... the wild-card, the card of opportunity
The extra Joker card 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. Originally he was called The Best Bower and then later The Little Joker or The Jolly Joker. It was around this time that other innovations and improvements started to appear, such as rounded corners replacing square and various types of corner indices.
These Jokers, or extra cards, were first introduced into American packs around 1863, but took a little longer to reach English packs, in around 1880. One British manufacturer (Chas Goodall) was manufacturing packs with Jokers for the American market in the 1870s.
According to Websters 1880 edition, Bower derives from the German Bauer (a peasant), so called because in Euchre the knave or jack of the trump suit is the highest card, known as the Right Bower, and the knave was depicted in German cards as a peasant. The second-highest trump card was the Left Bower, and this was the knave or jack of the same colour as the trump suit.
Then requiring an additional trump card we get the Imperial Bower etc.
Jokers keep the pack full of tricks. The Joker card is capable of almost anything or almost nothing, depending on the rules of the game. It has been suggested (Dianne Longley, 1999) that the Joker is the ‘wild-card’, or the card of opportunity, not unlike the ethos of opportunity and individuality that has been the driving force behind America's pursuit of greatness. Perhaps the Joker is so named because he is "a trickster", and the Imperial Bower trumped all other cards, thus taking the trick.
Some historians have seen the Joker as a descendant of the Fool of Italian tarot cards, and in some 19th century tarot sets the Fool was depicted as a harlequin or buffoon. However, Matt Probert disputes this, pointing out that in early European Tarot cards the "Fool" is depicted by a foolish man, and the popular depictions of the "Joker" are of characters connected with tricks, such as a jester, clown or card magician (none of which are "fools"), which makes more sense given the Joker's ability to take tricks in card games.
Some early Jokers were specially designed, along with special Aces of Spades, as part of the company’s brand identity. Hence they can also be an aid in identification. Many collectors are primarily interested in certain cards such as Aces of Spades, Jokers, court cards, unique backs, etc., and hence the Joker card has also become a collector's item in it’s own right...
There is also more contemporary history wherein the joker has become iconic in other ways, as in beer labels, clowns, films, tattoos and other areas of popular culture.
In many cases the jokers are removed and binned by the players. Amateur poker schools will often open a new deck, throw the jokers in the bin, and then play with the deck. However, some are undoubtedly removed by joker collectors who later on may well sell the jokers separately.
John Waddington Ltd, Leeds & London, (c.1922-1995)
De la Rue, London, (1832-1969)
During the 1940s and 1950s, Waddington's were printing De la Rue and Goodall cards as well as their own. Each pack was manufactured with the ace of spades of each maker on the sheet, but with the same courts and jokers, so that packs could be made up for each firm and sold under their respective brand names (e.g. 'Crown', 'Viceroy' or 'No.1').
Mardon, Son & Hall, Bristol, (c1930-35)
Porterprint, Jarvis Porter, (c1935-70)
Simon Wintle, (1987)
Woodpecker Press Ltd., (c1988-89)
Games & Print Services, Essex, (1997-2001)
Richard Edward Ltd, London, (1997-2001)
Catherine Kelly, Dublin, (1999)
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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
A pack inspired by the Iran-Contra affair or Gipper-gate during the Reagan era, produced by R. Billingsley, USA, 1987.
Limited edition gift set issued to mark the American Bicentennial, 1776-1976, produced by John Waddington Ltd and the Bristol Pottery for the British American Bicentenary Group, 1970.
“The Great Indoors” playing cards published by DesignWorks Ink, Nashville, USA, 2021.
Kings Wild Tigers is Jackson Robinson’s 27th successful playing card Kickstarter campaign. A luxury collectable deck inspired by vintage matchboxes.
Limited edition luxury playing cards by Billionaire Boys Club and Theory 11.
Nursery rhyme playing cards by Waddingtons, Leeds, UK, 1975.
Screenprint designs on an ever-topical subject, designed and made by Sallie Chinkes, 1979.
South Park characters and famous one-liners, by Carta Mundi for Hasbro Int. Inc., 2001.
A five-suited set of playing cards published by Fleet and Case Games Ltd., Rainham, Kent, UK, c.1980.
52 selected views of Scotland by De La Rue (Waddingtons) for GlenAlan Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, c.1960s.
Publicity items for a group of entertainers, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK, 1911.
Cards made by John Waddington Ltd. for the Madras Club, Chennai (formerly Madras), India, c.1930.
Publicity pack for the Harley and Helmsley Hotels, U.S.A., c.1986.
54 different personalities from the city of Inverness published by the Highland Hospice.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme covers from 1956 to 2016 published by Winning Moves UK Ltd.
Images from the Ministry of Defence Cape Wrath Training Centre, Sutherland, Scotland. Published 2010.
The Encarded First Edition is a limited edition of 2,500 designed by Paul Carpenter and manufactured by the Expert Playing Card Company.
Cards slanted to the right, issued to mark George W. Bush’s second term of office.
Celebrating the work of Andreas Vesalius in the quincentenary year of his birth.
Playing cards inspired by mysterious symbolism of secret societies as well as a tribute to the National Playing Card Co.
Monarchs luxury playing cards by Theory11, featured in the film Now You See Me.
Luxury playing cards produced by Theory11 in collaboration with The Nomad Hotel in New York City.
Great Britains’s Olympic gold medallists from 1964 to 2004 published by the British Olympic Association.
Celebration of the work of David Kindersley, stone letter-carver and typeface designer. Published by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, Cambridge, UK, 2015.
Rules and regulations that guided prison life in America’s most notorious prison.
Marvel’s Avengers: The Infinity Saga Premium Playing Cards produced by Theory11 and designed by Mattson Creative, 2021.
Pack celebrating the rugby world champions of 2003. Produced by MMcardz.
A recreated of the original 1876, No. 18, Triplicate deck by A. Dougherty by Michael Scott in 2014.
Triangle Playing Cards by Michael Scott.
Fifty-five rare stamps of the world in full colour, published jointly by David Feldman SA of Switzerland and Tower Philatelic, USA, 2001.
Luxury packs of cards have been produced since the 15th century, a trend that is very popular among collectors today.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Hall & Son
Two Notched Construction Card Sets by Shackman & Co, N.Y. 1970s.
Comic Fortune-Telling Cards published by Reynolds & Sons, c.1850.
Comic Question & Answer cards by Josh. Reynolds & Sons, circa 1850.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.