Bicycle cards

Today’s Zippy:

Zippy invents a plausible story for the name Bicycle Cards for the popular brand of playing cards, using his experience with playing cards to construct an origin tale. Then he and Zerbina invent silly StateName hold ’em games, based on Texas hold ’em.

On Texas hold ’em:

Texas hold ’em (also known as hold ’em or holdem) is a variation of the standard card game of poker. The game consists of two cards being dealt face down to each player and then five community cards being placed face-up by the dealer—a series of three (“the flop”) then two additional single cards (“the turn” and “the river” or “fourth and fifth street” respectively), with players having the option to check, bet, raise or fold after each deal; i.e., betting may occur prior to the flop, “on the flop”, “on the turn”, and “on the river”. (link)

But mostly I’m interested here in Bicycle cards, like these:

Yes, these cards have a naked angel on a bicycle on their backs.

The United States Playing Card Company website gives a detailed history of the company and its brands of cards. The Wikipedia short version:

The United States Playing Card Company, started 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 Erlanger, Kentucky. It has been a subsidiary of Jarden Corporation since 2004.

United States Playing Card Company should not be confused with US Games Systems, Inc., the producers of many varieties of Tarot cards.

The company was founded in 1867 as Russell, Morgan & Co., a printing company. They began printing playing cards, with the “Congress No. 606” line being the first, in 1881. They began printing Bicycle cards, which would become their most popular line, in 1885. 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.

From the company site, on 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.

A two-wheeled version:

On the naked bicycle-riding angels, this site treats them as a mystery of the 19th century, adding:

The angel was probably meant for luck, as a Guardian Angel, and the bike was possibly just an example of a piece of popular technology from the time.

The modern kid practice of putting cards in the spokes of a bicycle wheel to make noise is most unlikely to have any connection to the 1885 design of Bicycle cards, since the point of the modern practice is to make the bike sound like a motorcycle — but the first (prototype) motorcycle appeared only in that year and the production of motorcycles as vehicles didn’t begin until about ten years later (see here).


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