When were numbers and letters put on playing cards?

When were numbers and letters put on playing cards?

Bill Calloway

Wilmington, Delaware

I contacted an old friend, Dr. Lafitte, an expert on the history of cards and gambling, and this is what he had to say: “To begin with, the ‘letters and numbers’ are called indexes, and in the brief history of indexes, there were two basic sizes. The first size was fairly small; all a person had to do was to barely fan the cards to see the indexes. Because one only needed to give the cards a slight squeeze to see the index, they were nicknamed ‘squeezers.’ They were a novelty at first, but their popularity increased by the early 1870s. One of the early popular squeezers was a deck called either the ‘Lone Star’ or ‘Texas Lone Star’ deck because of a large star on the back of the cards (circa 1870-75). How small was the index? Just look at the index of today’s playing card—look just at the number, not the suit symbol—now visualize a complete index slightly smaller than that.

“The second size is the one we are familiar with today. A number of playing card companies claim to have created it. I have a Grover Cleveland Presidential Deck (1888, if I’m not mistaken), and that has an index almost the size of a modern-day index. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that today’s indexes became popular.”

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.