Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"My Oldest Joker is from 1896"... I thought!

I posted a picture of this joker to the Facebook Joker Collectors community looking for information.  This community is like a senior wise council of joker info and trivia (plus some crackpots and newcomers and dilettantes, like me!). 

Ask any question about jokers or cards or companies that make cards and you'll get an array of interesting insights. I learned from  the group that the joker below is from 1896.

The above is true. That is what happened. However, a week later, I was privately messaged and told:

I fear that you have been misinformed.  The 1896 version had a star inside of a circle in the corners.  Yours has the interlocked US (the S is superimposed on the U). Also, the 1896 Joker has "The National Card Company" where yours says "Five Hundred".  That substitution was made in 1910. Also, the #13 was added in 1925. I would date your deck to 1927.  Also, looking at your Ace of Spades, it says Russell & Morgan which also points to 1927.     Paraphrased from info from Brad Starnes

500 Deck Joker
500 Deck Joker
So the group is wise but not infallible.  What did I expect?

Moving on to my collecting changing: These three Brownies presents me with a tricky taxonomy question. I had initially put it in with the other USPC - US Playing Card Company - cards such as the Bicycle Jokers and Congress jokers which have the overlapping U and S in the index corners.  

But since then, I have switched to primarily a thematic organization and now my Bicycle section is not presented just as a USPC brand (like Congress).  So now, the Brownies, who are playing cards, are in  the Card section of the collection.

Here is its back.
 I remember buying this deck on a trip between junior and senior year in high school. That would have been 1975 in upstate NY.  In fact, once I found out that the deck was that old, I started searching for the whole deck and I found that I still had the entire deck.  

It's an interesting deck since it was for a game called Five Hundred. The deck has all the regular cards from ace to king.  They look pretty much like the modern design although there are some subtle changes in the king's design.

But there are also an eleven, twelve, and thirteen for each suit. So instead of fifty two cards, there were sixty-six.

Here's the info provided in a Facebook "Joker Playing Card" Group discussion of this joker and deck: 

Paul Bostock:  The design (those 'imps') looks like National Playing cards. I checked Hochman <Encyclopedia of US Playing Cards> and it is Nu13 1896. At that time, National had recently been bought by USPC, hence using their letters on the Joker. 

Chris Turner:  National or USPC joker from the special deck for the game 500. These are originals. Look at the vertical lines in the finish of the paper stock. Newer cards (after 1960s) do not show those lines with age. 

Decks have 63 or 65 cards, depending in the variety, including 11, 12 and 13s and one joker. USPC made the 500 deck until the late 2000s. 

The Griffin back seen here is the most commonly found. Other backs included a swastika from when that symbol was considered a sign of good luck. Deck made in red and blue. Slip cases with gold embossing first, then later, a larger tuck box. 

500 decks of all vintages are still out there at the junk stores and estate sales — and rarely are expensive. Finally, it is a wonderful game. The favorite at my house. Four or five players use a standard deck with one joker; six players use the 63 or 65 card deck. 

Dan Nordquist: The characters are the "Palmer Cox Brownies" who were popular cartoonish characters from the early 20th century. National playing cards created the "look" and was bought up by USPC as someone else said. 

If you like the look of the Brownies, there are others around besides the ones sitting in a circle. Probably the greatest would be the Schlitz beer advertising deck that has them on the Joker. There are also some Joker pics that show them about to launch a huge snowball off a roof at other cartoon characters. And a second Joker that shows the aftermath of the snowball falling on everyone below. Those are all black and white. But the really rare one is a color version of them playing billiards / pool.

Here's the deck in its original case.

Here is the back of the copyright card notice which has the scoring system for both Auction Bridge and the Game of Five Hundred.

And one more view of the deck.

While I am going deep into my boxes of such stuff, here is another card package that I'm curious about. Anyone? I think I bought it at the same time in the same era.

 There are two decks in a leather box with a snap. Each deck has gilded edges: one gold, one silver. There are also an array of score cards and rules books. The rules books cite the rules set by the 

Here is the ace of spades. It has an art deco look to me.  I see the pun in the name "FAN~C~PACK" but I'm a little puzzled by the "PAST~L~EZE".
Fan-C-Pack Ace of Spades
Fan-C-Pack Ace of Spades
 The joker is toy soldier reminiscent of both actual toys and to me, the toy soldiers in the Nut Cracker Suite.

