Back Designs of Non-Bicycle Playing Cards
This project came about as a side project to my Bicycle vintage back design project. There is such a rich history of back designs, both from other United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) brands, and other card companies, that I felt it appropriate to put together some sort of display of the non-Bicycle backs.
I have tried to identify certain backs according to brand name, it
noted that in the latter part of the 19th century and first few decades
twentieth century, some brands may have had several different backs,
backs may have been shared by more than one brand (particularly with
and its subsidiaries). Indeed, the Hochman Encyclopedia points
out that the
same cards may have been used in several different brands, with the
distinction being the brand name listed on the tuck box into which the
DISCLAIMER: This project is presented for historical and educational purposes ONLY. It is in large part a collection of information available elsewhere on the internet. No claim is made to original artwork produced by the United States Playing Card Company, nor its predecessors or subsidiaries, nor to any photographs thereof, which belong to their respective copyright holders.
1. Aladdin (#1001)
The Aladdin brand was first produced by the National Card Company of Indianapolis in the 1880s. The stock number is "1001," although there is also a "1002" version, which is identical except that the 1002 features gilded edges. There is also a "1004" variant, which had no indices in the corners. At least four different back designs were produced, but it is unknown how many were produced, or for how long. Aladdins were retained and marketed by USPCC after USPCC acquired NCC. Comes in both a smooth finish (like Aviators) and air flow (air cushion) finish (like Bicycle). They are produced by USPCC today primarily for export. The cards are said to be designed to withstand the constant humidity and heat of Singapore.
Dome Back (produced from around 1885 through the 1930s; the images below were scanned from a 2011 re-print):
2. Apollo (#33)
Introduced by the National Card Company, Apollo was a higher quality deck, advertised as being highly enameled and durable. USPCC continued to produce it after acquiring NCC. The example seen here dates from c. 1905 (Hochman NU8b).
3. Aristocrat (#727)
The choice of discriminating card players for many years, the Aristocrat Brand (stock number "727") was created in 1912 by the Russell Card Company, which later acquired the playing card line of the American Bank Note Company in 1914. Russell Card Company itself was later merged into the USPCC in 1929. The brand was ultimately discontinued as a consumer brand sometime in the early 1980s, although it still lives on in the casino market.
(As an aside, and likely in recognition of the enduring popularity of the brand, one of the types of card stock the USPCC offers today is known as "Aristocrat" stock, slightly thicker and stiffer than the standard Bicycle stock, and a more cost effective alternative to casino-grade (highest quality) Bee stock.)
Back No. 1 ("Bank Note" or "Banknote")
One of the more popular Aristocrat back designs over the years is the Banknote. Although it had been out of print for many years, USPCC reprinted it in 2011, much to the delight of cardists and card collectors. USPC retained most of the design features of the original 727 Banknotes, but there are some subtle differences. The "R" in the Ace of Spades has a slightly different look (the "R" stands for Russell Playing Card Company; in the reprints, it looks more like an "A"). The original 727s had a brighter red ink on the backs and pips, brighter yellow on the court cards and a smooth finish, rather than embossed. Photos below are of the 2011 reprints.
Back No. 2
4. Army & Navy (#303)
Two of the original brands introduced by Russell, Morgan & Company (which later became USPCC) in 1881. Both the Army and Navy brands were originally produced under stock number 303. They were made for only two years when a split in demand caused the company to merge them as Army & Navy #303. The deck pictured dates from about 1885.
5. Aviator (#914)
"economy" brand produced by the USPCC. Introduced in 1927 in
commemoration of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight in the Spirit
St. Louis, Aviator playing cards feature a bordered, monotone back
composed predominantly of circles. Produced in red and blue backs, in
index as well as jumbo. The card stock has a smooth finish
to as an "Ivory" finish in other brands), unlike the textured
finish used in the company's other brands. Stock number for
regular index is
914, while jumbo index is 917.
USPCC used this same back design with many of its other card brands over the years; indeed, because the faces of the cards made no reference to the "Aviator" name until the Ace and joker were re-designed in the late 1980's or early 1990's, they were essentially a generic deck that could be inserted into any branded tuck box. Over the years, USPCC eventually replaced many of its other economy brands with the Aviator backs, sometimes filling leftover tuck boxes from other brands with Aviator cards when the leftover brand was discontinued, or sometimes running a second brand in a different market with the Aviator cards (e.g. Mohawk).
