Sunday, September 26, 2021

The History of the Joker, the Ace of Spades, and the Stamp Act

  Marie Ryley posted this great article on Facebook about the history of the joker, the ace of spades, and taxes on decks of playing cards. Posted with permission.

The Joker is a playing card found in most modern card decks, as an addition to the standard four suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades). The Joker originated in the United States during the civil war and was created as a trump card for the game of Euchre. It has since been adopted into many other card games where it may function as a wild card. 

The card is unique in that it lacks an industry-wide standard appearance. No card in the American deck has inspired more characters and uses than the Joker card. By the mid-1870s, the card depicted a jocular imp, jester or clown. Many characters were also employed, and the blank card became popular for politics, social satire, and advertising.

The Joker Lacked "An industry-wide standard appearance", thanks to the fates!

In the 20th century, the Joker card inspired the creation of the Batman character in the comic books of the 1940s. Later, various movies represented the Joker as a notorious character who was a humorous, and sadistic trickster. In 2006, portrayed in a wickedly humorous manner, the joker was rated as number one on Wizard Magazine’s “Greatest Villains of All Time.” For card collectors, the joker card is the most coveted card in the deck due to the variety of styles and incarnations. 

Currently, there are claims that the word “Jucker” influenced the establishment of the word “Joker” in Euchre. What one card historian made as a suggested origin of the joker has now turned into almost a certainty for many readers and some writers. For example, a Wikipedia article on the Joker playing card erroneously states, “It is believed that the term “Joker” comes from [the word] Jucker…”(2) However, no proof has been provided with references to substantiate this claim. 

Euchre was America’s National Card Game from about 1850 to 1910, so its history should be updated as best as we know it. In introducing games or variants of games, it has been said that apparent genius generally amounts to nothing more than the changing or blending of one or two concepts into the game of consideration (i.e., Euchre). The same applies to the creation of the Joker card in Euchre. 

This article will detail how the wild card, the Jack of Clubs, coupled with the extra 'blank card' added to American decks of cards, developed into the Joker as we know it today. 

SPADE ACE  The ornate design of the ace of spades, common in packs today, stems from the 17th century, when James I and later Queen Anne imposed laws requiring the ace of spades to bear an insignia of the printing house. Stamp duty, an idea imported to England by Charles I, was extended to playing cards in 1711 by Queen Anne and lasted until 1960. 



Over the years a number of methods were used to show that duty had been paid. From 1712 onwards, one of the cards in the pack, usually the ace of spades, was marked with a hand stamp. In 1765 hand stamping was replaced by the printing of official ace of spades by the Stamp Office, incorporating the royal coat of arms. In 1828 the Duty Ace of Spades (known as "Old Frizzle") was printed to indicate a reduced duty of a shilling had been paid.

 The system was changed again in 1862 when official threepenny duty wrappers were introduced and although the makers were free to use whatever design they wanted, most chose to keep the ornate ace of spades that is popular today. The ace of spades is thus used to show the card manufacturer's information.

 The exact design of the ace card was so important, it eventually became the subject of design patents and trademarking. For example, on December 5, 1882, George G. White was granted US design patent US0D0013473 for his design. His ace design was adorned with male and female figures leaning onto the spade from either side.

Note - all the pictures are from the AmusedbyJokersAmI collection.

For more info on the history of the joker from this website:

Dougherty  
NYCC jokers
USPC Jokers including Bicycle, Congress  
National Card Company,
Kalamazoo, and Perfection too

But I am primarily a visual thematic collector who loves the fool's errand, the mission impossible, the mental game of systematically cataloging and organizing jokers visually despite knowing that it's not possible. What a puzzle.  Click to see my overall organization of jokers into ten graphical themes.