Brief History of Alf Cooke’s Playing Cards
British Playing Cards • Universal Playing Card Company Limited • Alf Cooke Limited
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 →
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.
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.