An interesting general question is why do people collect anything and in particular advertising or Coca-Cola® memorabilia. For myself, The Coca-Cola Company has for well over a hundred years produced idealistic imagery of American life; images which evoke a nostalgia that leads to a desire to possess those images in their various material forms. The design and artistry is often wonderful and exquisite. I believe The Coca-Cola Company has been the best producer of advertising imagery.
I believe that I and others have collected playing cards because they are relatively simple to collect and store; they do not take up an inordinate amount of room and they can be easily protected and displayed. Playing cards fall into the category of items that are and have for a long time been in common daily use and therefore are a good vehicle for companies to place their advertising on. The Coca-Cola Company has taken advantage of playing cards and other commonplace items to keep their name and message constantly in front of consumers. That is why the Coca-Cola® name has consistently been found to be the most valuable brand.
I believe The Coca-Cola Company has been the best producer of advertising imagery for well over a hundred years.
Many of the decks were produced by the Company using a design or image that was also used on other advertising types. This was true even for the earliest decks. Some decks were generally approved or produced by the company and a specific bottler might add their name to the box and/or cards. And in some cases a bottler commissioned a deck which appears to come solely from that bottler. Note for example that the Western Bottling Company of Chicago appears to be responsible for the production of the two earliest known decks, the 1909 and 1915 versions, although the box and cards do not identify the bottler other than as the source to mail to for additional decks.
Playing Cards Covered
Please note that this website concentrates on decks which were originally produced by The Coca-Cola Company or its bottlers as part of their advertising and marketing efforts and does not include either international decks (except for a few Canadian ones), collectors’ club convention decks or most decks past the 1960s that were produced for memorabilia purposes.
This website is in most cases organized by year of first production, to the best I can determine it. The earliest Coca-Cola deck was believed to be first produced in 1909. There is a deck thought to be first produced in 1915. Then it appears to be the late 1920s before there was another deck. There was a profusion of decks in the 1930s. The 1940s saw a few varieties and then in the 1950s and 1960s there was a regular introduction of decks every couple of years. Once introduced, decks, especially the early ones, tended to be produced for several years. I have relied on dating information from collectors' guides, like those produced by Allan Petretti and Al Wilson, and from information from other sources, which might include the Company’s advertising material lists. In some cases my judgment about dating differs from others, and I have tried to explain why. The playing card companies sometimes included codes on the cards which would indicate date of production. Tax stamps varied through the years. Some manufacturers were only in existence for specific periods of time. And in the case of Coca-Cola cards, slogans and images used may help in the dating. I appreciate any information anyone has on dates, particularly anyone who is aware of card manufacturer catalog or ordering material that might help date types of cards. I have included some dating aids in the Miscellaneous section.
This website does not have price information and is not intended as a pricing source. Price data is best obtained from eBay, other auction websites, in-person auction results, national and regional shows where people sell cards and written collectors' guides like Petretti’s. The completed listings database on eBay can be particularly useful. A word on the use of the term “rare”—I would generally ignore it when you are looking at eBay or other listings. In the absence of information from the playing card manufacturers, The Coca-Cola Company or bottlers, we don’t know how many decks were printed and we don’t know how many have survived. I have tried from my experience to give a sense of what decks are truly unusual or rarely seen.
Please enjoy the website and I appreciate any feedback or comments.