Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why are there jokers in decks of playing cards?

Why are there jokers in decks of playing cards?  

There are several reasons that decks of playing cards have jokers. I like to explain it in two ways:
- why the joker or "best bower" first appeared in decks of cards
- why the jokers have remained popular and continue to be produced long after anyone even remembers how to play euchre (or pronounce it).
Most explanations reflect only on the first point.

Why are there jokers?
Why are there Jokers?

I have five explanations of why there are jokers in the modern decks of playing cards.

1. Some games, starting with Euchre in the 1860s, require jokers. Do many card games now require jokers? I don't think so but some do.  Many poker games, prior to the current domination of poker by Texas Holdem, could involve "jokers wild".  The first card game that I remember playing, War, the joker was the highest card beating even the ace.
2.  People like having the jokers as an extra card in case they lose or injure one of the required playing cards. People now expect the jokers and many people collect jokers. Like me. 
3.  Jokers cost the manufacturer nothing to make.  Cards are printed in sheets of 7 by 8 cards so with 56 cards being printed on each sheet and only 52 required for the deck, why not print 2 or more jokers?4.  The joker reminds people of the fool in the tarot decks. I'm not sure why this is relevant but many people have explained the joker as a descendant of the fool.  Seems like foolish thinking to me.

The following is from a Facebook discussion in the private Joker Collectors Group. The comment is by Dan Nordquist, Jan 17, 2017.   

Supposedly the first "Jokers" said "Best Bower" on the card and not "Joker". The first Joker is ( according to Hochman / Dawsons ) a card with what looks like a doghouse on it. The word "Bower" can also refer ( elsewhere ) to a ship's anchor or a pleasant shady place in nature. Curiously the word "bauer" means "peasant" in German. Sometimes the Jacks were trump cards in old games, and jacks are a type of "peasant" or "lower ranking man" in a way. Back in the days before Jokers.... Hmmmm. Old games like "Euchre" could be pronounced "Joker" by some, methinks...

The following is from the same Facebook discussion in the private Joker Collectors Group. The comment is by Matt Probert, Jan 17, 2017.   

The origin of the Joker is a tangled web indeed. There is no argument that in the form that we currently understand it started in an evolution of the game of Euchre as the "Best Bower" out ranking the Left Bower and Right bower. The work joker allegedly occurs in the English language in the 17th century (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), but is not mentioned by Bailey nor by Johnson in his concise edition (he may mention it in his folio edition, but I don't have one of those to check), rather the word joker appears to enter the English language in the mid or late 19th century meaning as you'd expect, someone who plays jokes or a jester - as the joker is often depicted. 

The visual similarity of the joker to the Tarot or Taroc major arcana 'fool' (Le Mat) leads me to suspect an adoption into American cards from the central European packs. The early jokers were wild cards, and are also sometime known as the "wild card". I would direct readers to the IPCS article by David Parlett re-published online at http://www.parlettgames.uk/histocs/euchre.html which appears to be a well researched and balanced investigation into the origins of Euchre.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Alice In Wonderland Jokers

Today - March 2024 - I decided to do a total update of this Alice article and I obsoleted this one.  I'll try to fix the links to this article but if you end up here, you should click thru to here

----    OBSOLETE ARTICLE ----    ----    OBSOLETE ARTICLE ----    ----    OBSOLETE ARTICLE -- 
I found a few more Alice in Wonderland Jokers! (11/27/2022)

And here's two more that I added in Sept 2023.

Alice in Wonderland. It's always bothered me that while the story features a deck of cards and particularly, the Queen of Hearts, there is no real focus on jokers. I feel a little better knowing that Alice was published in 1865 (and probably written years before that) and an ocean away from where the joker was being developed at that same time.

And here's the back of "Lion Lady with Bird and Card".
No photo description available.

Here's the current total Alice in Wonderland Joker situation. There's 21 playing card jokers with Alice in Wonderland themes. In most cases, I have the decks. I just added an Italian set of Alice jokers with art by Jesus Blasco. (Update April 2021)

The top left and right one here are from Penguin Magic (I think).

These three were just added from an Italian deck. Art by Jesus Blasco,

Here's more on my Alice in Wonderland joker collecting.   I just purchased a fantastic Alice deck created by Prospero Art (who have lots of wonderful decks. I've bought 3 so far and will soon be going back for a dozen). Here’s the deck, more on them later (10-2020):

Here's the back from Prospero Art. Very nice. 

I just (10/2019) bought an Alice in Wonderland Playing Card Deck entitled "We're all Mad Here" created by ASVP. It’s lovely. Marked 1865 on the cover (the date the book was published), the deck might be using much of the original book’s artwork.

First, the back and a joker:

Then two examples of the artwork on the royal cards and aces.

