King of Bicycles


While camping near Vancouver at Golden Ears Provincial Park—huddled around a cooler, drunk at noon, reeking of campfire and weed smoke—I became enamoured with the joker card, bearing the image of a king on a bicycle, in a pack of Bicycle brand playing cards that my friends and I were using for a game of cribbage. The king, in his standard-issue red, yellow and blue garb gazes listlessly past the viewer, as if staring out at swaths of land over which he once presided, feeling loss and, deeper down, a secret sense of relief. Desperate to explore my attraction to this king, I dug around online and found the blog of John Edelson, a collector of joker cards. There I learned that in the Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards this Bicycle playing card joker has been delighting players since 195; Edelson owns sixty different “bicycle jokers,” all of which depict a king, jester or clown on a bicycle. I know now that the connection I felt with this solemn king couldn’t have been singular: after 115 years in print, surely someone else has looked at this tiny man and thought, “Now here is a man of gravity; here is a man who has loved and lost.” I wonder whether there’s an opportunity to start a fan club. To browse Edelson’s collection of 6, plus jokers, visit his blog at

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