Pictured below are a present-day version of the Ace of Spades and joker with the "Aviator" brand name (the code number indicates that it was produced in 1995), along with the old "generic" Ace and joker. USPCC used this Ace in many decks over the years, especially in advertising decks.
6. Battle Axe (#822)
The Battle Axe brand (#822) was one of those brands that came to USPCC when it acquired the Russell Card Company in 1929. It persisted for some time, although it appears that the back design below was eventually discontinued and "Battle Axe" tuck boxes were simply filled with the same generic cards used in Aviator decks (although it is possible that the Battle Axe brand may have simply been one of those brands whose boxes were filled with whatever generic back happened to be available at any given time.)
7. Bee (#92)
Bee Playing Cards are a casino-quality card brand. They were first manufactured by Consolidated-Dougherty in 1892, hence the number "92" on the Ace of Spades; the USPCC acquired the company soon after. Standard Bee playing cards have a diamond back, available in blue or red, although casinos frequently use customized Bee cards featuring a logo added to the backs. It is worth noting that although the stock number of Bee cards is "92," the particular diamond pattern shown here is referenced on the tuck box as back number 67. Also, a number of the magic specialty houses or cardistry companies have produced their own variants on the Bee brand, with subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) modifications to the back design. 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 other forms of sleight-of-hand. The joker, like the Ace, has remained relatively unchanged since the brand was launched, with the only noticeable changes coming to the company name.
8. Blue Ribbon (#323)
Blue Ribbon cards were produced by the Russell Playing Card Company of New York, which was a subsidiary of the USPCC. The stock number for the brand is "323," which appears in a blue ribbon on the tuck box. A copyright date of 1916 appears on tuck boxes as well. The finish name was "High Finish." Blue Ribbon appeared in several back styles, including Rosette, Filigree, and Urn. Back colors were blue and red. Pictured below is the Rosette back, while a red filigree back appears on the tuck box. The Ace is very similar to the Aristocrat brand ace.
9. Cadets (#343)
The Cadets brand was the first brand of miniatures to be produced by the USPCC. Introduced around 1885, the brand was phased out about 1925. The deck below appears to have been printed c. 1923.
10. Fauntleroy (#29)
Another brand of miniature cards, but with an enameled finish, the Fauntleroy line was introduced shortly after Cadets. Had a number of special backs, including four ("The Earl," "Dick," "Dearest," and "Mr. Hobbs") depicting a monochrome scene from the novel Little Lord Fauntleroy. The brand was phased out sometime after World War II, after tastes in children’s reading had changed. The deck pictured below was printed sometime during the mid-1920s.
11. Five Hundred ("500")
originally produced by the National Card Company, it became a staple in
USPCC line for many years after USPCC acquired NCC. Originally a
featuring 11- and 12-spots, the deck was increased to a 62-card deck in
with the addition of two 13-spots. The deck was used in games
like 500, rummy,
certain poker variations, etc.
A note about one of the back designs shown below: the symbol depicted on the design obviously evokes a strong emotional response in many people today; however, this deck was printed around 1910--long before that symbol came to symbolize a particular oppressive European regime. Prior to that time, the symbol had been in widespread use as a religious or good luck symbol for hundreds of years in cultures around the globe, including Native American groups.
Also shown below are two Aces: the first from that c. 1910 deck mentioned in the previous paragraph; the second from a deck which was likely produced in 1963. I have also displayed two of the unique cards from this deck.
12. Hoyle (a.k.a. “Shell Back” or “Shellback”)
Hoyle cards were originally printed by Brown & Bigelow (established in 1896), the first company to own the rights to the Hoyle brand. Their first cards were printed in 1927. Hoyle became such a strong brand name that after 1975 their playing card division’s name was changed simply to Hoyle Products. The Shell Back design, or just plain “Hoyle” brand, competed directly against USPCC’s Bicycle brand. It featured a textured finish called the “Nevada Finish.” The brand is still in production, however, even after USPCC’s 2001 acquisition of Hoyle Products.
13. Hustler (#94)
A product of the New York Consolidated Card Company, the Hustler brand is among those included under the general heading of “Squeezers.” This brand is apparently quite scarce. The tuck box is quite similar in style to that of Bee cards (#92) from the same period. c. 1890 (Hochman NY71).
Formerly the low-cost brand of the Hoyle line, this brand used to occupy the same price point as USPCC’s “Aviator” brand and Arrco’s “Streamline” brand. USPCC has continued to produce the brand since acquiring Hoyle Products in 2001. Smooth finish. Can often be found in discount stores. The red deck scanned below was printed in the USA in 2010 and the 2012 USPCC Catalog shows the Maverick brand as still being made in the USA. However, I have seen a number of “Made in China” decks at Wal-Mart (although this may have just been a limited experiment).
