Bicycle Playing Cards

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A sampling of Bicycle Playing Cards

Bicycle Playing Cards are a popular brand of standard playing cards. Since 1885, the Bicycle brand has been manufactured by the United States Printing Company, which, in 1894, became the United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati. "Bicycle" is a trademark of that company. They are popular with magicians, gamblers, and other card enthusiasts.


Bicycle is a standard 52-card deck of red and black colored cards. Also known as the French Deck, each card may have one of the four suits: spades, clubs (sometimes called "clovers"), diamonds, and hearts. The numbers on the cards range from 2 to 10, then proceed onward to "Jack", then "Queen", "King", and "Ace". The "Ace" has also been known to be the first card in a typical deck. The Bicycle trademark is usually printed on the Ace of spades. The deck comes with the hand ranks of poker, an information card, and two jokers.

Bicycle playing cards are sold in a variety of designs. There are a series of Vintage backs, bridge, pinochle, Pastel color cards (which are colors light blue, lime green, and pink) and Lo Vision cards that are designed for the visually impaired. These Lo Vision cards contain large numbers on the face in a light blue color. Other types of cards with varying backs and colors are produced for magic.


January 1867

A. O. Russell, Robert J. Morgan, James M. Armstrong and John F. Robinson Jr. formed a partnership and purchased from the proprietors of The Cincinnati Enquirer what was then known as the Enquirer Job Printing Rooms, which occupied the first and second stories of the building at 20 College Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. The firm commenced business as Russell, Morgan & Co., referring to the two printers in the partnership. While on College Street, the firm printed theatrical and circus posters, placards and labels. By 1872, the business had increased so much, it was forced to seek larger quarters, and in November 1872, it moved into a new, four-story building on nearby Race Street in downtown Cincinnati.

Early in 1880

Mr. Russell proposed to his partners that they embark upon the manufacture of playing cards, an industry monopolized by several East Coast companies. The partners agreed and arrangements were made to add two additional stories to their building, making it six stories high. Many new machines were designed and built expressly for Russell, Morgan & Co. The first deck of playing cards was completed on June 28, 1881. About 20 employees manufactured 1600 packs per day.

In 1891

Russell, Morgan and Company became The United States Printing Company (USPC). Only three years later (1894), the playing card business had grown to such proportions that it was separated from the Printing Company, becoming The United States Playing Card Company. The United States Playing Card Company gained immediate advantages, for it acquired other notable companies: The Standard Playing Card Co (Chicago), Perfection Card Co (New York) and New York Consolidated Cards. NYCC had antecedents dating back to 1833 when Lewis I. Cohen perfected his four-color press for printing playing cards. The famous "Bee"® Playing Cards still issued by USPC, had originated at New York Consolidated in 1892. Congress® playing cards is one of the original brands from 1881 which is still in production today and the card of choice for sophisticated bridge players. Likewise, the world-renowned Bicycle® playing card brand has been in continuous production since 1885. The Joker The Joker is an American invention dating from about 1865 and has made different appearances in the Bicycle® card line. The first type represented a man on a high-wheeled bike. The bicycle later acquired two wheels of normal size. Then followed a series of playing card kings on bikes. These cyclists wheel past a milestone marked "808." Contrary to some opinions, this number has no mystical meaning. It is merely a reference number distinguishing this brand from others (such as "606") by the same company. Statue of Freedom The Ace of Spades carries another code, identifying the year in which the deck was printed. This Ace features, within the suit sign, a woman who rests her right hand on a sword and shield while she holds an olive branch in her left. The image was inspired by Thomas Crawford's sculpture, "Statue of Freedom." which, in 1865, had been placed atop the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

By 1900

The United States Playing Card Company expanded again, moving from downtown Cincinnati to a newly-built factory in Norwood. Situated on over 30 acres, the facility would eventually accommodate over 600,000 square feet of manufacturing operations.

Bell Tower

A Neo-Romanesque bell tower (4-stories high) was built in 1926 atop the company's 4-story main building entrance. This tower housed a fine set of 12 carillon bells, ranging in size from 1-1/2 to 5-1/2 feet. This was the first set of chimes built for radio broadcasting.The chimes were connected electronically to radio station WSAI, which was owned and operated by The United States Playing Card Company from 1922 until 1930 and located within the USPC complex.The main reason for the radio station was to promote the game of bridge by broadcasting bridge lessons. In those days, there was no limitation on the range of radio power and the WSAI transmission was so clear and strong that it could be picked up as far away as New Zealand. WSAI was eventually sold in the 1930's to the Crosley Radio Corporation. Big Gun card design

World War II

During World War II, the company secretly worked with the U. S. government in fabricating special decks to send as gifts for American prisoners of war in German camps. When these cards were moistened, they peeled apart to reveal sections of a map indicating precise escape routes. Also during the war, USPC provided "spotter" cards, which illustrated the characteristic shapes of tanks, ships and aircraft from the more powerful countries. The company further assisted by sewing parachutes for anti-personnel fragmentation bombs. Classic Ace of Spades design

Ace of Spades

The Ace of Spades served a famous purpose in the war in Vietnam. In February, 1966, two lieutenants of Company "C," Second Battalion, 35th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, wrote The United States Playing Card Company and requested decks containing nothing but the Bicycle® Ace of Spades. The cards were useful in psychological warfare. The Viet Cong were very superstitious and highly frightened by this Ace. The French previously had occupied Indo-China, and in French fortunetelling with cards, the Spades predicted death and suffering. The Viet Cong even regarded lady liberty as a goddess of death. USPC shipped thousands of the requested decks gratis to US troops in Vietnam. These decks were housed in plain white tuckcases, inscribed "Bicycle® Secret Weapon." The cards were deliberately scattered in the jungle and in hostile villages during raids. The very sight of the Bicycle® Ace card was said to cause many Viet Cong to flee.

