Welcome to the wonderful hobby of collecting playing cards! There will be many old-timers who are reading this, and who have already been collecting playing cards for years. Associations and clubs devoted to collectors of playing cards have existed for decades. But there’s also an increasing number of people discovering this rewarding hobby for the first time, and just starting out with collecting.
So there are tons of decks to choose from, and it’s easy to buy them. Collecting playing cards is a rewarding hobby that can be tremendous fun, as you research the wide range that is out there, chase after that elusive hard-to-find or limited edition, and best of all: receive a package in the post, and get to unwrap end celebrate your “mail day” haul. But the internet can also provide endless options, and sometimes there’s too much choice. So where should you start, and what approach should you have? In this article, we aim to answer some of the more common questions asked by newbies about collecting playing cards, and direct you to helpful resources where you can learn more.
Playing card collecting
● What basic playing card terms should I know?
● Why are there so many decks?
● What kinds of decks should I collect?
● Should I collect older decks?
● What playing card brands should I know about?
● What playing card designers should I know about?
● What playing card manufacturers should I know about?
Playing card types
● Is it better to get decks made out of paper or out of plastic?
● What size playing cards should I get?
● What should I look for in a good quality deck?
● Why does everyone recommend Bicycle decks?
● What different types of decks I should know about?
● What are transformation playing cards?
● What are marked decks?
● How are Tarot and Oracle decks different from regular decks?
Playing card shopping
● Where can I buy decks?
● How much should I pay for a quality deck?
● Should I buy playing cards as an investment?
● What essentials should I know about buying and collecting?
Playing card care
● Should I open my decks?
● Do I need to break in a new deck?
● How do I break in a new deck?
● How should I store my decks?
● What other playing card accessories and novelties should I know about?
● How can I keep track of my collection?
● How do I create my own deck of playing cards?
Playing card uses
● How do I learn how to do basic card handling?
● How do I learn how to do cardistry?
● How do I learn to do card magic?
● What good card games should I learn?
● What good solitaire games should I learn?
● What else can I use playing cards for?
Playing card facts and news
● What should I know about the history of playing cards?
● What other interesting things about playing cards should I know?
● How can I stay up-to-date with news about the latest decks?
● Where can I discuss the hobby with other collectors?
PLAYING CARD COLLECTING
What basic playing card terms should I know?
The playing card industry has developed its own language, and while the lingo will be familiar to experienced collectors, some words and phrases will seem foreign to a newbie at first. But you’ll quickly learn some of the basic terminology, much of which you’ll see in the description of decks in crowdfunding projects, on product pages, and in discussion forums.
The “tuck box” is simply the common way to refer to the box that the cards come in, and is usually wrapped in cellophane. The “embossing” refers to the dimpled finish on the surface of the playing cards, although it can also refer to raised surfaces on more luxurious tuck boxes. The metallic printing on higher end tuck boxes is usually described as “foil”. In the last couple of years some companies have been experimenting with “spot UV printing”, which is a secondary printing process that adds a clear coat to selected parts of a card or box, which creates a raised surface that adds a tactile feel and glossy look. A “brick” refers to a dozen decks, usually purchased together in a brick-shaped box.
The “court cards” consist of the Jacks, Queens, and Kings, and are also called face cards, picture cards, or just “courts”; these contrast with the “spot cards”, which are the number cards from 2 through 10. The “indices” of a card refer to the number and value of the card on opposite corners, while the “pips” are the suit symbols, i.e. Spades, Clubs, Hearts, and Diamonds.
Particularly in the world of card games and especially poker, individual cards have attracted there only nicknames over time, like the Suicide King (King of Spades), Black Lady (Queen of Spades), and Beer Card (Seven of Diamonds). The same is true of particular card combinations, the most famous one being immortalized as “The Dead Man’s Hand”, which is a reference to the legendary story of the hand that gambler Wild Bill Hickok was holding (a pair of black Aces and a pair of black eights) when he was gunned down in 1876.
Different handling techniques also have their own terminology, and there are words that refer to different grips (mechanics grip, biddle grip), as well as shuffles (overhand, riffle, hindu). Card games employ a lot of specialized words and terms as well, and some of these are even unique to specific games.
● Playing card terms you should know
● Common playing card nicknames
● The legend of the Dead Man’s Hand
Why are there so many decks?
But first: why the increase in decks of playing cards and the growing number of collectors? One factor that contributes to the rapid rise of playing card collecting is the arrival of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter a decade ago. These have been exactly the catalyst that many designers needed, as a way of bringing their personal projects to the mass market, and it’s also been a tool used by creative teams to build and develop their own playing card brands. The amount of playing cards arriving on the market today is far greater than ever before, and there’s a wide range of truly novel and incredible designs to choose from.
Another big factor is technology and the internet, which helps both creators and consumers. Technology helps creators design decks from the comfort of their homes, and as a result, a creative designer can produce something special on their personal computer, and then partner with printing companies and crowdfunding platforms to get their design printed and produced. The internet also gives massive marketing opportunities, because as a collector, you can browse a wide range of decks from the comfort of your home, see photos and videos of the latest and greatest custom decks that are hitting the market, and purchase them from online retailers or on the secondary market.
Another important factor is that decks of playing cards are created to serve different needs. Some are created for card magic and playing card games, and these kinds of decks will tend to be quite functional and usable. Cardistry, which is the art of card flourishing, has totally a different set of requirements, since this sees the use of playing cards as a visual demonstration of skill and beauty, thus leading to the rise of a wide range of different decks that emphasize different shapes and colours, since the readability of indices and pips becomes of minor importance. Other decks are unashamedly created simply for collectors, and cater to a wide range of tastes and styles, which are just as diverse as the people who make them and buy them.
● Reasons why so many playing card decks are being produced
● Market saturation: Are there too many decks of custom playing cards?
What kinds of decks should I collect?
Playing cards can have a variety of uses, and if you’re looking for playing cards in order to play card games, perform card magic, or do cardistry, you’ll have different needs. In this FAQ we’ll focus more on the considerations that a collector will be look for in deciding what deck to buy.
Perhaps one of the biggest things you should keep in mind is only to buy cards that you like. Stamp collectors can’t possibly collect every postage stamp in the world, so they usually tend to have a focus, e.g. they might collect stamps only from a particular country, or stamps with pictures of cars or flowers. Something similar is true with collecting playing cards, and you will have to narrow down your area of interest in some way.
Playing cards exhibit the same kind of creativity and diversity that you find in the world of art and design, and are effectively miniature art pieces. So they are often superb examples of beauty, creativity, and imagination, and are also often of important historical interest. There are many areas of special interest that you can focus on, just as with other hobbies.
