Don’t Forget the Joker

Don’t forget the Joker

by Alex J. Coyne © Great Bridge Links 

In 1940, artist Jerry Robinson made a quick character sketch and gave birth to one of the greatest comic, TV and film villains of all time: The eponymous Joker. You can see his original sketch as part of this New York Times article. We can thank the joker playing card for giving its face to the crazed, maniacal Batman villain, but let’s check out more on this card’s not-so-mysterious origins and use through history.

The origins of the joker

If you’re looking to find the origins of the character, there’s a great piece about it on ScreenRant. As for the card, the origins of the joker goes way back to the card game of Euchre (which is, seemingly, what people were predominantly playing before bridge started gaining speed). The card was then known as the Best (or alternatively Imperial) Bower card (after the German word bauer) and started popping up when the need for a trump card arose.

The concept of a Joker as a wild card, capable of assuming any value, eventually spread beyond Euchre. Its adoption into the standard 52-card deck was gradual, with decks produced with one or two Jokers for this purpose. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Joker became a standard fixture in American card decks, serving various roles depending on the game, from a wild card in Poker to a discard in Rummy. The design of the Joker card varies widely, with no standard appearance, often depicting a court jester or clown. Despite its specific origin in card games, the Joker has permeated popular culture, becoming a symbol of unpredictability and often associated with the archetype of the trickster.

Aces, Spaces, Jokers and… Harts

Samuel Hart gets most of the credit for the popularly known illustration of the Joker card we know today. It’s worth mentioning that most card manufacturers take a unique spin on their ace and joker cards, too – grab your favourite deck and check it out for yourself. Hart started producing cards with the now-popular depiction of the joker card in 1863 as far as we can tell, and from there the Brit Charles Goodall takes credit for printing decks with added joker cards sold to the American market in 1871, though Charles Goodall  & Sons had been producing greeting and playing cards since 1820.

The Joker from there

The World of Playing Cards mentions that the joker later became referred to as both the ‘little joker’ and the ‘jolly joker’, though doesn’t mention the time – or when the joker stopped becoming either little or jolly.

Cathryn Penny Hargrave’s book A History of Playing Cards and a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming (published in 1930) makes mention of the joker card going as far back as 1862, just a little bit earlier than when Hart started producing his jokers.

The Joker’s use in cards

The joker can be used as a place holder to replace missing or damaged cards in a deck; other than that, it is most often used as a wild card in games like poker, allocated a value (like in euchre, where it serves as a trump card getting the highest value), or ignored completely in games like Bridge.

When telling fortunes with a regular deck of playing cards, the joker will take the equivalent place of The Fool – or card number 00 in the a deck of Tarot cards. It is placed outside the sequence of the Major Arcana, giving it a special role as a symbol of new beginnings, innocence, and a leap of faith into the unknown. In divination, the Fool represents a call to adventure and the potential for personal growth through new experiences. It encourages the querent to embrace change and to approach life with a sense of optimism and openness, reminiscent of a child’s unfiltered curiosity about the world. Drawing the Fool in a Tarot reading can suggest that it’s time to take a risk or embark on a new path, even if the outcome is uncertain. It embodies the spirit of exploration and the possibility of stepping into a phase of life where the rules are not yet defined, urging an embrace of the journey rather than the destination.

Collecting the Little Fool

If you’re planning to start collecting jokers, right now, from scratch, we have some great advice for you. Learn where to find them, how to collect and look after your jokers, and how to value them. Collecting the Little Fool  has tips and resources.

So, what’s your favourite deck depiction of the joker card?