Outing sportsman brand playing cards were introduced by the Andrew Dougherty Playing Card Co. of New York in about 1892. The brand was quite popular and ran until about 1925. Initially came with a Jolly joker but soon switched to a fisherman joker. The backs always featured game fish, animals, or birds, and the brand was intended to compete with competitors; brands such as Sportsman and Sporting. Moose deck below c. 1900, bird deck c. 1894 (Hochman AD30; Hochman AD29).
16. PGC (Professional Gambling Cards)
Also known as the “21 Special,” these were the high-end cards of the Hoyle line, comparable to USPCC’s “Bee” brand. Discontinued after USPCC acquired Hoyle Products in 2001. The back design below was known as the Diamond Back.
17. Picket (#515)
Picket was a deck for soldiers introduced in 1914. They were made available at a very low price to American servicemen. The joker depicted a doughboy of World War I. It was discontinued shortly after the 1918 Armistice. Also appeared in a high-quality, gold-edged version. (Hochman US30a).
A Walgreen’s drug store brand introduced in 2012 to replace its “Stud” brand, apparently in an attempt to refresh some if its store brand lines. Printed on the same Bicycle-grade stock as Stud, and for that reason, still a good value. However, Walgreen’s made a disappointing choice--apparently to reduce confusion--that the blue backs would be regular index only, and the red backs would be jumbo index only. This will no doubt upset some card players who engage in the not-uncommon practice of using two different-colored decks at a time (one in play while the other is being shuffled).
Features the same back, joker, and Ace of Spades design that existed when USPCC bought the National Card Company. What really sets this deck apart is gilded edges. Available in red and blue backs. Blue back and ace below were printed in 2008.
20. Sportsman’'s (#202)
Sportsman’s was one of the original brands introduced by Russell, Morgan & Company (which later became USPCC) in 1881. The second highest grade of playing cards offered, the Sportsman’s brand usually came in a slipcase. The brand was finally discontinued in 1936. The brown deck below dates from around 1900, and would have had a joker featuring a retriever during a hunt.
Prior to the 1870s, playing cards generally did not have any ranking indicators in their corners. In the 1870s, the New York Consolidated Card Company placed the suit indicator and the value indicator in the upper left and lower right corners on their playing cards. These early indexed cards were first known as “Squeezers,” because they allowed a card player to squeeze his cards closer together and still read them. The NYCCC’s indexed cards were challenged by Andrew Dougherty and Company, which produced packs with miniature card faces in two corners and called them “Triplicates.”
After a period of intense competition between the two companies, “a tacit understanding about sales territory” was commemorated in a card back showing two bulldogs straining at their leashes in front of their respective houses. On the collar of one is “Squeezer,” and on the other “Trip.” The Bulldog Squeezers deck was originally printed by the New York Consolidated Card Company in 1877. This deck was printed in 1991.
Angel Back Squeezers:
The Angel Back design was made popular in the late 1800s by the NYCCC, which, in 1894, became part of the USPCC. The Angel Back design was used on many NYCCC and USPCC brands over the years. However, until the 2010 reprinting (examples below), Angle Backs had been out of print for many years. The 2010 reprinting of Angel Back Squeezers also featured vintage royalty cards and faces (instead of the standard Bicycle faces commonly found in reprints).
22. Steamboat (#999)
In the late-19th century, virtually all of the playing card manufacturers had a "Steamboat" line of playing cards--usually among their cheapest, retailing for as little as 5 cents per deck. Russell & Morgan (the company that eventually became USPCC) introduced their own Steamboat line (stock number “999”) in 1883 to meet the competition. It was the fifth line of cards they introduced, and the first new brand to be introduced to the original lineup of Tigers #101, Sportsman's #202, Army/Navy #303, and Congress #404. The brand lasted for well over a hundred years, having been discontinued only recently. (The two decks shown below were printed in 2003 and c. 2005.) Several different back designs were used over the years.
Originally produced by the ARRCO playing card company, the brand was maintained when USPCC acquired ARRCO in 1987. A low-cost card with a smooth finish. Sadly, the 2012 USPCC product catalog no longer indicates that this brand is "Made in the USA," and I have seen a couple of "Made in China" decks floating around.
