Early American playing cards

L[ewis] I. Cohen (1800-1868), [Standard deck of 52 playing cards.] 180 William Street, NY, [ca 1840s.]
52 playing cards, block printed in 4 colors on coated stock with foliate design in red on verso, edges rounded off, each ca. 3”h x 2 ½”w. Housed in a custom clamshell case.

An early and rare deck of American playing cards, complete and in excellent condition.

Playing cards are difficult to produce, requiring special paper and coatings as well as a capacity for color printing, and their manufacture came late to America and probably did not begin until after the Revolution. (Dawson, Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, p. 9) Indeed the earliest extant American cards, by Jazaniah Ford of the Boston area, seem to date from the 1790s. Given the heavy use to which they were subjected, all such early cards are rare.

Offered here is one such deck, made by the New York firm of Lewis I. Cohen. Cohen had begun his career as a stationer but made his mark as a manufacturer, becoming among other things the first in America to produce lead pencils, and in 1832 he published his first pack of cards. In 1835 he “invented a marvelous new machine, which revolutionized the entire playing card industry” by printing four colors in a single impression. (Dawson, p. 45)  By 1844 Cohen’s success necessitated a move to larger quarters, and he moved his plant to a large building at 184-190 William Street, New York (One puzzle is that our deck appears to bear an address of 180 William Street, though Dawson has no record of the firm at that address.) In 1854 Cohen turned over the business to his son Solomon and nephew Lawrence, and in 1860 firm was eventually renamed Lawrence, Cohen & Co.

Dawson, #NY4 (p. 47). The Beinecke Library’s Cary Playing Card Collection holds a variety of Cohen decks, both complete and incomplete, but none identical to that offered here.


Cards with some minor soiling and rubbing. Creases to ace, 3 and Jack of diamonds. Still very good or better.