Flinch Card Company

A.J. Paterson

A. J. Patterson in 1902

Source: Kalamazoo Telegraph, 15 March 1902

“The Acme of Parlor Games,” “More Simple Than Authors,” “More Scientific Than Whist.” Sound like fun? For the millions of Americans who have purchased it since 1902, Flinch has provided limitless hours of strategy and entertainment. The history of the popular card game goes back more than 100 years, and it all began in Kalamazoo with a man named Arthur J. Patterson.

The Inventor

Patterson was born in 1869 on a farm in Eaton County, grew up there, and graduated from Grand Ledge High School at the age of 16. He took various jobs as a teacher and clerk in Grand Rapids and Chicago. In 1898 he came to Kalamazoo to accept a job as the bookkeeper at Beecher & Kymer, a prominent book and stationery store. The business would soon become known as Beecher, Kymer, & Patterson.

Patterson was an avid card player, and in 1901, while playing cards in his Vine Street home, he came up with the idea for a new game that would be played with a special deck that he would produce and sell. He called the game “Flinch” and ran the Flinch Card Company out of the offices of Beecher, Kymer, & Patterson at 122 South Burdick.

Finch Deck of Cards

Flinch deck courtesy of Kalamazoo Valley Museum, photographed by Alex Forist.

The Game

A Flinch deck is made up of 150 cards numbered 1 through 15. The object of the game is to be the first to play all the cards from your hand and game pile. The instructions packaged with the game were simple enough for children to understand and to learn quickly, yet the game lent itself to strategy, which made it a favorite of adults as well.

A National Sensation

Flinch went on to become a national sensation. In the first years Patterson sold it he commented, “We could sell ten times the goods we do, if we could only produce them.” It was reported that game stores had special signs made for their window displays that read “No Flinch Today” for when they were sold out of the game, and “Flinch Today” for when they received a new shipment. In 1903 nearly 1 million Flinch games were sold, and by the time Patterson sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1936, over seven and a half million had been sold. Arthur Patterson died in 1948, but the game that he invented lives on, and families the world over can still enjoy his legacy by playing a game of Flinch.

Allurements of Flinch

by James Ball Naylor

There’s people down to Clovertown
whose only end an’ aim
Is jest to set an’ fiddle with some dern
fool, silly game
They used to play at tid’lywinks an’
authors – an’ I guess,
They hankered after dominoes, an’
crokinole, an’ chess:
An’ as fer checkers – goodness me! –
they said you couldn’t find
A better thing to cultivate the morals
an’ the mind
But now – by gum, it makes me laugh
- they wouldn’t give a pinch
Of salt, fer’ all them former games:
The only thing is “Flinch”

Sources

Articles

"From farmer's boy to business man" 

“Of Cards and Kalamazoo”

"Allurements of Flinch"

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 July 1903, page 14, column 4 (contains more verses than the one quoted above)

“Who’s Who in Kalamazoo: Arthur J. Patterson Invented Flinch, Once Most Popular Card Game in Country” 

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 November 1939, page 28, column 6
  • (copy in Kalamazoo Biography Scrapbook P2:142)

Local History Room Files

Subject File: Flinch Card Company 

Name File: Patterson, Arthur J.