Both of these lovely decks were
designed to advertise brands of actual bicycles. Let's start with the Monarchs:
The scarce and very desirable Monarch Bicycle decks (ca. 1895,
designated A12 in the Hochman Encyclopedia) came in six known color combinations, all six of which are
pictured below (note: I originally cited eight color combinations, but was convinced by Steve Bowling, and the
further evidence of personally owning only six variants, that the higher count was likely due to poor color
correction on various scans). The first two shown below are probably the most common of the Monarch varieties, but all six are very
rare. The elaborate court card designs featuring theater and cycling stars of the day were very likely the model for the
Stage decks that USPC produced soon after (SE3 and SE4, ca. 1896). A sample of the Monarch court cards are
pictured below, along with all of the aces, the joker and both examples of the special Lee Richardson
endorsement card. Lee Richardson was a trick rider or, as the card states, "the Premier Fancy Bicyclist
of the World."
I was also recently informed by collector Matt Schacht that Lee
Richardson was the son of L.M. Richardson of the Monarch Cycle Manufacturing Company. Matt cited the following
article from the Scientific American blog:
"Trick Riding." The article features pictures and
information from the May 1899 edition of the Scientific American about trick bicycle riding, which was
apparently very popular in the 1880's and 1890's. There is a brief reference to Lee Richardson, along with
several photographs of him performing daring and unusual stunts on a safety bicycle. Thanks, Matt!
Another collector friend wrote to me with this information:
"I have 3 different Monarch decks, originally noting only the differences in the color of the back
design but now, after further inspection, I find that they are different from one another in other ways.
First, the color of the wheel on the flap of each tuck box corresponds to the back color of each deck.
Second, the Monarch deck must have been issued for several years because two of my boxes are from the
Monarch Cycle Mnfg. Co. which began in 1892, but the third is from the Monarch Sales Department
of the American Bicycle Company which would date it to no earlier than 1899 when that sale took
place. One of the three decks also has the Jessie Bartlett Davis endorsement on the box [Lillian
Russell's endorsement is shown below]. Lastly, one of my decks has all 4 queens as Lillian Russell,
whereas, the other two have the image of Jessie Bartlett Davis on the Queen of Diamonds and the Queen
of Clubs. It is also interesting to note that the two images shown of Lillian Russell and Jessie
Bartlett Davis in the Monarch deck are different from their pictures shown on the Stage deck issued
one year later. By the way, both of their pictures appear together on the Queen of Diamonds in the
While we're on the subject of Monarch court cards, Matt
has also observed that the kings, captioned "King Cooper," show pictures of Tom Cooper, a
champion bicycle racer and early auto racer in the 1890's. You can read more about Tom on
his Wikipedia page.
Below you will see several pictures of Monarch cards,
a queen of hearts from a Stage deck for comparison, along with the front and back of a Monarch
advertising trade card, and a very interesting large Monarch banner which may have been displayed
in a bicycle shop.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The second of the decks pictured below is the Hartford
Safety Bicycle deck, another great and rare bicycle advertising deck (not listed in my edition of the
Hochman Encyclopedia). Scroll down to see examples of three different Hartford back designs. The most
common of the three is shown in first, in red and blue varieties. I have only seen blue examples of
the next two, so I'm not sure if they were issued in red as well. Also pictured is a Hartford Bicycle ace
of spades and joker. The Hartford decks are perhaps even more difficult to find than the Monarchs. An
example of either brand makes for a fine complement to any Bicycle card collection.