Playing Cards from U.S.A.
The earliest playing cards to reach America were brought by the Spaniards learn more → Legends tell how sailors with Columbus, who were inveterate gamblers, threw their cards overboard in superstitious terror upon encountering storms, but later, on dry land, they regretted their rashness and so had to make new cards for themselves out of leaves. Cards of deerskin or sheepskin, painted after the manner of the old Spanish cards, have been found among the Indians of the Southwest learn more →
Most of the early North American Colonists were British subjects who depended on playing cards imported from England to play with. Cards found their way into Puritan New England and a Plymouth Colony record of 1633 states that several persons were fined two pounds each for card-playing. In 1656 there is a Plymouth Colony law fixing the penalty for card-playing at forty shillings for adults; children and servants to bee corrected att the discretion of theire parents or masters and for the second offence to bee publickly whipt. In the same year, in New Amsterdam, playing at tric-trac during the time of the divine service is prohibited.
Jack of Hearts
Playing cards and card playing have both remained contentious subjects since the early days of puritan American settlers. However, new technology can now provide a safe and convenient place for card players to congregate. Legalization of online card games in general and poker specifically is progressing across different areas of the country.
In most colonies a ship from England would bring supplies of almost everything which required some skill in manufacture. During the 18th century playing cards were sold by stationers, Post Offices, etc., and advertised in newspapers. Around this time playing cards were frequently used for secondary purposes such as invitations, admission cards or visiting cards, and some of the earliest cards have survived in this manner.
Cards Made in U.S.A.
The actual manufacture of playing cards in North America is reckoned to have begun during the second half of the 18th century, although it is possible that general printers or bookbinders were producing cards before then. Edward Ryves began business making paper hangings in Philadelphia, and also advertised playing-cards in 1774. James Robertson, Jazaniah Ford, born in Milton (Massachusetts) in 1757, Amos Whitney, born in 1766, Thomas Crehore, born in 1769 and James Y. Humphreys of Philadelphia were early card-makers.
To begin with there was little difference between the early home-produced decks and those imported from England (see example →) although gradually American Aces of Spades became more picturesque than the standard English duty Aces. In addition, the English royal crown at the top of the Ace was replaced by an American eagle, with further patriotic iconography embellishing the design. Some examples of cards manufactured by the early pioneers are represented here:
Early playing cards in the traditional design had full-length court cards and no corner indices. This made them harder to read when the cards were fanned in the hand. Gradually attempts were made to overcome this problem, with various patented innovations leading to the standard double-ended playing cards we are familiar with today. American card-makers first introduced the Joker sometime during the 1860s followed shortly after by the introduction of indices, along with various technical improvements in the finished surface of playing cards which were all introduced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Standard cards aside, the non-standard cards of the United States have been many and varied. The large and growing number of advertising decks, Transformation Cards, Political and Patriotic cards, Historical decks, Tarot and Fortune Telling cards, Tobacco insert decks. Railroad Souvenir decks, Pictorial decks, Exposition and World's Fair cards, children's card games and other Novelty playing cards are the true strength of North American playing card production. It would be impossible to fully represent them all, but a tiny sampling is shown here.
Over the years the pressures of competition and other market forces have led to many smaller manufacturers being taken over by larger ones. The outcome is that the United States Playing Card Company is now the largest manufacturer in the United States, and has inherited many brands previously owned by smaller manufacturers. At the same time there is a vibrant constituent of emerging new designers who are producing innovative designs in many different styles.
Vanity Fair No.41 Playing Cards by the United States Playing Card Co, 1895. All the number cards have been imaginatively transformed.
Kem ‘Spanish’ playing cards appear to depict Spanish conquistadors © 1994.
Nu-Vue playing cards by Brown & Bigelow have novel courts and a special tint which are promoted as “the modern eye-saving concept in playing cards”
Elaborate court cards on a deck by Charles Bartlet, Philadelphia, (who was in fact Samuel Hart) c.1845-60. The pip cards are double-ended. The date may be somewhere between c.1845-65.
Brown & Bigelow of St Paul, Minnesota, was a leading producer of playing cards in the U.S. from the late 1920s - 1980s.
A series of four decks designed by John Littleboy.
Pack of Dogs. Every card tells a story...
Mermaid Queen playing cards, from a series of four decks designed by John Littleboy, 2008
Bag of Bones playing cards, from a series of four decks designed by John Littleboy, 2008.
The Western Playing Card Company was formed in 1927. The exact history and origins are not clear.
Congress Playing Cards were first produced by the Russell & Morgan Company in 1881 as the finest and most expensive of their brands.
Facsimile edition of Andrew Dougherty's Illuminated deck, c.1865, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc., and described as 'Civil War Illuminated Poker Deck'
Cards with jumbo indices were introduced in 1895, and were given the subtitle '88'.
The manufacture of playing cards in America only began during the second half of the 18th century, and not before 1776 by some estimates.