... 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.
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.
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Hall & Son
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Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
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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.
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