Pepsi Blue Custom Playing Cards
December 4, 2010 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Most cards in North America are made by United States Playing Card Company (USPC) which owns Bicycle, Bee, Tally-Ho (favored by Penn and Teller), Hoyle, and KEM(notably 100% plastic). USPC helped the WWII war effort with its production of playing cards with hidden maps.

USPC also produces custom commercial cards (eg: Pepsi Blue)

USPC cards are a favorite for magic/gimmicked decks. Magic companies have been among the most prolific in offering new card designs. They include: Karnival, Ellusionist, Theory11, MagicMakers.

(warnings: some sites may contain spoilers)

posted by el io (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The US Playing Card Factory is in Norwood, Ohio and was a regular stop for me when I was delivering pizza. Their museum is fascinating.
posted by Mick at 6:06 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the link -- the secret map is a magic trick all by itself...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:13 PM on December 4, 2010

When these cards were moistened, they peeled apart to reveal sections of a map indicating precise escape routes. The full map is revealed when the cards of a deck are peeled and then put together.

How would the prisoners know to moisten and peel the cards?
posted by MikeMc at 6:18 PM on December 4, 2010

When I was seventeen, I got arrested for shoplifting two decks of Bicycles from the local supermarket and three in the morning. I was banned from the IGA for life, and when I went to my hearing, I was in a courtroom filled with other first-time juvenile offenders. The kid next to me must have been about twelve, and he leaned over to me, conspiratorially, and whispered, "What'd you take?" I told him.

"What'd you take?" I whispered back. "A microchip!" he replied. I suddenly thought I was surely in the wrong place, and had inadvertently ended up on some Group "W" bench with smugglers and gang members and committers of industrial espionage. I wanted to raise my hand and shout, "Excuse me, I'm just here for two decks of cards!"
posted by steef at 6:26 PM on December 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Steef, Have you rehabilitated yourself?
posted by AugustWest at 6:31 PM on December 4, 2010

MikeMc: According to this they were told when given the cards.
posted by el io at 6:44 PM on December 4, 2010

Love the map cards, and also the fact that their still using distinctly 19th century brand names.

Also, interesting tidbit, after a dispute involving the inadvertent use of the trademarked Hoyle joker, the US playing card company seems to be the owner of exclusive rights to print Most Wanted Iraqi Playing Cards.
posted by Ahab at 6:53 PM on December 4, 2010

Doesn't anyone find it strange that one obscure company has a monopoly on something as simple as playing cards?
posted by Yakuman at 6:56 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yakuman, Not since my eyes were opened to the omnipresence of YKK.
posted by persona at 7:18 PM on December 4, 2010

They don't have an actual monopoly, you can find cards made by other companies.

But the USPC does make extremely good cards. Every time I play Agricola or Settlers of Catan I lament that their cards don't have any sort of protective coating at all. Plastic-coated cards stand up much better to bending and shuffling, to the extent that most of my Agricola shuffling is of the "chaotic smush" type which makes me look like a first-grader, but is simply much easier on the cards than the bridge shuffles favored by playing card game players.

As for how information on how to reveal and assemble the map could be gotten to prisoners, I imagine it'd be pretty simple, you'd just tell a select number of trustworthy soldiers, and when one of them was inevitably captured he could tell the others.
posted by JHarris at 7:20 PM on December 4, 2010

How would the prisoners know to moisten and peel the cards?

Maybe they were counting on serendipity. How many times have you been playing cards with friends and, say, spilled a drink?
posted by indubitable at 7:20 PM on December 4, 2010

Yakuman: According to this (warning: PDF, page 71), Queen Elizabeth was the one that granted the monopoly for playing cards.

Then some activist judge then tried to stop the monopoly:
“All trades, as well mechanical as others, which prevent idleness (the bane of the commonwealth) and exercise men and youth in labour, for the maintenance of themselves and their families, and for the increase of their substance, to serve the Queen when occasion shall require, are profitable for the commonwealth, and therefore the grant to the plaintiff to have the sole making of them is against the common law, and the benefit and liberty of the subject”
posted by el io at 7:20 PM on December 4, 2010

You know who else started out as a playing-card company? Nintendo.
posted by box at 7:49 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maps, compasses, radios and cameras smuggled in POW camps by the Escape Factory. Great read!
posted by Marky at 7:53 PM on December 4, 2010

Metafilter : the bane of the commonwealth.
posted by Ahab at 7:56 PM on December 4, 2010

All that for $25? Man, I want one.
posted by valkyryn at 8:16 PM on December 4, 2010

The Pepsi Blue cards reminded me that how we got playing cards when I was a child was as freebies from my father's airline flights. I was probably pushing 30 before I ever bought a deck of cards on my own.
posted by immlass at 8:18 PM on December 4, 2010

When I got into sleight of hand magic as a teenager, I became fascinated with the drawings on the back of the Bicycle packs (though I remember books referring to them as Bicycle Riders). Such a sense of mystery -- how did these images and patterns get created, were there secret messages in the baroque decorations, was there something deeper to all of this? The detail and intricacies and odd images had to mean something!

Now I realize they're just decorative late nineteenth century designs -- but I still get that sense of esoteric thrill whenever I hold a deck of them. Especially a new deck. There's a certain smell that takes me right back to my bewildered teenage self.
posted by treepour at 8:52 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I rate bicycle playing cards up there with the Bic Cristal pen and the Bic lighter - very cheap, very high quality stuff that, every time I buy it, puts me in awe of what industrialization can do when it's done well.
posted by chebucto at 9:03 PM on December 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's fascinating how closely the USPC worked with the government during war times over the years to get things done.

After the deal with the hidden maps, my favorite playing card story is the infamous Ace-of-Spades-only deck created especially for use in Vietnam (self-link).

USPC also made up a special deck to raise money for relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake.
posted by misha at 9:19 AM on December 5, 2010

misha - can you fix the link? The story sounds interesting.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:38 AM on December 5, 2010

Ack! Sure thing: Fixed link!
posted by misha at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2010

That's weird. I always eschewed Bicycle cards in favor of Hoyle and now I find out they're the same company?
posted by caution live frogs at 8:38 AM on December 6, 2010

You'd be surprised how often that happens.
posted by box at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2010

The US Playing Card Factory is in Norwood, Ohio and was a regular stop for me when I was delivering pizza. Their museum is fascinating.
posted by Mick

I used to live right across the street from USPC in Norwood (before they moved their HQ across the river to Kentucky) in an old 4-unit apartment building (you probably also delivered pizza to me, Mick). Not the best of locations. With the factory and all the trucks coming and going, it was pretty noisy and dusty. Although, the drug use, domestic fighting, and criminals on the run and being tazed in our building also added to the "flavor" of that building, none of which can be blamed on USPC.

Still, very cool to live so close to the place that produced these iconic playing cards. Always loved the big 4-story building, especially the big clock tower. And, as Mick said, their museum was really interesting. I wonder if it's still there since they've moved. It's a shame Ohio lost this bit of history to our neighbor to the south.
posted by schleppo at 9:00 AM on December 6, 2010

Oh, and they used to have a radio station "to promote the game of bridge by broadcasting bridge lessons." (about halfway down the page). You can see the broadcast tower on the right of the picture I linked earlier.
posted by schleppo at 9:17 AM on December 6, 2010

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