So there I was looking to research a new talk that involves a reference to playing cards, when I found the following. Why didn't anyone ever tell me this before?
When you look at the central image of a spade on the Ace of Spades why is it often more ornate than that on the other aces?
Apparently this all began in the 17th century under the reign of King James. He passed a law requiring the Ace of Spades to bear an insignia of the printing house as proof of payment of a tax on the local manufacture of cards. This ornamental embossing was also intended to prevent forgery of the revenue stamp. To forge an ace of spades was punishable by hanging, hence it is sometimes still known as the ‘hanging card’.
Stamp duty was extended to playing cards in 1711 by Queen Anne and lasted until 1960. All decks of playing cards printed and sold in the United Kingdom were liable to tax under the Stamp Act 1765, and the Ace of Spades carried an indication of the name of the printer and the fact that the tax had been paid.I am astonished that I have only found this out now - more than 30 years after I started to work in tax and more than 40 years after I started performing magic.