Interesting, unusual, bold and even comical at times. These were the things that set John J. Levy’s playing cards apart from his competition and other successful card making family members. Levy introduced new courts, features and themes to a country heading towards troubled times during the 1850s and 60s.
Huestis & Levy - Illustrated American Biographer Advertisement - c1853
Brooklyn Bridge Under Construction - c1876
John J. Levy made some of the most eye catching and unusual playing cards of all the early manufacturers. It’s interesting that relatively little was known of the man as compared to his art, especially when considering the volume of work he produced. When you look at his playing cards and packaging, it’s easy to see that he was not quite like the others. His products had a particular New York flare that was not only was a reflection of Levy’s youthful personality, but also his experiences in Manhattan as America was heading for Civil War.
Born in 1830 in England, John was a nephew of L.I. Cohen and he was an active member of his extensive playing card making family. Levy’s career has been overshadowed by the great successes of his uncle and brother-in-law Samuel Hart. Although he would never reach their monumental heights, it doesn’t mean that his story was any less important.
Levy strove to set his brand apart with artistic originality from the beginning. He designed a striking new series of court cards and introduced them with his first deck. Levy’s improvements to Playing Cards would have a lasting impact on the industry and he too has a number of firsts connected to him, Beveled Edges and Double-Heads being among them. Levy’s history is also very unique because it contains many of the more sobering elements of life and death, success and failure.
To Learn John J. Levy’s Full History - Read, Paper Empires Vol I
Levy Postal Stationery - c1850s