Here are some examples of areas that different collectors focus on:
● Themes: Possible areas of focus include comics, animals, horses, cars, railroads, geography, history, wars, pinups, royalty, commemorations of events, or other interests like music.
● Brands: Many collectors like to try to assemble a complete collection of popular brand name playing cards, like Fontaines, Virtuoso, Orbits, Cherry Casino, or the Organic series.
● Creators: Popular creators that some collectors specialize include designers like Stockholm17, Alex Chin, Giovanni Meroni, Jody Eklund, Jackson Robinson, Paul Carpenter, and Randy Butterfield.
● Publishers: Certain publishers have a range of decks that people collect, notable ones being Theory11, Ellusionist, and Art of Play.
● Locations: Some collectors only collect cards that originate in Europe, or perhaps Germany or France, or the United States, or some other part of the world.
You can also focus your collecting on a specific type of deck of playing cards:
● Souvenir: featuring scenes from different locations or landmarks that capture a particular place.
● Advertising: created to promote a product or company, like Coca Cola.
● Transformation: where the pips have been incorporated creatively and artistically into a larger image.
● Reproduction: reproducing historically significant or rare decks from the past.
● Standard: traditional style faces, especially the court cards, rather than cards with custom designs.
● Others: Other themes and categories to check out include: Animals, Fiction, Military, Vintage, Gilded
● Singles: Some collectors only collect one card from a deck, their focus being on the unique card backs. Or they might have a binder full of Jokers all from different decks and with different artwork. Due to the elaborate design of the Ace of Spades, some collectors focus exclusively on collecting these.
● Ultimate playing card holiday gift guide
● Playing cards about novels
Should I collect older decks?
This FAQ won’t deal much with older decks. Because once you start collecting older decks, you can also expect to be spending a lot more money. Most playing cards are made out of paper, and paper tends to deteriorate over time. Especially if a deck of playing cards has been well used, it will quickly start looking ragged. That’s why you won’t easily come across older decks in pristine condition. They were created in the first place for playing card games, and if they’ve been used, they’ve probably been worn out and trashed. So older decks either tend to look quite worn, and if they are in top condition, it will be something that was carefully preserved instead of being used, which is extremely rare, and also makes it quite pricey.
For this reason, it’s usually better for the brand new collector to start your collection with newer decks. Fortunately collecting playing cards has an enormous scope, and there are a lot of different directions you can go. While you might decide to collect older decks, if you can afford it, deciding only to collect modern decks which have been released over the last decade or so is quite fine too, and you’ll have more than enough choice to keep you busy, with far more options than you’ll ever be able to buy. In the last decade alone there’s been a massive influx of custom decks hitting the market. Since most new collectors tend to start their collection with newer decks that are readily available, that’s what the majority of this FAQ will be focused on, rather than too many details about vintage and antique decks that will largely be out of the reach of the average collector.
The good news is that if you really are keen on older playing cards, there are plenty of reproductions being made of famous decks. Home Run Games is a publisher that specializes in producing these, and they have made reproductions of decks like Hart’s Saladee’s Patent (1864), Triplicate No. 18 (1876), Mauger Centennial (1876), and my favourite: Murphy Varnish (1883).
● Restorations of famous American card decks
● Custom and reproduction decks produced by PCD in 2019
What playing card brands should I know about?
There’s a number of publishers who have created a solid reputation for producing high quality playing cards. Theory11 is one you should definitely know about. They are highly regarded for producing high quality playing cards that are ideal for card games or card magic, with some customization while not detracting from functionality. They put a lot of effort into creating highly attractive tuck boxes that look terrific and make an instant impression. Their playing cards are also very well priced around $10, and you won’t often get this level of quality at that price anywhere else.
Ellusionist has also been producing custom quality playing cards already before the modern era of crowdfunding. In recent years publishers like Art of Play have also produced a steady stream of wonderful custom decks, and their range can also be highly recommended.
People into card flourishing often are loyal to a brand that has been largely built up on the strength of a skilled cardist, and Fontaines and Anyone Worldwide are very popular name brands that tend to cost a little more simply because of the name.
● Brand spotlight: Theory11
● Brand spotlight: Ellusionist
● Brand spotlight: Art of Play
● Brand spotlight: US Games Systems, Inc
● Brand spotlight: Guru Playing Card Company
● Brand spotlight: Vanishing Inc
What playing card designers should I know about?
There are also many individual designers that have built up a loyal following, and are popular with collectors of modern decks. To see the work of some of the best and most popular modern designers, you should definitely take a look at the designs of creators like Lorenzo Gaggiotti (Stockholm17 Playing Cards), Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards), Lee McKenzie (Kings & Crooks), Paul Carpenter (Encarded Playing Cards), Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries), Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild Project), Randy Butterfield (Midnight Playing Cards), Lotrek (Oath Playing Cards), Alex Chin (Seasons Playing Cards), and Steve Minty.
● Introducing some talented playing card designers and their work
● Designer spotlight: Randy Butterfield (Midnight Cards)
● Designer spotlight: Alex Chin (Seasons Playing Cards)
● Inteview with Lorenzo Gaggiotti (Stockholm17 Playing Cards)
● Interview with Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards)
● Interview with Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries)
● Interview with Lee McKenzie (Kings & Crooks)
● Interview with Paul Carpenter (Encarded Playing Card Co)
● Interview with Karin Yan (Encarded Playing Card Co)
What playing card manufacturers should I know about?
Not all decks of playing cards are created equal. Custom decks of playing cards have been used as novelty products and to promote tourism for centuries, and you won’t have to look far to find a cheap deck at your corner store or at a tourist attraction. However these decks are typically made of thin card stock that won’t last, and the cards won’t shuffle or spread smoothly. Fortunately there are some playing card manufacturers that have developed a solid reputation for producing high quality playing cards, and when you see their name on the box or associated with a project, you can be confident of a quality product.
The United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), maker of the famous Bicycle brand, is easily the most well known name in the business. They’ve been around since the 1800s, and are one of the biggest producers of custom playing cards. They do produce playing cards on different card stocks and finishes, but for the most part, their decks will be high quality embossed playing cards that look and handle well, and will be far superior to your average souvenir deck.
Cartamundi is based in Europe, and has been making a growing contribution to the custom playing card market in recent years. Their cards have a slightly different feel and look to decks produced by USPCC, but the quality is also excellent. Cartamundi acquired USPCC in the past year, so these two big names are now partnering together, and there’s good reason to think that they’ll build on each other’s strengths, and continue to produce great quality playing cards.
There’s also a number of publishers that print playing cards in Taiwan, such as Expert Playing Card Company, Legends Playing Card Company, and Hanson Chien Playing Card Company. Their cards have a different look and feel again, but are also of extremely high quality. Another big producer of playing cards is Piatnik, but they are primarily based in Europe, and cater to a different market, producing more traditional style decks geared towards European communities.
