Andrew Dougherty

Andrew Dougherty’s intricate designs and patented finishes made him a key player in the early American playing card scene, preceding even Russell, Morgan, & Co.

Andrew Dougherty

Andrew Dougherty changed the face of playing cards. What follows is a dive into his life, career, and all the ways he became a leader in his industry.

Born an Irishman, his parents left Donegal in 1834 to immigrate to the United States. Andrew was seven years old at the time, and would grow to spend his teenage years doing odd jobs around New England—including a stint as a whaler off the coast of Massachusetts, and a worker with a playing card company. By 1848, at age 21, he’d amassed enough savings to start a playing card business of his own. Those savings, by the way, totaled $800—roughly $21,000 in 2014.

Soon after starting his first card company, he merged with the Coughtry brothers in 1849 to form Coughtry and Dougherty. They worked together for a few years, and then split after the debts racked up. Dougherty managed to pay off his debts, and then settled in for 15 prosperous years at a new playing card business on Beekman Street.

By the time he moved to the seven-story main building on Center Street, he had acquired over $70,000 in equipment

By the time he moved to the seven-story main building on Center Street, he had acquired over $70,000 in equipment (those are 1870s dollars), employed 130 people, and could produce three and a half million decks in a year. Not bad for a guy who, just twenty-two years earlier, was hand painting court cards with a brush and stencil.

Thirty-seven years later in 1907, by now in the hands of Dougherty’s sons, The United States Playing Card Company bought A. Dougherty Playing Card Manufacturers and let it operate as an independent manufacturer until 1930. At that point, it merged with New York Consolidated Card Company to become Consolidated-Dougherty, a division of The United States Playing Card Company.

Dougherty managed to develop and patent two distinct finishes: the Linoid finish and the Pegulose finish.

In his time as one of the world’s leading playing card manufacturers, Dougherty managed to develop and patent two distinct finishes: the Linoid finish and the Pegulose finish. The linoid finish adds an extra coating to the cards to make them less stickly; The United States Playing Card Company still uses this finish on their Tally-Ho® decks. The Pegulose finish added a coat that let players wash the cards when soiled.

In 1876, Dougherty grabbed the patent for Triplicates, a short-lived trend in playing cards in which each playing card displayed two miniature versions of itself in the top left and lower right corners. Despite the quick nature of the trend, it made Dougherty as an even bigger force to contend with in the playing card imagery.

And of course, the patents wouldn’t mean much without stunning cards. Dougherty’s care for detail can be seen from his tucks down to the tiniest parts in his Ace of Spades illustrations. Scroll through the above photos for a glimpse of the attention in every little bit of his work.

Are you a Dougherty fan? Do you have a favorite deck his company produced? Tell us in the Comments section.

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