Don’t forget the Joker
by Alex J. Coyne © 2017 Great Bridge Links
Last link update Feb 2018
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 (not currently available). 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.
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 avoided completely in games like Old Maid. 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 Tarot.
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. Click here for article.
So, what’s your favourite deck depiction of the joker card? Get in touch with us in the comments.