British Playing Cards • Universal Playing Card Company Limited • Alf Cooke Limited
Above: a selection of Alf Cooke’s playing cards ~ click any card to see more.
Alf Cooke was an important producer of playing cards and card games in the UK during the period 1920-1970.
The company had been founded in 1866 by Alf Cooke, in Leeds, as a general printer.
During the years 1920-25 playing cards were produced under the name of British Playing Cards with unusual court card designs which may have been a forerunner of Universal Playing Card Company Limited who commenced producing playing cards in c.1925. There is some stylistic similarity between the two.
With a growing range of products including Crown Point and Club De Luxe, the Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd became the sole supplier of playing cards to Woolworths under the New Bond and Pictorial brand names. They also produced standard and luxury sets with gold edges for the stationery and cigarette card markets, including the stationer and importer L.G. Sloan.
The court cards were printed in either 3 or 4 colours, red, yellow and black, or with the addition of blue, see example →
Above: wide sized pack with 4 indices for Featherstones Ltd of Rochester, late 1920s. Image courtesy Matt Probert.
Above: narrow sized advertising deck for Grant's Whisky by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, 1932-1934. Image courtesy Matt Probert.
During the 1930s an attractive range of cards was produced for Scandinavian countries including Denmark, Iceland and Romania.
Left: four court cards from A/S Emil Jensen's Warburg's Luxus Bridgekort designed by Barbara MacDonald and printed by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd in c.1930.
Alf Cooke Limited, with Universal Playing Card Co as a subtitle, appeared on the Aces of Spades from around 1955 onwards, until the business was taken over by the Amalgamated Playing Card Company Ltd, that was then a subsidiary part of Waddingtons, in 1971.
The stock and machinery were transferred to Waddingtons and the production of Alf Cooke playing card brands and court card designs ceased.
Over the years, Alf Cooke Limited produced a colourful range of standard English playing cards with many art-deco style pictorial back series, fortune-telling and tarot cards, as well as card games for children and adults.
Above: Crown Point Works, Alf Cooke's playing card factory in Leeds (UK) which is now a listed building.
Above: general view of the Playing Card department.
Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd also published packs specially prepared for magicians and conjurers. These packs included cards of slightly different sizes, packs with multiple copies of the same card, cards with backs or faces on both sides, etc.
Above: special pack of playing cards for magicians in which half the cards in the pack are identical Sevens of Spades.
Aces of Spades and Jokers 1925-1970
Above: the commonest Alf Cooke Aces of Spades: Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd (1925-55); Universal Playing Card Co. (1930-50); 3. Alf Cooke Limited (1955-70). There are no cut & dried date lines, as the various aces and jokers can be found occurring at different times in different combinations, along with small changes in the plates and miniature pip shapes in the corners over the years. There are several other Jokers but they were manufactured for Scandinavian countries (which have the word 'Joker' instead of 'The Joker'), and also 'single pip' aces of spades, i.e not ornamental.
Above: special aces with brand advertising.
Above: special ace of spades for British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd produced by Alf Cooke, 1960s. Courtesy Matt Probert.