China is another source of custom playing cards, but typically the cards printed here won’t match the quality of those printed in Taiwan, or produced by USPCC or Cartamundi. Companies like Make Playing Cards and Shuffled Ink both fall into this category, but they do have the advantage of doing smaller print runs. The quality of playing cards printed in China won’t matter as much to collectors, but for cardists and magicians it can make a big difference.
● Playing card manufacturer: United States Playing Card Company (USPCC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Cartamundi
● Playing card manufacturer: Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Piatnik
● Playing card manufacturer: Noir Arts (NPCC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Make Playing Cards (MPC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Shuffled Ink
PLAYING CARD TYPES
Is it better to get decks made out of paper or out of plastic?
Well it’s your collection, so you buy whatever you like! Regardless of what other people think, you might like the novelty of plastic cards, and prefer to make a collection of those.
But there definitely is a big difference in the way that plastic playing cards handle compared with paper playing cards. Plastic playing cards have been popularized as a result of the success of Poker. The reason they are preferred for Poker is that they are less likely to be marked – something critical for a gambling game where money is on the line! But while plastic cards may have the advantage of durability, they handle terribly. They tend to clump together, and don’t spread or shuffle evenly. That’s why people who enjoy card magic, card games, and card flourishing, will nearly always opt for a deck made out of paper, since the handling ability of a paper deck is far superior.
Since paper playing cards are far more versatile, they continue to be the most preferred. Most modern decks of custom playing cards are typically made out of paper as well. So if you’re wanting to collect modern playing cards with a variety of designs and styles of artwork, you’ll find that these are nearly always made out of paper.
But if it is novelty that attracts you, you’ll be pleased to know that if you look hard enough, you won’t just find decks that are made out of plastic, but even wood, metal, and carbon fibre.
● Playing cards made of different materials
● How playing cards are made
● Factors that affect the handling of a deck: Bicycle decks
● Factors that affect the handling of a deck: Non-Bicycle decks
● Factors that affect the handling of a deck: Cartamundi decks
What size playing cards should I get?
The two main different sizes of playing cards are bridge-sized cards and poker-sized cards. Bridge-sized cards are narrower than poker sized cards. As the name suggests, they have a close connection with the card game Bridge, where players each start with a hand of 13 cards. Narrow cards lend themselves well to a large hand, and hence the advantage of bridge cards in this kind of setting.
But while bridge-sized cards might be useful in some gaming contexts, poker-sized cards are by far preferred. To begin with, they have a larger face, with more pleasing proportions, and the larger canvas of the playing cards gives artists and designers more room to work with, and allows for more artwork to be displayed. The greater width of poker sized cards not only makes them more aesthetically pleasing, but all makes them easier to shuffle and handle, giving them a functional advantage.
Bridge-sized cards are still common in some parts of Europe, in part due to the popularity of some traditional card games that have a long history in certain regions. But poker-sized cards are more widely used around the world, and by far the majority of custom decks today are produced with poker-sized cards. If you’re looking for modern playing cards that have attractive designs and artwork, more than nine times out of ten it will be a poker-sized deck.
What should I look for in a good quality deck?
The old saying that `you get what you pay for’ is often true of playing cards. A cheap souvenir deck purchased while on holidays will typically be made of thin cardstock that handles poorly and won’t last, and be stored in a very basic card-box. In contrast, a custom deck produced by an established brand or publisher will offer so much more, starting with the tuck box, and both the artwork and card quality of the playing cards themselves.
Your first encounter with a custom deck is with the tuck box, and with some decks this is the real highlight of the deck. Modern printing techniques allow extensive use of embossing and metallic foil, and when this is combined with a creative and original design, the results can be spectacular. A custom seal that is individually numbered makes a fine touch, and limited edition decks that are individually numbered tend to be more prized as a result.
At a minimum, most custom decks will have customized card backs, customized Jokers, and a customized Ace of Spades. Cards with borderless backs can look nice in spreads and fans, but white-bordered cards are usually the most practical, and won’t show signs of wear as quickly. You’ll even find decks that include hot stamped metallic foil or cold foil on the card backs, and this really ramps up the bling factor of a deck. Metallic inks aren’t quite as noticeable, but will enhance the look of cards as well. Aside from the Aces and Jokers, a decent custom deck will usually feature custom Jokers as well. Look for custom pips and fonts for a fully custom deck, ideally with artwork to match. Some publishers print decks with 56 cards as their standard, and so you should check to see if you get any bonus cards besides a set of 52 regular cards and 2 Jokers. Often two extra gaff cards are included that can be used for card magic.
The paper quality of a deck is also important. The section about paper versus plastic playing cards covers some details about this already. But the important thing to look for is playing cards that have an embossed or “linen finish” style, often referred to as an “air cushion finish”, because these will perform the most smoothly when handling the cards. The publisher that manufactures a deck will often give a good indication about the quality of the paper, with reputable publishers like USPCC, Cartamundi, EPCC, and LPCC all producing consistently good quality decks.
● What to look for in a quality deck of playing cards
Why does everyone recommend Bicycle decks?
The Bicycle brand is a reliable indication of quality. Bicycle playing cards are produced by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), one of the oldest and biggest playing card manufacturers in the world, and also one of the best. They produce millions of playing cards every year, and the quality is consistently good.
Most Bicycle playing cards have an embossed finish, which refers to the small dimples on the surface of the playing cards. This ensures an even amount of friction across the entire card, and creates pockets of air, producing what is commonly called an “air cushion finish”. As a result, these cards will spread smoothly, and shuffle well. The cards are also made of good card stock, and the printing is clear and colours are good. One issue some Bicycle decks have is that the printing can be slightly misaligned. But aside from that occasional blemish, a deck produced by USPCC is almost a certain indication of quality. It’s for this reason that the Bicycle brand has become synonymous with a level of quality, and having the name “Bicycle” on the box is a reliable indicator of what you can expect inside the box.
Over the years, the USPCC has also taken over several other big brands of playing cards. Popular examples include Tally Ho, Bee, and Hoyle. Due to the strength of these brands, they continue to be produced under these labels, but the actual quality, look, and feel of these cards isn’t really any different from a Bicycle deck. Even a completely unbranded deck can be good quality, if it has been produced by USPCC.
The back design of the classic and Bicycle deck is called the “rider-back”, because of the artwork which incorporates an image of angels riding Bicycles. At the time the company first produced these cards, the bicycle was becoming popular, so associating playing cards with this popular new means of transport was a good publicity move. Today the Bicycle rider-back has cemented its place in card magic and card games as being the classic and most recognizable deck, and for that reason it still remains the deck of choice for many card magicians.
