New York Consolidated Card Company

A History of the Cohens

The New York Consolidated Card Company is one of the many that got brought under the wing of The United States Playing Card Company in the late 19th century. But before that, it was one of the biggest producers of playing cards in the United States. And even before that, it was a handful of cousins and companies, casually redefining the way playing cards were printed.

Lewis Cohen, born in 1800, was the founder of the New York Consolidated Card Company printing empire, and first made his living as an inventor. He was the first to produce lead pencils in America, and may have been the first to sell steel pens. And in 1835, three years after beginning to print playing cards in his humble stationary shop, he invented a machine that would change the card industry.

It was the four-color printing machine, one that allowed four colors to print on one sheet in one impression. The patent rights were Cohen’s, meaning he could keep the construction plans secret. Which in turn meant that Cohen dominated the playing card market with higher production output and better quality.

In 1854, Cohen had so much cash in reserve that he decided to retire at the ripe old age of 54. He turned the firm over to his son Solomon and nephew John Lawrence. Six years later, when Cohen died, the young prodigies changed the company name to Lawrence, Cohen & Co. At this point, another nephew, Samuel Hart, already had a card business with access to his uncle’s printer. John Levy, yet another nephew, was busy producing cards the same way at a company of his own.

Printing cards was a lucrative business for people who had access to the four-color printer, but these cousins knew that wouldn’t always be the case.

Printing cards was a lucrative business for people who had access to the four-color printer, but these cousins knew that wouldn’t always be the case. Soon the patent rights on Lewis’ four-color press would expire, and the rights to the design would be available to anyone—particularly Andrew Dougherty’s card company. Dougherty would be in a position to take over the entire playing card industry.

When the patent expired, it took the Cohen cousins some time to figure out how to keep their individual companies afloat. The solution: join forces and create one master card company. They teamed up to form the Consolidated Card Company in 1871, and since their HQ was in New York, they became known the New York Consolidated Card Company.

In 1894, The United States Playing Card Company approached Samuel Cohen and John Lawrence, and they forged a deal. Cohen and Lawrence would sell New York Consolidated Card Company to The United States Playing Card Company, if New York Consolidated Card Company could operate separately, and Cohen and Lawrence could be on The United States Playing Card Company Board of Directors. The deal was struck, and the New York Consolidated Card Company continued operating this way until 1930. At that point, New York Consolidated Card Company teamed up with former industry rival Andrew Dougherty, and merged into the Consolidated-Dougherty company. In 1962, the company dissolved to finally join, kit and caboodle, with The United States Playing Card Company.

Collectors will certainly recognize several of the brands that the New York Consolidated Card Company produced en masse. The New York Consolidated Card Company was the original printer of the “Bee #92” decks, which The United States Playing Card Company still produces, and many casinos prefer. They also developed the “Squeezers” brand (so named for the ease of fanning out a several cards in a one-handed grip), “De Luxe No. 142,” “Lighthouse No. 922,” and many others.

Does anyone here have any cards from the New York Consolidated Card Company in their collection?

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Comments(2)

  • The Bee cards from New York Consolidated Card featured a joker with a large bumble bee. On the bee is a baby jester in yellow and blue and red holding his bauble (jokers wand). I have five variations of this joker in my joker collection. They are in the "flying jokers" section of the joker collection. I cite this page there for the history of the Consolidated Playing Card Company: http://www.amusedbyjokersami.com/2017/09/animal-jokers-flyers-bees-birds-owls.html

  • Your question affects me deeply:
    > Does anyone here have any cards from the New York Consolidated Card Company in their collection?

    I am a collector of joker playing cards and have recently been obsessed with creating an organizational system around my 2000+ collection of jokers. Mostly, I have focused on the design of the jokers. However, your discussion of the history of the US playing card companies has me thinking that it’s time for me to start associating the different jokers with the companies that designed them!

    My first version of my taxonomy of jokers (I’m about to publish an updated version):
    http://www.amusedbyjokersami.com/2017/03/joker-collecting-organized.html

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