Sunday, September 6, 2020

Folklore Mysteries from late 1800s on Joker Playing Cards

I'm looking for help solving a mystery. 

Here's my question "My primary mystery is the image where an apparently good little mythical creature is capturing an evil little creature in a box or trunk. It has a caption of “Iv'e got him” sic." 

I'm  trying to understand the mythology or folklore behind some jokers designed in the late 1800s or early 1900s. 

In fact, this is one of three sets of images on jokers that I'm curious about.

The first mystery for me is the first card where an apparently good little mythical creature is capturing an evil little creature in a box or trunk. It has a caption of “Iv'e got him” sic. Does this image reflect any story that might have been known in the US in the late 1800s?

They might be imps or elves or spirits or leprechauns (weren’t the Irish immigrating in great numbers at that time?).   It was first published in 1895 by the Standard Playing Card Company based in St Louis and Chicago. 

Here are my three jokers with the same image, the other two were published by the same company after it was bought by the US Playing Card Co but while it was run as an independent company.

This next joker card was first published in 1885 by National Card Company of Indianapolis and NY and it shows a bunny rabbit being hatched from an egg. Behind him, there are two small mystical creatures with a tool for hitting sort of like a pickaxe. It has an acorn on it. It is either to help the bunny break the egg or to bonk the bunny on his head. While it's clear that the little folk are surprised, it's not clear to me whether they are scared by the bunny or just surprised.  It appears, using current thinking, to be Easter-related. Anyone know anything about them?

This imagery seems to have been picked up in a number of more recent jokers such as this one below. In this version, the witch emerging from the egg is clearly a bad witch.

This monkey joker is among my favorites. It has a monkey holding a jester's wand which, unlike almost all jester wands which feature the head of the person holding it, it has a person on the end. It’s the head of Punch from Punch and Judy, descended from the Italian tradition (thanks Dan!).

The monkey in this picture interestingly enough had a previous role as the character for advertising for Monkey Brand Soap.  No, you could not make this stuff up.  Check out this advertisement from the 1880s including the clever poem:

This fourth set of images on jokers with the three little mystical creatures is not a mystery to me. They are the Brownies as depicted by Palmer Cox in the late 1800s. They were widely known back then as the Palmer Brownies. They were popular in cartoon strips, books, and video games. OK, I'm kidding about the video games but they were so popular that the name was used for a Kodak Brownie Camera, the youngest girl scout levels, and a brand of mixes for chocolate Brownies. I wonder sometimes how much the National Playing Card Company (Indianapolis and NY) would have paid for the right to put these brownies on their jokers.

 Here are some  articles about my older American jokers:

NYCC jokers
USPC Jokers including Bicycle, Congress  
National Card Company and Perfection too 
Kalamazoo and Russell  - this article
 Coming soon:  Midland, Arrco

And here are some nice happy mostly contemporary dog jokers!


  1. The monkey is holding a Commedia del Arts character called ( in England and America anyway ) "Punch" or "Mr. Punch". He is known as "Poliichinelle" and "Punchinello" etc. in other countries, or even Kaspar / Kasperl etc. Another Commedia Del Arts character is "Harlequin", who is also often on Joker cards. We talked a bit about this during your visit. CDA goes back hundreds of years to Italy.

  2. Dan. Thanks. The monkey's wand is pretty clearly a Punch character. I do remember you explaining that to me and pointing out how often these old themes reappear. My curiosity about the monkey remains. Who was he?

  3. I noticed that a google search of: "monkey picture advertising 1900" was very productive! Monkey Brand Soap was apparently huge. There was also Monkey Brand Safety Matches. by sandshoevintage |



Thanks for your input.