A standard Bicycle rider-back deck is also excellent value, and these can typically be obtained for very good prices. Bicycle branded decks with custom artwork will typically cost you more, but a Bicycle rider-back deck will handle just has well. This makes them very affordable, while ensuring you still get an excellent quality deck of playing cards that performs well.
● The Bicycle brand: Is it really worth the money to get a Bicycle deck?
● Factors that affect the handling of a Bicycle deck
What different types of decks I should know about?
There’s a wide range of different types of playing cards in today’s market, but this variety has been present throughout the history of playing cards, and is evident already in the 1400s and 1500s. While most people are only familiar with the standard look of a traditional deck, there are in fact many different types of decks besides that. There is some overlap between the categories below, but here are some of the more common and well-known types you should know about:
1. Standard deck: This is the traditional deck that we all recognize and know, with standardized number cards and court cards. Typically in a standard deck, the look will be very familiar, and customization is limited to the Ace of Spades, Jokers, and card backs.
2. Novelty deck: This is a broad term that refers to custom decks, i.e. non-standard. Typically a novelty deck is expected to be fully customized, often with original or unusual artwork, and customization is applied to the court cards, pips, and indices.
3. Game deck: A number of decks have been produced for specific card games, like Canasta or Euchre. While these popular card games can often be played with a standard deck, there are small adjustments made to special decks to make these games easier to play, like the addition of point values on cards.
4. Gaffed deck: These are favourite tools for magicians, and consist almost entirely of “gimmicked” cards, that enable a magician to perform special feats of card magic. The most well-known gaffed decks are the Svengali deck and the Stripper deck.
5. Marked deck: Another staple for magicians, marked decks enable a performer to identify the value and suit of a card by secret marks hidden in the artwork of the card back. These are strictly intended for performing card magic, and should not be used for cheating in a card game!
6. Vintage deck: Vintage decks are those from previous eras. Original vintage decks in near-new condition typically are worth considerable sums of money, because they can be quite rare. But there are also many modern decks created with a vintage look.
7. Reproduction deck: A large market exists for publishing reproductions of famous or classic decks from the past, typically in high quality modern editions.
8. Faro deck: This originates from the era before Poker, when the gambling game of choice in the Wild West was called Faro. Decks from this time did not yet have indices, and so any deck without indices can be referred to as a “faro deck”.
9. Transformation deck: The pips on the cards in these decks are creatively incorporated into a larger picture by the artist or designer. As a result they are very artistic, typically very attractive and even amusing, and highly collectible.
10. Regional deck: Many playing cards reflect a specific geographic locality or region. For example, Italian and Spanish cards use different suits like cups, coins, swords and clubs. Decks that hail from other parts of Europe often consist of smaller sizes, like 32 card decks or 40 card decks, often linked to specific card games popular in those cultures.
11. Souvenir deck: Typically a very cheaply produced deck, this is something created as a souvenir for tourists. In most cases all the cards in the deck feature a different image of tourist attractions, landmarks, scenery, animals, or other notable elements of a particular place that the deck is a tribute to.
12. Advertising deck: Companies have used playing cards to help market their products, and there are many decks created solely to promote a particular brand or product. These typically have a cross-over appeal to collectors of memorabilia relating to that product or company.
13. Licensed deck: In this category are decks that pay tribute to popular culture, like films, TV shows, books, music, or other cultural icons. These often have a loyal following of fans, and reproducing the artwork requires the creator to pay license fees.
14. Cardistry deck: Card flourishing has really boomed in the last half a dozen years, and an increasing number of decks are being produced that are purely geared towards cardistry, with an emphasis on visual colours and graphic designs that amplify the impact of the cards in motion, at the expense of practical function and traditional indices or pips.
15. Throwing deck: Card throwing has been popularized by world record holder Rick Smith Jr, and there are decks of cards that have been created specifically for this, which optimize the visual impact of the cards in the air, or measure the depth into which they go in a target like fruit or styrofoam.
16. Animation deck: Taking a deck to the movies is a common phrase used to describe the act of flipping through all the cards in a deck quickly, and this has been used by creators to create a miniature animation flip film.
17. Limited edition deck: Many decks are produced in limited editions and low quantities intended exclusively for collectors, and often this is accompanied by a seal with an individual number that indicates how many of that deck were produced and what number this specific deck is, e.g. 578/1000.
18. Gilded deck: Gilding is when the edges of a deck are painted, often with gold metallic paint, or some other attractive or shiny colour, to further enhance the luxurious look and visual appeal of a deck.
19. Tarot deck: This deck consists of 78 cards, by adding 4 extra court cards (one for each suit), and 22 additional cards known as the Major Arcana. It was originally used for card games in the 15th century, with the extra cards functioning as a trump suit, but in the 18th century began to be used for occult fortune-telling.
20. Oracle deck: This takes things a step beyond the modern Tarot deck, and has no fixed structure or number of cards. It can’t even be used for playing card games, and is strictly used for fortune telling, barely qualifying anymore as “playing cards”.
What are transformation playing cards?
Transformation playing cards deserve some separate explanation, given how clever and creative these decks are, and because they are very popular and highly collectible. The basic concept of transformation playing cards is that the pips ingeniously incorporated into a larger picture. For example, an imaginative artist might transform the Heart pips on a playing card into actual human faces, and the Diamond pips into hats or box lids, or the Club pips into paw prints or leaves. These colourful and creative decks are noted for being highly attractive and are often amusing, so it’s little wonder that they are loved by collectors.
Transformation decks first appear on the playing card scene as a complete published deck in the early 19th century, with a series of decks known today as the J.G. Cotta decks, which were produced in Germany. Given their historical and artistic significance, numerous reproductions of these have appeared over the years, including a project that is currently being orchestrated by PCD.
But the genre especially bloomed in the late 1800s, and many fine decks and memorable designs were produced in this period, several of which have since been the subject of reproduction projects. The late 20th century saw a resurgence of brief interest in creating transformation playing cards. But it’s really been in the modern era, especially as a result of increased technological possibilities for individuals to create and support smaller projects, that we’ve seen a growing appreciation of this genre, and the creation of several fine transformation decks.
● The creative genius of transformation playing cards
● 20th century transformation playing cards
● Modern era transformation playing cards
● High quality reproductions of classic 19th century transformation decks
● The famous J.G. Cotta transformation decks
What are marked decks?
A marked deck has secret marks on the back of each card, enabling you to identify the value and suit on the opposite side. They are created to be used by magicians and mentalists in performing card tricks, and should not be used for playing card games, and certainly not for gambling – unless you don’t value your life! Do be aware that a marked deck isn’t an automatic ticket to producing miracles, because most card magic relies on sleight of hand and showmanship, and is performed with a normal deck; a marked deck won’t substitute for a good or entertaining presentation, which is an essential quality of good magic.
