Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Vintage Decks that I'd trade away

 Interested in old decks. The first two, particularly the first one, are a piece of card history. Step up and see how it feels to own a part of it.  Then below are 24 old (1920s mostly but entirely) advertising decks available for trade. More pictures available upon request.

Samuel Hart NY 41  1875.  This first one is a Hart deck bought from Phil Bollhagen in 2020. A Samuel Hart NY 41 in Hochman c1875.  c. 1855.  Hochman P55. Good condition 51/52.  (missing the 6 of spades)  Single-ended courts used in Faro decks.  No joker issued as faro decks (gamblers) did not use a joker. It’s in the original playing card case.  Hochman's values--  $400-$250-$175.  it's quite rare. I bought it for  $250 from Phil Bolhagen in 2020.

US30 Picket3515.  It’s also a USPC Picket deck with an original case. He looks to me like US30 Picket3515 on P101 of Hochman.

I bought these decks as part of a big lot and would happily consider a trade for them for some number of similar aged / themed decks with jokers. These are all complete advertising decks but without jokers.
Update: Dahl House (R1:C5), Cork and Seal (R3,C2), and Pepsi (R4, C3) are already gone. 

Other articles about old decks of cards that I own:

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

African Americans as Portrayed on Playing Cards

 Rory's exhibit shows his collection of playing cards which documents the portrayal of  some of the history of African Americans and of the African Diaspora. 

It astonished me. Two months later, I'm still thinking about it. It is powerful, meaningful, and haunting.  I would like to see his collection get a much larger viewing by becoming a travelling exhibit across major museums. 

But to start at the beginning, Rory is a magician, a writer, a storyteller, and in this case, a collector of cards.  Being a joker collector myself, I'll start with his collection of jokers.  He has curated a display of joker playing cards from 1885 to 1935.

What is this period, 1882 to 2935 ?  Well...

Moving from exhibits of jokers to displays of playing cards in general, he labels this period of portrayal as the "Cotton, Mistrelsy, & The Art Deco Era".

In the  World War II and immediate post war era, there didn't seem to many portrayals of African Americans.  

But starting in the 60s, a renaissance and proud exploration and statement of identity for Black Americans appears.  

There is a focus on achievements in entertainment, research, politics, sports, and music.  

Through the years, the imagery shows an expansion of vision to include a larger sense of the African Diaspora

It is in this tradition that Rory and Angela (his wife) donned their king and queen of clubs garb. I was honored to be pictured with them.

There are also, in the modern cards and imagery, a frequent emphasis on advertising and commerce.

Overall, despite the heavy topic of history, the exhibit has a light feeling to it. It's neither preachy nor simplistic. 

The exhibit lays out the portrayals over the last 150 years, organizes them into periods and topics, and leaves the viewer free to appreciate, cringe, and meditate upon this long history as portrayed in one of the most popular of art forms: the humble playing card.

This exhibit in October 2023 was the first public exhibit of Rory Rennick's collection. It was shown at the 52PlusJoker Annual Conference in Cleveland.

Lee Asher, the president of 52PlusJoker, has provided Rory with several media to share his collection with the organization's members including Clear the Decks, a printed magazine; Card Culture Magazine, an online magazine; and live and Zoom presentations. In Lee's introduction of Rory, he says that it is a collection of the highest significance.

I think Rory Rennick is a determined original who has developed and pursued his visions which deals with clarifying some aspects of American history and society..  

For my part, I think the day will come when I will brag about having known Rory before his exhibit hits the bigtime and he becomes a national celebrity. His materials are compelling and they merit attention from national-level museums and media.  My photography which is obviously amateurish, does not do justice the visual impact of the actual displays.

More information:

The 52PlusJoker Club facilitates the collection and trading of antique, vintage and modern collectible playing cards & other related ephemera. It only costs $25 a year.

Rory Rennick is a working magician, entertainer, historian, educator, and writer. He wrote Henry Box Brown.

To reach me, just write a comment. I check them weekly. 

My Matching Congress 606 Jokers

 I have the following Congress matching jokers. They all date from around 1898 to maybe 1910 when Congress decks switched to the Capital style jokers. Here's an article about the whole historical pattern of Congress jokers.

Anticipation (entire deck) 
Diana with word joker (entire deck)
Diana without word joker (entire deck)
George Washington (entire deck) 
Good Night (entire deck) 
Martha Washington  (entire deck)
Moon Fairy with the word joker.
Moon Fairy without the word joker (entire deck)
Music Hath Charms (entire deck)
Rube 2 (entire deck)
Toboggan (entire deck)
Yacht (entire deck)

BTW: I need more. If you have any of these as decks or as single jokers, contact me. thanks.

