Mysterium: The Beginning of Bee

Posted by Jonathan Bayme on 08 May 2013


You've probably never heard of Lewis Cohen. That’s not surprising, considering he was born over 200 years ago. Cohen was the first person to make lead pencils in America, and he invented a four-color printing process that revolutionized the manufacture of playing cards in the late 1830's.

A son and two nephews of Lewis Cohen merged their respective playing card companies in 1871 and became the Consolidated Card Company. Calling themselves the New York Consolidated Card Co. a few years later, the group became a leading producer of playing cards in a very short period of time.

Bulldog SqueezersThe term “squeezers” appears to have come out of the New York Consolidated group, although it’s impossible to tell which of the cousins was using it first before merging. Squeezers refers to the relatively recent invention of putting indices at the corners of the cards. That allowed the players to ascertain the value of their hands by merely “squeezing” the cards apart slightly. The name became synonymous with all NYCC cards after 1873.

In 1877, New York Consolidated made a distribution pact with the Andrew Dougherty Co. To commemorate the two rivals working together, NYCC issued a deck showing two dogs, “Trip” and “Squeezer” trying to attack one another, but being restrained by chains attached to their doghouses. The back design represents the fact that the two companies were competitive rivals but were not going to “attack” one another due to the agreement they had made (the chains). The caption under the image reads, “There is a tie that binds us to our homes.” This back design has been reissued several times over the years.

In 1892, NYCC produced the first cards under the Bee brand. Although most magicians are only familiar with the standard No. 67 “all-over” back design, there were actually quite a few backs made under this brand.

NYCC Bee BackOver a dozen back designs were produced in various quantities in the late 1800's.

The Bee No. 67 is the only back design that has never been out of print and continues to be the casino “standard” playing card back. Apart from two minor alterations, it has remained essentially unchanged for over a century. The first alteration was the addition of casino logos on the backs. The second is the “fade-to-edge” process that was first seen on Stinger playing cards marketed to casinos. theory11 produced the first Stinger cards available to the non-casino market in 2009.

2013 marks the 121st anniversary of the Bee back design. They trace their heritage back through USPCC, through New York Consolidated, and indeed all the way back to Lewis Cohen.

Take a few minutes to break out a deck of Bee cards this week and tip your hat to Mr. Cohen for making it all possible for us.