There are two main systems used for marked decks. Decks with reader systems hide the suit and value of the card on the back design in a way that it can be easily read, e.g. QH would denote the Q of Hearts. Decks with coded systems are much more subtle and harder to read, because they hide the suit and value of the card via some other aspect of the artwork that must be decoded in order to determine what the value and suit are. For example, the suit of a card might be indicated by a dot in one of four corners of a square, while the value of a card might be indicated by a dot in a circle and correspond to the hours of a clock. There are also ways of creating your own marked deck with a normal deck by adding your own system of markings.
● 7 Top marked decks
● 7 More top marked decks
● The perils of selling a magic product on the mass market
How are Tarot and Oracle decks different from regular decks?
The most obvious difference is immediately apparent in the number of cards. While a regular deck has 56 cards (four suits of 13 cards plus 2 Jokers), a Tarot deck has 78 cards. An Oracle deck has no fixed size at all and can consist of any number of cards. A second major difference is the focus and style of the artwork. Tarot cards today are often associated with the occult, and even used for fortune-telling and divination. This usage is what Oracle decks are used for exclusively, and it can be argued that they defy the traditional criteria for “playing cards”, because they are created specifically for use in fortune-telling. Certainly the artwork in both types of decks today typically reflects an association with the occult and divination.
However, historically Tarot decks did not have this connection. While this is the subject of some controversy, the evidence suggests that the Tarot deck only developed from the traditional deck in the 15th century, with the extra cards functioning as a trump suit for card games, and the Tarot only began to be used actively for the occult in the 18th century. This has been quite convincingly argued and substantiated by respected academic Michael Dummett in his monumental book, The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City (1980).
Despite this, the mistaken belief that the Tarot was developed from the mythical ancient Book of Thoth still persists in many circles. But regardless of its origin, there is no doubt that today the Tarot does have a close connection with the occult, and the majority of Tarot decks are used either for fortune-telling, or purchased by collectors who appreciate the imaginative artwork that typically accompanies these decks.
The four court cards in a Tarot deck are the King, Queen, Knight, and Page/Jack, resulting in each suit consisting of 14 cards. Modern occult decks tend to use the suits familiar from traditional Italian decks – swords, batons, coins and cups – but the nomenclature is frequently adjusted, with batons often called wands, rods or staves, and the coins often called pentacles or disks. The 22 cards of the Major Arcana are depicted with the following: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement, The World, and The Fool. These are often numbered with Roman numerals from I to XXI, with the unnumbered Fool card functioning as 0, or sometimes as XXII.
● Debunking common myths: Did playing cards develop from Tarot cards?
● Tarot deck publisher U.S. Games Systems Inc
● Historical curiosities that shaped our modern deck
PLAYING CARD SHOPPING
Where can I buy decks?
With the help of the internet, today it is easier to find and buy good decks of playing cards than it ever has been before! There’s a lot of different options you can consider using, especially for recently produced decks that weren’t produced in super limited numbers. These include online sources like online retailers that specialize in custom playing cards, or by purchasing custom decks directly from creators via publisher web-shops or via crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. For older decks or more rare items that were produced in limited numbers, you’ll often have to head to the secondary market. It’s worth heading to forums for playing card collectors to try to source these harder-to-find decks.
You will have to be cautious with Kickstarter projects, because not only will the wait time be significant in some instances, but some creators won’t follow through with their promises, and it pays to carefully check their existing track record. Caution is also advised when buying from private sellers or from eBay or Amazon. You can certainly get some good deals here, but if you’re buying privately, be sure to find out something about who you’re buying from, and whether or not they are a reputable seller. You don’t just want to get the lowest price, but you want to make sure that your deck is packaged carefully and shipped promptly.
Brick-and-mortar stores will usually only offer a small selection of custom decks, typically at higher prices than what you’ll find online. A notable exception is the range of Theory11 decks in the $10 range that you’ll find in some big US box stores like Target. These are high quality decks that are very practical, and for the relatively low price they will make a fine addition to any collection. Consider yourself fortunate if you have a local shop that carries these, but for the most part you’ll have to head online to get your decks.
Personally I’ve had the best success buying from reputable online retailers that specialize in selling custom decks. They typically have a large range of modern decks at very affordable prices, and because they know their products well and understand what customers want, they know the importance of shipping promptly and packaging things carefully. Online retailers also often have special offers and deals you can take advantage of.
● Interview with retailer Will Roya
● Interview with PCD’s shipping manager
● Interview with wholesaler Murphy’s Magic
How much should I pay for a quality deck?
That depends entirely on what kind of deck you are looking for. If you’re on the hunt for a truly rare deck, a limited edition deck that is a real collector’s item, or something produced in low numbers and is in high demand with collectors, don’t be shocked to see prices over $100. Vintage and antique decks can also be worth a lot if they’re in good condition and date back to before the Second World War.
For modern decks, you don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts to get something that is a quality product. If it’s primarily good handling and performance that you want, a basic Bicycle rider-back deck will do the job just fine, and will only set you back a few dollars. You will see people rave about the quality of higher end playing cards, but in reality if they are made by the United States Playing Card Company, for the most part exactly the same printing processes and card-stock is used as a standard Bicycle deck. For learning card magic or cardistry, or even for card games, if you are on a tight budget and want something that will be durable and do the job well, a standard Bicycle Rider-back deck is all that you need. These are mass produced, hence the good value. In fact, there are a lot of USPCC-produced decks – including some basic custom ones – that you can buy for as little as $5 each.
With custom decks, what you’re paying for is the extra work and time that has gone into the specialized artwork and graphic design. Some larger brands like Theory11 do mass produce their decks, so even though their range consists of luxury playing cards with stunning tuck boxes, these typically retail for around $10 and up, which is excellent value considering the quality you get. But most custom decks are made with much smaller print-runs, and the prices tend to be higher as a result. At online retailers you’ll often find a number of decks in the $10 range, and if you wait for specials or clearance items, you can get some good quality decks.
If they’re produced with the help of crowdfunding, most custom decks will set you back around $15 or so. That’s a fairly standard rate for a quality custom deck, and most collectors won’t blink an eye at spending that kind of money, especially if the cards have attractive artwork, and the tuck box has extras like a custom seal, embossing, and metallic foil. Decks that are individually numbered and produced in limited editions may cost more. Some established brands like Fontaines and Anyone Worldwide will typically be in a higher price bracket than average, not because they’re better quality as such, but because you’re paying for the name.
Of course, if you’re buying a deck in a physical shop, expect to pay more for it than online.
