Last year I made a blog post, titled The Original Rough & Smooth Playing Cards, in which I described a smooth finish Bee deck that I happen to have laying around the house. At the time of that post I really wasn't sure when the US Playing Card Company made smooth finish Bee decks, or even if the smooth finish was intentional or if it was a mistake. The smooth finish Bee deck that I described in that blog post was factory packed in a box labeled, CAMBRIC FINISH.
I am not the only one that doesn't know the history of smooth finish Bee decks. If you call the USPCC directly, you will find out that they don't even know much about them. When I called them they informed me that they no longer have a historian on staff and that no one there knows much about the history of their own products. They offered to dig around a bit and after a few days someone from the USPCC sent me an email saying that smooth finish Bee decks were made about five years ago, which would mean 2006. Well, if such decks were made five years ago I missed them. All I know is that I've had my smooth finish Bee deck at least ten years.
Since the USPCC wasn't able to offer any useful information I decided to do some digging around, myself.
Bee decks were originally made by the NY Consolidated Card Company, in 1892. That's why the ace of spades has the number 92. At some point the NYCCC merged with the Dougherty Card Co, but I was unable to find out for sure what year that merger took place. From that point on the ace of spades bears the wording CONSOLIDATED-DOUGHERTY; the earlier decks, made by the NYCCC had the wording THE NY CONSOLIDATED CARD CO. I actually found two cartons of Bee decks, from that era, and to my surprise, I actually found them stashed in a forgotten box in my own basement. However, those were cambric finish decks. But, actually, that's not a bad thing. Because smooth finish decks are no good if one doesn't have matching cambric finish decks.
I was definitely fortunate to find those vintage cambric finish Bee decks, but I was even luckier to find some smooth finish Bee decks, from that same era, on eBay. The decks were a perfect match. But I only found two smooth decks, one blue one red, so I don't have enough to fill up a six-deck shoe.
I was able to date the tax stamps that were used to seal those boxes and if my information is correct those decks must have been made between 1940 and 1965. That's a 25 year span, which is to say, a quarter of a century, but the decks can be dated more precisely from the code on the aces of spades. The ace of spades from the red deck has the code A 3333 and the ace from the blue deck has A 3332.
So far we can determine that the NY Consolidate Card Company definitely used to make smooth finish Bee decks between 1940 and 1965. We might be able to pinpoint the year when my smooth finish decks were made, but that doesn't mean those cards weren't made before 1940 or after 1965. In fact, I think the real question is, when did cambric finish playing cards become the standard? Cambric finish, which is also called linen finish or air cushion finish, is a more recent invention. Before there was such thing as cambric finish all playing cards used to have smooth finish. As far as I know the first cambric finish cards were made by De La Rue, and were called pneumatic playing cards. Other playing card manufacturers followed suit and came up with their own terminology. Since cambric finish playing cards were much easier to handle, most makers stopped making smooth finish playing cards. So, I guess the next question is, when did the makers of Bee cards stop making them in smooth finish?
As previously mentioned, Bee playing cards were first made by the NY Consolidated Card Company, in 1892. At some point the NYCCC merged with Dougherty and at some later point the US Playing Card Company acquired that brand. The smooth finish playing cards that I first blogged about were factory packed in a bar-coded box that was labeled CAMBRIC FINISH. However, at some point the USPCC did make smooth finish playing cards in boxes labeled SMOOTH FINISH. Those boxes were also bar-coded, although the bar code is not the same as the bar code on cambric finish Bee cards. I have no idea when bar-coded boxes were introduced by the USPCC (and, by the way, neither does the USPCC) but judging from this picture smooth finish Bee cards were obviously still around after the USPCC put bar codes on their boxes.
What I am about to say is totally unrelated to this blog post, but because it happened during the writing of this post, I feel I should still mention it. As I was writing the above sentence, on Tuesday August 23, at 1:55pm, my desk started trembling, and them my computer screen started shaking. It was the East Coast 5.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter near Richmond, VA. Anyway, back to my article...
The image of the smooth finish Bee deck, above, was sent to me by a gentleman that was asking me if I were interested in purchasing some smooth finish Bee decks. I was kind of interested, but he never told me the asking price. He did list one deck on eBay and the listing produced one bidder that apparently met the reserve price of $100. That was a good price for a deck of cards, but I never really believed it was a legitimate bid, as the guy never listed more deck at any time in the future. In any event, I personally don't believe this deck is worth $100.
At some time in the past, smooth finish Bee decks were used for cheating at blackjack. By sorting and mixing smooth finish cards with matching cambric finish cards, a bustout joint would mark all the 10-value cards in a 6-deck blackjack shoe. The dealer could identify if the top card of the shoe was a 10-value card and then deal a second, if a rough & smooth shoe was in use, or signal to the anchor (an accomplice on third base) whether or not to take a hit. If smooth finish Bee cards were still around one could continue to make rough & smooth marked decks, but at one point the USPCC stopped making smooth finish Bee cards. If one were to buy six smooth finish decks for $100 each, to make up a 6-deck shoe, one could not match those vintage cards to any Bee cards that are currently sold. So, one would also have to find matching cambric finish cards, from about the same era.
There are simpler solution for those who want to make up their own rough & smooth decks. The simplest solution is to order monogrammed playing cards from manufacturers that take small orders. There are several makers that will take minimum orders of 200 decks per back color. So, one can just order 200 decks in each available finish. That will cost a lot less than buying vintage decks on eBay and the cards will be monogrammed, which makes a lot more sense, even for a bustout joint.