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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here's the Bicycle and USPCC history as written by themselves!
Or, go read about the history of the US Playing Card Company or another popular historic US Playing Card Company Brand: Congress Jokers).
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Thanks for your input.