How To Date A Deck of Playing Cards (USPC)
How Old Is Your Deck?
Are playing cards worth collecting? Let's find out. The following material, designed to assist collectors in dating their U.S. decks, is produced here courtesy of the 52 Plus Joker Organization. It appeared initially in an article by Margery Griffith, then curator of the United States Playing Card Co. Museum in Cincinnati, in their quarterly bulletin 'CLEAR THE DECKS' in April 1991.
Find The Ace of Spades
Like knowing the grade of your cards, a dating aid can be beneficial. For decks manufactured by United States Playing Card Co., a dating code was printed on the Ace of Spades at the time of manufacture. The code first came into use in 1904, and it applies only to Aces of Spades that bear a letter plus a four-digit number. Combinations with fewer numbers have no meaning for collectors.
Right from the beginning in 1904, the same codes were used by National Playing Card Co. and New York Consolidated Card Co., subsidiaries by then of USPC. Andrew Dougherty and Russell Playing Card Co. also used these codes, as they became part of USPC in 1907 and 1929, respectively.
If you look at the Ace of Spades (above) from a Jerry's Nugget deck of cards, you'll see the lot number M 4924 directly below the LITHO IN U.S.A. Now refer to the chart below to see which year(s) they printed the M code.
Narrowing Down Dates
As you'll see, a range of dates sits in front of you. Now you must use your powers of reasoning & deduction to narrow down your choices to a single date.
For instance, we know Jerry's Nugget Casino opened in 1964, eliminating 1909, 1930, and 1950. Furthermore, if you look at the tuck box of a Jerry's Nugget deck, you'll see it comes with the US. Playing Card Co. perforated label. These types of labels were used roughly between 1965 and 1975. Therefore, 1990 and 2010 are out. That leaves 1970, which is precisely the year these cards were printed.
NOTE: This chart is not perfect! There are plenty of instances where dates don't match up. :(
OTHER PLAYING CARD DATING NOTES:
1. Around 1965, USPC began the practice of "pre-facing" some decks, especially Congress decks. This means a supply of faces were printed then stored so the backs could be added as needed. Therefore, Congress cards and any other pre-faced brands stopped using the codes altogether.
2. The letters I, O, and V are not used because they can easily be confused with numbers. However, Q was used sporadically throughout 1991 and 1992.
3. Currently, a majority of custom decks printed by USPCC for Magic Companies either do not follow this code or do not print a number on their Ace of Spades.
4. USPCC may change its codes without notice. Most modern decks produced in Erlanger have copyright dates on the bottom of the box and the four-digit prefix before the letter indicates the week and year of manufacture.
5. The letter H was also used sporadically in 2013.
Enjoy dating Your Playing Cards!
Thanks to Don Boyer and Tom & Judy Dawson for their help updating this chart.