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.
- Court jester or harlequin themed
- Langely / American Card Company,
- New York Consolidated Cards,
- Andrew Dougherty.
- 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.
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: