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A Brief History of the Joker Card

The Joker

Believed to have been invented by American Euchre players who, when modifying the rules sometime during the 1860s, decided that an extra trump card was required. Although some argue that the word Joker comes from Euchre, we’re positive it’s no more than a coincidence. After all, the word “joke” was already around, as was a joker, meaning one who jokes. But the concept of the Joker card itself—that definitely came from the game of Euchre.

In the 1860s, American Euchre players made up some new rules to their beloved game. These new rules required an extra trump card, which they referred to as the Best Bower, the highest trump card available. American card printers jumped onto the trend fairly quickly, soon including these extra trump cards in their decks. British manufacturers did the same by the 1880s, one British manufacturer (Chas Goodall) was manufacturing packs with Jokers for the American market in the 1870s. .

It wasn’t long before the Best Bower card was called the Joker, or the Jolly Joker. Like the Ace of Spades, Joker cards were often given a unique design that contained a company’s brand imagery. This could often be a logo, a floral or architectural motif, or something completely different. The jester we know and love only became more popular once the “Joker” title was universally adapted.

While the Joker has been compared to the Fool in Tarot cards, even down to a similar trump function, there isn’t a connection. Tarot cards have been around since the 15th century, after all, when a jester or fool was still a viable career option.

The Joker card is capable of almost anything or almost nothing, depending on the rules of the game. It has been suggested that “the Joker is the ‘wild-card’, or the card of opportunity, not unlike the character of opportunity and individuality that has been the driving force behind America's pursuit of greatness. Some historians have seen the Joker as a descendant of the Fool of Italian tarot cards, and in some 19th century tarot sets the Fool was depicted as a harlequin or buffoon.

Some early Jokers were specially designed, along with special Aces of Spades, as part of the company’s brand identity. Hence, they can also be an aid in identification. Many collectors are primarily interested in certain cards such as Aces of Spades, Jokers, court cards, unique backs, etc., and hence the Joker card has also become a collector's item in it’s own right...

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