In 1986

The company acquired Heraclio Fournier, S.A., the largest playing card manufacturer in Europe. In 1987, USPC acquired Arrco Playing Card Company, the third largest playing card manufacturer in the country. International Playing Card Company, a Canadian subsidiary of USPC since 1914, maintained its own manufacturing operation from 1928 to 1991. Currently, International Playing Card Company is a sales and marketing organization located in Ontario. The United States Playing Card Company was acquired by a series of new owners: Diamond International in 1969, Jessup & Lamont in 1982, Frontenac in 1989. In late 1994 However, after a long and tedious struggle, Company Management, along with some local investors were ultimately victorious in accomplishing a buyout. The ownership of The United States Playing Card Company was finally returned to its Cincinnati roots.


USPC introduces Iraq’s Most Wanted Decks, which identified the most-wanted members of President Saddam Hussein’s government. When introduced, 750,000 decks were sold in one week. Texas Hold ‘em Poker craze boosts sales USPC entered into a licensing agreement with Techno Source expanding the Bicycle® branded cards into the handheld electronic game category.


USPC acquires KEM, Pisano Dice and Gamblers General Store & Poker Chips USPC becomes subsidiary of Jarden Corporation USPC entered into a licensing agreement with Encore expanding the Hoyle® branded cards into the PC software category.


USPC introduces pre-shuffled cards USPC entered into a sponsorship agreement with the World Series of Poker® the single largest poker tournament in the world. Bicycle® Take the Train® and 4-Mation® products are launched and become proud winners of the 2007 Seal of Excellence Award by Creative Child Magazine. Bicycle® Po-Ke-No product is launched and becomes a winner of the Fun Stuff™ Award by Parents' Choice.


Bicycle® Playing Cards introduces Bicycle® Prestige™, premium playing cards for the competitive player USPC entered into a licensing agreement with World Series of Poker and introduced a line of playing cards and poker accessories co-branded as Bicycle® and World Series of Poker playing cards. USPC entered into a licensing agreement with Jacks & Jokers LLC expanding Bicycle®, "Bee"®®, Aviator® and Tally Ho® cards into the apparel category.


Bicycle® Playing Cards celebrates 125th anniversary! Navarre Corporation and Jarden Corporation announce expanded License agreement for new line of Bicycle® Playing Card Brand interactive games USPC donates all profits from the Bicycle® “Hope for Haiti” decks to relief efforts USPC entered into a licensing agreement with world-renowned magician David Blaine to create a magic playing card program.


USPC enters into a licensing agreement with Tribune Media Services, a division of Chicago-based Tribune Company, for the rights to manufacture and distribute the Jumble Card Game based on the Jumble Word games found in papers around the country. Bicycle® Playing Cards expands into digital entertainment by launching their first Facebook and iOS games. USPC launches a Bicycle YouTube Channel, Twitter, and Facebook page for news and updates. USPC begins strategic partnership with theory11 for collaboration in web ventures and playing card design.

Significance in American wars[edit]

World War II[edit]

During World War II cards were produced that, when submerged in water, could be peeled apart and both halves had a map on the inside. When all the cards were put together it made a large map. These were supplied to POWs so if they escaped they would have a map. One deck is located in the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC and there may be one other in a private collection. Modern reproductions have been sold in limited editions.[1]

Vietnam War[edit]

The company provided crates of Ace of Spades cards for U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War. It was erroneously believed that the Viet Cong believed the Ace of Spades to be a symbol of death and would flee at the sight of the card. In actuality the Ace initially meant nothing to the Viet Cong, however it may have achieved some psychological impact through its use in propaganda and as a Death Card being placed upon dead bodies. The belief that the enemy was afraid of the cards improved the U.S. soldiers' morale.

The origin of the cards is attributed to a letter written by a Lt. Charles W. Brown in early 1966 to Allison F. Stanley, the President of the United States Playing Card Company. Brown had read remarks from Congressman Craig Hosmer of California that the Viet Cong held superstitions of bad luck with pictures of women and the Ace of Spades. The Bicycle Ace of Spaces featured an image of the Goddess of Liberty combined with the spade. Upon conferring with other lieutenants, Brown asked for 1000 Aces for his company to use as calling cards for his company to leave for the enemy to see. Stanley was sympathetic to the soldiers and pulled cards from the production line to send free of charge. The story was reported by several news outlets including the Stars and Stripes (newspaper) where the myth was distributed throughout the military and more units requested cards. The symbol was eventually included in official psychological warfare operations, and thousands of special all aces decks were donated by the card company to soldiers that purposely scattered them throughout the jungle and villages during raids.

Similar cards were produced during Operation Desert Shield in 1991, immediately prior to the invasion of Iraq by US forces. Due to the short duration of the conflict these cards never saw battle.[2]


In addition to many card games, Bicycle playing cards are commonly used in magic (illusion) and flourishes.[3]

Bicycle playing cards are comparable to Tally-ho Playing Cards or Bee Playing Cards which are commonly used in casinos worldwide, though different card stock is used to produce them.


  1. ^ "A map inside the cards". Archived from the original on 2014-08-02. Retrieved 2014-10-31. 
  2. ^ Herbert A. Friedman. "The Death Card". Archived from the original on 2014-07-15. Retrieved 2014-10-31. 
  3. ^ "About". Retrieved 2015-07-22. 

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