Samuel Hart is a legend in the history of American Playing Cards. He is credited with the introduction of many advancements and innovations which have become the standard features of playing cards available for purchase today in America.
Beginning his career working as an apprentice for his uncle, Lewis I. Cohen, Hart got his start in the family stationer business in New York City. Cohen, a prodigy in his own right, was renowned in his field for being a master card maker.
Coming from a long line of stationers and booksellers, Hart became acquainted with the business of paper and stationery manufacture from an early age. Hart’s immediate family had been in the business since 1831. His extended family also had similar business interests, having stores and proprietorships extending all the way from Philadelphia to New York.
In 1844 Hart exited his uncle’s business, having learned the trade sufficiently, and ventured out on his own. In Philadelphia he established his first store, and traded under the name “Samuel Hart & Co.” The store was located at 27 South Fourth Street.
By 1849 Hart began to manufacture his first playing cards, and quickly his business grew. From 1849 onward Hart established and maintained offices in New York City as well. During the 1850’s Hart introduced the playing card brands “Mogul” and “Steamboat.”
Hart also receives credit for introducing the Joker to playing card decks sometime on or around the 1860s. During the mid 19th century the game Euchre encountered widespread public popularity in the U.S.
The game requires an extra trump card, or Best Bower, and Samuel Hart’s new Joker satisfied the need.
From his plant, Hart produced decks which enjoyed notable American popularity. Brands like “Hart’s Linen Eagle,” “Club House,” and “London Club Cards” found themselves in widespread circulation.
Enter the Civil War, and troops from both the North and the South spent their idle time playing cards using Hart’s decks.
In 1871 Samuel Hart, along with Solomon Cohen, John Lawrence, and several other successful New York card makers unified their businesses, and formed the New York Consolidate Card Co. Thereafter, Samuel Hart & Co cased to operate independently.
During his 22 year span as an independent playing card manufacturer, Hart produced a vast array of decks and is credited for a number of important milestones. His decks were some of the first which featured satin finishes, rounded corners, and double-ends.
Though Hart wasn’t the first manufacturer to introduce these features, he was the first to mass produce and make them commercially available to the American public. This led to his cards being the first with all such features to enter widespread circulation.
Like many merchants and proprietors of his era, Samuel Hart had a number of metallic tokens struck as advertising storecards†. A total of six metallic storecards spanning from the years 1854 through 1859 have thus far been documented. The six varieties are listed below:
Below are several examples of Samuel Hart’s storecards.
The first example is Miller PA-197A. Struck sometime between 1854-1857, the specimen is Mint State on a copper planchet.
The second specimen, also struck sometime between 1854-1857, is a Miller PA-197B. This particular token was struck on white metal. Despite obvious deterioration, the specimen still maintains Fine details.
The specimens below were struck later, estimated between the years 1858-1859. The specimen below is a Miller PA-195 and is silvered brass. It is Choice EF in grade.
The next specimen was struck in brass. It is in Mint State grade, and is a Miller PA-196A.
The next specimen is also in brass. It is in Extra Fine grade, and possesses a patina less golden than the specimen above. It is also a Miller PA-196A.
The final two specimens were struck in hard rubber. Pursuant to correspondence with David Schenkman, these varieties are extremely rare.
The first specimen is listed as Schenkman NY610-H10b and was struck in brown rubber. It is approximately VF-25 in grade. It is estimated that it has a Fuld Rarity Rating of no less than R-8, and possibly even R-9.
The second specimen was struck in gold rubber. Given a catalog number of Fuld NY630AGa-1h, the specimen is classified as an ‘unlisted’ Civil War token.
As with the above specimen, the gold rubber specimen is also estimated to have a Fuld Rarity Rating of no less than R-8.
As of this article’s writing, it is not yet known whether this unlisted variety will be included in the next edition of Fuld’s Civil War Store Card book. Some contention exists as to whether it was actually a token emitted for commerce, or rather for use as a poker chip.
Samuel Hart died on June 2, 1885 in Philadelphia. He was 67 years old. His legacy remains alive today, every time a poker player checks, calls, and folds.
Notes and Sources
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg.385
- Merchant Tokens of Hard Rubber and Similar Compositions, David Schenkman, Jade House Publications, ©1991, pg.1117
The Library of Congress Digital Archives
The New York Clipper Annual Containing Theatrical, Musical and Sporting Chronologies, The Frank Queen Publishing Company, 1893, pg.87
‘Uniform Trade List Circular: For the Benefit of Publishers, Booksellers, News Dealers, and Stationers,’ Volume 1, Howard Challen, 1866
The Literary World Volume 6, Osgood & Co., 1850
Correspondence with David Schenkman
Correspondence with Steve Hayden