Andrew Dougherty

Why You are Probably a Fan of Andrew Dougherty Without Even Knowing It

by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame

Many readers will never have heard the name Andrew Dougherty. Those of you who have can consider yourself somewhat more informed than the average playing card collector.

Considering that Mr Dougherty was born in 1827, you might wonder whether he could possibly have made any contribution to your current collection of playing cards. After all, the man is long dead and buried, and he certainly hasn't crowdfunded any decks on Kickstarter recently. He doesn't have any social media channels where you can follow his work. And you can't have bought any decks from him personally either.

Puzzled yet? Let me ask you this: have you ever owned or used a Tally Ho deck of playing cards? If the answer is yes, then you are indebted to Andrew Dougherty. The United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), maker of the famous Bicycle brand of playing cards, began its life in 1867 as the printing company Russell, Morgan, and Co, and eventually became a separate company dedicated to manufacturing playing cards under the USPCC name in 1894. As they grew, they began acquiring numerous smaller playing card companies, including that of Andrew Dougherty in 1907. That's what brought Tally Ho into the fold as a USPCC brand, and it would result in Dougherty's ongoing impact on USPCC even after the man himself was long gone.

But that wasn't Dougherty's only contribution to playing card history. He was a key player in the development of the American playing card industry in its early stages, and contributed several important innovations in playing cards, which are part of his ongoing legacy in the playing cards we use and enjoy today.

tally-ho playing cards

The early American playing card industry

First, let's go back to the start of this story, and tell you something about the makings of Andrew Dougherty, and his beginnings. Dougherty was born in Northern Ireland in the year 1827. Like many others, his parents made their way to the United States to make their fortune as immigrants, taking along young Andrew as a seven year old. He started a business in manufacturing playing cards as an enterprising 21 year old in 1848. Because this pre-dates the printer that would eventually become USPCC, it means that Dougherty's contribution to the playing card industry has a longer history than USPCC itself.

For a few short years in the early stages of his company, Dougherty partnered with the Coughtry brothers, during which time his business went under the name Dougherty & Coughtry. By the mid-1850s he was in a position to continue solo, and the Dougherty company prospered under his leadership. Andrew Dougherty himself died in 1905, but by this point his thriving business was safely in the hands of his sons, who continued to run it in New York.

In 1907 the Dougherty company was bought out by the United States Playing Card Company, as part of their growing empire. But USPCC realized the importance of Dougherty's name and brand, and continued to run it as a separate business for many years, until eventually it became a division of USPCC in 1930, under the name Consolidated-Dougherty.

vintage playing cards

Playing card innovations

When Dougherty began his business, playing cards looked very different from what they do today. At that time it was common to have one-way court cards, and the use of indices on the corners of the cards was not yet a normal feature of playing cards. Faro decks were in common use, and these typically had no numbers or indices on the corners to identify the rank of the cards. These typically also had card backs with a plain or simple pattern, and with square rather than rounded corners. In addition, court cards were not yet standardized, and a variety of different designs were in use, heavily influenced by the designs coming out of Europe.

It is in the early 1870s that we start seeing Dougherty begin producing decks with double-ended court cards, cards with rounded corners, and cards with indices - all of which were new developments in the playing card industry at the time. While double-ended court cards had appeared briefly in Europe already in the 17th century, it was only in the late 19th century that they became common in Europe, and American playing card manufacturers were quick to follow the lead of their European counterparts in this respect.

Bear in mind that by the early 1870s Dougherty had already been manufacturing playing cards for nearly 25 years already. At this point he was producing more than three and a half million decks annually, with the help of more than 100 employees. Meanwhile the United States Playing Company was only just getting off the ground. It was still in its initial years as a printing company, and didn't even yet specialize in playing cards, and was still more than 20 years away from becoming a separate company and from getting its USPCC name. So at this particular time, Dougherty was a much bigger mover and shaker in the playing card industry than the company that would later overtake his company and buy him out.

One of his lasting influences is in the artwork and style of court cards. The court cards Dougherty would use over the next decade were largely modelled on the European designs from De La Rue. While these underwent some refinement, these are very recognizable as the ancestors of the court cards that we consider to be standard today.

vintage playing cards

The Jolly Joker

When playing cards first came to America, decks did not contain Jokers. This was an American innovation, and appears to be a result of the popularity of the trick-taking game Euchre. Even today Euchre is played with a smaller deck, and uses cards that function as additional trumps besides those of the nominated suit. In the early days of Euchre, one of these additional trump cards was called the Bower, and the other was called the Best Bower.

