Pharo (aka Faro) is a very old card game. Introduced in France in the court of King Louis XIV, its name is derived from the picture of an Egyptian Pharaoh on one of the cards in the French deck. It was once the most widely played gambling game in England. Pharo was also very popular in America, and during the 19th century, many referred to it as “the national card game.” It is of historical interest to note that during the Civil War era there were more than 150 gambling houses in Washington D.C., and Pharo was the principal attraction at every one of them. Today, with the advent of Black Jack and the dice game called Craps, Pharo has almost vanished from casinos except in Nevada.
The playing cards of today look nothing like the cards of then. Cards before 1870 didn’t have numbers and card back designs first appeared about 1850. Early cards had square corners full figure King, Queen and Jack and coatings didn’t start until later in the 20th Century, along with rounded corners. The difference between Pharo and Poker decks is the Joker is removed from the Pharo deck. Playing cards in the early saloon games usually involved the removal of certain suits or cards. Card decks came wrapped or boxed, with the boxes usually opening on the side. Cards were made of heavy paper called pasteboard and cards were easily bent, dogeared or soiled. When cards became damp or bent they were put into a card press and left overnight to dry and get straightened out. Card decks typically did not last long and were usually replaced for .50 to .75 cents.
These cards are as seen in the movie “Tombstone”.