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The playing card factory
#1
The playing card factory
Our long, rich history began when A. O. Russell, Robert J. Morgan, James M. Armstrong and John F. Robinson Jr. formed a partnership and purchased from the proprietors of The Cincinnati Enquirer what was then known as the Enquirer Job Printing Rooms. The spaces occupied the first and second stories of the building at 20 College Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. The firm commenced business as Russell, Morgan & Co., referring to the two printers in the partnership.

While on College Street, the firm printed theatrical and circus posters, placards and labels. By 1872, the business had increased so much, it was forced to seek larger quarters, and in November 1872, it moved into a new, four-story building on nearby Race Street in downtown Cincinnati.

Mr. Russell proposed to his partners that they embark upon the manufacture of playing cards, an industry monopolized by several East Coast companies. The partners agreed and arrangements were made to add two additional stories to their building, making it six stories high. Many new machines were designed and built expressly for Russell, Morgan & Co. The first deck of playing cards was completed on June 28, 1881. About 20 employees manufactured 1600 packs per day.

IN 1891
Russell, Morgan & Co. became The United States Printing Company. Only three years later (1894), the playing card business had grown to such proportions that it was separated from the Printing Company, becoming The United States Playing Card Company.

The United States Playing Card Company gained immediate advantages, for it acquired other notable companies: The Standard Playing Card Co (Chicago), Perfection Card Co (New York) and New York Consolidated Cards Company. New York Consolidated Card Company had antecedents dating back to 1833 when Lewis I. Cohen perfected his four-color press for printing playing cards. The famous "Bee"® Playing Cards still issued by The United States Playing Card Company, had originated at the New York Consolidated Card Company in 1892.

Congress® playing cards is one of the original brands from 1881 which is still in production today and the card of choice for sophisticated bridge players. Likewise, the world-renowned Bicycle® playing card brand has been in continuous production since 1885.

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.

STATUE OF FREEDOM
The Ace of Spades carries another code, identifying the year in which the deck was printed. This Ace features, within the suit sign, a woman who rests her right hand on a sword and shield while she holds an olive branch in her left. The image was inspired by Thomas Crawford's sculpture, "Statue of Freedom." which, in 1865, had been placed atop the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

BY 1900
The United States Playing Card Company expanded again, moving from downtown Cincinnati to a newly built factory in Norwood. Situated on over 30 acres, the facility would eventually accommodate over 600,000 square feet of manufacturing operations.

BELL TOWER
A Neo-Romanesque bell tower (4-stories high) was built in 1926 atop the company's 4-story main building entrance. This tower housed a fine set of 12 carillon bells, ranging in size from 1-1/2 to 5-1/2 feet. This was the first set of chimes built for radio broadcasting. The chimes were connected electronically to radio station WSAI, which was owned and operated by The United States Playing Card Company from 1922 until 1930 and located within The United States Playing Card Companycomplex. The main reason for the radio station was to promote the game of bridge by broadcasting bridge lessons. In those days, there was no limitation on the range of radio power and the WSAI transmission was so clear and strong that it could be picked up as far away as New Zealand. WSAI was eventually sold in the 1930's to the Crosley Radio Corporation.

During World War II, the company secretly worked with the U. S. government in fabricating special decks to send as gifts for American prisoners of war in German camps. When these cards were moistened, they peeled apart to reveal sections of a map indicating precise escape routes. Also during the war, The United States Playing Card Companyprovided "spotter" cards, which illustrated the characteristic shapes of tanks, ships and aircraft from the more powerful countries. The company further assisted by sewing parachutes for anti-personnel fragmentation bombs.

