The History of Rummy Games

There is some disagreement as to the origins of Rummy, and there are several theories as to how the game came to be:

Conquian Origin Theory
One of the earliest games in the Rummy family was Conquian (Spanish con quien for with whom), which some sources say originated in Spain4 (perhaps hundred of years ago) and was exported to Mexico, and whom others insist was developed in Mexico in the mid-1800's3. In either case, the game crossed over into Texas and the American Southwest in the late 19th century. The first American references to the game called it "Cooncan" (also variously known as "Coon Can", "Coon-Can", "Coon-King", or "Conkin").
At some point the game made its was to England, where it was called "Rum" ("rum" being English slang for "odd" or "queer"). The name then made it back across the Atlantic, where it became "Rummy".
(Another related theory, espoused by John Scarne5, was that Cooncan was the original version of the game, having been created in the American south, and subsequently exported to Mexico, where it was dubbed Conquian, not because it meant "with whom", but simply because the Spanish words "con quien" were the closest approximation to the sound of "coon can".)
Poker Origin Theory
This theory holds that Rummy evolved from Poker, which originated with French settlers in the New World. Poker and Rummy do have certain similarities in how cards are combined, both sharing the concepts of sequences (straights in Poker) and groups (three-of-a-kind, or example, in Poker). Specifically, Rummy developed from a game called "Whiskey Poker", which later became known as "Rum Poker", and later just "Rum" and then "Rummy"5.
Chinese Origin Theory
There is a Chinese card game called "Khanhoo", and another known as "Kon Khin", which were first reported in the late 1800's, and which contain the distinctly Rummy (and Poker) characteristic of creating combinations (sequences and groups) of cards. Many Chinese domino games are also built on this mechanism, as is the Chinese game of Mah Jongg.

So which theory is correct? Well, for the reference cited below, Foster1 and Steig4 support the Conquian theory (as do most older rule books), Scarne5 holds with the Poker theory, while Parlett2 considers the Chinese origin to be most likely. Sierra3 takes no position on the question. So this is likely one of those questions for which there is no difinitive answer.

Rummy History References

  1. Cooncan (Conquián): A Game of Cards Also Called Rum, Robert Frederick Foster, 1913
  2. History of Gin Rummy, David Parlett, 2005
  3. Hoyle Card Games, Sierra Entertainment, 2003
  4. Play Gin To Win, Irwin Steig, 1965
  5. Scarne On Cards, John Scarne, 1949