A Brief History of the Joker Card

While playing cards have been around for over a millennium, Joker cards are a relatively new addition.

A Brief History of the Joker Card

They first appeared in printed decks in the 1860s—only a few years before the first iteration of The United States Playing Card Company appeared in Cincinnati, Ohio. They fascinate us so much that we made a deck using tons of the Jokers we found in our archives.

While 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.

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.

Do you have any unique Jokers in your collection that you didn’t just pull from your Jokers Deck?

Tell us all about ‘em!

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  • I’ve recently added a post on Bicycle Jokers. I could do with some authoritative input on the history of them. I have 60 jokers classified as bicycle jokers: http://www.amusedbyjokersami.com/2018/02/bicycle-jokers.html

  • I have no opinion on the history of the joker it’s not impossible for both origin stories to be true. I do collect jokers which I document online: http://www.amusedbyjokersami.com

  • Frank,

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this! This is very interesting!

    – The Bicycle Team

  • Surprisingly it’s NOT a coincidence the Joker being related to the TAROT. Simply because the whole deck of playing cards are derived from the tarot!!! The Tarot consists of 78 cards in total and is divided into two groups, the major and the minor arcanas. The major Arcana are 22 cards consisting of laws & principals they are sometimes called trump cards assigned to the Quaballah & consequently relating to parts of the human body, which essentially is the quaballah tree of life. The Minor arcana are 56 cards that relate to paths of life stemming from the spiritual emotional mental and physical bodies of ones being. So you may ask how does this relate to a playing deck or the joker for that matter. Simple! In the minor arcana there are 1 through ten & the court cards king queen page and knights or princesses in some decks as that’s their position in the way that princes and princess are male and female of the same energy. So if you remove the knight or in some cases the princes card you have the court cards king queen and page or better known as (Jack) making the 56 deck into a 52 deck divided by Clubs (wands or fire Spiritual body) Hearts (cups or Emotional Body) Spades (swords or air metal body) &
    Diamonds (Pentacles or coins physical body) This now is exactly like the minor arcana and many people give readings with only the minor arcanea as the major only explains the laws and principals you are working with and the minor is really the journey. WOWWW!!! Amazing right!!! So where does the Joker fit in? The highest card in the tarot is the joker or the fool. Because he who has knowledge is better protected from the ignorant masses by playing the fool. The number of the fool is 0 meaning eternity & representing the highest form of spirituality one can attain by being in control of all the elements on their journey, however its position in the deck is 22 which is the bridge of the major and minor arcanas though it is seen as a trump card it is in fact a card that stands on its own and acts as a bridge between both arcanas What most readers don’t know in fact it is in itself the whole tarot and every card in the tarot is a facet of the fool or the fools journey to finding or completing oneself. On the body the fool represents the heart and the mind is represented by the devil, as your mind but not your heart can deceive you. There are however a positive and negative aspect of every card depending on which card it is next to defines it’s accurate meaning of a reading. So the fool is sometimes depicted as a man on a journey or a child representing the innocent fool or a man ravaged by the elements who is the ignorant fool. Depending on which tarot deck you get but the aspects are the same regardless of the artwork. So again how does this coincide with the deck of playing cards and the joker or jokers rather? The deck of playing cards is the minor arcana the four bodies of ones self and the journeys arising out of them along with two trump cards the mind and the heart the black and white joker the mind of practicality and the joker of color the heart or sometimes imagination. Since the joker came later it was not put into the deck but rather put back into the deck. The tarot was originally scrolls or tablets from the library of Alexandria and was given to gypsies when the library burned down; they only became cards three hundred years later. They were always used for divination but then the game Tarot evolved out of it to hide their meaning and used for enjoyment. Playing the game Tarot without the major arcane is called bridge. But both Tarot decks and playing card decks can be used for divination or playing card games. Of course there are more details and history involved but that’s it in a nutshell.

    I hope this answers anyone’s questions about the Joker(s) in the deck.
    Frank Ditto
    Creator of the Egyptian Tarot Dice and the 78 Tarot Spread.


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