Here's the back of one of the decks. The other one is blue. It's marked the The Old Curiosity Shop. It looks maybe German or Dutch style to me.

Here's an attempt to show the shiny gold edge.

Here is a score card with some reminders about scoring.

 Here's an attempt to show the shiny silver and gold  edges in a top down view of the entire package.

Lastly, there are also two rule books: one gold, one silver.   "Contract Bridge in Brief. Based on The Approach Forcing System. 'Brannon's Full Proof Contract Bridge System' edited by Robert M. Brannon of Bridge Headquarters, Inc. New York City, New York.  Copyright 1932."
Brannon's Full Proof Contract Bridge System
Brannon's Full Proof Contract Bridge System
Update. I now know a little more about this deck again thanks to the knowledge pool on Facebook groups.
Joop Miller: Most of the info is on the AS: published as Past-L-Eze by the Fan-C-Pack Co. In the Hochman Encyclopedia (Dawson) they are dated c1935 and it is suggested that "some of them" (?) were made by E.E. Fairchild. I see that your set didn't come in the original doublebox, but in a sort of luxury set. Does it mention Fan-C-Pack on the box?

As far as I know there are two editions of the backs: the Old Curiosity Shop (same back design but with a red and a blue rim) and a Pan and Goat set (with a Pan back and a Goat back).
The idea was that using soft pastel colors would be easier on the eyes.

I  guess this explains"PAST~L~EZE" reference. Then Daniel Wilson added:

Daniel Wilson: “The Old Curiosity Shop”, by Fan-C-Pack out of NY. I have their “Pipes of Pan” set, a copy of which can be seen on the British World of Playing Card page on PAST~L~EZE.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sports Jokers

Sports jokers, sounds like an oxymoron. But why not? Here they are. There's 61 of them.

First up, two favorites. A soccer referee giving me the red card. And the three stooges playing golf.

Moe Curley and Joe: Jokers Par Excellente!

Speaking of golf, here's a whole page of golfing jokers. That's not an oxymoron, it's just redundant. Golfing. Jokers.

Note that the four bowlers in this last page are designed by Randy Butterfield of Indiana.  I'm told that the blue bowling jokers below are created with GLOW IN THE DARK blue ink....

Bicycle Jokers

This post has been replaced by a more modern article on Bicycle Joker Playing Cards.

The Bicycle Joker is among the most classic American jokers. It might be the premier American joker. Bicycle Playing Cards are a brand and are published by the US Playing Card Company (Note in the corners the how the U and S are print on top of each other. It's the US Playing Card Company symbol). 

This section does NOT include Unicycle Jokers (check it out, there are almost 50 unicycle jokers!) but it does include all two wheeled and in some cases four wheeled cycles. More on that below. BTW, this article was updated early 2021.

Here is my personal favorite, the colored version of the classic Bicycle Joker. The Hochman Encyclopedia of Playing Cards shows this type of image first appeared in 1905 (Page 90). It was a black and white image back then.

Bicycle Card Joker
Bicycle Card Joker

And then here are a sample of the many variations of these bicycle jokers. First, the blue background:

An interesting yellow coloring...

Before we leave the classic Bicycle joker section, lets do a little history.  This bicycle design dates all the way back to the time when the joker was first created! The origin story of jokers is that the "Best Bower" was an extra card required by the game of euchre.   Look at the date on the bottom of this card: 1885.  The Hochman Encyclopedia of Cards (Page 90) shows this design as RMP, 1885.  (This one is not an original, it is from a modern reproduction deck published by USPC).

Here's another variation of the big wheeled old style bicycle but without the reference to the Best Bower or the date.  

These big wheeled bikes were developed in the 1870s because the larger front wheel made it possible to ride much faster. These bikers were either known as  "Penny-farthings", a "High wheel", or a "High wheeler" and were popular for about 20 years, the 1870s and 1880s.  

My guess as to why they were called "Penny farthings" is that the British Penny coin was much much larger then the British quarter-penny coin and somehow, the visual of a big penny coin and the little farthing coin were reminiscent of the big and small wheels.  Can anyone correct or confirm?  

 When the more modern bikes with chain wheel drives were developed in the 1890s, the new style of bikes were called "Safety bike" (since the fall wasn't from as high up) and the big wheelers became known as  "Ordinary".