This led to a Bower or Best Bower card also being included in printed editions of decks with 52 cards. Most historians agree that this is the likely origin of the Joker card, with the word "Joker" possibly even being a bastardization of the word euchre. Tally Ho decks today have a signature Tally Ho Joker, but Tally Ho decks originally included a Jolly Joker. The Joker that we associate with Tally Ho decks today only was used for the first time in the 1900s.

the jolly joker

Tally Ho deck

The Tally Ho deck is considered a household name today, and enjoys a classic status alongside iconic decks like the Bicycle Rider Back. But it only appeared for the first time in 1889, and it was Andrew Dougherty that first produced it.

The Tally Ho No. 9 deck first made its entrance on the playing stage in 1885, albeit with a different look than the one we know today. The circle-back and fan-back designs that most of us today associate with Tally Ho were a later development. The original deck came with a "patented" Ace of Spaces that identified Dougherty's company as the manufacturer, and with the Jolly Joker. This would later become the Tally Ho Joker that is still used today, with artwork drawn from the significance of the phrase "tally ho". This expression hails back to traditions surrounding fox-hunting in Britain, and was what those on the hunt would shout when seeing a fox. It also explains why later versions of the deck pictured a fox hunter decked out in riding gear on the Jokers.

Tally Ho decks are still popular today, and are in most respects very much like the original decks that Dougherty first produced. They are still described as having a Linoid Finish, which was originally patented by Dougherty as a way of making the cards slide more smoothly with the help of a special coating. Due to the strength of the Tally Ho brand and its associated qualities, USPCC continues to use the "Linoid Finish" as part of their branding and marketing for these classic decks, even though the technology originally used to create a genuinely linoid finish has long been obsolete. The circle-back and fan-back designs of modern Tally Ho decks are especially appreciated by card flourishers, and have also had a lasting impact on the design of many modern custom playing cards.

tally ho playing cards


An unusual battle was fought in the late 19th century, as American playing card manufacturers competed to determine what the future of playing card faces would look like. Dougherty's rivals came up with the idea of "Squeezers", which was the popular nickname used to refer to playing cards with indices in the corners. At the time this was welcomed as a real innovation, because for the first time game players could easily see the suit and value of all the cards in their hand, without needing to see the entire face of each and every card.

Dougherty was not to be thwarted by this new initiative, and rather than simply copy it, he came up with his own innovation: "Triplicates". These had the same function as the indices on the early decks of Squeezers, but were miniature versions of the cards in the opposite corners. While attractive and interesting, these could never be expected to compete seriously with the more practical and simpler use of indices. As a result the Triplicates were only printed for a relatively brief period of time, and were eventually superseded by the indices that would become the industry standard and are in common use today.

The first Triplicate deck appeared in 1876, and to this day they are treasured items that are valued highly by playing card collectors. For this reason they have also made wonderful subjects for reproduction versions, including several lovely decks produced in the last decade by Home Run Games. These decks all come with a decorative Ace of Spades like the original, which depicted a hand of fanned cards with their signature triplicates on the corners.

Triplicates playing cards

Final thoughts

A number of iconic decks we enjoy today owe their origins to Andrew Dougherty. Besides the Tally Ho deck and Triplicate deck already mentioned, another iconic deck from Dougherty is the Murphy's Varnish deck produced in 1883. It was intended as an advertising deck for the makers of Murphy Varnish, and is one of the best examples of a transformation deck from this era. The highly creative and amusing artwork surrounding the pips on the number cards continues to be praised, and not surprisingly this classic deck has also been the subject of a gorgeous reproduction version from Home Run Games.

But more importantly, Andrew Dougherty was a big player in manufacturing playing cards in the United States at a time when the American industry was still very much in its infancy, and well before the rise of the United States Playing Card Company. He was one of the movers and shakers in the industry in an era when playing cards were still evolving and taking the shape that we now know them to be. Many of the features that we now take for granted on our playing cards, first achieved their success in the American market with the help of Dougherty. Dougherty was also known to appreciate detail on his playing cards, as is evident on the Ace of Spades that identified him as the manufacturer. If Mr Dougherty was alive today, he would undoubtedly appreciate the quality and detail of the many custom decks which the industry would produce in the distant future beyond his time. As modern collectors, the least we can do is look back in time, and tip our hat to Mr Dougherty in appreciation for what he gave us.

murphy varnish playing cards

Where to get them?
● Modern decksA wide range of modern Tally Ho decks is available, including the classic Circle Back and Fan Back decks in red and blue.
● Reproduction decksHigh quality versions of iconic Dougherty decks include Triplicate No. 18 (1876), Murphy Varnish (1883) and Tally Ho No. 9 (1885).

About the writerEndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.

Last update date: 06/29/21

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