Should I buy playing cards as an investment?
There certainly are some playing cards that have increased in value over time. Playing cards are made out of paper, and so older decks that have stood the test of time are harder to come by. If you’re into collecting vintage and antique playing cards, especially if they date back to the 19th century or earlier, then these might be considered an investment. Decks like these are typically quite rare and their value will only increase, because the supply isn’t going to increase any time soon!
But unless your deck is from the pre-World War II era, it’s not likely to fetch a huge sum of money. If your grandparents give you an old deck they’ve found while doing spring-cleaning, don’t expect it to be worth much. The price of playing cards relies on the classic formula of supply and demand: i.e. how many decks are available, and what is the demand like. A flood of cheap souvenir style decks were produced in the 1980s onwards, and since there’s not a big demand for these, they’re not going to increase in value any time soon.
One exception is the Jerry’s Nugget playing cards which were produced around 1970. These were noted for their performance, and have unique handling qualities that can’t be replicated by modern printing techniques. Over time these became legendary, and as demand increased, the price went up. Today they are prized by collectors typically fetch around $500 on the secondary market.
But in the case of most modern playing cards, the demand won’t exceed the supply significantly enough to affect the price. It’s usually difficult to know in advance if the value of a deck will increase at the time it is released. Decks that have increased in value over time are typically the first releases of a creator or brand that became popular over time, and over the course of multiple releases. For example, brands like Orbit, Fontaine, and Virtuoso, have all attracted a loyal following, and produced series of decks. But it was only after their fourth or fifth release that collectors started wanting their first releases, the supply of which had long dried up, and those decks now can sell for big amounts. Popular designers like Jackson Robinson and Steve Minty have also produced limited edition decks, and some of their first releases have increased in value significantly. But usually you can’t predict this success in advance, and unless a deck is produced in limited numbers and the demand already exceeds supply at the time of release, there’s no guarantee that a deck will increase in value. Another consideration is that with newer decks there tends to be a larger amount of unopened decks in the hands of collectors. In contrast, the chances of coming across a sealed and pristine deck that is vintage or antique is much more rare, thereby also making it far more valuable than an unopened modern deck.
Another consideration here is that an opened and used deck won’t fetch anywhere near the same amount as a brand new deck that is unopened and still sealed in the original packaging. So if you plan to open and actually use your decks, then this will also reduce their value further. So my advice is: just enjoy your decks, and don’t buy them with the aim of trying to make money. If you really do need to sell off your collection in the future, you’ll certainly find other collectors willing to take your decks off your hands, especially if they haven’t been opened or used. But don’t buy playing cards with the goal of doing this as an investment, unless you’re a serious collector with enough disposable income to splurge big amounts of money on vintage or antique decks.
● The legendary Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards
● The case of the 40,000 Jerry Nugget decks: a detective story
What essentials should I know about buying and collecting?
Once you get involved with collecting playing cards, it’s common to want to buy almost everything that captures your interest. There are so many good decks of playing cards available, and that makes it easy to splurge on everything that looks good. Here is some important advice to remember when buying and collecting:
1. Only buy decks that you like. Just because a lot of people are raving about how good a deck is, doesn’t mean you have to like it. Ultimately it’s your collection, not somebody else’s, and you don’t have to build something that will please the internet. You aren’t buying playing cards that other people like, but ones for yourself. So if you like a deck that nobody else does, by all means buy it; on the other hand don’t just buy a deck that you don’t like just because everybody else seems to rave about it! Just get what really appeals to you personally.
2. Don’t buy everything that you like. Just because you do like something isn’t necessarily a good reason to buy it. A lot of new collectors make the mistake of wanting everything that catches their interest. They quickly discover that there’s a lot more decks that they like that they can possibly own or afford, and that they’ve spent money on decks that in retrospect they wouldn’t have purchased with the benefits of hindsight. Over time, your tastes can also become more refined. Try to be selective right from the beginning, and only buy decks that you really love. Focus your purchases on decks that have something truly unique and original about them, rather than being much like hundreds of similar projects.
3. Don’t go by hype. This follows from the two previous points. There is usually a lot of “hype” surrounding new decks that are being released. This is especially the case with “brand name” decks released by companies like Fontaines and Anyone Worldwide, where a big part of the asking price is connected to the popularity of the brand. Let your own preferences decide what you buy, not the hype. And even if you are tempted to by a hyped deck that looks pretty, try to think carefully about how original it is, what the quality is like, and how you and others might feel about it in the future.
4. Focus on a specific area. Be selective, and narrow down your focus from the endless array of options available to you. You might decide to focus on a specific theme, such as decks featuring animals or literature; or decks by a particular creator, or decks that are space-themed or medieval themed. Your choice might even be largely determined by the look of the box. Narrowing down your collection to something specific can help keep your buying in check. Otherwise there are just too many decks to choose from, and your wish list will quickly become endless!
5. Do your research. Don’t just give in to the temptation to buy something right away when you see a deck and think you like it; try to find out more about it first, and make an informed decision. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises when the deck arrives. Checking out some reviews to find out what others think about a particular deck is always a good idea. Use discussion forms to find out information and ask questions from the playing card community, who will be only too glad to help.
6. Take your time. Impulse buying is rarely a good move. Just because something seems like a good deal at the time, doesn’t mean you should immediately pull the trigger on a purchase. Take the time to think about whether a deck is really what you want. Perhaps you’ve got a limited amount of disposable income, and there’s another deck that you’d be even happier with right now.
7. Work within your budget. Don’t spend more on playing cards than you can afford. Consider how much disposable income you have and what a reasonable amount to spend on this hobby is, and make sensible purchases accordingly. This will also force you to be very selective, and to focus on identifying what you really love, rather than just buy everything that appeals in the moment.
8. Find good creators. There are some fantastic and creative designers who produce consistently amazing playing cards. Find out about some of them, and check out their work, rather than buying too many cheaper decks, only to discover later that other playing cards exist with a much higher level of creativity and artwork.
9. Find reliable sellers. Don’t just buy a deck because it seems cheap, but ensure that a seller is reliable, and that you’ll actually be getting the product you’re paying for. Using reliable online retailers is usually the best bet, and you can often take advantage of excellent specials, discounts, and clearances to get good deals.
10. Connect with other collectors. Start prowling forums and sites like this one, and other places inhabited by other playing card enthusiasts. These are great places to ask questions, learn information, and just share your enjoyment of the hobby with others. This will also help you become more informed when buying playing cards.
PLAYING CARD CARE
Should I open my decks?