Other Alice in Wonderland jokers: Here’s a Mad Hatter joker, front and back.

Mad Hatter Joker

The Back

Here's a Steampunk Adventure Alice in Wonderland deck designed by Juan Solorzano. There are three jokers: the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and Alice.

The Cheshire Cat Joker
The Cheshire Cat Joker

White Rabbit Joker
White Rabbit Joker

Alice: The Joker
Alice: The Joker
Here is the back of the Steampunk Alice in Wonderland deck.  Pretty good but it didn't blow me away.

 On the other hand, I loved the Jack, Queen, and King of Diamonds. Especially the queen. The detail on the queen that is so cool is the tiny mouse that she's holding.  Generally, the details on the royal cards are great.  The diamonds are cool since this is an integrated deck which is really rare.

The next picture is not of a playing card.  This morning, I opened my Alice in Wonderland deck partially because last night for Halloween, we dressed up as Alice and Mad Hatter. Wifey was Alice, I was the Hatter.   We won first prize for costumes at a neighborhood party. I'll probably be scraping greasepaint off my face for a week but it was worth it in that Wifey liked how she looked as Alice (actually, when she wasn't next to me, people thought she was Dorothy from Oz).
Alice and the Mad Hatter
Alice and the Mad Hatter


What do you want to see next?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Walgreens Playing Cards: Collectables!

I've recently joined some Facebook groups where the great collectors and connoisseurs of playing cards discuss their interest. Oddly, Walgreens has been mentioned a number of times as stocking at low prices ($4 to $6 each) a number of collectable level decks of playing cards.  So while I was running errands this morning, I stopped and bought 6 decks.

Walgreens Collectable Decks
Walgreen's Collectable Decks

The first one that I opened was the Emotion deck. It features two jesters with just the headshot (so they go in the headshot portion of the collection).  Here they are, classic jesters with just a little more nuanced emotion that one might find on a typical jester.

 As part of my education about card collecting, I'm now thinking that I should keep more info on the origin of each joker. I'm not entirely sure how to do this but I'll start by using blog for record keeping. The Emotion deck box and back are pictured below. The front of the cards are all black and face cards and aces are particularly beautifully decorated.

Emotion Deck of Cards

The second box that i opened was the Aurora deck. The two topsy turvy or mirror image jokers are below followed by the box and a picture of the back.  The face cards use the classic designs but with a new color scheme and the same double frame that is on the jokers.

Update September 29, 2018. I've just posted another tribute to Walgreens Playing Card Selection.

Can I embed a video here?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Travel Jokers

The travel section has broken into many joker subsections, bon voyage!

    1. Vehicles. This section is now split into: 
      1. Vehicles: Sea & AirTrainsCars & Motorcycles  60+28+41
      2. Bicycle JokersSkater JokersUnicycle Jokers  
    2. American places and Americana,  Congress Jokers 
      1. American Scenery Jokers
      2.  American people
      3. Cowboys
      4. Native Americans
      5. People of Color
    3. Non US Places
    4. Maps
    5. Old Europeans with namesOld European stereotypes
    6. Chinese Jokers - Acquired CollectionCollected

This article explains how the travel section existed years ago....Let's start with some vintage modes of transportation, say a steam ship joker!

Ship Joker
Ship Joker

While not exactly a common mode of transport, this rocket man is going someplace.
RocketMan Joker
Rocket Man Joker

 The next is another classic sailing ship. As soon as I have some time, I'll figure out the difference between one, two, and tree mast ships and how they are rigged so I can use a more precise term than a sailing ship. Perhaps something like a clipper or schooner. Below this joker,  I've provided an image of the back of the joker.

Sailing Ship Joker
Sailing Ship Joker

I don't usually show the back of jokers but I thought this one was eye catching. It's the back of the sailing ship joker just above.  The guy is dark skinned and in Turkish exotic clothes. She seems to be dressed as sort of post war 20s flapper in a long gown with a big peacock feather.

New York Consolidate Card Co Joker
New York Consolidate Card Company Joker
Now some train jokers...
Train Jokers
Train Jokers

This looks like a military ship.

Airplane Jokers
Airplane Joker

The next 9 jokers are pictured as a group. They feature globes or balloons or are otherwise spherical.   The organization of jokers by category and subcategory is important to me. But most important of all is the creation of aesthetically harmonious pages which also fit into these categories.  This one, for instance, is built around the ballooning travel theme and includes a number of thematically related spherical objects such as a globe personified as an airplane.  Who makes this stuff up?  There's also the earth seen from the sky and an abstract pattern.
Balloon and Globe Jokers
Balloon and Globe Jokers

 Here's a set of 9 travel jokers either with maps or scenery.
Map Jokers
Map Jokers

The travel subsections is now organized in  subsections! Bon voyage!