United States Playing Card Company
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|Industry||Playing card manufacturer|
|Headquarters||Erlanger, Kentucky, United States|
|Michael Slaughter (President)|
|Products||Bicycle, Bee, Aristocrat, KEM, Aviator (among others)|
|Revenue||US$ 130 million (2003 est.)|
Number of employees
The United States Playing Card Company, established in 1867, produces and distributes many brands of playing cards, including Bicycle, Bee, Hoyle, Kem, and others, plus novelty and custom cards, and other playing card accessories such as poker chips. The company was once based in Cincinnati, Ohio, but is now headquartered in the Cincinnati suburb of Erlanger, Kentucky. It is currently a subsidiary of Newell Brands.
The company was founded in 1867 as Russell, Morgan & Co., a printing company. In 1881, Colonel Robert J. Morgan, recruited a talented, young inventor from New York named Samuel J. Murray, whose patented inventions increased the output of cards at the company's Norwood, Ohio plant fourfold and cut labor costs by 66 percent. Murray also created a two-sided enameling machine.
The company began printing four brands of playing cards in 1881: Tigers (No. 101), Sportsman's (No. 202), Army and Navy (both No. 303, No. 505 with Gold Edges), and Congress (No. 404, No. 606 with gold edges). They began printing Bicycle cards, which would become their most popular line, in 1885. Business boomed and in 1891 Russel, Morgan, & Co. changed its name to the United States Printing Company. The playing card business was successful enough that it was spun off as a separate business in 1894, as The United States Playing Card Company.
The same year, it began its history of acquiring smaller playing card manufacturers when it acquired the Standard Playing Card Company, the Perfection Playing Card Company, and the New York Consolidated Card Company (makers of Bee and innovators of the "squeezer" card identifications in the corners: a design still in use today). Acquisitions continued throughout its history: Andrew Dougherty in 1907 (adding Tally-Ho), Russell Playing Card Co. in 1929, Heraclio Fournier, S.A in 1986, Arrco (formerly Arrow) Playing Card Company in 1987, Hoyle Products in 2001, and finally KEM Playing Cards in 2004. In 1930, USPCC subsidiaries Consolidated Card Co., Standard Playing Card Co., and Andrew Dougherty are merged into Consolidated-Dougherty which continues to produce cards from all three brands including Bee and Tally-Ho.
Meanwhile, the company would itself be acquired several times in its history: starting with Diamond International in 1969, Jessup & Lamont in 1982, Frontenac in 1989, and then a return to self-ownership in 1994 before finally becoming a subsidiary of Newell.
The USPCC has historically supported wartime soldiers, starting with the inexpensive Picket brand of cards during World War I. During World War II, USPCC manufactured spotter cards so soldiers can identify enemy units and cooperated with the U.S. Government in creating clandestine decks given to POWs; these cards could be moistened and peeled apart to reveal escape maps.
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The company offers several card brands, including:
Introduced in 1927 in commemoration of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis, Aviator playing cards (stock No. 914) feature a bordered, monotone back design of predominantly circles. They are lower-quality and less expensive compared to Bee and Bicycle cards and are available in the same general assortment of back colors, card sizes, and configurations. The card stock has a smooth finish, unlike the "air-cushion" finish used in the company's other brands. Until the late 1980s, the Aviator Ace of Spades and Joker carried no specific branding, so Aviator cards were often used as a generic card for limited-run promotional/advertising decks or to fill in boxes for retired brands.
Bee Playing Cards are a casino card brand. They were first manufactured by the New York Consolidated Card Company in 1892, hence the number "92" on the Ace of Spades; the USPCC acquired the company two years later, but it continued to operate independently, even after merging with Andrew Dougherty and Standard Playing Card Company to form Consolidated-Dougherty. Standard Bee playing cards have a diamond back, typically blue or red, though casinos frequently use customized Bee cards featuring a logo added to the backs. Unlike Bicycle cards, Bee cards usually have borderless backs, making the facing of any card that is even partially revealed clearly visible. However, the standard diamond back of the card is very regular and low-profile compared to other back designs, which simplifies "bottom-dealing" and some other forms of sleight-of-hand.
Bicycle Playing Cards (stock No. 808) are the USPCC's signature brand of 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.
The typical Bicycle deck (poker-standard) is a standard issue deck of cards consisting of 52 traditional French-suited playing cards, two jokers, an information card, and a card describing poker ranks. As with most decks, the first standard card of the deck is the uniquely stylized ace of spades. The Bicycle trademark is usually also printed on the ace of spades. The type number of a Bicycle deck can be found both on the bottom of the deck box and on the stone of the joker artwork.
