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.
Member since February 01, 1996
Founder 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 limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
Randy Butterfield's House of Tudor playing cards feature detailed art in a high-quality collectible ...
Recoloured version of the Rider/Waite/Smith tarot produced by Frankie Albano, 1968.
‘Branle’ playing cards inspired by a 12th-century dance, produced by Noir Arts, USA, 2015.
Umbrella Academy playing cards created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, USA, 2019.
Romeo and Juliet playing cards illustrated by Belgian artist Virginie Carquin 2016.
Based on the knowledge, wisdom and interpretation of Paul Foster Case and Arthur Edward Waite.
“The New Palladini Tarot” by David Palladini published by U.S. Games Inc., in 1996.
The Aquarian Tarot Deck illustrated by David Palladini, published by Morgan Press, Inc., 1970.
The Linweave Tarot is actually an elaborate set of paper samples from the Pulp, Paper and Board Divi...
Photographs of political and media figures associated with the Presidency of Donald Trump (2017-2021...
Reproductions of cigarette cards from 1910 on the subject of the early days of aviation.
Dinosaurs from different ages and locations, with artwork by Virginijus Poshkus.
A different dinosaur for each of the four suits, two printed in red and two in blue.
Eclipse Comic playing cards is a reproduction of the first transformation pack printed in the USA in...
Old West Guns playing cards containing information about firearms from the Old West, USA.
Centennial Olympic Games playing cards celebrating the centenary of the modern Olympic Games, 1896-1...
‘Star Wars: a New Hope’ playing cards to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film Star Wars, USA, ...
American President Lines shipping souvenir playing cards, early to mid-1950s.
Royal Hawaiian playing cards published by the Royal Hawaiian Playing Card Company, Honolulu.
Official souvenir pack showing 52 coloured exhibits from the New York World’s Fair, 1964-6.
“Buffalo soldiers” playing cards commemorating African American military men who helped change the f...
‘Century of Progress’ Exposition playing cards produced by Western Playing Card Company, USA, 1933. ...
Bicycle Negro League Baseball Museum souvenir playing cards, USA, 2012.
New York City souvenir playing cards with 53 different views of interest, USA, 1915.
The Disney Villains tarot deck by Insight Editions emphasises iconic villains, merging traditional t...
Nation’s capital souvenir playing cards published by the United States Playing Card Company, USA, 19...