Go Fish for Cash: Are Your Old Playing Cards Worth $160?

old playing cards
PhotoAtelier under Creative Commons

As a Penny Hoarder, you know tons of ways to earn extra money. You’ve probably made some cash from selling stuff that’s lying around your house.

In addition to old coins and comic books, there’s something else you might have that could help bring in some extra dough — playing cards.

Got few old decks of cards from intense games of Go Fish or gin rummy? They’re most likely Bicycle brand cards that have little angels riding bikes on the back. But maybe you have something different, and that could be good. And if they’re sealed, that could be wonderful. For instance, these Tally-Ho brand cards are going for $10 a deck. If you think that’s something, you’ll be blown away by these Stud cards, formerly sold at Walgreens and now priced at an eye-popping $160 per deck!

Why Some Playing Cards are Worth Hundreds of Dollars

To understand why some cards can be valuable, you’ll need to know a little about playing card production. The United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) produces most of the playing cards you see on shelves. In 1867, they started a factory in Cincinnati, Ohio and remained there for decades until moving to Erlanger, Kentucky in 2009. The difference? For a while, production quality at the Erlanger location suffered greatly, producing cards with a less desirable finish and feel. For most, this didn’t mean much, but for magicians and cardists, it was disconcerting.

Card magicians and cardists (who artistically manipulate playing cards) were at a major disadvantage, as the new cards didn’t handle as well and affected their art. Cards made in Ohio shot up in value, and many people still regard them as a better choice. These decks sell for well above the $2.50 you’ll pay for a standard pack of cards at the drugstore.

Perhaps more importantly, the Ohio factory produced rare brands of cards that aren’t being made today. Some of these are renowned for their unique design and smooth feel, making them a card handler’s dream. Thousands of card aficionados look for these cards, and if you’re the lucky owner of a rare deck, you could have some extra money on your hands.

So how do you know if your cards are valuable? Here are some tips to help figure out whether or not you’ve got a hidden gem:

1. Look for a Blue Seal

This is an easy way to tell where your cards were printed. The Cincinnati factory sealed their decks with a dark blue sticker, while Kentucky cards have a black sticker. “Blue-sealed” cards are becoming increasingly rare and are highly coveted.

If you do have blue-sealed cards, take a look at the brand next. Tally-Ho, Arrco and Aladdin are some of the more in-demand brands.

If your box says “Cincinnati, Ohio,” don’t get too excited. It could be a leftover box that made the move to Kentucky, so use the seal method to double check where your deck was produced.

2. Determine the Deck’s Age

If you have a visibly old deck, chances are it’s worth something. This handy list covers everything you need about well-known playing card brands, starting from the late 19th century. It even gives you photos and dates so you can compare your deck.

The author, photographer Jim Knapp, also compiled a list of all Bicycle brand cards along with a ton of info on playing card history, in case you want to geek out for a while.

3. Check Whether Your Deck is From a Casino

Casino cards come in two types: cancelled and uncancelled. “Cancelled” cards have been used in actual casino play and their corners are trimmed as an anti-cheating measure. These decks are common and can be found at most dollar stores.

Uncancelled cards are untouched, and these are highly prized by magicians and cardists. The most famous deck is from the Jerry’s Nugget casino. These cards were once sold in the casino gift store for $1, and bring in around $500! You’ll see tons of fakes on the market, so if you own a deck, check its authenticity. Other notable brands to look for: Golden Nuggets, Dunes and Wynns.

4. Celebrate If You See Shrink-Wrap

Obviously, unopened products are more valuable than opened ones, and playing cards are no exception. While shrink-wrapped cards will fetch the highest prices, you still have a shot selling opened cards if they’re in good condition. The rarer the cards, the more salable opened cards are. For example, opened Jerry’s Nuggets will definitely sell, but opened Bicycles may not do so well.

5. Ask the Card Community

You’ll find lots of online opportunities to talk directly to playing card experts. A quick Google search should bring up a few forums and message boards, but this Reddit is a good place to start.

So if you have some old cards, see if they’re worth their weight in gold. You might be surprised at what you’ll find! There’s an ever-growing market for vintage cards, and with a little luck, you could benefit from it.

Good luck, Penny Hoarders!

Your Turn: Have you ever found an old deck of cards? Was it worth anything?

Ian Chandler is a freelance writer based in Ohio, currently studying English at Kent State University.