Valmor Roaring 20s Fortune Telling Cards
A faithful replica of the famous “Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards” from the Valmor Products Company of Chicago. Part of a vibrant American folk tradition that flourished in the early to mid 1900s, the cards were commissioned by Valmor Products and illustrated by Charles Clarence Dawson, one of the leading black artists and designers of the 1920s and 30s.
The deck features 36 illustrated cards, with meanings printed on each card in a conversational style, including several cards that only appear in this deck. Many of the meanings show a warm and freethinking view of life and love that is unusual in a deck of this vintage, making it the perfect deck for readings about romantic relationships or advice on life’s many choices.
The deck originally came with an instruction sheet in both Polish and English. A copy of that original instruction sheet can be downloaded here.
This was a very influential, or maybe I should say, much copied, deck. Copyright doesn’t seem to have worried anyone, and we see both the pictures and the meanings in card decks created by rival companies in the 1930s and 1940s.
Dating the cards
I’m basing my dating of these cards on two factors; the years when Charles Dawson was active at Valmore, and the clothing styles shown on the cards. I’m confident they were produced in the late 1920s to early 1930s, but can’t be more precise than that. I’ve called this replica deck the “Roaring 20s” because, although they may have been made a few years later, that’s the era they celebrate.
Why Charles Dawson?
The Morton’s didn’t allow their illustrators to sign their work, so crediting Charlse Dawson as the illustrator of these cards is a guess. But a good one: Dawson worked at Valmor starting around 1928, and designed and illustrated their labels and advertisements during those early years. His work is distinctive, and the cards look like other illustrations he is known to have created. They don’t resemble the work of Valmor’s other illustrators, most of whom joined the company much later.
History of the Valmor Company
Valmor Products Co. was founded in 1926 by Morton Neumann (1898–1985), a Jewish Hungarian American chemist from Chicago. Neumann was born in Chicago, worked as a jewelry setter in New York City as a young man, then returned to Chicago to start his own cosmetics and chemical company. In 1928 he married Rose, and the couple ran Valmor and its subsidiaries together.
Under the company names Valmor Products, Madam Jones, Sweet Georgia Brown, and Lucky Brown, they manufactured and sold cosmetics for the African American market directly via retail, mail order, and through agents. King Novelty / Famous Products also manufactured, distributed, and sold spiritual supplies. Their inventory of what they called “curios” was vast and fascinating, including candles, loadstones, mojo bags, oils, herbs and roots, resins, a wide variety of books, and of course, fortune telling cards. They even carried parchment inscribed with Solomonic seals.
The Neumann’s firm always maintained their ties to Chicago’s southside. The company’s first headquarters on Cottage Grove Avenue doubled as a recording studio for the Valmor Blues record label, and would later become an early home of the legendary Chess Records. When the firm expanded, Neumann took over the block between S. Indiana Avenue and S. Prairie Avenue, where they remained into the 1970s.
Valmor was known for its stylized packaging and advertisements, and it’s these illustrations for which they are most remembered today. In 2015, the Chicago Cultural Center created a retrospective of Charles C. Dawson and Jay Jackson's work for Valmor, entitled "Love for Sale: the Graphic Art of Valmor Products."