Toboggan and Anticipation (entire deck) 

- Toboggan is 3rd Generation Matching jokers due to the elaborate decorations around the oval
- Anticipation is also 3rd Generation Matching jokers due to the rectangle shape of the joker and the simpler version of the ace of spades.

Yacht, Diana, The Rube, and George Washington  (entire deck).  

Martha Washington   (entire deck)

The pictures of these four are below:

Good Night. The box and ace says 1899. The joker is the early matching period (ie the word Joker is included) and the Ace of Spades is the more elaborate version. The joker image is in an oval frame.  She is the Americana album, American people subsection. This section will soon be split up and she'll go with a few pages of old images of American children.
Diana. This is my third Diana deck but it's my first with the Matching Late Period joker (ie the word Joker is omitted and it's not the Capitol). The box  and ace are dated 1899. The joker image is in an oval frame. This means that I have a Diana deck with an oval Diana with the word joker, one with an oval without the work joker, and one with the Capital joker. None of these Dianas are wearing a shirt. Or a bra. Just saying... Diani is the fighters section of the joker collection (which will soon be brokeninto subsections based on weaponry)
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.
Music Hath Charms. The box is undated but the ace cites 1902. The image is not in an oval frame. The word joker does not appear.  Since he is playing a wind instrument, he is in the collection in the music section, wind subsection. 

Moon Fairy - joker only. Note that this Moon Fairy is different than the one above.

I remain a little confused by the difference in the three generations of matching (or named) jokers that CongressGuy delineates.

Generation 1 - These are distinguished by the word Joker included on the joker and the image is always in an oval.

Generation 2 - The word Joker is not there and the frame is either oval or rectangular but without any fancy trimmings.

Generation 3 - The oval and rectangular shapes have fancy trim.

 Related articles:
- All of my Congress jokers (most of which have the Capital)
My purchase of 19 Congress decks from around 1900

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Earliest Jokers and My Questions about them

Investigating One of the Great Inventions of the 1800s: The Joker 

I often wonder about the creation of the playing card joker.   I haven't yet seen an article around it that satisfies my curiosity and explains it to me.  

The joker is - IMHO - one of the great inventions of the late 1800s. So I thought I'd try to see what I could learn from studying Hochman to figure out how the joker began. I imagine that there are some people who understand this is much greater detail than I and I'm hoping that you will hop in either here in comments or on the Joker Collectors Group on Facebook and help me understand it.

Here's what we know and mostly agree on:

1.    The joker emerged in the United States in the 1860s.
2.    The joker was initially a Best Bower card for the game of Euchre.
3.    The joker card is unique in that it lacks an industry-wide standard appearance. While many images and characters appear on the joker card, the joker card concept quickly merged with the idea of a court fool or harlequin character.  Then, it became a palette for branding and creativity for card designers.

Here's some questions that I'm asking.  
1.    What was the first deck with a joker?
2.    Can we see an evolution from Best Bower to Jester and to other early graphical themes? What were the other early themes?  By looking at the earliest jokers, I see four broad graphical themes:
        -    Chinese themed
        -    Court jester or harlequin themed
        -    "Other" which includes animals and geometric designs. 
        -    Best Bower themed
3.    Why did the early jokers so often start with Chinese imagery? It is contrary to the European design of the face cards and the back imagery which was very rarely Chinese themed.   

What was the first deck with a joker?

The first joker is copyright 1860 by the New York Consolidated Card Company per Hochman . NY16 JNO J Levy.  I'm a little troubled by this  since I imagined the first joker would be more of a Best Bower style.  I also thought the word Joker and the putting of different images on jokers would emerge later.  But this is what I see in Hochman: The first joker appeared with the words The Joker and with three Chinese men playing cards.   

Although this joker has the earliest copyright date by several years, I'm going to take the approach that there is room for doubt since the historical records are poor and we continue to learn more. So I'll review the other candidates for the earliest joker.  

 I consider any deck published in the 1860s with a joker to be a candidate for being the first and I review all the jokers published up to and including 1875.  This article is based on information (and graphics) from the Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards by Tom and Judy Dawson. It is meant to start a discussion and I'm hoping that people with more detailed and recent research will be able to update this article. 

 There are four publishers with decks that are candidates (ie 1875 or earlier) for the earliest jokers. I review them in the order that they appear in Hochman.   
  • Mauger, 
  • Langely / American Card Company, 
  • New York Consolidated Cards,
  • Andrew Dougherty.

