The World of Playing Cards Logo

A Case Study

Case Study: using detective work to identify and date a pack discovered in charity shop.

One Saturday in November 2021 I was cruising the charity shops of Eastleigh town centre when I noticed an old, pre-World War2, pack of cards carelessly tossed into a box of miscellaneous children’s toys. Picking the pack up I saw they were made by the New York Consolidated Card Company, but I choked upon seeing the £4 price tag, so I put the cards back and carried on cruising, after all every pack of cards one finds at charity shops is quite run of the mill, and I wasn’t about to waste £4 on another standard pack.

Returning home the pack of cards I had seen played on my mind, and checking my records I found I didn’t have them catalogued, so I checked WoPC. To my dismay there was no mention of this pack, and after a short argument with myself I reluctantly decided to return next week and if they were still available I should buy them.

“Sterling Whist” “Squeezers 196” by the NY Consolidated Card Co

The box claimed the cards to be Sterling Whist Squeezers 196 by the NY Consolidated Card Co.

The next Saturday upon returning to the charity shop I bought the pack and took it home for cataloguing.

When researching a pack of cards I don’t have catalogued I first check WoPC, and then widen my search to the whole world wide web. A cursory search returned no results. This is unusual. Normally I should encounter a few entries from eBay of similar packs being sold. A subsequent more in depth search returned a single source, a less than reliable online catalogue of playing cards which had this pack listed and dated them to either the 1920s or 1930s, while the ever-reliable "Hochman's Encyclopaedia of American Playing Cards", the de facto authority on American playing cards, described the brand of Sterling Whist as being circa 1920.

While I am reluctant to doubt Hochman’s, with experience comes an instinct for dating playing cards, and my instincts told me these cards were earlier than that so I decided to do my own serious analysis.

First I checked the box corresponded to the cards within. Frequently cards are found in spurious boxes. However, the playing card pasted to the back of the box illustrating the card back matched the cards within and the manufacturer’s name on the box also matched that printed on the ace of spades. The box described the cards as “smooth finish”, and the cards also matched that description. This persuaded me that the box was right for the cards within.

Above: remains of tax stamp affixed to the box.

The box carried a fragment of an American tax stamp. Playing cards used to be subject to excise duty in many countries. Excise duty varied over time. In the USA the excise duty was introduced in 1894 at 2 cents and raised to 7 cents in 1917, with existing tax stamps being over printed with the new duty. Although I only had the bottom section of the tax stamp, I could determine that the duty paid was 2 cents, and the tax stamp had not been over printed with the new tax, only with the manufacturer’s cancellation stamp. The design of the tax stamp was also one which was replaced in 1918. Clearly then this pack of cards was manufactured and sold after 1894 and prior to 1917.

The New York Consolidated Card Company was at this time owned by the US Playing Card Company, who, in 1904 started stamping the ace of spades in all their packs of cards with a date code comprising a letter and four digits. The ace of spades in this pack of cards did not carry a date code, strongly suggesting that they were manufactured prior to the introduction of date coding in 1904. See the Ace of Spades

Comparison of the design of the ace of spades to other brands produced by the same company revealed that the ace of spades was identical to one used in a pack of cards the company had produced in 1897.

Above: the court cards are similar to, but slightly more ornate than those used in another brand by the same company, “Hart’s French Whist” produced around 1905.

Manufacturers frequently change the design of key cards over the years, particularly the design of the court cards and the ace of spades. Inspection of these cards and comparison with other known packs can often supply suggestions as to date. The court cards in this pack are similar to, but slightly more ornate than the court cards used in another brand by the same company, “Hart’s French Whist” produced around 1905. The faces and hands of the court cards were lithographed in natural looking flesh tone. In contrast, the later 1920s Sterling Whist packs appear to have unnatural yellow skin, and it is common for manufacturers to dull down their courts over the years. The presence of natural skin tones is a strong indicator of an earlier pack.

I concluded, that this pack of cards, Sterling Whist by the NY Consolidated Card Co, was manufactured and sold in the USA in 1904 or perhaps a few years earlier, and as such was an early edition of a brand which became more prominent during the 1920s.

avatar

By Matt Probert

Member since March 02, 2012

View Articles

I have adored playing cards since before I was seven years old, and was brought up on packs of Waddington's No 1. As a child I was fascinated by the pictures of the court cards.

Over the next fifty years I was seduced by the artwork in Piatnik's packs and became a collector of playing cards.

Seeking more information about various unidentified packs I discovered the World of Playing Cards website and became an enthusiastic contributor researching and documenting different packs of cards.

I describe my self as a playing card archaeologist, using detective work to identify and date obscure packs of cards discovered in old houses, flea markets and car boot sales.


Leave a Reply

Recommended

2001 Rare Stamps of the World

Rare Stamps of the World

Fifty-five rare stamps of the world in full colour, published jointly by David Feldman SA of Switzerland and Tower Philatelic, USA, 2001.

Luxury Collectable Decks

Luxury Collectable Decks

Luxury packs of cards have been produced since the 15th century, a trend that is very popular among collectors today.

A. Camoin & Cie

A. Camoin & Cie

This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.

