Thursday, June 15, 2023

Lewando's Special Playing Cards

 This article is the first of a series on vintage American advertising jokers and decks. I think this Lewando's Advertising playing card deck is from 1926 and was manufactured by USPC. I'll explain my basis for this below.   I'll start with the joker since it is my primary interest and on yes, it is magnificent.   

Lewando's Special Playing Cards features a black moma cat carefully treating the little chicks. They seem to be getting cleansed, dyed, and then hung up to dry. Most of the chicks are white, there is one black chick.  The cat's apron has the business on it: "CLEANSING AND DYEING." The pitch to customers is at the top: "YOU CAN RELY ON LEWANDO'S".  

The joker also has a little code on it H113. I posted about this on the FB joker collectors forum and Matt Schacht pointed out that it is the US Playing Card Company's code for dating decks and in this case, is most likely for 1926 (1905 and xyz were also possibilities. Add link to the sheet with all these codes).

The graphical theme and exquisite engraving continues on the Ace of Spades. The ace includes the name of Lewando's General Manager, a W L Crosby plus their two primary business addresses.  

The back of the cards are a nearly symmetrical geometric design built around a fleur-de-lis image. Card magicians will note that it's not really symmetrical because each of the two addresses (NYC, Boston) face a different way. The back has a similar image from the ace of spaces and specifies three lines of business: Dyeing, Cleaning, and Laundry.  Like on the ace of spades, it claims the image as a Trade Mark.

This extra card explains more about the business. It lists the eight branch offices from as far south as DC with a number of them in the Greater Boston Area.  It also lists the products that they treat. Anyone know what a portiere is? (answer: a curtain hung over a door or doorway.)  One does wonder about why there is an apostrophe before the S.  Apparently the full name is Lewando's Dryers Cleaners and Launderers. Lewando owns the Dry Cleaners

The next three pictures are of the box.  The box is for a red version of this deck so there were presumably a paired blue and red deck. Maybe the box was produced only for red. 

The front of the box emphasizes that these are Special Playing Cards and says that they  can be ordered for 15 cents and a stamp. 

Like many playing card boxes, this side of the box repeats the back of the cards. However, if you noticed on the picture above, there is a little spot at the top which is cut in a way that would help people remove the cards from the box, a finger recess.  

While I have not figured out the date of the cards, the box says on the side: ESTABLISHED 1829. And LARGEST IN AMERICA.

I looked up Murray's Finger Release Patent, 434878 and found that it was granted August 19th, 1890 The patent was filed just three months earlier. The patent granting process these days is measured in years, not month. 
Be it known that I, SAMUEL J. MURRAY, a citizen of the United States, residing at Indianapolis, in the county of Marion and State of Indiana, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Paper Boxes, of which the following is a specification.
My invention relates to that class of paper boxes which are intended for repeated use or to serve as cases to repeatedly receive their contents; and it consists in so cutting that portion of the box opposite the tuck that a finger-recess will be formed when the tuck is opened, permitting the convenient withdrawal of the contents with the thumb and finger.
My improved box is specially designed for and peculiarly adapted to contain playingcards; but it may be used for any other desired purpose.... blah blah... It continues for a page....
I am frustrated in that nowhere on the box or the cards or on the web can I find anything about the printers or manufacturers of these cards.  I can find out more about Lewondo's so I'll indulge in some research. 

For instance: There still is a Lewando's Cleaners in Needham Massachusetts. There are reviews of them on Yelp. 

There is a Lewando's sign which gets cited as a historical sign by the Retro Road Map website. Here's the image (borrowed without permission. I'll start asking now).

The Historic New England website also has a page about the Lewando marketing materials.   In their materials (image below also borrowed), the color issues around the cat and chicks are quite different.
As I continue to search, I find that there is a little storybook (for sale on ebay for $46) which tells the story: Anthropomorphic Cats Poor Cat Family is Able to Marry UP because their shabby clothes look better from Lewandos Cleansers Dyers launderers.  Here are a few pages from that booklet:

I found a trade card (like a business card) for Lewando's for sale on Etsy as part of a lot for $21.

The Digital Commonwealth website has a picture of the construction of the Watertown Lewando building taken in 1929. Again, I provide a copy of it here.

There is also a mention that the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a box of trade catalogs from the 1890s from Lewandos French Dye House. And a Lewando trade card on a genealogy website. Miami U has a palette with Lewandos cat. And intriguingly enough, the Harvard crimson color seems to have been developed (in part) by Lewandos Dye House (says the Harvard art magazine). The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation also has a Lewando trade card in their collection.

Meanwhile, back to my joker and card collection, I found in the same batch of decks a second Lewando's deck. It has a green back but other than that, the deck is identical.  However one side of the box for the cards is different (shown below) although it also cites the Murray Finger Recess Patent. The card stamp is more in evidence on this box.  My initial box is red, my first deck has blue backs, my second one has green. I guess there were three back colors which I think is unusual.

Lewandos Playing Cards Box Green

This article remains a work in progress. It is the first of a series on vintage advertising decks and jokers in my collection.  The Lewando joker make me think about the Brooke Soap joker. 

The Brooke Soap joker is one of my favorites since I like monkeys. Also it is one of the few jokers where the jester's wand does not have a model of the jester's own head on it. In this case, it's a human held by a monkey.  (I designed a joker with a cat and mouse holding jester wands with each others heads on it, topsy turvy)

The monkey in this picture interestingly enough had a previous role as the character for advertising for Monkey Brand Soap.  No, you could not make this stuff up.  Check out this advertisement from the 1880s including the clever poem:

You might next like to look at my other advertising joker articles. There is an article on the tiers (extra elite, elite, standard, and basic) of advertising on playing cards plus these articles about different products being advertised.  
  1. Casinos 
  2. Cigarettes,  LiquorBeer, Text jokers for drinks 
  3. Desserts and Candy 
  4. Coca Cola Jokers      
  5. Cars 
  6. Public Interest Messagesspace science and technology
  7. Logo type jokersGeometric Designs Jokers featuring "Joker" 
  8. Other types of advertising  this is where the Lewando joker will go (Text jokers are separate)
  9. Jokers promoting playing cards , Ads for brands of playing cards

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