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The New York Times, November 13, 1870 p. 6:|
PLAYING CARDSHow and Where They are Made, and How Many--Cards of Different Countries--
Extent of Card Manufacture in This Country--Things Not Generally Known.
...We have lately made a thorough investigation of the card manufacturing interest in the United States, and, by the courtesy of one of the largest, if not the largest, manufacturer and dealer in the country, who has given us access to his books, and kindly shown and carefully explained every step and every process in the elaborate business of card-making, we have been able to collate some facts not generally known, and which we think cannot fail to interest the reader.
When we set forth with the astounding statement that there are now made 5,000,000 packs of cards in the United States every year, and that all this immense quantity of goods is made and sent into the market by but four factories, and that one of these four produces more cards than the other three combined, it will be readily perceived that the business of this last house requires a manufactory of considerable magnitude.
In England, the large establishments of CHARLES GOODALL & SONS, and DE LA RUE make very fine cards, very few of which are imported to America at present, for two reasons--firstly, the high, almost prohibitory duty; secondly, the American manufacturers produce cards of quite as good quality as the foreign, and at a price much cheaper.
When it is considered that every pack of cards made in this country pays to the Government a tax of five cents per pack, without regard to quality, and that this tax amounts to $350,000 per annum, it will be seen that the card manufacturer's interest is by no means a contemptible one.
One manufacturer carries on his business in a large five-story building, thirty feet front, every room in which, from cellar to attic, is used for the manufacture of playing cards or the storage of stock of finished goods. One hundred and fifty people are employed within the walls, where every operation connected with card-making is carried on, save only the original manufacture of the paper stock--even this is brought into the building in the rough, and is there pasted, thickened, sized, calendered, and otherwise manipulated to secure for it the degree of polish requisite to the best finished cards.
Even the colored inks are ground and mixed by the workmen, and many of the complex machines used in the business were invented, built and set running on the spot where now they do their work.
Of the 150 persons constantly employed, two-thirds, or about 100, are girls, whose ages run from about fifteen up to as old as they will own up to. Their work is sorting, counting, packing, sealing, tending cutting machines, and doing other light work, for which women are peculiarily fitted.
These girls earn from $4 to $7 a week each, according to the style of work and the quickness and capability of the worker, and they find constant employment all the year round.
In the panic years of 1857 and 1861 the factory closed, stopping work each year about six weeks. At no other time from the year 1848 to the present date has a single employe ever been discharged from this establishment for lack of work. A considerable number of boys are also employed to tend the printing presses.
Very much of the work which is here accomplished by machinery is done in England by hand. Indeed, there are certain machines in the establishment which are unknown to the trade elsewhere, having been invented and patented by the manufacturer himself, who is a most ingenious practical mechanic.
Contrary to the general supposition, the stock, or pasteboard, of which playing cards are made is not by any means a single sheet of thick pasteboard; it is made of three sheets of specially prepared paper, which are carefully pasted together, and afterward, while moist, placed in a hydraulic press of tremendous power, which expels all the air from the paste, and causes the sheets to cohere perfectly.
The thick sheet produced in this manner has elasticity, spring--what the makers call "life"--while a sheet of ordinary pasteboard is pulpy, porous, and with no spring or power of restoring itself when bent out of line.
These pasted sheets are dried in large, airy rooms at the top of the house--a process which takes two or more days.
The three sheets which compose the card are the face sheet, on which the spots of the card are printed; the back sheet, containing whatever design the taste of the maker has chosen; and the middle or body sheet. These three sheets are by no means of the same quality of stock, the face, back and middle being not unfrequently of three different degrees of [indecipherable], according to the grade of goods it is desired to produce.
THE PRINTING AND SORTING.
The printing of the faces and backs is, of course, done before the pasting of the sheets. the entire "deck" of fifty-two cards is printed on every face sheet; the twelve court cards are grouped in the middle, and the others are arranged about them--the sheets are manufactured so as to leave a very narrow margin, that they may be cut with little waste. This is very easily managed, for all cards, no matter what the quality, are of exactly the same size.
The printing of the backs is done on steam presses, from engraved brass cylinders, in precisely the same way that calico printing is done. Indeed, it is stated that the moveable wooden blocks which at first were employed for printing card-backs suggested the mode of calico printing which is now in use.
These presses are exceedingly ingenious affairs, and, by a beautiful though simple arrangement of separate rollers and ink fountains, they print in five colors at once--the sheet which goes in blank coming out with the entire pack printed thereon, the kings, queens and knaves respendent in yellow, blue and green, besides the red and black in which not only they rejoice, but which is the everyday wear of their humbler companions of the rank and file. The backs also, having five or less colors, are printed in the same manner.
Having been printed the cards are now "sized" and then "calendered," which processes are to render them smmooth and glossy, and to make them "slip" easily.
They are now ready for the "cutting," which is done by machinery--the cutting-tool being what is known as the "circular shears," an arrangement by which two blades, fixed spirally around cylinders which move in opposite directions, catch the sheet between them and cut it perfectly true and smooth.
The sheet is passed through the cutting machine twice, the first time slitting it into long slips, which on the second cutting are divided into cards of the proper size. Each of these machines will cut twenty packs a minute.