Bicycle playing cards are sold in a variety of decks featuring different cards (such as for use in pinochle), back designs (including the traditional rider back and older Vintage backs), face designs (including jumbo-index and low-vision cards for the visually impaired, and a "PokerPeek" design on their Pro-series decks that simplifies looking at hole cards), and sizes (such as narrower bridge decks, thicker Masters Edition cards designed to last longer, and Big Bicycle cards that are four times the normal card size). Any of the aforementioned are traditionally available with red and blue backs, but other back colors (including black, silver, and even pastel colors) are also available, as well as a "Ghost" deck that is entirely black and white except for the corner pips of the diamonds and the hearts. Consumer paper versions of the plastic KEM type WSOP decks are sold under the Bicycle brand. In 2010, Bicycle Playing Cards released special 125th anniversary decks which include a redesigned rear side, redesigned ace of spades, and 1885–2010 written under the numbers on the corner on each card.
Bicycle playing cards are commonly used in card magic and flourishes. In addition to specialty decks specifically designed for magic, cardistry or purely aesthetic reasons (third-party designs such as Ellusionist and Theory11), Bicycle also make other kinds of non-standard card decks, such as a gaff deck (contained in a mirrored-art box) with an assortment of unusually altered cards that can be used with regular cards for jokes.
Magicians such as Lennart Green, Ricky Jay, Daryl, David Blaine, Paul Daniels, Dynamo, Cyril Takayama, Criss Angel, and others have all used and performed effects with Bicycle playing cards. Bicycle cards can have an 'air cushion' finish, which improves handling.
Congress was the most expensive of the first four brands introduced by the company in 1881, when it was still known as Russell, Morgan, and Co. Congress was printed under two stocks: their standard No. 404 and the deluxe No. 606 which had gold edges.
Congress is currently the USPCC's signature brand name for bridge cards and accessories. Congress cards come in an assortment of back designs. Each Congress deck consists of the 52 standard cards, two jokers, and an information card describing bridge scoring. Congress cards are now typically sold in coordinated sets of two decks to facilitate the common bridge practice of alternating decks between hands.
Hoyle was originally produced by the Brown & Bigelow Company in 1927 as a direct competitor to USPCC's Bicycle. The cards proved such a success that Brown & Bigelow's card division was renamed Hoyle Products in 1975. Hoyle's shell back design is well-recognized, but Hoyle's most iconic figure is its Joker: a colorful jester whose face (repeated atop his scepter) is an optical illusion. The USPCC bought out Hoyle Products in 2001 but like most of its acquisitions has kept Hoyle in print.
KEM cards were first manufactured in 1935. Unlike normal playing cards which are made from plastic-coated paper, KEM's unique playing cards are made entirely from cellulose acetate; they are waterproof and have excellent ruggedness and durability. USPCC purchased KEM Cards in 2004. After a two-year hiatus, USPCC restarted KEM card production, which continues today. KEM cards are available to the consumer (usually at specialty game shops) with various back colors and designs (including its two most-famous backs, the "Paisley" and the "Arrow" backs) in both poker (wide) and bridge (narrow) sizes. In 2007, KEM bridge cards (using Bicycle artwork) were adopted as the official cards of the World Series of Poker.
Maverick was Hoyle's budget deck when it was acquired by USPCC with the rest of Hoyle Products. It was introduced during the run of the Maverick TV show. Unlike most current product lines, Maverick is printed by outsourced manufacturers.
Streamline came to the USPCC from the Arrco Playing Card Company, which the USPCC acquired in 1987. It is a low-end brand of playing cards, similar to Aviator and Maverick, with a bordered monotone back and a smooth plastic-coated finish. They are also produced by outsourced manufacturers.
Tally Ho was originally a product of Andrew Dougherty, one of the earliest American card manufacturers, introduced in 1885, the same year Bicycle was introduced. Dougherty's company was acquired by the USPCC in 1907, bringing Tally-Ho into its assortment. It would then be merged with New York Consolidated Card Company and Standard Playing Card Company to form Consolidated-Doughterty. Tally-Ho cards come in standard red or blue colors, just like the Bicycle brand, but has two choices of back design known as the "fan" back or the "circle" back. Magic stores also have access to a black option, with two gaff cards in place of the typical advertising cards (one is a blank face, the other a double back). Tally Ho cards also come in pale blue or green backs, with limited availability. Due to the unique finish ("linoid"), the distinct designs and the limited availability of the cards, they are popular for card flourishes. They were a favorite of magician Dai Vernon, and are common in videos of him performing tricks. They also make an appearance in the card game scene of the movie The Sting, as the preferred deck of Doyle Lonnegan. In the 'Plant you now, dig you later' episode of Gilligan's Island, Tally Ho cards are also used in the poker game between Mr. Howell and the skipper. In Saturday Night Fever, when the group visits Gus in the hispital, Gus is playing cards with Tally Ho Circle Backs.