ACE OF SPADES
The Ace of Spades served a famous purpose in the war in Vietnam. In February, 1966, two lieutenants of Company "C," Second Battalion, 35th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, wrote The United States Playing Card Company and requested decks containing nothing but the Bicycle® Ace of Spades. The cards were useful in psychological warfare. The Viet Cong were very superstitious and highly frightened by this Ace. The French previously had occupied Indo-China, and in French fortunetelling with cards, the Spades predicted death and suffering. The Viet Cong even regarded lady liberty as a goddess of death. USPC shipped thousands of the requested decks gratis to our troops in Vietnam. These decks were housed in plain white tuck cases, inscribed "Bicycle® Secret Weapon." The cards were deliberately scattered in the jungle and in hostile villages during raids. The very sight of the Bicycle® Ace card was said to cause many Viet Cong to flee.

The company acquired Heraclio Fournier, S.A., the poker playing cards manufacturer in Europe. In 1987, The United States Playing Card Company acquired Arrco Playing Card Company, the third largest playing card manufacturer in the country. International Playing Card Company, a Canadian subsidiary of The United States Playing Card Company since 1914, maintained its own manufacturing operation from 1928 to 1991. Currently, International Playing Card Company is a sales and marketing organization located in Ontario. The United States Playing Card Company was acquired by a series of new owners: Diamond International in 1969, Jessup & Lamont in 1982, Frontenac in 1989.

Playing cards were invented in Ancient China. They were found in China as early as the 9th Century during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). The first reference to the card game in world history dates no later than the 9th Century, when the Collection of Miscellanea at Duyang, written by Tang Dynasty writer Su E, described Princess Tongchang (daughter of Emperor Yizong of Tang) playing the “leaf game” in 868 with members of the Wei clan (the family of the princess’ husband). The Song Dynasty (960–1279) scholar Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) asserted that playing cards and card games existed at least since the mid-Tang Dynasty and associated their invention with the simultaneous development of using sheets or pages instead of paper rolls as a writing medium. The first known book on cards called Yezi Gexi was allegedly written by a Tang-era woman, and was commented on by Chinese writers of subsequent dynasties.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), characters from popular novels such as the Water Margin were widely featured on the faces of playing cards. By the 11th century playing cards could be found throughout the Asian continent.

Ancient Chinese “money cards” have four “suits”: coins (or cash), strings of coins (which may have been misinterpreted as sticks from crude drawings), myriads (of coins or of strings), and tens of myriads (where a myriad is 10,000). These were represented by ideograms, with numerals of 2–9 in the first three suits and numerals 1–9 in the “tens of myriads”. Wilkinson suggests that the first cards may have been actual paper currency which were both the tools of gaming and the stakes being played for, as in trading card games. The designs on modern Mahjong tiles likely evolved from those earliest playing cards. However, it may be that the first deck of cards ever printed was a Chinese domino deck, in whose cards we can see all the 21 combinations of a pair of dice. In Kuei-t’ien-lu, a Chinese text redacted in the 11th Century, we find that dominoes cards were printed during the Tang Dynasty, contemporary to the first printed books. The Chinese word pái (牌) is used to describe both paper cards and gaming tiles.

Introduction into Europe
Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th Century, probably from Mamluk Egypt, with suits very similar to the tarot suits of Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins (also known as Disks, and Pentacles) and those still used in traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguese decks. The first documentary evidence is a ban on their use in 1367, Bern, Switzerland. Wide use of foil playing cards in Europe can, with some certainty, be traced from 1377 onwards.

The Mameluke deck contained 52 cards comprising four “suits”: polo sticks, coins, swords, and cups. Each suit contained ten “spot” cards (cards identified by the number of suit symbols or “pips” they show) and three “court” cards named malik (King), nā’ib malik (Viceroy or Deputy King), and thānī nā’ib (Second or Under-Deputy). The Mameluke court cards showed abstract designs not depicting persons (at least not in any surviving specimens) though they did bear the names of military officers.

A complete pack of Mameluke playing cards was discovered by Leo Mayer in the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul in 1939. This particular complete pack was not made before 1400, but the complete deck allowed matching to a private fragment dated to the 12th or 13th Century. In effect it is not a complete deck, but there are cards of three packs of the same style.
Various Ganjifa cards from Dashavatara set, with ten suits depicting the ten Avatars of the god Vishnu.