Distributed by the Walgreen’s drug store chain, Stud brand cards were originally produced by ARRCO, then later produced by USPCC after it acquired ARRCO (although they were also produced by Hoyle in the late 1980’s). The cards were actually of fairly high quality for a store brand, being printed on Bicycle stock and featuring standard ARRCO faces. Came in both standard index and jumbo index. The venerable brand was finally discontinued after decades of production in 2012, when Walgreen’s decided to refresh some of its brands. The Stud brand has now been replaced with Play Right brand, also manufactured by USPCC, apparently on the same stock.
25. Tally-Ho (#9)
brand was introduced in 1885 and is still available today. Stock
number “9.” The
brand has had very few changes over the years. It tends to have a
stronger presence in the eastern United States, but is still well-loved
nationally and internationally by magicians, cardists, and
famous from a pop-culture standpoint for being the cards used in the
scene from the movie “The Sting.” The most
well-known back designs
are the “Circle Back” and
“Original Fan Back.”
Original Fan Back:
Texan Palmettos feature a borderless back design, consisting of palm leaves around a circular seal with a six-pointed star in the middle. Slightly different shades in the corners makes them subtle one-way backs. They have standard Bicycle faces, which includes the Ace of Spades apart from the extra text printed on it: “International Playing Card Company Limited, Markham, Ontario, Canada.” Produced for the Canadian market by USPCC and distributed by its Canadian subsidiary, the International Playing Card Company. Comes with 1 Texan Joker, which depicts a cowboy riding a horse behind the image of a large star that has a ’45 in its center, and a guarantee Joker. Comes in a red or blue back. The Ace below was from a deck produced in 2010.
Texan No. 45 1889. This edition of Texan No. 45s was first printed in 1889 by Russell, Morgan & Co. in Cincinnati. They went out of production for 80 years, but were brought back into circulation by the USPCC in more recent times. The cards are tinted a slight cream color to give them an antique look. The court card designs are reflective of the period. They are printed on embossed paper card stock. The deck pictured here was produced in 2006.
27. Torpedo (#327)
The Torpedo brand was another brand that came to USPCC when it acquired the Russell Card Company in 1929. It persisted for some time, although it appears that the back design below was eventually discontinued and “Torpedo” brand tuck boxes were simply filled with Aviator cards. Indeed, it appears that the Torpedo brand was simply one of those brands whose boxes were filled with whatever generic back happened to be available. As can be seen from the examples below, the wild-west theme of the joker really doesn't appear to have anything to do with the notion of a “torpedo.” The Hochman Encyclopedia points out that there were many brand names used by Russell over the years which never had their own special aces; they were identified by the jokers and/or the box. Especially after it became part of USPCC, Russell produced a large number of brands using the ace and joker shown here.
28. Tourists (#155)
Another new brand added by the Russell & Morgan Printing Company after the rapid growth caused it to expand it offering beyond just original brands, somewhere around 1886. Tourists were an “unenameled” brand graded between the Tigers line and Sportsman’s line. Came in a tuck box. This deck dates to c. 1895 (Hochman US9a).
29. Uncle Sam (#950)
Another brand continued from the Standard Playing Card Company, which was one of the companies that merged to form USPCC in 1894 but still operated independently in Chicago until around 1930. Throughout its existence as an independent company, SPCC never displayed a brand name on its aces, and that trend continued well after the 1930’s, when it appears that “Uncle Sam” tuck boxes continued to be filled with cards not listing a brand name. The backs shown below (which date from either 1945 or 1965) are identical to the Bicycle Leaf Back design. As you can see, the deck also featured the standard generic USPCC ace and joker from that period.
30. U.S. Regulation (a.k.a. “ARRCO”)
The U.S. Regulation brand from the ARRCO Playing Card Company was ARRCO’s direct competitor to USPCSS’s Bicycle brand. However, USPCC continued to manufacture them for some time after it acquired ARRCO in 1987--well into the first decade of the 2000s (the blue deck pictured below was manufactured in 1995). Often known simply as “ARRCOs,” the brand, with its filigree back design, was available in red and blue, with standard ARRCO faces and joker. It has always been quite popular among card enthusiasts and magicians--so popular, in fact, that it was recently reprinted in a limited run its original colors, along with a special run in both green and black. Another recent private printing featured an inverted black back, sometimes referred to as a “white” back.
The standard ARRCO joker below was part of a deck printed in 1995, while the pair of colorful jesters below that were part of a jumbo index deck printed in 1997.