Created by the Russell Card Company (no relation to the USPCC's predecessor Russell, Morgan, & Co.) in 1912 and merged into the USPCC in 1929, Aristocrat is best known for its higher quality of card stock and varied but always-intricate scroll-work: in particular the "bank note" back which both resembles the design of currency notes at the time and coincides with Russel's acquisition of the American Bank Note Company (another playing card manufacturer) in 1914. While the cards sold to the public carried the unique scroll-work, Aristocrat also produced the "Club Special" line of Aristocrat cards specifically for casinos. These were very similar to Bee cards in that their backs were borderless with a diamond pattern and could optionally have casino logos added to the backs. Aristocrat cards were printed until the early 1980s but rising interest led to a limited reprint in 2011.
One of the first four brand of cards introduced by the company in 1881, when it was still known as Russell, Morgan, and Co., Army and Navy were originally two separate brands although they shared the same two stock numbers: their standard No. 303 and the deluxe No. 505 which had gold edges. The two brands were then merged into the single Army & Navy brand in 1884. True to the name, the Joker and Ace of Spades of these brands tended to feature American military imagery, which changed over the years of its production.
Canteen & Picket
Stock No. 515, Canteen was issued during the Spanish–American War in 1898. They were of a low quality so as to be inexpensive and easily bought by the soldiers. It was discontinued shortly after the war. In World War I, the stock number was reused for Picket, another inexpensive brand which was again printed for sale to soldiers. Printing of Picket ceased after the Armistice.
USPCC debuted a new line of playing cards called PokerPeek at the 2007 World Series of Poker. The face of each card has the rank and suit at all four corners, at a 45° angle to the card's edges, and the size of the traditional face designs are reduced and flanked by jumbo-index ranks. The design was an attempt to make it easier for players to read their hole cards, while at the same time making it more difficult for anyone but that player to discern their hand. However, the new cards were largely pulled from play and replaced with decks having a more traditional face layout due to complaints from players about the tiny indices and confusion between the "6" and the "9". The PokerPeek face design was integrated into the paper Bicycle Pro series.
One of the first four brand of cards introduced by the company in 1881, when it was still known as Russell, Morgan, and Co., Sportsman's (stock No. 202) was a high-end brand of playing cards featuring a hunting motif. Production of these cards continued until 1936.
The fifth brand of cards introduced by the USPCC (stock No. 999, introduced in 1883), this brand was introduced to meet a growing demand for inexpensive playing cards (at the time of their introduction, Steamboat cards were available for as little as 5¢ a deck). Until they were discontinued early in the 21st century, Steamboat was the company's least expensive line of playing cards.
Stock No. 101, Tigers was the first brand published in 1881 and the cheapest of the earliest four brands. Its name comes from the tiger that appeared on the joker. After the introduction of the Steamboat line, the importance of Tigers was diminished. It was discontinued around 1930.
Nintendo was originally a playing card company in Kyoto. In 1958, Nintendo's then president Hiroshi Yamauchi visited the U.S. Playing Card Company's office and factory. He was shocked at the humble size of the office, despite USPCC being the top selling playing card company nationally in the U.S and also worldwide. Yamauchi understood Nintendo's limited potential if it continued to operate only in the playing card business, and so he famously began to diversify away from playing cards into other types of gaming.
- "Company History". bicyclecards.com. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- "Samuel J. Murray is dead," Paper, Devoted to the Manufacture, Sale and Use of Pulp and Paper, Volume 16, September 1, 1915,. Google ebook, original from University of Michigan, digitized 14 April 2011. 1915. p. 28. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
- "Congress No. 606". wopc.co.uk. Retrieved January 17, 2011.
- "Bicycle No. 808". wopc.co.uk. Retrieved January 17, 2011.
- "USPCC History". Retrieved May 2, 2011.
- History of KEM cards. from kemcards.net
- History of Bicycle cards from bicyclecardgames.com
- New card design a big deal at WSOP from Pokerlistings.com
- "Vintage Back Designs of Non-Bicycle Playing Cards". jimknapp.com.
- Dawson, Tom; Dawson, Judy (2014). The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards - Part 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Conjuring Arts Research Center. pp. 435–442.
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