Card Shuffler by Nestor Johnson MFG Co., 1951

Nestor Johnson Card Shuffler

Nestor Johnson MFG Co., 1900 N. Springfield Ave., Chicago, IL [Hermosa]

Skillfully shuffling a deck of cards, much like stoically smoking a pack of cigarettes, was a universal method of establishing one’s coolness in 1950s America. The risks of the manual shuffle, however—much like the cigarette smoking—were numerous and potentially deadly. And I’m not just talking about the carpal tunnel and paper cuts. If an amateur card shark failed to evenly redistribute his hearts and clubs, his cohorts might elect to hit him with clubs until his heart stopped.

Fortunately, right at this point in history, a new option became available—an exceedingly less cool one by comparison, but an alternative nonetheless. The age of the automatic card shuffler had begun.

While there were a few different crank-operated shufflers that appeared in the early 1950s—including one from Chicago’s Arrco Playing Card Co.—it was another Chicago company, Nestor Johnson, that really cornered the market. We have two such shufflers in our own collection, and in general, these short-lived devices remain surprisingly easy to find at your average neighborhood resale shop. You might go as far as to assume they were Nestor Johnson’s signature product, but in fact, Nestor Johnson himself never even knew these things existed. His business, as many former hockey players, figure skaters, and rink lovers will surely know, was something entirely different.

For the 40 years prior to the card shuffler’s debut in 1950, and at least another quarter century after, the Nestor Johnson MFG Company’s main stock and trade was ice skate manufacturing. Back in the 1920s, they were part of Chicago’s unofficial “Big Three” with F.W. Planert & Sons and the Alfred Johnson Skate Co. You can get that full backstory by clicking below, or you can scroll on for some more info on the card shuffler.

For a history of the Nestor Johnson MFG Co’s far more lucrative and long lasting success in the ice skate business, check out our Johnsons Ice Skate page here or by clicking the image below.

So, yeah, ice skates and all things related to them; that’s where Johnson made its money for decades. As competition started to mount from cheaper national sporting good suppliers in the post-war 1940s, however, the Nestor Johnson MFG Co. needed to start casting a wider net.

Working at the company’s longtime headquarters on Springfield Ave. in Hermosa, an experienced Johnson employee named Rudolph Notz was hard at work on this problem. In 1950, he applied for a patent on a new product he hoped could provide a much needed new flow of revenue. He called it a “playing card shuffler device,” and within weeks, it was part of the Nestor assembly line.

[Rudolph Notz’s Card Shuffler patent, applied 1950, approved 1955]

“Mechanical card shufflers appear to be moving well,” a 1950 issue of Billboard reported. “Nestor Johnson is producing a steel shuffler with chrome trim and rubber rollers. By turning a crank, the machine shuffles rapidly up to three decks of cards. The cards automatically are stacked and ready to deal—$4.93 item.”

The actual instructions of the original Johnson Shuffler made bolder claims: “Two shufflings on your JOHNSON Shuffler will produce a mixing superior to hand shuffling.”

Ignoring the hilarious potential misinterpretations of repeated “shufflings on your Johnson,” the product marketing proved successful, and the product sold well throughout the 1950s.

Nestor remained at its Springfield Ave location through these years, and maintained offices there even after the company was bought out in the 1960s by New York’s Servotronics, Inc. They were still producing ice skates into the 1970s, but the card shuffler trend didn’t seem to have the same staying power. The vast majority were made in the 1950s, with little evidence of further production in the years after.

Sources:

Science and Industry, Vol. 7, 1902

Leagle.Com: Johnson vs Johnson

Professional Skaters Association Newsletter Jan/Feb 2014

 

Archived Reader Comments:

“I have a Nestor Johnson card shuffler.  I play bridge with a couple of women who are in their mid–eighties. I find some cards work better than others.  There is also an apparent wear on the gears behind the turner.  Can these be replaced?  If so how and where should I go.  Who says old things were made to last.  This was a fine company.” —Sls, 2018

21 thoughts on “Card Shuffler by Nestor Johnson MFG Co., 1951

  1. Hi Kartsa,
    I would like the 3d file which can be used to print the gear. I have purchased a few shufflers and they all seem to need a gear. I would really appreciate it. Thanking you in advance, Tom

  2. Note that this story claims “there were a few different crank-operated shufflers that appeared in the early 1950s—including one from Chicago’s Arrco Playing Card Co.” In fact, however, no evidence is provided in support of that claim. Indeed, I have found no evidence of an Arrco, crank-operated shuffler before the 1960s. If one was made, surely there must be a patent or something to go on. All the designs of the Arrco appear suspiciously 1960s or 70s, not 50s! The Ely Culbertson Card Shuffler dates from the 1950s, but is not even mentioned in this story. As for the Johnson, the first model was the 5-A, with chromed crank covers, followed by the 5-P a few years later, with plastic covers and segmented rollers. The model 50 came next, and is the most common. A more detailed history of these home shufflers would be very helpful.

