Mike Rogers – Those Strange Bulldogs

Columnist:
Mike Rogers
by Mike Rogers

I’m often asked about the peculiar back design on the cards I use in my professional career. They are BULLDOG SQUEEZERS, a deck sold almost exclusively in the Cajun country of Louisiana. Much of what I’m about to relate has been gleaned from various sources, including tid-bits of information from the U.S. Playing Card Company and an extensive 1976 article by Ron and Julie Stark.

The pack is a replica of a deck made in 1877 when two major card companies worked out a neat, but currently illegal, sales agreement. The deck was designed to commemorate the merger of the New York Consolidated Card Company and the A. Dougherty Company, to be known as Consolidated Dougherty. Card magicians will know this name from the Tally-Ho decks popularized by the New York magicians of the 40s, specifically Dai Vernon. With the merger came the nice agreement to split up sales territory with each staying on his own home ground. The design pictures two ferocious bulldogs straining toward each other at the chains that bind them to their dog houses. One dog’s collar says “Squeezer” and the other says “Trips” for the companies’ respective brands.

New York Consolidated made a brand called Squeezers with numbers in the corners like we use today. If you have ever cupped cards in your hand and sort of squeezed them into a fan to see the corner values you’ll quickly understand the name Squeezers. Poker players will almost always squeeze the hand into a fan so only the smallest part of the corners come into view. A. Dougherty had his own system. He reproduced the original card in the corners and called the brand Triplicate or Trips. Triplicates could be read three ways. Twice in the two corners and once by counting the center pips. Thus the name Triplicates, or what has become known as Trips. Hence, the names on the dogs’ collars. The dogs are chained to their houses to point up the agreement to remain on home turf for sales territories. Thus, “There is a tie that binds us to our homes.” If you think about the names it becomes clear that all cards today are both Triplicates and Squeezers. (European cards and the aces used in some casinos don’t qualify as they are often numbered in all four corners.)

The two card companies mentioned were acquired years later by the United States Playing Card Company. It’s rather interesting that the Bulldog Squeezer back design has remained unchanged for more than 100 years. The quality and texture of the deck is the same as used in the popular Bicycle playing cards used throughout the country. The Joker is the same as seen in the Tally-Ho decks popular with magicians; however, missing the words “Tally-Ho.” The Ace of Spades is unique to the Squeezer design, and also was used in the Angel Back Squeezer decks from Dougherty. My gut feeling is that this joker and ace design are not from the original 1877 deck, though I have no way of really knowing this. Oddly, the USPC Company is not a reliable source for information on the history of their cards. The company has gone through extensive changes over the years, and though they maintain a museum of sorts, much historical information has been lost or forgotten.

Obviously a Bulldog Squeezer deck is a blatant one-way back design, though I never use it as such. Here is a cute bit of business I have used though. When having a selected card returned the spectator will often notice the one-way feature of the top card. Seeing this he will twist his card end for end to align it with the top card of the deck. When this happens I twist the talon to apparently affect the one- way feature. He twists his card again, I twist deck again, saying nothing. After a few twists by each I fan the deck showing the backs to run in both directions. It’s a funny little interlude probably understood only by the person returning the selected card.

I have used the Bulldog Squeezers in my career for close to 25 years, simply because I like relating to an interesting bit of history, and I like the picture. (No, I don’t raise bulldogs, nor do I even own a dog.) Trade show attendees seeing me use these cards are often fascinated when I tell them the story. Quite often they will ask for one of the decks. If it’s near the end of the day I give them the deck I’ve been using. It’s not a problem as I carry several decks for each show. I’m not in the business of giving away decks of cards, but it’s nice to be able to send a spectator away with a neat souvenir now and then.