BTW: I have worked in education for the last two decades and one thing that I've come to believe is that through any real vein of interest, people can learn vast amounts. So in this case, from jokers, I've learned about the history of bicycles. I understand the old Big Wheel bikes and have them in my mind positioned in history (1895).  Maybe now would be a good time to click through and see how the whole collection is organized?
This next joker, shown front and back, is also a modern recreation made to look old of the Bicycle joker. It might be the modern Series 1800 Bicycle decks. 

Here's a particularly interesting effect: see through cards which can be played with!

The last bicycle joker to be pictured is a modern design by the incomparable joker designer, Randy Butterfield.   I hope to interview him soon to get the inside scoop on the story of this design.

Here I'll note that I consider this a bicycle section which covers all two wheeled (or more) jokers, whether Bicycle brand or not. For instance:

 Here are a little over ten pages of bicycle jokers. Do the math. That's 90ish! (updated 10/30/2020). How many different variations are there? Probably a lot especially if you count rip-offs or slight variations in printing. 

In this next page, look at the first row, far right. Notice anything funny about the bicyclist? Yes, the king has been replaced by Santa Claus who has on his back, a big sack of toys for the boys and girls. I was just schooled on this, Nov 2022, by Allen Potter of the UK on the FB Jokers Forum. He says that it was published as part of a special Christmas Edition 1993/1994.  There are full sized images of this which I am now looking for.

You might n

This next page is all about the penny farthing bicycles. 
Now the bicycles gets a little weirder and wilder.

Would the top left joker below be an quadracycle? A bibicycle? 

And lets finish big with two particularly bizarre bicycles.

I'm putting up the unicycle jokers as a separate section. They're grouped with the skaters. Check them out now!

What to see next? 
How about more travel vehicle jokers?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Jokers by Randy Butterfield of Midnight Cards

I am thrilled to show off my collection of jokers designed by Randy Butterfield of Midnight Cards.

I'll start with one of my favorites: This elegant egg joker design. Reminiscent of the Faberge Egg, it features a traditional crown on top of an enameled egg decorated with a gaily  grimacing jester. It is decorated with gold leaf and four jeweled legs.  The crown is decorated with gold and diamonds and emeralds with a type of cross on top. The inside is purple enamel.  (yes, I know that this egg might nor really exist).

There are jokers with the egg closed and opened.

Here are the four variations on the egg. They are open or closed. With small or large lettering at the bottom.

Thanks to Tom Klein for the next image from which I learned that this joker is part of the Imperial Playing Card deck, by USPC. 

These next two will get cataloged in the collection in the bust and headshot section.

This joker, in classic black and white, will go into the bicycle section (which I just realized I have not yet put online. Maybe I'll do it tonight.  Could be a late night....). I see the USPC (US Playing Card Company) dollar sign-like insignia in the corner which is typical of the Bicycle and Congress decks.  Was this joker designed for USPC?  Probably so. If I was running USPC, I would definitely get Randy to design for us!

The next jokers are bowling which as far as joker taxonomy goes, belongs in the sports section (yikes, it's also not yet online!)

For those of you have not yet clicked through to read about Randy Butterfield at Midnight Cards, his day job is commercial design for packaging and point of sale display for the liquor industry. He designs cards at night. He has a gorgeous family (which you have to click through to see) and sells decks from his website: 

I'm not entirely sure who the card player on this next card is but I want him to stay away from my daughters. And even if he was on my team, I'm not sure that I'd trust him

These next two jokers look much like my son and his friends. 

I think this next Butterfield design belongs in the juggling section of my collection.

Augustus, speak up, what's on your mind? How feelest though about being on a playing card?

Shields! There is a shield section in my albums. Not my favorite section so also not yet online. Usually, when I say shields I mean little insignias or designs, not literally a shield to use in a sword fight.  Maybe, since these are weapons, they could go in the armed jokers section.

Saving the best, at least my favorites, for last. Here are Randy Butterfield's Jester on Sticks. As a reminder, jesters carry little wands or baubles which have miniatures of this head. These jokers are just close-ups of these traditional wands, beautifully designed in 3D.  (Boy, I really need to improve my photography).

 Here is the complete set of eight of jester sticks: four with light backgrounds, four with dark.

So while that's not a complete photo display of my Randy Butterfield jokers, it is a large sample. 

Thank you Mr Butterfield for creating these beautiful designs for us.  And shortly, I don't doubt, joker and card design will become widely recognized as the significant fine art that it truly is. 

Forget canvas and giclĂ©es on the wall, art galleries will soon become regularly dedicated to displays of finely designed cards.  And reigning supreme will be Mr. R. Butterfield.