When the owner of this concern went into business in 1848, he had a single cutting machine worked by a foot treadle, which would cut three gross of cards a week, or do in six days about two hours of work of one of the present cutters.
Having been cut, the cards are next assorted, or laid out in piles with the proper number for a pack in each. The cutting machine itself drops the cards off in packs, and at one time the cheaper sorts were packed and sent off with no other counting. It was soon found, however, that though the machine would lay off the proper number of cards, and those of the proper suits for each pack, it would take no note of damaged or badly-printed specimens.
Now the cards, after leaving the machine, are carefully assorted by a girl, who sees that there are fifty-two perfect cards of the proper suits in each "deck." This girl works by the piece, and as, in her eagerness to assort as many dozens as possible in a day, she is liable to make mistakes, her work is looked over, and her cards again assorted by another girl, who is paid by the week, and who therefore has no temptation to gain time at the cost of slighting her work.
The loose cards now pass into the hands of the "wrappers," who put each pack in its own proper paper or wrapper, with one of the familiar well-known figures on it, the warlike "Highlander," the easy-going "Grand Mogul," the explosiver "steamboat," or the screeching "American eagle;" every six packs are then enclosed in a larger wrapper and handed to another girl, who fastens the ends of the envelope with sealing-wax.
TAX ON CARDS.
The cards are now ready for sale, though not for delivery, for after a sale is made the goods must be unsealed, the Government five-cent stamp affixed to each pack, and then resealed.
In England, the Government at one time made sure of its tax by compelling the manufacturer to buy one of every pack from the Revenue Office; thus the card manufacturer could print but fifty-one of the fifty-two cards, but must buy every ace of spades from the Queen, the making of that card by any but the Government agents being a felony, amounting to counterfeiting. This is why in all English cards the ace of spades is always so highly ornamented. It formerly bore the Queen's stamp, and now in America that card is generally selected by the maker on which to print his own name.
MINOR OPERATIONS OF CARD-MAKING.
We have omitted to describe many of the minor operations of card-making; suffice to say that even the cheapest cards are handled sixteen times while the finer qualities go through no less than thirty-three separate processes from the time the paper goes into the factory till the finished card goes out.
While the "pips" and "court cards" remain ever the same, the backs of playing-cards are varied almost infinitely. There are hundreds of distinct designs, English, American and French, which are multiplied to hundreds more by printing the same back in different combinations of colors.
It has often been asked why card makers persist in retaining the same old meaningless, and certainly hideous faces and dresses for their court cards. The kings and queens, as represented in the picture cards, would be the vilest of caricatures if they bore the slightest resemblence to anything in the heavens above, the earth beneath, or the waters under the earth.
The experiment has been tried, however, of having beautifully engraved pictures of women and men in royal robes for the monarchs of the "deck," but it has always resulted in failure and in pecuniary disaster. The manufacturer whose place we have been describing once undertook to rectify the public taste in this regard. Paying out a huge sum for finely-engraved court ladies and gentlemen, he put the same on the market, anticipating not only the thanks of all lovers of the beautiful, but also looking for a substantial return of many shekels to his yearning pockets.
Alas! The ungrateful public ignored the pretty women and the gallant men, and stuck tightly to the red and yellow monstrosities of their youth; eventually the enterprising manufacturer sent his cards to California, where they were ignominously sold at auction for something considerably less than a penny a pack, and he philosophically pocketed the loss, having bought his experience at the reasonable sum of a trifle over $15,000, gold.
INCREASE OF THE BUSINESS.
The great demand for the cheaper grade of playing cards is found in the West. Before the late war St. Louis was the great card depot of the country. The Atlantic and Mississippi Steam-ship Company have often bought $1,500 worth of cards at once.
Massachusetts calls for more fine cards than any other State in the Union, the reason being that there are few theatres or other places of amusement, and cards are called in to fill the gap.
Previous to 1860 there were but four manufactories in the United States. From 1861 to 1864 there were six new ones added, making ten, all of which six collapsed when the soldiers were disbanded in 1865.
In 1862, '63, and '64, the largest house produced 1,131,950 packs--then, having increased their facilities, they began to make at the rate of 500,000 packs a year. From 1850 to 1858 the greatest number of cards were made, owing to the rush to California, and the lack of female society there, and the utter isolation of thousands of the men from ever other species of amusement.
In those years the average number of packs per annum was 9,000,000, an average which was again attained from 1862 to 1866, when the greatest number of soldiers were in the field to put down the Great Rebellion. Of these more than 50 per cent. were common sorts of goods.
Although by far the greater number of packs contain fifty-two cards each, there are some "euchre packs" made, in which all under the seven spots are rejected, leaving thirty-two in a "deck."
Marked cards, for gamblers' uses, are made generally by the cheats themselves, who take common honest cards and print "extras" over them, though it is said that some regular manufacturers make them to order.
In prices American cards vary all the way from the common steam-boat, star or calico back at $18 a gross up to the elegant Grand Mogul cotton-plant backs, with gold spots, extra super enameled at $150, so that any one who is prepared to pay his money can certainly be allowed almost any sort of a reasonable choice.