Rare illustrated broadside advertising the “Union Playing Cards”

American Card Company / J. R. Hawley, 162 and 164 Vine Street, Cincinnati , AMERICAN CARD COMPANY'S / UNION PLAYING CARDS / NATIONAL EMBLEMS / THE SUITS ARE EAGLES, SHIELDS, STARS AND FLAGS. / Colonel in place of King,---Goddess of Liberty for Queen,---Major for Jack. , [Cincinnati, ca 1862].
Broadside printed in blue and red, 19"h x 12 1/8"w

An attractive and unrecorded broadside advertisement for Union Playing Cards.

The New York-based American Card Company introduced its Union Playing Cards in 1862, no doubt to capitalize on patriotic fervor early in the Civil War. The cards eliminated the traditional suits and replaced them with an American eagle, the United States flag, a star, and a shield bearing the stars and bars. Similarly, the Jack, Queen and King were replaced by a Major, the Goddess of Liberty, and a Colonel respectively.

“[The] American Card Company was operated by Benjamin W. Hitchcock, 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.

“Three versions of the Union Cards were made especially for Americans. This was conveyed through the following message on the Union Cards box, ‘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. Explanation. 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.'” (Kristin Patterson, It’s A Wrap! U.S. Revenue Stamps Used on Playing Cards, 1862-1883, p. 21)

In line with this prediction the Union Playing Cards seem to have been quite successful, as they are encountered today with some frequency on the antiquarian market.

The broadside
This very attractive broadside was issued by bookseller and publisher J.R. Hawley of Cincinnati, apparently acting as a distributor of the Union Playing Cards. Printed entirely in blue and red, the image consists of several lines of headline type surmounting images of the set’s distinctive patriotic face cards and suit symbols. Small type at the base touts the cards’ distinctiveness, packaging, commercial potential, and “Price to the Trade $3.50 per doz. or $40 per gross.” The two-color printing, the exuberant headline type, the images of the face cards, and the delicate foliate border all combine to considerable decorative effect.

The broadside bears an interesting inscription on the verso:

“This is a specimen / Milton Weaver / A Private of Company / F 74th Regt [OVI?] / [1-2 words illegible] Weaver / P[riva]t[e] / Milton Weaver / Chattanoog[a]”

Weaver was a native of Vandalia, Ohio who enlisted in the 74th in November 1861 at the age of 18. He served nearly three years, seeing action at Chattanooga and in the Atlanta campaign, among others, before being killed in action at Jonesboro, Georgia in September 1864. (Background from finding aid to Weaver’s papers at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.) Presumably Hawley sent the broadside to Weaver at Chattanooga, with an eye toward engaging him as a distributor of the cards to his comrades.

While the Union Playing Cards themselves are not rare, this broadside is extraordinarily so. I have been unable to locate any other examples, either having appeared on the antiquarian market or in institutional collections.

As of November 2017, not in OCLC. Americana Exchange lists no examples having appeared on the market.


Some foxing and soiling, numerous mends and reinforcements to fold separations, with some small losses along folds and at intersections affecting the image in a few places. A few lines of manuscript in ink on verso.