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.
J.H. Singer produced this version of Old Maid. It must date from after 1885, because that was the year that Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, "The Mikado," hit the London and New York stage. "The Mikado" is undoubtedly Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular and often-produced operetta. It influenced the themes and designs of many commercial products at the time. This Old Maid deck is also called "Yum Yum," surely a nod to the soprano lead in "The Mikado." The cover illustration also shows a somewhat Asian-looking Old Maid, with Japanesque accessories around her. It is noteworthy that popular culture, even in the late 19th century, had an influence over the design of toys as well as countless other consumer goods.