Empire no. 97
What happens when you cross one of the Greatest American Playing Card Empires with the themes and imagery of the Great Roman Empire? All roads lead to Empire No. 97 playing cards by Andrew Dougherty.
Dougherty had a long and successful career manufacturing playing cards in New York, and some of the most iconic brands began within the walls of his Manhattan facilities. Tally-Ho No. 9, No. 0 Steamboats, No. 50 Indicator and Triplicates No.18, just to name a few.
In 1895, with his health failing, Andrew Dougherty retired from the business and turned the company over to his three sons, Andrew Jr, Edward J. and William Henry. These men had been meticulously groomed for the job since childhood, and together, they carried their dad's legacy into the future. They did this by not only continuing the business but also creating new decks that would honour the family's heritage in the card-making industry. One of the first brands they created on their own was genuinely iconic. Empire No. 97 Playing Cards not only symbolized the Roman Empire but also very much the Dougherty Legacy.
Research and reporting by:
Jason McKinstryworld of paper empires
Empire no.97 back designs
The motifs used for later Empire back designs were less cryptic and directly depicted Ancient Roman themes. Three well-known backs were associated with the brand: Empress No. 973, Corinth No. 974 and Roman No. 975. As was typical, all designs were available in blue and red.
Empire No. 97 Back Designs, c1901-1930.
Original Empire no.97 (left) Empire no.13 (right)
Andrew Dougherty (1826-1901) was born in Londonderry, Ireland and travelled to the United States with his family in 1834. After settling in Brooklyn, New York, Andrew began a new and demanding childhood. His working life started in the print rooms of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and as he grew up, he tried many different jobs/occupations. A lesser-known fact about Dougherty is that in his teens, he spent two years aboard the Whaling vessel “The Bark Condor” under the command of Captain Richard L. Norton. Whaling in the 1840s was one of the world's most dangerous occupations but also provided many necessary commodities. A physical risk well worth the financial reward in those days.
When he returned from his time at sea, Andrew had become a formidable young man with an incredible drive to succeed. He rejoined the workforce in the stationery trade but soon came upon the opportunity to purchase playing card-making equipment and supplies from the estate of the late Thomas Crehore. In 1848, Andrew set up shop in a small loft space in lower Manhattan and produced his first rudimentary decks. From humble beginnings, Dougherty began the slow/steady procession to grow his playing card company into an American Empire.
Andrew Dougherty, c1876.
During the Civil War, Dougherty lobbied the government to increase the tax on playing cards to assist with the effort. President Abraham Lincoln praised this initiative, and Andrew was invited to Washington, D.C., for a meeting. A newspaper article from his retirement in 1895 paid tribute to the events of that day. One can imagine the warmth of which the noble-hearted martyr to liberty shook hands with Andrew Dougherty when the scheme's feasibility was made clear. It was the imposition of a tax of five cents per pack of playing cards. This tax was a heavy loss financially for Andrew. Still, he had the president's gratitude, which Lincoln expressed in the words - “It is citizens like you, Mr. Dougherty, who make the liberty of the United States indestructible.”
After the war, Dougherty’s reputation would grow considerably, and he was soon looking for room to expand. In 1871 he purchased three consecutive properties on Centre Street and spent two years renovating the space to his exacting standards. In 1874 he moved from Beekman Street to his fully finished playing card factory at 80 Centre Street.
By the time Dougherty moved to Centre Street, his company was already considered an American Empire. But what's an empire without heirs to the throne. Andrew fathered seven children but tragically lost three of them in various early life stages. Of his remaining offspring, Dougherty’s three sons would take a keen interest in the family business very much grew up inside the factory.
Empire was a Class II brand, placing it in the same quality category as Tally-Ho No. 9 and Dougherty “D” No. 8. These mid-level decks were intended to compete with USPCC’s Bicycle 808, NYCCC’s Squeezers #35, National Ramblers and more.
Empire decks (1901-1919) came wrapped in wax paper and sealed with a Dougherty blue seal. These beautiful deck seals have their own story and reveal a separate company evolution. Later editions would come in a new tuck box designed and patented by William Henry Dougherty on February 9, 1909.
Empire No. 97 playing cards were also available with Gold Edges, although far more plain edge examples are found today. These rare Gilded editions are highly sought after by modern collectors and usually demand a premium.
The Dougherty standard
An extra card promoting Dougherty’s “Standard for more than Half a Century” was often included in decks of Empire. The Half a Century promotion was present for over twenty years and became a well-known feature of many Dougherty brands. All decks of playing cards were required by law to carry a valid US Revenue Stamp when they left the factory. These pre-cancelled stamps sealed the tuck box and would theoretically be destroyed when opened by a customer. Both playing card and stamp collectors seek to find all released versions and the large variety of existing precancels.
Like the Great Roman Empire depicted on their playing cards, the Dougherty Empire would also come to an end. After the last of the Dougherty boys had passed away, and the looming effects of the Great Depression were being made known. In 1930 the USPCC combined Dougherty with The New York Consolidated Card Company, forming Consolidated-Dougherty. It was at this time that many incredible brands from both companies were lost, Empire No. 97 included.