Of course! Playing cards are created to be seen and enjoyed. Of course an opened deck won’t have the same “untouched” look that is sealed and in shrink-wrap. But think of all that wonderful custom artwork and creative graphic design that is hidden inside a sealed deck, and can’t be appreciated! The whole point of creating beautiful playing cards is so that they can be admired and enjoyed. This is the idea behind the #freethepip principle. Personally I think it’s a bit of a shame to keep all the beauty inside locked away untouched and unseen.
Having said that, some people do make a personal choice to keep their decks sealed, and you’ll often find that people who do this will buy one deck to open, and another to keep sealed. That’s going to add to your purchase cost, obviously, but if money is not a significant factor in your purchasing decisions, and you have plenty of disposable income, this is always a good option to consider.
What about the resale value of an opened deck? Obviously if you do open a deck, you can’t expect to sell it for the same price as a sealed deck. Typically if a deck of playing cards has been opened, even if it has never been used, you can’t expect it to fetch over two-thirds of what an unopened deck would sell for. I wouldn’t recommend buying playing cards with the intent of reselling them anyway. Buying playing cards is rarely an investment. While there is the occasional rare deck that skyrockets in value, it’s often hard to know in advance whether a particular deck currently being released is going to increase in price on the secondary market. Often it’s only when a series of the decks or brand becomes popular (e.g. Virtuoso, Orbit, Cherry Casino, Fontaines), that the first few decks of these series increase in value, but at the time these were first released it would have been near impossible to predict this. So don’t build a collection with the idea of making money. Having said that, obviously an unopened deck is going to retain its value much better than an opened deck, so if you don’t intend to use the cards or look at them, you might decide to keep it sealed in order to preserve its value.
Should you use your collectible deck for playing card games, cardistry, or card magic? Well that depends on why you bought it in the first place. Most custom decks produced by Bicycle will handle very well, but if you have a novelty deck produced by an inferior printer or publisher, the cards probably won’t shuffle smoothly or spread smoothly. But the vast majority of custom playing decks that are sold by retailers that specialize in playing cards will handle well, and prove quite durable if you use them. For card games and card magic, you have to think about how functional the deck is, because decks with very ornate indices and pips may prove to get in the way of what you’re doing, instead of being easy to recognize. Obviously if you do use a custom deck it will show signs of wear over time, but it can be one way to enjoy the artwork and share it with others.
Also be aware that if you are going to open your deck, there is a right way and a wrong way to do this, and there are techniques you can use to avoid damaging the seal any more than you have to.
● Breaking in a new deck: opening the tuck box
Do I need to break in a new deck?
You may come across people in forums who talk about needing to “break in” a new deck. Do you need to do this? The answer depends on what you’re using a deck for. If you’re a professional magician, it could be important to perform with a brand new deck that is removed from the shrink-wrap for the first time in public view, regardless of how it handles. On the other hand you could be performing with technically demanding sleights that require you to be able to count on the deck performing in a very specific way, in which case you will want to ensure that it’s ready to go.
Another factor is the kind of card-stock used for a deck, and who the publisher is. This will often have a bigger impact on the handling than anything else, while a deck with crushed stock will feel soft right away, a deck with standard stock will only develop a softer feel over time. A brand new deck will “wear” over time, and besides the edges becoming smoothly, the main ways you will notice this is that the stock will feel softer and less stiff, and the coating on the cards will first become smoother and eventually even degrade, ultimately making the handling of your playing cards worse.
The most important thing to realize, however, is that most brand new decks produced by large publishers today handle fantastic straight from the box, and there is no need to artificially break in a deck first. At worst, the cards may be slightly more slippery, the edges a little rough, and springs may not be as smooth due to some initial stiffness. It is true that a deck that is slightly worn in and used will tend to perform slightly better, and it can even become more pleasant to use, in what some call the “Goldilocks period”. But you don’t need to do anything special to make this happen, because it will happen naturally as you use the deck. It’s rare that you need to accelerate this process; just go ahead and enjoy your deck.
● Breaking in a new deck: why?
How do I break in a new deck?
As we’ve just covered, in most cases there is no need to do anything to break in a new deck; it will automatically `wear in’ over time as you use it. This will create slight changes in handling over time, but it can be argued that most decks handle best when they are brand new, and there’s no dirt or grime to affect performance in any way.
But if you really feel a need to do something with your new deck before using it, start by making sure you have clean hands, and then carefully open the tuck box. After removing the cellophane, give special attention to how you open the seal, which is best done with a sharp knife, following the semi-circular ridge where the flap enters the box itself. This will keep things neat and tidy, and allows you to preserve the original seal as best as possible, and avoids exposing any sticky stuff.
With a USPCC deck, the edges of the cards can be a little rough initially, and some people like to rub all four sides of the deck on fabric to smoothen this slightly, for example by rubbing them up and down your denim jeans. A number of overhand shuffles will help ensure the coating on the cards ensures an optimal and consistent level of friction, so that the cards glide over each other smoothly. To help with optimal flexibility of the cards, at this point you may want to perform a number of riffle shuffles, faro shuffles, and springs.
All of this will help speed up the process of a deck entering its “Goldilocks period” where it handles consistently and beautifully. In most cases, it’s part of the joy of opening a new deck to take it through its paces, and see how well it fans and shuffles anyway, so these kinds of things will typically be one of the things we’ll want to do with a new deck anyway.
Of course, also remember that a well-used deck doesn’t just get worn in; it also gets worn out. So the more a deck is used, aspects of its handling qualities will also deteriorate over time. This tends to be especially noticeable by the cards starting to clump instead of fanning or spreading evenly.
● Breaking in a new deck: how?
How should I store my decks?
If you are dropping some dollars on a decent deck of playing cards, then it makes sense to care for it, to try to make it last as long as possible. Don’t store your deck inside your pants pocket or hold it together with rubber bands, but try to keep your decks flat, ideally in a place where they won’t be in direct sunlight, heat, or humidity. Making sure you have clean hands when using a deck of cards will also extend its longevity, because it’s amazing how quickly dirt and grime can migrate from your fingers onto the playing cards.
You can also purchase accessories to help with the care of your favourite decks. A variety of deck protectors are available, and these range from leather wallet style pouches to clear plastic covers that will help keep your deck safe. You can also buy very inexpensive two-piece deck boxes that are made out of plastic, and do a great job of protecting a favourite deck. Metal card clips are popular, and while I wouldn’t recommend these as the best solution for transporting decks, they do play a very useful function in helping make your cards flat, especially if your deck gets somewhat warped over time.
When it comes to storing your entire collection, there’s no easy answer. Especially if playing cards have an attractive tuck box – as most custom decks do – it’s nice to be able to display them. Storage cabinets for cassette tapes are perfect in size for holding deck boxes and many of these will also serve as an excellent way of displaying a large number of decks. For your favourite decks, you might want to consider purchasing a deck stand or a carat case, which serve the dual function of protecting your more valuable decks and showing them off at the same time.