Victor E. Mauger (from Hochman Chapter 3. The Early Makers)

Victor E. Mauger ordered customized cards from Goodall for the US market starting as early as 1867.  The earliest joker shown is U19c Columbias. It is another very early card with the word joker: It has a geometric design rather than a person. It's wild that this early joker appears to be manufactured in London by Goodall. I wonder when the first joker was published in London and whether it was through Goodall who learned about it through manufacturing for Mauger. 

 Hochman also says: "In the early 1870s, he <Mauger> ordered a deck from Goodall that included a multicolor seated joker with the Goodall inscription on it" U19 c1873 P17. It was issued for the Centennial with the Heathen. The word joker appears on the card he is holding. I'm having trouble considering the character as either a jester or one of the heathen Chinese. His chest plate (is that armour?) features a wolf's head. He is wearing a mask.  Could this be a harlequin or jester figure?

Also of note, there's U18c Continental Card Co P17 c1875. This card says: "Highest Trump, Takes Either Bower."  Notice it uses neither the term Best Bower or Joker.

Langley / The American Playing Card Company (and its acquisitions)

The L5 Eagle Card Co shows an 1867 jester character,  P24. This deck appears to be the second card named joker.  The card uses the word joker, the character is more a European court jester than anything else, and the card has a card-centric design with pips decorating each corner and the jester's clothing.  So I'm considering him in the jester / harlequin theme, not Chinese. Of course, I could be wrong on this and lots of other points.

There are also the Heathen Chinese jokers, L4 Steamboats c1870 (and the more famous L7 but it's c1877). While they are seated much like the L5 jester joker, they are clearly Chinese themed both because of the graphics and the label: "Heathen Chinese".

There is L9 c1875 which has a joker design largely featuring the word joker. Is this the second joker without a character on it?

Here's a bizarre design swerve at the very beginning of jokers, there is L12 c1875 featuring what looks to me like a dog's head staring back at me from the mirror. This is the second use of an animal on a joker? Woof woof!

There's also L16 Royal Flush c1875 P27 which features a tiger (lion?) on a joker. This is also an early use of an animal on a joker.  Great cats are today not an endangered species as far as card jokers are concerned, check it out. 

The L41 Union Playing Card Company also has a c1875 joker card which uses the word joker and features a court jester figure. 

The New York Consolidated Card Company

NY16 JNO J Levy  has a Joker card c1860. This looks like the winner for the first documented joker. It uses the word joker and features three "Heathen Chinee" sic playing cards.

The very first animal to appear on a joker or Best Bower is NY16b American Manufacture P50 c1868. It's a Best Bower joker featuring a dragon.  I think it's curious that the first animal is a dragon which could be associated with China. By the way, I have recently been interested in the early stylized dragon jokers, the earliest of which appears in 1876 as NY47a.  

In 1863, which makes it the second oldest joker shown in Hochman,  there is a Best Bower card, NY36, Hochman P54, Samuel Hart & Co. This card lends credence to the theory that jokers evolved from the best bower concept except that it is predated by the 1860 Joker card!

Note also the 1870 Samuel Hart NY39 Best Bower.

Here is the same best bower card a year later from Lawrence Cohen, NY13  P490 c1871.  
Andrew Dougherty

AD7 c1872 p70 might be the first introduction of the term: The Jolly Joker. In this case, it's a girl as a jack-in-the-box holding a jester. This is, btw, the only joker shown in this article which I currently hold in my collection.

In the same year, Andrew Dougherty published AD8 c1872, a best bower. Geometric design, no character.

  • It is very hard to see that the joker started with best bower and then moved onto other designs.  
  • The word The Joker was used from the very start.  Why?
  • The Chinese focus for jokers is mysterious to me. Were playing cards generally associated at that time with the Chinese?  If so, why don't the backs and other card design elements reflect this?  With the exception of the Congress 606 Chink and Cheefu decks, there doesn't seem to be a Chinese association on the backs of cards.  But both the joker characters and maybe the dragons have a Chinese connection. Why?
  • There are three animals amongst the first dozen jokers.  
This article is based on research limited to a close reading of the Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards by Tom and Judy Dawson. It is meant to start a discussion and I'm hoping that people with far more detailed and recent research will be able to update this article.

Areas for discussion and further study

Most people agree (although not all) that the word euchre and juker influenced the naming of the card the joker. Is there any evidence to support this?  Are there any other theories? 

Were there any patents, registered trademarks, or registered copyrights from the 1860s or early 1870s related to the joker?  Given the fierce competition among the card publishers and their patenting indices and designs, it seems odd that there are no efforts to protect these innovations related to jokers with patents or other intellectual property filings.

Does the Carey collection have any information about the early jokers? ANSWER: I looked it up. Nothing in the published catalog.

Can higher resolution copies of these pictures be collected? What would it show us? In my collection, at this time, I have only two jokers that are described above: