was eliminated, leaving the standard deck containing the 52 cards we have today. Later the Spanish dropped queens from their decks and replaced them with mounted knights.
While the story of the kings is a myth, many scholars do believe that the four suits represent the four classes of medieval society. Thus, in France the earlier symbols were replaced by spades to depict aristocracy (spearheads which were the weapons of knights), hearts stood for the church, diamonds were a sign of wealth and the clover or clubs (the food for swine) was the peasantry.
Much of this is speculative, but for now the answer seems to be “suitable.”
2 – Humpty Dumpty wasn’t really an egg: Oh, the horror to discover that Humpty Dumpty is considerably older than his familiar claim to fame in 1810 as part of Lewis Carroll’s book Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Actually “Humpty Dumpty” was a common reference to describe a fat person in 15th century England. Later the term was used as a nickname for a powerful cannon that was used during the English Civil War between 1642 and 1649.
In that era, cannons were extremely heavy pieces of field artillery that required several men to move them. The town of Colchester was a typical walled city in 1648 that protected the castle and, of course, its citizens.
The story goes that during the siege, the 15th century church tower known as “St. Mary’s by the Wall” was reinforced against the attack by putting a cannon on the roof. The gunner, known as “One-Eyed Jack” Thompson, inflicted heavy damage on the assault by Lord Thomas Fairfax’s Roundheads.
In retaliation, the Roundheads fired back, eventually causing Thompson and his cannon to crash to the ground without any hope of being raised again.
In the end, the Royalists surrendered and opened the gates of Colchester, and the “Humpty Dumpty” cannon was defeated.
Another legend claims that Humpty Dumpty referred to Charles I, who was ousted by the Puritans in Parliament. Charles’ army, or the “King’s men,” were unable to restore him to power, and Charles was executed in 1649.
Take your pick of which legend to believe, but suffice it to say that Humpty Dumpty was not an egg, so the “yolk” is on us.
3 – Play-Doh was not Invented as a Children’s Toy: Much to the contrary. The popular colorful compound was originally designed as wallpaper cleaner to take soot and grime off the walls without tearing the paper. As children are wont to do, they thought the substance was a great toy, much like modeling clay, and it was only after youngsters began to play with it that anyone thought to make it a toy.
The original product was actually created when representatives of Kroger Grocery requested that a substance be formulated to remove coal residue from wallpaper.
After World War II, the need for “Play-Doh” as a cleaning material decreased when natural gas replaced coal as a means of heating homes.
In an effort to save his company from bankruptcy, Joe McVicker noticed that nursery schoolers were using Play-Doh to make Christmas ornaments.
By 1956, McVickers founded the Rainbow Crafts Company to market Play-Doh in packets containing three 7-ounce cans. With demonstrations at both Macy’s in New York and Marshall’s in Chicago, combined with television ads on Captain Kangaroo, Ding Dong School and Romper Room, sales of the new toy grew to $3 million in 1958.
In 1964, Play-Doh was exported to Great Britain, France and Italy. The following year Rainbow Crafts received a patent for the product, and after several sales ventures Play-Doh was eventually bought by Hasbro in 1991.
Hasbro continues to manufacture the popular product today. As for McVickers, well he is probably “rolling in the Doh.”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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