The United States Playing Card Company

The United States Playing Card Co was established in 1894. Formerly it had been known as Russell, Morgan & Co (1881-1894). Over the years the pressures of competition and other market forces have led to many smaller manufacturers being taken over by U.S.P.C.C. These include: The Standard Playing Card Co. 1892-1895; Perfection Card Co. 1892-1895; New York Consolidated Card Co, 1892-1895; Andrew Dougherty 1907; Russell Playing Card Co. 1929; Heraclio Fournier, S.A. 1986; Arrco Playing Card Company 1987; and Hoyle Products 2001.

The outcome is that the U.S.P.C.C. is now the largest manufacturer in the United States, and has inherited many brands previously owned by smaller manufacturers.

Above: advert from inside 1927 edition of U.S.P.C.C’s ‘Selected Patience Games’ booklet for various sizes of patience and miniature playing cards.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We are grateful to Rod Starling for generously sharing knowledge and images of cards and from his collection.


Question & Answer

QUESTION: When did the USPCC start putting a registered trademark symbol on the ace of spades in the Bicycle 808 Rider Back pack?

I have a pack which has a date code of "P", indicating 1991, and an advert extra card talking about “over 100 years of Bicycle cards”, and yet the ace of spades lacks the registered trademark symbol (as do the jokers). The lack of a registered trade mark would indicate a date of 1971, but that wouldn't tally with the bar code on the box and the "100 years" claim - Matt Probert.

Above: Matt's pack of Bicycle 808 cards. See below "Discussion about date".

ANSWER: An interesting question. It will be necessary to keep a few facts in mind:

First, the trademark Ace of Spades was registered under No. 8,303 on May 31,1881 and, as you know, it has been and still is used for many of USPC’s other brands.

Second, the Bicycle brand was introduced in 1885 by the Russell & Morgan Printing Company.

Third, the Rider back was introduced in 1887 by the Russell & Morgan Printing Company.

The earliest deck that I have is an 1881 Tigers 101, one of the first five start-up brands of Russell & Morgan Company in that year, and the trademark notice is printed thereon. I used to wonder why it was that on some decks where the trademark Ace was used, the actual notice of registration was missing. The general rule is that notice of trademark rights must be given in order to be effective. However, the American courts have ruled that the general notice reserving all rights printed on the box containing the deck is sufficient to satisfy notice of trademark claims. That notice, as you also know, is found on the flap of the tuck cases.

Protection for the Rider back design is also covered under trademark law. Copyright protection is limited to a certain term. That term as been extended over the years but since the Rider design was introduced in 1887 copyright protection would have expired long ago.

Trademark rights, on the other hand, are valid and enforceable just as long as the trade mark is used. Holders of trademark rights are required to file an affidavit of use every year in the Office of Patents and Trade Marks in Washington, D.C. The principle is simple: ”Use it or loose it”. Obviously, the trademark Ace of Spades and the Rider back have been in continuous use for over 130 years, again satisfying the requirements for trademark protection.

The earliest Bicycle deck that I have is an 1888, US8 with a Wheel No.1 back design. It does not have the trademark notice - Rod Starling.

Discussion about Date

There appears to be discrepancies in the production codes of “P” and “N”. Generally, the codes repeated every 20 years. Checking the last listing that I have for the codes, I found that the last years listed for production code of “P” were 1971 and 1991. If we add another 20 years , we come to 2011 for the next use “P” but that, as I can show, did not happen.

Matt’s deck gives the address of USPC in Cincinnati. USPC moved to Kentucky in 2009. That means that Matt’s deck had to be made prior to 2009. So far, so good but the problem is this:

The advertising card refers to the Bicycle brand being “over 100 years”. The brand was introduced in 1885. Therefore the deck had to be made after 1995, the 100th anniversary of Bicycle.

That would rule out both 1971 and 1991. The next year for “P” would usually have been 2011 but if the deck was made in that year, the address for USPC would be Kentucky to which it moved in 2009, not Cincinnati.

To make the problem even more confusing, I have a Kentucky-made Bicycle with the code system adopted after USPC moved to Kentucky. It reads “3811-N1326H". USPC’s customer service informed me long ago how to read the first five characters. In this instance, it means that the deck was made in the 38th week of 2011. For some time I noticed that USPC carried on the 20 year cycle of the code and continued to use the letters as before. However, in the case of my deck, “N” is used. Under the old code, the next use of “P” after 1991 should have been in 2011, not the letter “N”. There are a few inexplicable breaks in the production code chart as shown in Hochman, page 4 and the first is found with the letter “N”, first used in 1910 and for which no further use is indicated.

Unfortunately, I cannot fix the date of Matt’s deck. It should have been 2011, 20 years after the last established “P” used for 1991. 2011 meets the test of being made after the 100th anniversary of Bicycle. But, as I have shown, USPC used “N” for 2011, and was located in Kentucky. So I am totally lost.

Last Updated December 20, 2020 at 03:02pm


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