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Published January 15, 2013 Updated January 20, 2023

Smart Set 400

The “Smart Set 400” brand with named backs was introduced in c.1906 by the Kalamazoo Playing Card Co. in Michigan. Kalamazoo subsequently merged with the Russell Playing Card Co. in around 1913 or 1914. Thereafter the “Smart Set 400” series continued to be published by the Russell Playing Card Co.

1906 USA Kalamazoo Playing Card Co Russell Playing Card Co. Standard Playing Card Co. Smart Set Art & Design Art Deco Add to Collection

“Smart Set 400”

It appears that the “Smart Set 400” brand with named backs was introduced in c.1906 by the Kalamazoo Playing Card Co. in Michigan. Kalamazoo subsequently merged with the Russell Playing Card Co. in around 1913 or 1914. Thereafter the “Smart Set 400” series continued to be published by the Russell Playing Card Co. under its own name and with its own Ace of Spades. Decks were available with different tinted backs in hard slip-cases, and usually had gold edges.

Above: box from “Smart Set 400” brand playing cards manufactured by Kalamazoo Playing Card Co., with the address given as New York. Click image to zoom.

Above: “Rosalind” from “Smart Set 400” series playing cards manufactured by Kalamazoo Playing Card Co with New York address on the Ace of Spades. Click image to zoom.

The title “Smart Set” probably referred to the social ranks of New York’s high society, possibly the savvy younger women, similar to a group that today is known as the “Fortune 500 Set”. The vintage deco graphic designs are a reflection of that bygone era.

Some of these decks were issued in both wide and narrow versions and possibly some later ones were issued only in the narrow version. All of the “Smart Set” decks, whether by Kalamazoo or Russell, have the same Joker that is also a favourite of collectors.

Above: the dancing couple on the Joker adds a touch of romance and passion to the overall aesthetic feel of the deck.

After the merger of Kalamazoo with Russell P.C.C, Russell continued to publish the former titles, along with the following new named back designs in the “Smart Set” Series: New York Girl, Fan Tan Girl, Geisha Girl, Flying Girl, Cho Cho San, Sweet Tooth, Treasure, Day Dreams, Neptuna, and Tennis Girl. If you know of any further back titles or have more information about “Smart Set 400” decks we would welcome your feedback.

Above: box from “Smart Set 400” brand playing cards manufactured by Russell Playing Card Co. Click image to zoom.

Above: a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Day Dreams". Click image to zoom.

In 1929 Russell Playing Card Co became a division of the United States Playing Card Company and many brands continued to be produced with the Russell Ace of Spades.

Above: the very first Kalamazoo Ace of Spades with a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Fortune Teller", c.1909. Click image to zoom.

Above: the second Kalamazoo Ace of Spades with a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Harvesting". All images courtesy Rod Starling.

Above: the second Kalamazoo Ace of Spades with a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Old Oaken Bucket", c.1909. Click image to zoom.

Above: the second Kalamazoo Ace of Spades with a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Dreaming", c.1910. Click image to zoom.

Above: the second Kalamazoo Ace of Spades with a “Smart Set 400” untitled back design, presumably "Romeo & Juliet", c.1910.

Above: The new Russell Playing Card Co. Ace of Spades with a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Sweethearts".

Above: a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Cho Cho San" with the Russell Playing Card Co. Ace of Spades.

Above: a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Geisha Girl" with the Russell Playing Card Co. Ace of Spades.

Above: a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "New York Girl" with the Russell Playing Card Co. Ace of Spades.

Above: a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Flying Girl" with the Russell Playing Card Co. Ace of Spades. Click image to zoom.

Above: a “Smart Set 400” back design titled "Fan Tan Girl" with the Russell Playing Card Co. Ace of Spades. All images courtesy Rod Starling.


The back designs shown below were manufactured by the Standard Playing Card Company, Chicago. Russell Playing Card Co merged with USPC in 1929 and the Standard Playing Card Co was already owned by USPCC but continued operating as a separate entity until 1930. The three Standard decks date to 1925, c.1926 and 1928. Accordingly, in those years USPC had no control over Russell and Standard. The decks are from the whist size Society Fancy Back Series 1001 with gold edges.

“Neptuna” made by the Standard Playing Card Company, 1925

Above: “Neptuna” made by the Standard Playing Card Company, 1925.

“Snow Girl” made by the Standard Playing Card Company, 1926

Above: “Snow Girl” made by the Standard Playing Card Company, 1926.

“Tennis Girl” made by the Standard Playing Card Company, 1926

Above: “Tennis Girl” made by the Standard Playing Card Company, 1929.


REFERENCES

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

Starling, Rod: How Smart Can We Get About “Smart Set”?, in 'Clear the Decks', the Newsletter for 52 Plus Joker (edited by Judy Dawson), March, 2007.

All images on this page courtesy Rod Starling.

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94 Articles

By Rod Starling

Member since January 09, 2013

Rod Starling was one of the founding members of the 52 Plus Joker card collectors club. He authored many articles for the club's quarterly newsletter, Clear the Decks. His collection encompasses both foreign and American decks. Rod also authored a book titled The Art and Pleasures of Playing Cards.


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