Union Playing Cards from the Civil War era

Benjamin W. Hitchcock, UNION PLAYING CARDS. New York: American Card Company, 1862.
52 playing cards, each 3 ½”h x 2 ½”w, printed in blue and red on recto and blue on verso. Housed in original telescoping cardboard box with printed wraps, the interior of the box still retaining the original revenue stamp.

A pack of patriotic playing cards employing patriotic symbols in lieu of the traditional French suits. Complete with the original box in remarkably intact condition.

The cards were published in 1862, no doubt both to exploit and encourage patriotic sentiment in the early years of the Civil War. The back of the box tells the story:

“THE AMERICAN CARD CO. Confident that the introduction of NATIONAL EMBLEMS in place of Foreign, in PLAYING CARDS, will be hailed with delight by the American People, take pleasure in presenting the UNION PLAYING CARDS. As the first and only Genuine American Cards ever produced, in the fullest confidence that the time is not far distant when they will be the leading Card in American market….


The Union Cards are calculated to play all the Games for which the old style of Playing Cards are used. The suits are EAGLES, SHIELDS, STARS, and FLAGS, GODDESS OF LIBERTY in place of Queen, COLONEL for King, MAJOR for Jack. In playing with these Cards, they are to be called by the names the emblems represent, and as the Emblems are as familiar as household words, everywhere among the American people, they can be used as readily the first occasion as Cards bearing Foreign emblems.”

The cards appeared under the imprint of Benjamin W. Hitchcock’s American Card Company. Hitchcock was

“…owner of a music and publishing business at 14 Chambers St., New York. The business consisted of sheet music, books, musical instruments, printing presses, and type. The time frame that Hitchcock printed playing cards is questionable, but assumed to be between 1862 and 1864 based upon their boxes and dates found on tax stamps. The ace of eagles clearly states that the American Card Company had offices at 14 Chambers St. and 165 William St. in New York City.” (Kristin Patterson, It’s A Wrap! U.S. Revenue Stamps Used on Playing Cards, 1862-1883, p. 21)

According to Dawson & Dawson’s Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards Hitchcock’s firm issued two packs of Union Playing Cards, the present one in 1862 and a much rarer one the following year.

Dawson & Dawson, Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, #W5 (p. 218). Willshire, Descriptive Catalogue of Playing and Other Cards in the British Museum, V. 247 (p. 324). OCLC 48614552 (Indiana University), 612252970 (Harvard), 905078119 (American Antiquarian, lacking the box), 847576058 (Bibliotheque Nationale) and 962996048 (Bibliotheque Nationale). Note that some of these are listed with the incorrect title Union Playing Cards.


Minor soiling to cards. Box soiled, rubbed and scuffed, with minor losses to wraps, but structurally sound.