Why do we Collect?  My 20 Favourite Items

Why do we Collect? My 20 Favourite Items

I suppose people collect for different reasons, rarity, quality, ingenuity of design, sentimental value... by Tony Hall.

A Case Study

A Case Study

Case Study: using detective work to identify and date a pack discovered in charity shop.

Patience Cards and their Boxes

Patience Cards and their Boxes

Patience Cards and their Boxes by Tony Hall.

Collecting Playing Cards with Jan Walls

Collecting Playing Cards with Jan Walls

I collected playing cards when I was in primary school, by Jan Walls.

69: My Collection

69: My Collection

This is an archive list of my collection. I hope it will be of use and interest to others.

Is Card Collecting an Investment?

Is Card Collecting an Investment?

“Is Card Collecting an Investment?” - an article by Rod Starling.

Chinese Jokers

Chinese Jokers

Chinese playing card makers have probably produced the widest variety of jokers of any single part of the world.

A Look Back with Hope for the Future

A Look Back with Hope for the Future

“A Look Back with Hope for the Future” by Rod Starling

56: Number cards and Chinese Crackers

56: Number cards and Chinese Crackers

A brief look at the number cards used in standard English packs.

51: Some modern variation

51: Some modern variation

A brief survey of some of the current variation in the standard English pattern.

49: De La Rue in detail

49: De La Rue in detail

A detailed presentation of the variants of De La Rue's standard cards.

Interview with Tom and Judy Dawson from 52 Plus Joker

Interview with Tom and Judy Dawson from 52 Plus Joker

Interview with Tom and Judy Dawson from 52 Plus Joker. Chatting about the history of playing cards, uses of cards and collecting.

Cribbage Board Collection

Cribbage Board Collection

A collection of antique and vintage Cribbage Boards by Tony Hall

43: The United States Playing Card Co.

43: The United States Playing Card Co.

The United States Playing Card Co. (USPCC) represents an amalgamation of all the major American card-makers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

41: A Guide to Dating Playing Cards

41: A Guide to Dating Playing Cards

Dating is a particularly tricky but very interesting problem to tackle and there are many pitfalls.

39: Mixed Packs

39: Mixed Packs

A number of mixed packs appear for sale from time to time, but it's important to sort out what is meant by the term mixed. It is an issue that is not as straightforward as it might seem.

34: Design Copies

34: Design Copies

Some copies of the designs of Goodall and the New York Consolidated Card Co.

26: Playing Cards: Rarity, Value, Dating, Sellers and eBay

26: Playing Cards: Rarity, Value, Dating, Sellers and eBay

Notions like rarity and monetary value are slippery customers and need careful handling. And there are still plenty of misleading descriptions on eBay - as well as looney prices!

1921 De Luxe No.142

De Luxe No.142

A wide size version of De Luxe No.142 had been published in c.1920, with a similar Ace of Spades and Joker, but which was never very popular.

1920 Lighthouse No.922

Lighthouse No.922

“Lighthouse No.922” playing cards were introduced in c.1920.

Triton No.42

Triton No.42

There have been at least three different versions of the Triton deck, with different Jokers, different styles of court cards and slight differences in the lettering on the Ace of Spades and/or Joker. The cards were advertised as “double enameled”.

15: Perforated Cards, Metal Finish and Other Oddities

15: Perforated Cards, Metal Finish and Other Oddities

There are some unusual designs in playing cards, even the shape of the card.

11: Some Cards From Sylvia Mann’s Collection

11: Some Cards From Sylvia Mann’s Collection

A fascinating collection that was the basis of a lot of research that we still benefit from today.

2: Over 75 Years of Collecting Playing Cards

2: Over 75 Years of Collecting Playing Cards

This is a personal account of some of my experiences collecting playing cards.

Lawrence & Cohen

Lawrence & Cohen

Lawrence & Cohen were successors to Lawrence, Cohen & Co.

1890 Royal Playing Cards, 1890s

Royal Playing Cards, 1890s

Royal Playing Cards, 1890s

1832 Lewis I. Cohen

Lewis I. Cohen

Lewis I. Cohen made his first deck of cards in 1832. In 1835 Mr Cohen invented a new machine to print four colours on a sheet at once, which was to revolutionise the entire playing card industry.

1871 New York Consolidated Card Company

New York Consolidated Card Company

The New York Consolidated Card Company was formed in 1871 by the merging of Lawrence & Cohen, Samuel Hart & Co and John J. Levy.

1845 Samuel Hart, 1846-1871

Samuel Hart, 1846-1871

Samuel Hart was a prolific manufacturer of playing cards who commenced business sometime around 1845 in Philadelphia. He had previously worked for L.I. Cohen.

1877 Squeezers No.35

Squeezers No.35

By 1877 the New York Consolidated Card Co's "Squeezers" were a great success on account of the indices in the corners which enabled the cards to be fanned.

The Joker Card

The Joker Card

The 'Joker' is believed to have been invented by American Euchre players who, when modifying the rules sometime during the 1860s, decided that an extra trump card was required.

Bertrand Domec, 1904-1970 page 2

Bertrand Domec, 1904-1970 page 2

Bertrand Domec page 2 (c.1905-1926).

Standard and Non-standard Playing Cards

Standard and Non-standard Playing Cards

Standard playing cards are based upon traditional designs and are used for card games.