(Second of two parts)

With an inexpensive deck of 52 cards, card games became a popular pastime for Americans beginning in the late 19th century. The production of playing cards offered a job for many in primarily the eastern half of the United States.

Artists were hired to create intricate designs for the backs of the cards — if left white or with little design, they could be easily marked by greasy fingers or noticeably indented with finger nails. Corners were rounded to help prevent bending to mark the cards.

As with most factories, printing companies were located near sources of water. The first manufacturer of playing cards was Russell & Morgan in Cincinnati in 1881, later becoming United States Playing Card Company (USPC) in 1894. Also manufacturing cards was New York-based Andrew Dougherty, New York Consolidated Card Co., National Card Co., and more.

Companies in Chicago included Western Publishing Co., Standard Playing Card Co., Arrco Playing Card Co., and in Philadelphia, Samuel Hart & Co., and Perfection Playing Card Co. Among others were Kalamazoo Playing Card Co., and National Card Co., in Indianapolis, and Brown & Bigelow in St. Paul, MN.

Many companies have been acquired by USPC. Most familiar to card players now are Hoyle, St. Paul; GEMACO, Blue Springs, MI; and Paul-Son Playing Cards, Inc., Las Vegas, NV. The popular Bicycle Playing Cards brand is manufactured by the USPC, now based in Erlanger, Kentucky — it reflected the popularity of the bicycle at the end of the 1800s when the card design was issued.

Airlines, cruise ships, and trains have long provided passengers with playing cards. Since the beginning of commercial aviation, nearly 3,000 different card designs have been issued by 438 airlines — the first by Imperial Airways (later British Airways) in the 1920s. Many designs included aircraft, such as TWA with a Ford Tri-Motor parked in front of a passenger train, stating “Coast to Coast by Plane and Train.” At that time, it was considered unsafe to fly at night, so the trip could use both modes of transportation.

Beginning with a 2-cent tax on card decks in 1864, card manufacturers were allowed to have their own tax stamps. The taxation ended in 1965 at 13 cents per deck.

Both board and card game rules are compiled in the go-to book “According to Hoyle.” Englishman Edmund Hoyle (1672-1769) wrote first about the game of Whist. Players often use the phrase, “according to Hoyle” to establish rules at the game table.

Finding used and/or unopened decks of cards in grandma’s attic, thrift stores, and garage sales can open a door to collecting. There are online sources for dating the inexpensive source for hours of fun that you hold in your hand. Shuffle and deal!

“Genealogy is more than names and dates. It is learning the culture of the time your ancestors lived.”

Becky McCreary is newsletter editor for the Southern Arizona Genealogy Society. Contact her at rebeccamccreary764@gmail.com or visit the society’s website at azsags.org, where her columns are archived. The articles may not be reprinted without written permission of the author.