    1. Hi Jim. Billboard magazine, Oct 14, 1950, mentions the Johnson Shuffler and “Arrco’s plastic card shuffler,” as well as another made by the American Binder Co. All are described as being crank operated. –Made In Chicago Museum

      1. Hello Andrew, how kind of you to reply. My research would agree that Arrco had a “plastic” card shuffler available as early as the mid-1950s, but it was of the “Dan Dee” form, and not mechanical. I have found no evidence of an Arrco mechanical card shuffler before 1960, but would be happy to see proof of an earlier date. From a “design” point of view, all of the Arrco’s that I have seen so far (over 100) appear conspicuously of mid-to-late 1960s, and equally not from the 1950s. No “hammertone” paint. No “slot-head” screws. 1950s design style was based largely on 1950s technology. I have yet to find that level of technology in any Arrco shuffler. In contrast, I “do” find that level of tecnology in the Ely Culbertson shufflers.

        Documentation is everything. History is about establishing evidence.

  3. I have a Johnson Card Shuffler that was my wife’s grandmothers. It works great and it also says Pat Pend. I saw one for sale on Ebay but I think the seller is way overpriced, $150.00 plus shipping.

  4. I have one with the gray sides and square handle. After reading the commits on this page I took my cover off to look at the gears. My main gear was missing the little gear on one side most of the time. I found a 1/4″ rubber band laying on my counter. I stretched the rubber band over the large gear. It is turning both side gears now/ Do not know how long the rubber band will last, but it may be a cheap fix.

  5. I bought one from an auction and the center gear was so worn it skipped some tooth when using. So I modelled the gear with Fusion 360 and ordered it online. Total cost of the gear was about 24 euros. Afterwards I learned libraries offers 3D printing time (at least in Finland) and I could have printed the gear there for 70c.

  6. For Jonathan Buchanan – I too have a Johnson Card Shuffler with a worn plastic center drive gear – any luck in locating a replacement gear or 3D manufacturing one?

    1. Hi
      I can send the 3D file which can be used to print the gear. Search forb3D printing services. But remember to compare the services since the price can vary a lot. I found from 20 euros to about 200 euros.

  7. I bought one with the squared-edged handle about 5 years ago from a stuff and junk shop for $10. Cleaning the rubber rollers with fine grit sandpaper, as the seller provided, did nothing to help it work. I recently took mine apart, per Daniel Rich’s suggestions. I only had 60% alcohol & detergent but I removed the plastic, geared wheels and cleaned everything. I used Lubriplate to grease the gears and rotation points.
    I did notice the main wheel with the handle doesn’t hit the side gears evenly. I thought it might be very slightly eccentric so the cards wouldn’t feed and stack in a perfectly alternate pattern. I think the teeth are too worn.
    On the aged, rubber, card-feed rollers, I tried to increase their grip on the cards by cleaning them with alcohol, a metal nail file, and today got out a metal rasp of different grades to scrape off a thin layer of glazed rubber. I didn’t try a new set of cards.
    As much as I would love for it to work better, no one has posted a main gear or feed roller replacement. Too bad; I wanted a working card shuffler. It’s time to say goodbye even though the apparatus is beautiful and metal! Jonathan Buchanan, did you figure-out a way to print the main drive wheel?

  8. Hello. I have kids that love playing cards. Uno, speed, and those types of games.
    We have gone thru 3 or 4 new card shufflers.
    Electric and manual. All junk. So I found a johnson card shuffler at a shop, no dates but its the green with the white plastic disk with wooden handle. It seems the gears have shrunk. Or was there that much slop in them. But is there a way to get new gears?. I’m guessing the center big one is the culprit. Seeing the others are brass.
    Or a size and pitch. And maybe I can 3d print one.
    Anyway. I hope there is a new part.
    Thanks.

  9. Howdy, I recently purchased a Nestor/Johnson card shuffler that needs cleaning.
    Any guidelines regarding cleaning and lubricating connections and cleaning rubber (?) rollers?

    Thanks.

    Lyman Martin

    1. I just purchased and cleaned a Johnson Card Shuffler. After unscrewing the crank and the plate behind i found the gears clogged with crusted grease. Just a touch of %100 rubbing alcohol and a clean cloth took off most of the oil. Again with the same cloth i put a drop or two of sewing machine oil and rubbed the entire outside and inside. Changing for clean patches and the cloth noticeable got dirty. TriFlow Grease where ever the gears touched, and a drop of Sewing Machine oil at all the points where a bar rotated in the shell. The rubber rollers were cleaned with the %100 rubbing alcohol.

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