The Russell & Morgan Printing Co • The United States Playing Card Company
The famous ‘Bicycle’ playing cards were first introduced by Russell & Morgan Printing Co in 1885. This was the time of the high-wheeled bicycles and, because they were newer and faster than high-wheeled carts, the name ‘Bicycle’ was chosen for the new brand. They were hugely successful and became the most well-known brand in the world. A total of 82 different back designs were issued over the years, featuring bicycles, motorcycles or automobile motifs, and for very short periods, bi-planes or warships. Similarly, a number of different bicycle-themed Jokers have accompanied decks over the years and the early editions are now very scarce and sought by collectors.
Right: an advertising card that was distributed to promote the 'Bicycle' brand →
Above: this is believed to be the first Ace of Spades used with Bicycle decks, printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co. c.1885-90. The same box was used for this edition and the one shown below. Image courtesy Rod Starling.
Above: this is the second Ace of Spades used with Bicycle decks, printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co. c.1889. It has a bicycle wheel motif on the Ace, with the high-wheeled Joker, as shown. Note that neither the customary 'US' or 'Joker' inscriptions are present on the Joker. Subsequent editions came with different Jokers. Image courtesy Rod Starling.
Above: as above, but with the rarer coloured Joker, c.1894. The box states ‘Bicycle Seconds’. Image courtesy Jesse Hobbs.
Above: Bicycle #808 deck printed by U.S.P.C. Co., at their Russell & Morgan factories, c.1895. The court cards have a slightly different design, as can be seen from the Queen of Diamonds. The back design is Racer No.1 which ran from 1895 to 1906. The Joker features a King wearing a Jester's hat, riding a bicycle past an '808' milestone. Click here to view the box. Image courtesy Rod Starling.
Above: A Braille 'Bicycle No.808' deck for the blind with the card indices embossed in Braille on each card, c.1924. 54 cards. This is the more common of the early 'Bicycle' Aces of Spades and was used until at least 1925. The Joker depicts a 'King' riding a bicycle past an 808 milestone, similar to the trade card shown above.
Most standard packs manufactured by USPCC came with either red or blue backs. Some brands also came in green or brown, but these are relatively more scarce.
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The Bicycle Playing Cards official website contains a lot of interesting information, including company history and a downloadable catalogue.
All 82 known Bicycle back designs •
Bicycle Seconds •
Congress No.606 •
Jumbo Bridge No.88 •
Norwood #85 •
Above: assorted backs from 'Bicycle' playing cards, from a total of over 80 different designs, and a multi-coloured Joker. more →
Dawson, Tom & Judy: The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, U.S. Games Systems Inc., 2000
Hargrave, Catherine Perry: A History of Playing Cards and a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming, Dover Publications, New York, 1966