When Chicago Gangsters Carried Business Cards

Levi Mandel
Levi Mandel / Levi Mandel

In the 1970s and 1980s, Chicago street gang members were proud to show off their affiliations—so proud, in fact, that they actually carried business cards. “Street gangs made business cards displaying their symbols, nicknames, territories, and enemies as a means to assert their pride, recruit new members, and serve as general tokens of affiliation,” Brandon Johnson writes in his new book, Thee Almighty & Insane, a photographic collection of these historic “compliment cards."

These cards, he writes, document not only “the specific histories of these gangs and their members, but also the social dynamics of a violent and contentious time period in the city of Chicago.” Gang members created cards with the names and symbols of their group, adding slogans, hand-drawn graphics, and acronyms that are loaded with meaning for the initiated, but might not mean much to a layperson, as Johnson explains:

"For example, an upside down symbol or name is a sign of disrespect. Acronyms ending with the letter ‘K’ mean ‘killer’—so ’S.D.K.’ would be short for ‘Satan Disciples Killer.’ One Insane Pope card within these pages has the name ‘Larkin’ crossed out with ‘is dead’ and ‘G/L’s’ handwritten beneath, indicating that the Pope's leader Larkin was killed by the Gaylords."

The Old English typography and Playboy Bunny icons decorating the cards belied the violence of their bearers. The paper cards look a little like they should belong to a manager at Medieval Times, rather than deadly criminals. Check out a few Johnson collected for the book:

Levi Mandel

Preorder the second edition of Thee Almighty & Insane: Chicago Gang Business Cards from the 1970s & 1980s for $30 here.

[h/t It's Nice That]

All images courtesy Brandon Johnson / Thee Almighty & Insane: Chicago Gang Business Cards from the 1970s & 1980s.