Submarine Cards

Service aboard U.S. submarines involved wearing ‘Red Adaptation Goggles’ in lighted spaces to preserve night vision for viewing instrument panels. The goggles solved one problem but created another: the red suits on playing cards were not visible through the red goggles. The Electric Boat Company published special playing cards with the Hearts and Diamonds outlined in black and the red indices repeated in black. The cards were printed by Brown & Bigelow Co. of St. Paul, Minnesota. Awkward at best, they were only partially successful either by day or by night. However, the deck emphasises the importance attached to playing cards for servicemen. See the Box

Electric Boat Co., World War II Submarine playing cards, 1941

Above: Electric Boat Co., World War II Submarine playing cards specially designed to be played with in "red light" with the Hearts and Diamonds outlined in black, printed by Brown & Bigelow, 1941. The Ace of Spades is a Brown & Bigelow standard design. The cards come in the original box with a glossy, silver-coloured bottom half and red top half which is covered in what appears to be a velvet-like flock. The bottom of the box is stamped ‘Patent Pending Brown & Bigelow, St Paul, Minnesota’.

Piers MacLean wrote: “My grandfather worked for Cunard for most of his career but also served as a RNR officer on submarines in the 1930s. During WW2 he served on or commanded a number of vessels on anti-submarine duties and convoy protection in the North Atlantic up to about 1943 prior to taking up other appointments at Greenwich and in Italy. I am not sure at what point the cards would have come into his possession. EBCo also appear to have made motor torpedo boats and there is a similar type of card for red light use showing a PT boat design with ‘Knights of the Sea’ inscribed.”


Dawson, Tom & Judy: The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, U.S. Games Systems Inc., 2000

Images from the collections of Barney Townshend and Piers MacLean.

• See also: Nutrimientos Purina.

Last Updated December 12, 2021 at 09:42am


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