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 (USPCC), established in 1867 as Russell, Morgan & Co. and founded in its current incarnation in 1885, is a large producer and distributor of playing cards. Its many brands include Bicycle, Bee, Tally-Ho, Congress, Hoyle, Aviator, KEM, and several others. It also produces 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 (adding Aristocrat), 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 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 Jarden which was in turn acquired by Newell.
The USPCC has historically supported wartime soldiers, starting with the inexpensive Canteen brand of cards during the Spanish–American War and the Pickett brand 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.
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, monochrome 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 textured "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 is 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 flagship brand of cards, introduced in 1885.
The typical Bicycle deck is a standard 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 cards have a textured 'air cushion' finish for improved handling.
Bicycle cards are sold in poker and bridge widths, with additional deck configurations for use in other games such as pinochle. Back designs include the standard 'Rider' back, the 'Vintage' back modeled on the original card design, and specialty designs. Back colors include traditional red and blue, along with black, silver, and pastel colors. Face designs include standard, jumbo index, low-vision cards for the visually impaired, and a 'PokerPeek' design on their Pro-series decks that simplifies looking at hole cards. Novelty 'Big Bicycle' cards that are four times the normal card size are also available.
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, USPCC 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 tricks.
Subject to certain guidelines, the Bicycle brand can be licensed from USPCC.
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.
In modern use, the Congress brand is used for contract 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.
Naipes Heraclio Fournier S.A. manufactures many different sets of playing cards, most for sale in Europe. Fournier cards are also common choices for casinos around the world. In addition to their signature No. 1 Spanish playing cards, they also produce poker cards (the No. 18 line), tarot cards, and specialty cards. Since their acquisition by USPCC, Fournier has also made use of the Bicycle brand name to distribute special-edition decks featuring unique artwork. They have also taken advantage of USPCC's acquisition of KEM's plastic card technology to sell all-plastic versions of their cards (No. 2100 is the all-plastic version of their No. 1).
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 cards are made entirely from cellulose acetate and are waterproof. 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 monochrome 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 two back designs, known as the "fan" back and the "circle" back, typically in traditional red and blue. Due to the unique finish, known as "linoid", the distinct designs, and the limited availability of the cards, they are popular for card flourishes.
Created by the Russell Card Company (no relation to the USPCC's predecessor Russell, Morgan, & Co.) in 1912 and acquired by the USPCC in 1929, Aristocrat was 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 was introduced at the time of 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 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 discontinued in the early 1980s, but saw a limited reprint in 2011.
One of the first five brands 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.
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, most notably video games.
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- "Congress No. 606". wopc.co.uk. Retrieved January 17, 2011.
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- "United States Playing Card Company 2015 Product Catalog" (PDF). Retrieved September 2, 2018.
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- History of KEM cards. from kemcards.net
- History of Bicycle cards from bicyclecardgames.com
- "Q&A With a Living Legend of Card Magic: Magician Harry Lorayne". PlayingCardDecks.com. Retrieved 2018-09-06.
- "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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