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Archive of posts published in the category: Playing
Apr
7

Bicycle Playing Cards – Vintage Back Designs

Vintage Back Designs of
Bicycle
Playing Cards

Bicycle
playing cards are probably the most recognizable brand of
playing cards in the world.  Although the average person probably
associates Bicycle brand playing cards with the famous “Rider Back” design, the United States
Playing Card
Company
, or “USPCC” (which produces the Bicycle brand)
actually
produced over 80 different back designs with the “Bicycle” name over
the first few decades of the brand’s existence.  The Rider Back
design is
obviously  the most familiar, having been in constant production
since
1887.  But this was actually the second design to carry the
“Bicycle” name; the first was the Old Fan
back design, which was first produced in 1885 (and recently revived to commemorate the 125th
anniversary of
the Bicycle brand).

Bicycle
playing cards were originally produced in red, blue, green, and
brown, but the green and brown decks were discontinued in 1927.

The
reader may observe that many of the designs were revised one or
more times and thus appear in multiple variants (e.g. Racer
Back No. 1
, Racer Back No. 2).  This
usually happened for one of two key reasons.  First, many of the
earliest
designs were “one-way” backs, i.e. the backs were asymmetrical. For
instance, several different backs contain a three-pronged wing in the
middle of
the card that can be oriented in 2 different ways.  In the early
1900’s,
most of these were revised to a four-pronged wing design to render the
backs
symmetrical.  (The one notable exception is the League
back, which was first printed in 1893 and is the only back to retain a
three-pronged wing.  It also appears that this back has never gone
out of
production, and is still a favorite among magicians because of its
asymmetry.)  Second, the USPCC tried to keep up with the times, so
it
periodically updated the decks to reflect newer designs in bicycles,
automobiles, and motorcycles.

Indeed,
it was the attempt to be trendy that launched the Bicycle line
in the first place.  According to company lore, in the early 1880’s, cycling — on
unicycles,
bicycles, and tricycles — was taking the country by storm.  It was
also
around this time that Russell & Morgan, the forerunners of the
United
States Playing Card Company, decided to produce a new line of cards and
asked
employees to suggest an attractive name for the new product.  In
light of
the cycling craze, a printer, “Gus” Berens, offered the suggestion
“Bicycle.”
His idea was enthusiastically accepted, and the company has been
producing the Bicycle
brand of cards ever since.

In the
past decade, the USPCC has begun to capitalize on the Bicycle
brand’s rich history, issuing a commemorative “Vintage
Design Series
” in 2006 and a more limited “Heritage
Design Series
” in 2010 and 2011, each of which featured re-printings of a
number of the old back designs.  The Bicycle brand has also been
looking to the
future in recent years, partnering with magic companies and other
entities to
produce