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Bicycle No.808

The famous Bicycle playing cards were first introduced by Russell & Morgan Printing Co in 1885.

The Russell & Morgan Printing Co • The United States Playing Card Company

Right: an advertising card counter that was distributed to promote the 'Bicycle' brand →

The famous ‘Bicycle’ playing cards were first introduced by Russell & Morgan Printing Co in 1885. This was the time of the high-wheeled bicycles and, because they were newer and faster than high-wheeled carts, the name ‘Bicycle’ was chosen for the new brand. They were hugely successful and became the most well-known brand in the world. A total of 82 different back designs were issued over the years, featuring bicycles, motorcycles or automobile motifs, and for very short periods, bi-planes or warships. Similarly, a number of different bicycle-themed Jokers have accompanied decks over the years and the early editions are now very scarce and sought by collectors.

Bicycle No.808 playing-cards early trade card
Bicycle No.808 playing cards, Russell & Morgan Printing Co., c.1885

Above: the first edition of Bicycle playing cards, including a “Best Bower” and issued with seven different back designs of which Lotus, the one shown here, was one. Printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., Cincinnati, 1885. See the Box. Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Bicycle No.808 playing cards, Russell & Morgan Printing Co., c.1885-90

Above: the first Ace of Spades was used with Bicycle decks, printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., between 1885-c.1890. The same box was used for this edition and the one shown below. Images courtesy Rod Starling.

Bicycle No.808 playing cards, Russell & Morgan Printing Co., c.1889

Above: this is the second Ace of Spades used with Bicycle decks, printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co. c.1889. It has a bicycle wheel motif on the Ace, with the very early and rare Hi Wheeled Joker, as shown, with a Thistle back design and is gold edged. Thistle was issued in red and blue. This particular Thistle design was issued in 1891 and features a grass background. In 1899, the design was changed slightly to include a brick background. It was eventually discontinued in 1931. Note that neither the customary 'US' or 'Joker' inscriptions are present on the Joker. Subsequent editions came with different Jokers. Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Bicycle playing cards, Russell & Morgan Printing Co., c.1891

Above: another early and rarer Lo-Wheel Joker and an Acorn back design which was issued in 1891 and discontinued in 1943. Acorn was issued in red, blue, brown and green. Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Bicycle No.808 playing cards, Russell & Morgan Printing Co., c.1889

Above: as above, but with the rarer coloured Joker, c.1894. The box states ‘Bicycle Seconds’. Image courtesy Jesse Hobbs.

Bicycle No.808 playing cards, U.S.P.C. Co., c.1895

Above: Bicycle #808 deck printed by U.S.P.C. Co., at their Russell & Morgan factories, c.1895. The court cards have a slightly different design, as can be seen from the Queen of Diamonds. The back design is Racer No.1 which ran from 1895 to 1906. The Joker features a King wearing a Jester's hat, riding a bicycle past an '808' milestone. Click here to view the box. Image courtesy Rod Starling.

Bicycle Bridge No.86, c.1920

Above: Bicycle Bridge No.86 printed by U.S.P.C. Co. at their Russell & Morgan factories, c.1920. The deck is in the narrower French (Whist) size (2¼ x 3½ inches) and the first of a series of narrow decks produced by USPCC under their Bicycle brand. 52 cards + joker. Note that the joker has the number ‘86’ on the milestone but has a different back design in this example! Images courtesy Gino Hasler.

Bicycle No.808 playing cards, USPCC, c.1924

Above: A Braille 'Bicycle No.808' deck for the blind with the card indices embossed in Braille on each card, c.1924. 54 cards. Each card is embossed with its Braille representation of value and suit, including the two jokers. Unfortunately, the embossing goes right through the cards so that a sighted person can read the back of each card like any other marked pack. This is the more common of the early 'Bicycle' Aces of Spades and was used until at least 1925. The Joker depicts a 'King' riding a bicycle past an 808 milestone, similar to the trade card shown above.

Most standard packs manufactured by USPCC came with either red or blue backs. Some brands also came in green or brown, but these are relatively more scarce.

The Bicycle Playing Cards official website contains a lot of interesting information, including company history and a downloadable catalogue. See also:   Bicycle Playing Cards for CollectorsBicycle SecondsCongress No.606Jumbo Bridge No.88Norwood #85

Bicycle playing card backs

Above: assorted backs from 'Bicycle' playing cards, from a total of over 80 different designs, and a multi-coloured Joker.   more →


References:

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

Hargrave, Catherine Perry: A History of Playing Cards and a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming, Dover Publications, New York, 1966

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator 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.


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