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A Brief History of Lotería

Lotería or “Mexican Bingo” has a rich cultural history as a traditional game of chance that can be traced back to Italy in the 1500's. The earlier European versions were seen as forms of gambling, fund raising or as light entertainment at informal salons in France and Italy by the early18th century. Lotteries (“Lottos”) were also utilized in Germany as a teaching tool to help students learn the names of various animals as well as spelling and multiplication.


By 1770, Spanish loterías were introduced to New Spain (now modern Mexico) at the time of exploration during the reign of Carlos III and were initially considered exclusive pastime activities of the aristocracy. Eventually the game was accessible and popular among the masses throughout Mexico where it quickly grew to a national pastime. Loterías were trendy at village and traveling fairs (ferias) and were typically presided over by a charismatic “cantador” (singer or caller). This cantador would orchestrate the game in front of a crowd of people by drawing a card and then reciting a verse or riddle associated with each card drawn. The participants would then try to guess the clues and the game would continue. This playful exchange was typical of loterías played at public events and even smaller family gatherings. 


Many of the earlier cards and tablets were hand painted onto cardboard using oils or watercolors. It wasn’t until after the use of lithography and printing presses with large scale production capabilities that the availability of the game spread further. It soon grew fashionable at social gatherings where it became a symbol of pop culture by the end of the 1800s. 


The appearance of lotto or lotería cards and tablets (tablas) throughout history have taken on many unique and artistic forms. Some of the earlier game card illustrations emerged from the familiar art found on tarot cards during the Italian Renaissance, such as the sun, moon and star. Another source for the drawings came from religious influences and other historical themes that spanned over several centuries. Since many individuals were illiterate hundreds of years ago, lottos or loterías employed the instantly recognizable and iconic drawings to appeal to  audiences that enjoyed playing the games but lacked formal education. These simple drawings like the sun, moon, stars, trees, animals, people and food made the game assessable to the masses and contributed to the game's popularity. Other illustrations that depicted more modern motifs derived their inspiration from art and from reflections of local culture and society. A famous 19th century political cartoonist and lithographer, José Guadalupe Posada, created a version of lotería illustrations called “Lotería de Posada.” He was well known at that time for his caricatures of the iconic skeleton, “La Calavera Catrina” and for his satirical critique on society and culture through his political cartoons. His version of lotería likewise included culturally relevant icons such as Mexican revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Madero as well as the classic image of "El Diablo."

Two widely popular versions of lotería still available in some form today were developed in Mexico in the late 1800’s by two entrepreneurs: Clemente Jacques and José María Evia Griñé. Clemente Jacques,  an immigrant from France, was a food industry merchant and by 1887 he had a thriving bottling and canning business in Mexico. One of his noted products was tomato ketchup which appeared on a version of his lotería card “La Botella.” The "Clemente" label was clearly visible on the ketchup bottle card within the deck and this placement was likely intended as a marketing tool to promote his business. Since Clemente Jacques also owned his own printer, he was positioned to mass produce his version of the lotería to further his marketing efforts and distribute the game worldwide by the early 1900s. His unique marketing strategy also included adding a small version of lotería in canned military rations which were intended as a diversion for Mexican soldiers. The game’s popularity further spread throughout the Mexican culture when the soldiers took the game home to their families. Clemente Jacques’ game is known as “Gallo de Don Clemente” and is distinctly branded with the illustration of the rooster (“el gallo”), the national emblem of his native France.   


Around the same time frame in 1891, a Yucatecan-born cigar merchant named José María Evia Griñé created his own version of lotería when he emigrated to Campeche, Mexico. Evia Griñé established the La Esperanza Cigar Factory where he included high quality printed lithographic stickers of lotería illustrations as a giveaway within his packages of cigars. This creative marketing strategy was intended to increase consumer interest in his cigars and was used as a promotion at charity events and other large gatherings. He later developed his own version of lotería,  a 90-figure Campeche cardboard lotería game which differed from Clemente Jacques’ 54-figure version. This 90-figure ( 90 illustrations ) lotería was likely directly influenced by the earlier lottos from Italy, France & Germany which all had a similar number of illustrations and were called "lotto", "lotería" or "Tambola". The Evia Griñé family version was known originally as the “Esperanza Lotería” and is now known as the “Campechana Lotería.” Purchasers would collect and affix the lotería stickers onto wooden or cardboard tablets to create their own personalized 25-figure playing tablets. This version of the game would be played during festivals and on leisurely afternoons during local celebrations in Campeche and throughout Mexico.  The Campechana Lotería is still played in Campeche, Mexico today.

¡Qué Sabor!San Antonio was created in the spirit of these traditional loterías and the art is a reflection of our local San Antonio FOOD culture today.  The historical and familiar loterías of the past are finding new audiences by tapping into unique and relevant themes that depict our modern society.

©2024 Tracey Maurer  

References:  ¡Lotería! Un Mundo de Imágenes by José Enrique Ortiz Lanz;

Historia Social de los Bienes Culturales Contemporáneos Profesora María Ruiz Cervera; 

Autores, Colaboraciones, Enamorándome de Campeche - Lotería Campechana, Lotería Napolitana - Falling in Love with Lottery June 3, 2019;

La Lotería - Ana Elena Vivas Moreno :;; 

Crítica de Arte - Avelina Lésper;

History of Lottery: Teresa Villegas;

About the Game

¡Qué Sabor!San Antonio™

The Game

Lotería originated centuries ago as a game played in public forums or elite private parlors. Today it can be played on line “virtually” on Google Doodle with random players or a traditional card game can be purchased at a local mercado or on Amazon to play at home. The many versions of lotería are themselves works of art; each known for their unique images based on contemporary culture and traditions. Our version of the game, ¡Qué Sabor!San Antonio was designed with San Antonio FOOD culture in mind and features brightly colored images of familiar local San Antonio food icons. Like the traditional Loterías from the past 150 years, ¡Qué Sabor!San Antonio uses a deck of 54 playing cards and 10 tablets or “tablas” so that up to 10 people can play at a time.  Each card has a food related image, a corresponding Spanish name and a number.  The 10 tablas consist of different selections of 16 images arranged in a random pattern matching images found in the playing deck.  In honor of some of the oldest versions of the game, ¡Qué Sabor!San Antonio also includes a collection of playful verses that the dealer can recite for each card drawn. Our colorful game is a Fiesta-in-a-box and is suitable for kids of all ages. Choose your own, personalized and age appropriate game token pieces from items around your house. Then break out the chips & salsa on game night for a fun filled evening with family and friends. With only 4 pinto beans or 4 bottle caps in a row for the win, be the first to shout out "¡Lotería!"  -TM

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