The Cards of War

Long before the United States Playing Card Company printed Ace of Spades Decks for American troops in Vietnam, card makers all over the world were producing war decks.

War decks commemorated past conflicts, battles, victories, and leaders—or even helped troops to pass the time or get to know their enemies.

Some of the oldest available war cards show impressive figures from older wars. An 1819 deck printed in Philadelphia depicts Washington, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams as the kings on the court cards. In 1898, the NY Consolidated Card Company put out a Spanish American War deck (complete with poker chips) to supply troops with playing cards.

In 1898, the NY Consolidated Card Company put out a Spanish American War deck (complete with poker chips) to supply troops with playing cards.

In 1916, just before the US entered World War I, a Montreal company put out six versions of an Allied Armies Deck, featuring the flags of the Allied European countries. The kings and queens were actual monarchs of the time. In 1918, the United States Playing Card Company put out four different decks with card backs that celebrated the Artillery, the Navy, the Air Corps, and the Tank Corps.

One of the more famous decks you may already know about is the Ace of Spades Deck produced by The United States Playing Card Company in 1966—at the request of two lieutenants in the US military. The spades symbol was used as psychological warfare against the Viet Cong, who were highly superstitious of the symbol. In addition to that deck, there’s the famous peel-apart deck for POWs during World War II and the Aircraft Spotters Decks meant to educate the public as well as the military.

The war cards that remain today are some of the most valuable cards a collector can find. It’s their crossover appeal that makes them so expensive; card fans, museums, and military buffs all collect and lovingly hoard them.

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