Friday, November 4, 2022

Bicycle Jokers

 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 my 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 (it's the brand number. Congress was 606). The tiny registered trademark just above the milestone.  These details matter when we start looking at what makes jokers different.

Bicycle Card Joker
Bicycle Card Joker

Before we look at all the bicycle jokers, 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.

This is a reproduction of the first Bicycle Brand joker published by Russell & Morgan (later USPCC). The back, btw, was Old Fan.

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 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". (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 the education business, particularly homeschooling, for the last two decades and one thing that I've come to believe is that "from anything, you can learn everything!"  This means that through a vein of interest, people can learn vast amounts about all sorts of topic. Harnessing this principle for education is called interest driven education or Unschooling. To clarify, for 20 years before I sold my company and retired, I was a market leader in providing online curriculum to homeschoolers. OK,  back to jokers...

Here is the oldest Bicycle brand joker in my collection. I believe it is from 1905 and has a Thistle back. Obviously, the back is in bad shape since it was attached to a page in a album at some point. 

 I think the Thistle back has an interesting social aspect to it. There appear to be a pair of Palmer Cox Brownies. One is an industrialist (Note the top hat) playing cards with a worker. In my version, it's not clear what they are sitting on. On another nearly-identical version, they are sitting on a brick wall, perhaps on a construction site?

 This is a modern design by the brilliant joker designer, Randy Butterfield.   I hope to interview him someday 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 is the bicycle joker section updated as of May 2023 (about 130 bicycle jokers!). Scroll down and  get a comprehensive look at my collection of bicycle jokers. I have just created a new organization within this section.

This first two pages are the king on a bicycle where the king is red.

Now that we are done with the red kings, here are kings green, yellow, and pink

Here are three pages of black and white king jokers.  
The middle king on this first page is in fact a queen!!!  Check it out!
And directly above here, there's a king wearing a jesters hat instead of a crown.

Below, 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. 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.

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 guarantees and some variations.

Here is the king with blue variations and a red one (on a different ton of background). Another one with a tan background. And its the start of the colored background section. There's a shark too. 
Many colored backgrounds: black, blue, and gray.

Now the bikes are all penny farthing bikes plus some old 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? The others are see through cards which is a weird teaser of a card concept. Not as much as a tease as a see through shirt but still...
A few more bizarre bicyclevariations including a skeleton on a bike. No idea why.

And lets finish with a close up of two particularly bizarre bicycles which were  in the last set.

I have the unicycle jokers in a separate section. They're grouped with the skaters. Check them out now! What to see next?

Learn More about the Bicycle Brand? What about the Air Cushion finish of Bicycle Cards?
The World Of Playing Cards website has a great article on the early Bicycle decks. Mouthwatering!
Here's the Bicycle and USPCC history as written by themselves!
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.

Want to see the Cat JokersAlice in Wonderland JokersPretty Girls in Bikinis Jokers?  Overall organization of the joker collection?
Or, go read about the history of the   US Playing Card Company  or another popular historic US Playing Card Company Brand: Congress Jokers).

Now might also be a good time to read about the overall joker collection taxonomy or organization

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.

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Thanks for your input and for reading and thinking about jokers.