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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Monarch Bicycle

The company advertised themselves as “The Monarch King of all Cycles” with the lion's head motif inside a bicycle wheel.

Monarch Bicycle playing cards are an early example of non-standard designs used for advertising. The company advertised itself as “The Monarch King of all Cycles” with a lion's head motif inside a bicycle wheel. The four Kings depict Tom Cooper (1874–1906), an 1890s champion bicycle racer and early auto racing ‘speed king’ who unfortunately died in an auto accident. The four Aces, and also the box, contain bicycle wheels.

Right: "Murray's Patent Finger Recess" referred to on the box flap refers to Samuel J. Murray
who worked for Russell & Morgan until 1886. Click to zoom→

Interestingly, the format of the court card designs in this deck appears to have been used in other advertising decks. They may have triggered the idea for the Stage No.65 theatre stars deck published in the following year.

Monarch Bicycle playing cards manufactured by U.S.P.C.C. in 1895

Above: the extremely rare “Monarch Bicycle” advertising playing cards manufactured by U.S.P.C.C. in 1895. 52 cards + joker + extra joker in box. The four queens have the inscription “Copyright 1895 by W. M. Morrison” around the bottom of each oval. W. M. Morrison was a noted photographer, perhaps focusing on sport and theatre related subjects. The four queens feature the famous actress Lillian Russell (1860–1922). We don't know why the four jacks contain Asses; perhaps to be interpreted as Jackass, which, in America at least, denotes a fool. Images courtesy Rod Starling.

Monarch Bicycle playing cards manufactured by U.S.P.C.C. in 1895

Above: six of the different Monarch back designs. The graphics are all the same, but the colour combinations are different. Image courtesy Joseph Pierson.

Monarch Bicycle advertisement, 1895

Above: Monarch Bicycle advertisement, 1895.

Jokers from Monarch Bicycle playing cards manufactured by U.S.P.C.C. in 1895

Above: Jokers from Monarch Bicycle playing cards manufactured by U.S.P.C.C. in 1895.

Above: back and front of a Monarch Bicycle trade card. Image courtesy Joseph Pierson.


REFERENCES & CREDITS

see also: W. M. Morrison Photography.

All images on this page, unless noted otherwise, are from the collection of Rod Starling, author of "The Art and Pleasures of Playing Cards".

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By Rod Starling

Member since January 09, 2013

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

Also by Rod Starling

Download as Adobe PDF files:

"Playing Card Art Collectors Extraordinaire"

"Some Facts About Facsimiles"

"Something New and Topical"

"Tales From the Stage"

"Shuffling Along With History"

"Steamboat Cards and the Mississippi Mystique"

"Piatnik: High Quality & Longevity"

"Three Rare Playing Card Back Designs"

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