A reliable way to date decks made by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) is the dating code printed on the ace of spades or joker at the time it was manufactured. The code is helpful in dating decks after 1904, the year it started, according to the Hochman Encyclopedia. But, I have found evidence that the dating code was actually in use prior to 1904 which is why I have amended the chart to include 1899-1903 (highlighted in yellow, below). Kei Izumi, a collector from Japan, found a US8d Motor No. 1 deck, which was introduced in 1901 and discontinued in 1907, with a "D" code on the ace (pictured below). I purchased a US8d Tri-Tire No. 1 deck issued in the United Kingdom with a "B" date code which could only correspond to 1899. This is enough evidence to amend the chart accordingly. Further evidence of 1899 to 1903 date codes is always welcome.

A few cards from Kei Izumi's Motor No. 1 deck

The USPCC Capitol deck pictured below also has a "D" date code. While this ace design is more closely associated with US8a, the very first Bicycle ace of spades dating from 1885, this Capitol ace references "United States Playing Card Company," with no mention of the Russell and Morgan Printing Company, or the Russell and Morgan factory. This is consistent with US8d decks which were first produced in 1900. Thanks to Clay Boulware for noticing the date code and providing the images.

This Capitol deck also has a "D" date code

The code consists of a letter usually followed by a number. The letter is really the only thing helpful to collectors; the numbers are likely related to the printing run. National Playing Card Co. and New York Consolidated Co., at the time subsidiaries of USPCC, also used these same codes. As Andrew Dougherty and Russell Playing Card Co. became part of USPCC they also began to use the codes. Use the chart below to determine the year the deck was printed. Since there are many dates for each letter, you should first refer to the start and end dates for the back design on this site (for Bicycle cards). You can also look at the tax stamp on the tuck case (if any), design of the ace of Spades, and style of the box (if any!) to help determine the correct year for the deck. It is also worth noting that older decks can occasionally be found in newer boxes, and vice versa, presumably because inventory of boxes and decks did not always run out at the same time. Collectors will also sometimes pair an orphan deck with an empty box. Most, but not all collectors will be sure the box and deck are of a concurrent vintage.

The letter Q was also used in many decks made in 1991 or 1992.

This chart is reproduced from the Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, an EXTREMELY helpful resource for any collector of U.S. playing cards.

Rod Starling has also sent me some updated information on the more recent printing codes in use by the United States Playing Card Company. I have put this information HERE.


Thanks to PETER ENDEBROCK for permission to reproduce his excellent guide to U.S. revenue stamps. These stamps were usually affixed to vintage playing card tuck cases and are useful for determining the issue date of 19th and 20th century U.S. playing card decks. Most of the tax stamps shown below, and the corresponding text, are from Peter's dating page, which can be found at Peter's website also has a fascinating array of antique European playing cards from his collection.

This stamp was in use from 1894 to 1896. The text is 'PLAYING CARDS - ON HAND AUG. 1894 - TWO CENTS' and 'U.S. - I.R.'.


This stamp was in use from 1894 to 1917. The text is 'PLAYING CARDS - ACT OF AUG. 1894 - TWO CENTS' and 'U.S. - I.R.'. The stamp was cancelled by the U.S.P.C.CO. with the date 5-1-01.


These stamps are similar to the one above. They were in use from 1917 to 1919. The overprint mentions 'Act of 1917', when taxes were increased, and on the second stamp also the new value '7 CENTS'.


These also were in use from 1917 to 1919, the Act of 1917 is referenced by the overprint '17'. They were cancelled by N.Y.C.C.CO.


This is another stamp in use from 1917 to 1919. The overprint is the new value '7'. It was cancelled by S.P.C.CO. (Standard).


These again were in use from 1917 to 1919, the center row of the cancelling shows the new value '7 CTS.' (cancelled by R.P.C.Co. (Russell) and dated 10-4-'17) resp. '7 CENTS' (cancelled by S.P.C.Co. (Standard) dated 10-4-1917).


This is the last version in use from 1917 to 1919, the overprint shows the new value '7c'. Both stamps were cancelled by R.P.C.Co. (Russell) on '1-25-'18'.


These stamps were in use from 1918 to 1919. The text is 'U.S.INT.REV.', 'PLAYING CARDS,' and 'CLASS A.' Both stamps have have '7 CENTS' in the center row of the cancellation, and they were cancelled by the U.S.P.C.Co. with the date 3-4-1919.


These are two more of the 'CLASS A' stamps. They were in use from 1919 to 1924. The text is 'U.S.I.R.', 'PLAYING CARDS,' and 'CLASS A.' The left stamp has an '8c' overprint, and was canceled by the P.P.C.Co., the right stamp was cancelled by U.S.P.C.Co. dated 8-1-1922.


These stamps were in use from 1919 to 1924. Note the '8 Cts.' resp. '8c' overprint! The left stamp was cancelled by the AD (Dougherty), the right one by R.P.C.Co. (Russell), both with dated 4-1-19.


This stamp was in use from 1924 to 1929. The text is 'U.S.I.R.', 'PLAYING CARDS,' and '10 CENTS.' The stamp was cancelled by W. P. L. CO.



This was a stamp in use from 1929 to 1940. The text is 'PLAYING CARDS', '10 CENTS', and 'U.S.INT.REV.'. The stamp was cancelled by K. P. Inc. in 1930.


This stamp was in use from 1940 to 1965. The text is 'PLAYING CARDS', '1 PACK', and 'U.S.I.R.'. It was cancelled by A.P.C.CO. (Arrco).


This is another stamp in use from 1940 to 1965. The text is 'PLAYING CARDS', '1 PACK', and 'U.S.INT.REV.'. It was cancelled by E.E.F. CORP. (Fairchild).

Taxes on playing-cards were abolished in the U.S.A. in 1965. Many manufacturers continued using stamps with their own design to seal the package.

Back to top

For some time, there also was a stamp for tax-free playing cards. To the left is a stamp that was in use by the U.S. military c. 1946. Below are two examples of USPC playing card decks provided to the U.S. Government for military use in the mid-fifties. In the center is an enlargement of the tax-free stamp (all three images courtesy of Lee Asher from his informative article "The White Label" in Issue No. 13 of CARD CULTURE). Lee has since sent me some additional images of two League back Bicycle decks from his collection that also feature the white tax-free stamp, below.

For another interesting example of the use of a tax free stamp, see the Rider Back page, which includes a picture of a deck exported to Cuba.


Below is another interesting discovery by Kei Izumi. This is Caravan, a common USPCC deck dating from the 1940s. What is unusal is the Japanese tax stamp that appears in place of the usual U.S. revenue stamp.

Back to top

Current Production Codes for USPC

The more recent production code in use by USPC is relatively easy to decipher. The first four numbers represent the week and year of production. Within those four numbers the first two represent the week of the year and the second two represent the last two digits of the year. There is no known explanation for the other letters and numbers. However, it appears that the old letter system has been retained. For example, the ace on the left, below, has the code 1613-S6560. Accordingly, the deck was made in the 16th week of 2013 and under the old code, 2013 would have been indicated by the letter S.

For the Bicycle ace in the middle, the last two digits of the first four are 12, indicating 2012 and the letter R would coincide with the old code for 2012 if the 20 year cycle is applied. Thanks again to Rod Starling for this information.

Back to top