The Bicycle Joker is among the most classic American jokers. It might
be the premier American joker. Bicycle Playing Cards are a brand of the US Playing Card Company (The link goes to an article about the company. It has many other brands such as Congress Jokers).
This bicycle 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.
Here is my personal favorite, the colored version of the classic Bicycle Joker. The Hochman Encyclopedia of Playing Cards says this type of image first appeared in 1905 (Page 90). It was a black and white image back then. Details to notice on the joker. The intertwined U and S indices in the corner which is the logo for the company. The 808 on the milestone. The tiny registered trademark just above the milestone. These details matter when we start looking at what makes jokers different.
|Bicycle Card Joker|
Lets do a little
history of the bicycle. Before the modern bike with its gears and chain, there were bikes that looked like the one below. Notice that this joker while it uses the word "joker", is also called the "Best Bower". This is a reference to how and why the joker was first created! The origin story of jokers is that the "Best Bower"
was an extra card added for the game of euchre. There were two bower (or trump cards) from the deck and then it was more fun to add a super-bower or best bower. It first came into being around 1863 in the US. This card (the one below is a modern reproduction) is a relatively early example of a modern joker, it evokes its role in Euchre as the Best Bower, and shows the date of the introduction of the Bicycle Brand: 1885. The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards (Page
90) shows this design as originally published RMP, 1885.
Below is another variation of the big wheeled old style bicycle on a joker but without the reference to the Best Bower or the date. (I'm not sure it is even a Bicycle Brand joker).
These big wheeled bikes were developed in the 1870s because the larger
front wheel made it possible to pedal and ride fast enough for people to balance. These bikes were
either known as "Penny-farthings", a "High Wheel", or a "High Wheeler"
and were the initial format of two wheeled pedaled bicycles. They were popular for about 20 years in 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
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". (There's also some history before the penny farthings with wooden bikes, bone-shakers, and veolicipedes which you can read about on Wikipedia.)
Some early bikes were gliders where the riders would push off the ground rather than use pedals. Oddly, these are popular again today as the best way for people to learn to ride a bike!
BTW: I have worked in education, particularly homeschooling, 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. This is called interested driven education and is sometimes called Unschooling. So in this case, from jokers, I've
learned about a lot about art, different parts of the world, and in this case, the history of bicycles. (By day, I'm a leader in providing curriculum to homeschoolers.)
This 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.
The next jokers might appear at first glance to be the same. Take a look at look at them. Can you identify the differences? They are numbered with a key just below. CREDIT for the inspiration about this section goes to Allen Potter of the FB Jokers Collector Club. He did a series of 10 posts about Bicycle jokers in Nov 2022 which led to me seeing my Bicycle jokers with greatly enhanced ability to pay attention to details. BTW, please leave a comment at the end about your thoughts on this little game.
Jokers 8 Puzzle Answers
Joker 1 is cool in a few ways. The enlarged indices are part of it but so is the US address which predates the modern Zip code system (introduced in 1963).
Joker 2: The king has been replaced by Santa Claus with a sack on his back full of toys. Allen pointed this out and I found one with Santa in my collection that I hadn't noticed. 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. Some other differences to notice between 1 and 2 include the size of the corner indices, the font used for the word Guarantee, the wording of the Guarantee, and the address of the Guarantee.
Joker 3: The king is wearing a jester hat.
Joker 4: The milestone has 88 on it which is less common. Usually, as on #3, it's 808 which refers to the Bicycle product line. The 88 refers to the enlarged corner indices.
Joker 5. The king has been replaced by a queen. And the milestone marker says 1850, the date of the launch of the first Bicycle Playing Cards.
Joker 6. You'll need to look closely at the pictures to catch what's special about those three. Right above the milestone where there is sometimes nothing but sometimes a registered trademark (a little R in a circle), there is instead a registered copyright notice (a little C in a circle). This is very unusual. No idea why. And don't get me started talking about the difference between the two a registered copyright and trademark.
Joker 7 has a little manufacturing number at the bottom, tiny text. Here is a link to the USPCC website where they explain how the codes indicate the year of manufacture. Noted that the explanation does not in any way help explain these letters. 366 75. Stay tuned as I research it.
Jokers 8 have different markings on the milestone:" one is blank, the other is 808.
would be a good time to click through and see how the whole collection is organized?
Or, if you'd like, keep scrolling and get a comprehensive look at my collection of bicycle jokers. This first page is just the king on a bicycle with different colors, fonts, and corner indices.
This next page is all small bicyclists with guarantees. While they look the same, there is great joy in noticing the different details. In the top row right, there is a Santa Claus replacing the king. Other changes have to do with the wording of the guarantee, the address, and the corner indices.
More variations in color of the rider.
Here's variations of the joker and the background. Plus one more guarantee that couldn't fit on the page with the others.
Below, one is shaped differently. NONE of these are actually dirty, they just look dirty since they have old-looking finishes on them. They're not old, they're all reproductions. The king in the bottom row middle is wearing a jesters hat instead of a crown. There are two in the middle row where instead of corner indices with the US, there are the stars in circles. (There's a term for this?) And the top row middle has the word Joker for indices which is rare for Bicycle cards.
More variations. I won't provide commentary here: You can figure out the differences for yourself. (Thank you Maria Montessori who taught us that: I can do it by myself
This next set has the Queen in the middle!
And we are onto background variations plus a skeleton on a bike. No idea why.
Penny farthings and some scifi flying bikes.
Now we're getting wild. One even says wild. BTW, if you are wondering about what the lady is doing in the top row right is doing here. Or if you are wondering about why the crazy guy in the bottom row left is here... They are here since a foundational principle of joker collection organization is to never, ever ever ever break up a pair or set of jokers that came from the same deck.
So the babe on the top row right is the partner to the one on the top row left. And the bottom row left is the partner of the bottom row right. Remember, do not ever EVER break up a pair of jokers just to satisfy some arbitrary or aesthetic joker principle.
Would the top left joker below be called a quadracycle? A bibicycle?
And lets finish big with two particularly bizarre bicycles which are in the next set.
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?
An article on the Bicycle 808 (versus 807)
. Key point. The 808 was an early USPCC manufacturing code. The first deck produced was 101, the second was 202, and the eighth was coded 808. It was the Bicycle brand which was such a hit that it survives to this day.
BTW, thanks once again to Allen Potter for helping me understand some of the fine differences between the jokers. Here's a piece of a post of his pointing out what to look for and a response by me.