Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - The History of the Joker

November 25, 2016

We have all shuffled a pack of cards. Most probably own at least one, just in case we want to practice a couple of magic tricks or have a game or two of a popular card game. You normally take the playing cards from the pack, take out the Jokers and start dealing the cards. But have you ever stopped to wonder where the Joker comes from and why it is there? Well we have the information that you require!

The Joker itself was invented sometime around 1860 by players of the card game Euchre, a trick-taking trump card game for four players. Relying on memory, tactics and good communication, you don’t use the entire deck but somewhere between 24 and 32 cards. It was believed to be introduced to the US by German settlers, though this is in dispute and it may also have been introduced to the American mainland by immigrants from Cornwall and Devon.

In the 1860s, some American card players of Euchre devised some new rules for their beloved game. The problem? It required an extra card. Sure, they could have used one of the spare cards from the deck, but since all the face cards are part of the game, this wouldn’t have been a ‘good fit’. They referred to the new card they came up with as the Best Bower, adding it to the game where it became the highest trump card available.

 Looking to make a quick buck from these variation rules, American card manufacturers quickly jumped on the trend by including a couple of extra cards in their decks. The British were a little slower to catch on though, only adding them in during the 1880s.

The Best Bower card was slowly phased out to become the Joker or Jolly Joker that we all know and love today. Like the Ace of Spades, it was typically branded with the company logo or with a unique floral motif that connected it to the manufacturer. It wasn’t until the Joker title for the card became more common that it was almost always represented by a performing jester.

Despite the fact you may think the Joker is connected in some way to the Fool in Tarot cards, you might be interested to know that there is no connection at all. Tarot cards have been around since the 15th century when jesters were still a possible career option and there is no link to the Jokers in a pack of cards. So there we go!



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By Henry Fosdike