What’s trump again? Check the Marker!
Welcome to the fascinating world of Trump Indicators, a niche yet captivating aspect of card game history. Once essential in games like Whist and Bridge, these indicators not only served a practical purpose but also represented sophistication and wealth. Today, they stand as collectible items, echoing a bygone era of card playing. Let’s explore their history, diverse designs, and the allure that makes them a collector’s delight.
Where it all began
The trump indicator has its roots in card games from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, notably in Whist, a precursor to modern Bridge. In Whist, the trump suit was often determined by the last card dealt, which the dealer turned face-up. This card was added to the dealer’s hand, which could lead to players forgetting the trump suit. To counter this, trump indicators were developed towards the end of the 19th century. These devices, placed on the card table, denoted the current trump suit, aiding players during the game. They are also very popular for the game of Euchre, and of course, Bridge. In Bridge, players have an auction to determine what suit will be trump. It’s popular in what’s known as ‘kitchen bridge’ for a trump indicator to be used to help distracted players remember.
Over time, these indicators evolved from simple wooden or porcelain pieces to more durable materials like Bakelite and plastic. Some, especially those from the Victorian or Art Deco era, are distinguished by their style of text, which helps date these artifacts.
Trump indicators vary in design but follow a simple form. They often feature icons of the suits – hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds – and later, a side reading ‘No Trumps,’ indicating games played without a trump suit. The design of these indicators ranges from basic wooden dice to elaborate creations using silver or mother of pearl, reflecting the status and wealth of their owners.
In basic form, the trump indicator will tell the players what is currently trump. A bird will point at the suit with its beak, or a snappily dressed man will point with his finger, or a delicate page will flip over, a black cat will point its tail, or a simple cube will be turned so a suit symbol, or No Trump, is showing at top.
Collectors prize trump indicators for their rarity, historical value, and unique design. The largest collection in the United States belongs to Joan Schepps (some photos below), housed at the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) Museum in Memphis. Her collection, with over 650 pieces, includes indicators made from porcelain, Bakelite, silver, and other materials.
Schepps’s collection showcases a diverse array of trump indicators, featuring representations of various aspects of society, including individuals, animals, professions, sports, and beloved characters from cartoons and popular culture. This collection mirrors the societal trends prevalent in late 19th and early 20th century Europe and America. The age of these indicators is often determined by whether they include a “no trump” option – a feature absent in older models designed for traditional Whist, which originally did not have a ‘not trump.’ option. The materials used in these pieces, such as early plastics like Celluloid (patented in 1870) and Bakelite, also help in dating them. And their style gives away their era, whether it’s the ornate Victorian designs or the sleek Art Deco look, as well as their depiction of popular characters from contemporary comics and early animation – examples include Jiggs, Felix the Cat, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, and W.C. Fields.
Constructed from a variety of materials ranging from luxurious silver and porcelain to simple, hand-carved wood, these trump indicators often served dual purposes. In the collection one can find multifunctional pieces that have been used as jewelry, pencil holders, table brushes, makeup compacts, and measuring tapes. Some were designed to be collapsible, making them convenient for travel. Each piece has moving parts, whether they flip, point, or rotate, to indicate the trump suit, and several feature mechanical components. As a testament to the era of industrialization and consumerism, these trump indicators were frequently sold as souvenirs to travelers or used as promotional items by local businesses.
Each piece in Schepps’s collection tells a story, reflecting the social history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The materials, ranging from early plastics like Celluloid and Bakelite to luxurious silver and porcelain, also help date these items.
Another collection can be found, and purchased, on Peter Dunn’s Bridge Ephemera website. You’ll find classic versions and some touristy styles as well (pictured above).
And there are a lot of present-day trump markers on the market. You can find many on Newt’s Games, mostly of the cube variety.
For those interested in collecting, Peter Dunn’s Bridge Ephemera website offers its variety of indicators for sale. The ACBL Museum in Memphis showcases the Joan Schepps Collection, an excellent place for enthusiasts to explore, but unfortunately you’d have to visit in person and none of them are for sale. Online, websites like Ruby Lane (shown below) and Back Scratcher World offer vintage and modern trump indicators, respectively.
OK but what if you just want a marker to use today?
You could consider a digital option! Online trump indicators are available for download, catering to the modern bridge player. Here’s one on the Apple Store. Or simply search Trump Indicator (or Trump Marker) or better, Card Suit Marker, in your favourite store.
And here’s a great youtube on how to make your own wooden Trump Indicator! For yourself or as gifts for your card playing friends.
And of course, there’s always Card Suit Markers on Amazon, which we link through our affiliate account.
And you can find an earlier article about Trump Indicators on Great Bridge Links here.
Trump Indicators are symbols of a time when card games were central to social entertainment. For collectors, they offer a glimpse into the past, each with its unique design and story. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or new to the world of card game collectibles, exploring the world of Trump Indicators opens a door to a fascinating chapter in the history of leisure and gaming.