Jackpot! In May 2023, I bid $225 for "a set of old Congress decks, some with jokers". I won and wow, what a win!
Let's take it from the top. What are Congress cards? Congress was a playing card brand started in 1881 by Russell and Morgan (which became the USPCC). Of their initial four brands, Congress was the tippy tippy top of the line. In the late 1800s, if you were a Rockfeller, Carnegie, Mellon, Astor, or you were playing with them, you played with decks of cards with gold edges which came in leather cases and had beautiful artwork on the back.
Congress cards were expensive and priced out of reach of most Americans. The cards' edges were gilded with gold. The packaging was elaborate with an inner leather box slipping neatly inside an outer leather box. The art work on the backs and on the aces of spades were of the highest quality. Think of the rich society types buying cards for card playing evenings at their mansions or clubs. Remember that in the late 1800s, the industry of home entertainment consisted of buying sheet music to play on the piano, books to read, or playing cards or other games to play (no phonographs, radios or other electronic entertainment yet).
|Fancy Packaging, Gold Edges, Nice Artwork
I suddenly have a collection of 19 antique Congress decks of cards. Amazing! I was initially only interested in the jokers but since it feels wrong to break up antique decks, I'm moving into some specialized card deck collecting. The 19 decks are all from around 1900 and, to optimize the jokers, I've even done some trading already, more on that below.
I started by looking at two of the Congress decks that I acquired: Anticipation and Diana. Both are Congress 606 Gold Edge decks (pictured below).
In terms of jokers, both of these decks are considered matching jokers. This means the joker image is a black and white version of the cards' back. It matches! The deck is named for the image on its back. The top one below is Anticipation: the box cites a 1902 copyright date. The bottom box is Diana and an 1899 date is listed. Both Aces of Spades list the US Playing Card Company. The bottom ace also lists the Russell & Morgan factories.
|Congress Decks from 1899 & 1902
Yacht - 1900
(NO Chums - 1909)
Cheefoo-1906 - has roads - R2, C2
Good night - 1900 - R3, C4 - No Joker (could be matching?)
Knuckle Down - 1906 - R2, C1 - has roads
George Washington - 1922 - R1, C5
November 1918 - narrow
Wilma - narrow
Moon Fairy. This is my first complete Moon Fairy deck and unlike my other matching Moon Fairy joker (which was Matching Early Period with the word Joker), this is Late Period Matching. Both the box and ace are dated 1899. The joker image is in an oval frame. The two moon fairy jokers are in the collection in the sitting section, crescent moon subsection.
|Diana Deck of Cards
|Good Night Congress Playing Cards
|Moon Fairy Congress Cards
|Music Hath Charms Cards