It is not known whether these cards influenced the design of the Indian cards used for the game of Ganjifa, or whether the Indian cards may have influenced these. Regardless, the Indian cards have many distinctive features: they are round, generally hand painted with intricate designs, and comprise more than four suits (often as many as thirty two, like a deck in the Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum, painted in the Mewar, a city in Rajasthan, between the 18th and 19th Century. Decks used to play have from eight up to twenty suits).

Spread across Europe and early design changes
Italian playing cards, Sancai-type bowl, Northern Italy, mid-15th Century.
In the late 14th Century, the use of playing cards spread rapidly throughout Europe. Documents mentioning cards date from 1371 in Spain, 1377 in Switzerland, and 1380 in many locations including Florence and Paris. A 1369 Paris ordinance [on gaming?] does not mention cards, but its 1377 update does. In the account books of Johanna, Duchess of Brabant and Wenceslaus I, Duke of Luxemburg, an entry dated May 14, 1379, reads: “Given to Monsieur and Madame four peters, two forms, value eight and a half moutons, wherewith to buy a pack of cards”. In his book of accounts for 1392 or 1393, Charles or Charbot Poupart, treasurer of the household of Charles VI of France, records payment for the painting of three sets of cards.

The earliest cards were made by hand, like those designed for Charles VI; this was expensive. Printed woodcut decks appeared in the 15th Century. The technique of printing woodcuts to decorate fabric was transferred to printing on paper around 1400 in Christian Europe, very shortly after the first recorded manufacture of paper there, while in Islamic Spain it was much older. The earliest dated European woodcut is 1418. No examples of printed cards from before 1423 survive. But from about 1418 to 1450 professional card makers in Ulm, Nuremberg, and Augsburg created printed decks. Playing cards even competed with devotional images as the most common uses for woodcut in this period.

Most early woodcuts of all types were coloured after printing, either by hand or, from about 1450 onwards, stencils. These 15th Century playing cards were probably painted.

The Master of the barcode playing cards worked in Germany from the 1430s with the newly invented printmaking technique of engraving. Several other important engravers also made cards, including Master ES and Martin Schongauer. Engraving was much more expensive than woodcut, and engraved cards must have been relatively unusual.

In the 15th Century in Europe, the suits of advertising playing cards varied; typically a deck had four suits, although five suits were common and other structures are also known. In Germany, hearts (Herz/Rot), bells (Schellen), leaves (Grün), and acorns (Eichel) became the standard suits and are still used in Eastern and Southeastern German decks today for Skat, Schafkopf, Doppelkopf, and other games. Italian and Spanish cards of the 15th century used swords, batons (or wands), cups, and coins (or rings). The Tarot, which included extra trump cards, was invented in Italy in the 15th century.

The four suits now used in most of the world — Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs — originated in France in approximately 1480. The trèfle (club) was probably copied from the acorn and the pique (spade) from the leaf of the German suits. The names “pique” and “spade”, however, may have derived from the sword of the Italian suits. In England, the French suits were eventually used, although the earliest decks had the Italian suits.

Also in the 15th Century, Europeans changed the court cards to represent European royalty and attendants, originally “king”, “chevalier” (knight), and “knave”. The original meaning of knave was male child, so in this context the character could represent the “prince”, son to the King and Queen; the meaning servant developed later. In a German pack from the 1440s, Queens replace Kings in two of the suits as the highest card. Fifty-six-card decks containing a King, Queen, Knight, and Valet (from the French tarot court) were common.

Court cards designed in the 16th Century in the manufacturing centre of Rouen became the standard design in England, while a Parisian design became standard in France. Both the Parisian and Rouennais court cards were named after historical and mythological heroes and heroines. The Parisian names have become more common in modern use, even with cards of Rouennais design.
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