National Card Co.

The National Card Co., Indianapolis & New York (c.1886-1894)

The National Card Co. was formed in c.1886 by Samuel J Murray, who as a young man had worked in England in Charles Goodall's playing card factory. In 1881 he moved to Cincinnati and became an employee of Russell & Morgan playing card manufacturers. In 1886 he left Russell & Morgan and moved to Indianapolis to establish the National Card Company. The National Card Co. Aces of Spades state 'Indianapolis & New York'. The plant was located at 5th and Eggleston in Indianapolis, whilst offices were at 221-227 Canal St., New York City.

Early National Card Co brands include: Steamboats, Crescent, Apollo and Rambler.

Steamboats No.9

All playing card manufacturers produced their own version of the Steamboat brand, usually towards the bottom of the range. There doesn't appear to have been any patent, copyright or trademark restriction on the “Steamboats” brand.

Steamboats No.9, National Card Co, c1886

Above: National Steamboats #9 manufactured by the National Card Co., c.1886. 52 cards + 'Watermelon' Joker. Click the image to see another example with slight differences in details of the costume decoration, more akin to Goodall's designs.

Above: Superior Steamboats No.9, c.1886. Although the Steamboats brand was the bottom of the line quality-wise with all makers, this particular deck is gold edged! Note that the typeface for the indices has changed, but the colourful Joker is the same  see more.  Image courtesy Rod Starling.

All National brands were available with gold edges, and the brand number on the box was one higher on gold edged decks.

Crescent No.44 & 45

Above: Crescent #45 playing cards by the National Card Co., c.1886-1890 with an artistic landscape on the back. The box states that the deck is in the “Crescent Art Series”.   Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Apollo No.33

Apollo #33 c.1896, with baseball back design

Above: Apollo #33 c.1890s, with baseball back design featuring N.C.Co monogram and larger indices.

Apollo #33, the United States Playing Card Company, 1926 Apollo #33, the United States Playing Card Company, 1926

Above: Apollo #33 issued by the United States Playing Card Company who were continuing to publish the former National Card Co brand, 1926. The Ace of Spades has some small differences in the design. The Joker features Brownies as were popularized at the time by Palmer Cox, a writer of children's stories. Images courtesy Rod Starling.

Right: the box Click to zoom →

1886 saw the ongoing production of several new brands introduced by the National Card Company including Owls, Arrows, Aladdin and Columbia. In that same year the American Federation of Labor was founded and the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbour. The structural engineer of the statue was Gustave Eiffel.

In 1894 the National Card Co. was merged with the United States Printing Co. as a key component in the formation of the United States Playing Card Company. From c.1900 the name of the U.S. Playing Card Co. was placed at the bottom of the Ace of Spades and on the box, in addition to the National Card Co name, and most of the National brands remained in production by the U.S.P.C.C.

Full House Poker No.555

Full House Poker No.555 was patented on 30 June 1896 and was the first example of a deck carried through into USPCC’s range. Earlier examples of the deck have the words “Patent Applied For” rather than the actual date of the patent on the ace of spades and box.

Full House Poker No.555

Above: National Playing Card Company No.555 “Full House” deck. It is interesting to note that the word “Poker” was added on the box in addition to referencing the 11 and 12 spots. It looks like the manufacturer wanted to make it clear that the additional spot cards did not render the deck unusable for the game of Poker. The USPCC version of “500” deck had 11, 12 and 13 spot cards wrapped separately from the 52 regular cards which again suggests an effort to retain the integrity of the regular deck for all games. The whole idea of additional spot cards was ill conceived because if the additional spot cards are used for some games and not for others, they will show different grades of wear from the rest of the deck and will therefore be identifiable during play just from that factor alone. Not a good idea. (Click image to zoom). Courtesy Rod Starling.

Aladdin No.1001

Aladdin playing cards manufactured by The US Playing Card Co for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru, 1940s

Above: the National Card Co's “Aladdin No.1001” playing cards manufactured by The US Playing Card Co for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru, 1940s. The legend “Estanco de Naipes del Perú” is printed either on the box (left-hand example) or on the ace of spades, joker and reverse (right-hand example). The price of 2.50 Soles Oro is also overprinted on the box. The Aladdin brand is still being manufactured by USPCC with the standard contemporary USPCC courts.

Skat No.8

Skat 8 playing cards by the National Card Co., c.1895

Above: Skat 8 playing cards by the National Card Co., c.1895. The back design features hunting paraphernalia, possibly a response to USPCC’s “Sportsmans” and Dougherty’s “Outing” brands. This beautifully engraved Ace of Spades was also used for Pinochle #300.   Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Columbia No.133 & 134

Columbia #134 playing cards by the National Card Co., c.1895 Columbia #134 playing cards by the National Card Co., c.1895

Above: Columbia #134 Whist playing cards by the National Card Co., c.1895.   Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Right: the box Click to zoom →


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

Starling, Rod: Shuffling Along with History, in 'Clear the Decks', the Newsletter for 52 Plus Joker (edited by Judy Dawson), September 2010

Last Updated December 09, 2021 at 10:31am


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