Old Maid stands out as one of the earliest card games. Along with the development of playing cards, Old Maid is thought to have originated in India or China, and then came to Europe, England, and America. Essentially a matching game with one odd card, it can be played with a regular deck by removing any single card. The game is known by many other names in different countries and cultures, but the version we know has a permanent place in our culture. Today, an "old maid" may be any single piece left over when any pairs of items are counted. Early Western lithographers were quick to market cards made specifically for Old Maid; the humorous, if slightly sexist, possibilities suggested by the game title provided for many, many versions over the years. Old Maid's rules are simple: all cards are dealt and players lay down any pairs they have. The player on the dealer's left offers cards to the left. The player at his/her left draws and tries to make a pair, which is laid down. The play continues until one player lays down all cards as pairs. The player then left with the Old Maid loses the game. Game printers quickly learned that nearly any kind of card design made matching pairs possible. Many early examples included verses, quirky characters, and an especially unappealing or frighteningly stereotypical Old Maid card. Very popular among the Victorians, later examples from the mid-20th century may feature Hollywood-type personalities, circus performers, or racist images, to name just a few examples. Today's decks, made especially for children, are often simplified for easy matching.
Game maker Parker Brothers' late 19th century version of the classic Old Maid. The box cover features a striking Aesthetic movement inspired design, very typical of 1890. And, although the Old Maid on the box cover is unnattractive, the actual card image used in the deck is more appealing.