Russell & Morgan Co. of Cincinnati introduced their “Steamboat” brand in 1883. Owing to the romantic appeal of gambling on the Mississippi river many manufacturers were adding Steamboats to their range, differentiated by a number, such as 999. “Steamboats” tended to be the cheaper end of the range. The theme of steamboats navigating up and down the Mississippi also extended to the plantations alongside the river and to African American people employed therein. Times have changed and these cards are now documentary evidence of a past era of history. See also:The Steamboat Story →
Above: Steamboat No.999 produced by Russell & Morgan Co., Cincinnati, USA, c.1883.
This was the cheapest deck they offered for sale and in this instance only two colours were used on the court cards to keep the printing costs to a minimum.
The Ace of Spades is a generic design without any brand name printed on it, but the brand name and number 999 can be seen on the box. The plaid back design is also printed in one colour.
Right: the front and back of the box. Click to zoom→
Above: a slightly later edition of 'Steamboat No.999' playing cards produced in three colours by the United States Printing Co., Cincinnati, USA, c.1891.
The Ace of Spades now has the number 999 but not the title “Steamboat” although the image of a steamboat is evoked.
Above: Steamboat No.999 playing cards with named ace of spades produced by the United States Playing Card Co. at the Russell & Morgan factories, c.1907. Images courtesy John Gallagher.
Dawson, Tom & Judy: The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, U.S. Games Systems Inc., 2000
Unless stated otherwise all images on this page are from the collection of Rod Starling, author of "The Art and Pleasures of Playing Cards".