● How should I look after my deck? 24 Tips for making playing cards last
● Card clips: What are they, and why get one?
● Products for displaying and storing your deck
● Products for carrying and protecting your decks
What other playing card accessories and novelties should I know about?
Most people who enjoy card magic or collecting playing cards will know that there’s also a wide range of accessories available for playing cards, like card clips, card cases, and more. Here are some great options you might want to consider picking up:
● Carat Cases: A carat case is the ideal way to store, show-off, and protect your favourite deck, all at the same time. Made out of acrylic, they are available in a range of sizes, and can be used to house a single deck, or up to as many as half a dozen. The lid is secured with magnets, and the bottom is protected with rubber pads, to ensure that even opening and keeping your carat case in place remains classy.
● Card Cases: A variety of leather-like cases are available, and are a great way to keep your decks safe while on the go. These are also available in materials like denim, or clear plastic. There are also transparent plastic covers which protect your tuck box while retaining its looks.
● Card Clips: The card clip is best used to help keep your cards in optimal condition, and to straighten out a deck with bent or warped cards. Often made out of a metal alloy, or even stainless steel or carbon fibre, it usually also comes with stylish good looks.
There are also special gift ideas that can help out if you want a dedicated playing card enthusiast to make their own decision about what deck to choose, or if you can’t trust your family or friends to make the right choice for you:
● Gift Cards: Consider getting a PlayingCardDecks.com Gift Card, which is available in varying amounts.
● Pip Box Club: A Pip Box Club Subscription offers a selection of decks and extras shipped on a monthly basis, with more value packed into each box than the cost of the subscription itself.
● Great gift ideas for the playing card collector
● How to make an impossible bottle: A top secret revealed
How can I keep track of my collection?
As your collection of playing cards grows, you may want to develop an organized way of keeping track of what you own. You can create a simple document in a word processor, or make a basic spreadsheet. But the best resource to use is Portfolio52, the world’s largest online playing card database. And the good news is that it is completely free. This site focuses especially on modern decks, and lets you easily keep track of your personal collection, by marking which ones you own, and displaying your collection with thumbnails of the tuck boxes. You can also keep personal notes on your decks, and manage personal lists for trades and wish lists.
To learn more about Portfolio52, check out my article and interview with the creator, Alex Chin of Seasons Playing Cards.
● Portfolio52: The world’s largest online playing card database
How do I create my own deck of playing cards?
People often ask about the process involved in creating their own custom deck of playing cards. With technology, this is easier to do today than it has ever been before, and it’s possible to produce a deck of very high quality playing cards in low or high quantities. Especially if you’re a graphic designer with the ability to create good artwork or designs on your personal computer, the possibilities are endless. But you will have to go through several key steps in order to turn your idea into print, especially if you plan to bring it to a wider audience. Here are the five main parts of the process you should know about:
1. Concept: The purpose of your deck will shape your design, and playing cards intended for card games, card magic, cardistry, or collectors, should impact the overall look of your deck. In some cases, like a deck intended for card games or card magic, functionality will be very important, so having more traditional pips and indices becomes essential; while a deck intended for cardistry or collectors can focus on good looks and aesthetics at the expense of practicality. If your deck has a particular theme or focus, you should also check the existing market, to see if your idea has already been done by someone else, so you can make an effort to produce something unique. Be especially careful using any artwork or concepts that might be trademarked or copyrighted.
2. Artwork: A lot of design comes down to personal taste and preference. But you do have to consider how your printed deck will be used, and that will affect some of your decisions along the way, e.g. deciding to use white borders, black borders, or have a borderless design for the card backs. As far as the creation of your artwork goes, perhaps you have the skills to do self-designing, although you’ll have to be careful to make sure the files you create are compatible with the format and style required by the printer you end up going with. Freelance artists or design agencies are also available for those who are truly serious about creating a deck, and willing to outsource to others.
3. Production: While having a company physically produce your cards comes at a later stage of the process, it’s important to consider early on, even before you do your design work, because it could have an impact on the style and format of the image files you make. The volume of decks you are producing will also be an important factor. The larger printing companies like United States Playing Card Company produce the highest quality cards, but they typically have a large minimum order requirement of at least a thousand decks. Other larger publishers worth knowing about include Cartamundi, Expert Playing Card Company, and Legends Playing Card Company, the latter two operating mainly out of factories in Taiwan. For smaller sized orders of a dozen decks or less, the best options include the China-based Make Playing Cards, and the US based Shuffled Ink; these companies are often used for printing prototype decks, and the quality is more than good enough for card games.
4. Funding: Where the money you need to bankroll your project will largely depend on the amount of decks you’re producing. It’s easy enough to self-fund if you’re only producing a handful of decks as a love project, but if you’re looking to produce a thousand or more decks, you’ll be needing thousands of dollars to make your dream come true. Some creators will be fortunate enough to sign up with a publisher who buys their design or takes care of all the funding, production, and marketing. Most creators looking to produce something for the wider market use crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter to get the job done. But crowdfunding isn’t as easy as it looks, especially in today’s crowded market, and it’s important to do your homework, and realize that you’ll need to spend a lot of effort marketing and promoting your deck to be successful in arriving at your target goal, which must be very realistic.
5. Fulfillment: The final step of the process is organizing a way to get your deck to whoever is buying it. For a small order, obviously you just get the printer to ship your dozen decks or so to your home address. But what about if you have a thousand or more decks – are you going to store them in your garage and ship them all yourself? Don’t underestimate the work and hassles this involves, and more than one Kickstarter creator has been burned by a failure to deliver on their promises, after complications arose with this step. Fortunately there are fulfilment companies that will manage all the shipping and fulfilment for you, with Gambler’s Warehouse, Art of Play, and Murphy’s Magic being some of the leading options here.
● How to create your own deck of playing cards
PLAYING CARD USES
How do I learn how to do basic card handling?
No matter what you use your cards for, everyone who is an enthusiast of playing cards should at the very least know how to shuffle a deck of cards properly. I recommend that you at the very least master the basics of the Overhand Shuffle and Riffle Shuffle, and that you’re familiar with popular shuffles like the Hindu Shuffle and Faro Shuffle are, even if you don’t use them or master them.
Magician Roberto Giobbi is one of the world’s foremost authorities about card handling, and his series of Card College books is regarded by many as the very best ever written on the subject. He’s shared many excellent tips from his books in an interview we had with him. If you’re really keen to get some extra mileage out of your playing cards – literally – check out some of the tutorials about card throwing that we share as part of an exclusive interview with record holder and card thrower Rick Smith Jr.
● The art of shuffling: An introduction to styles and techniques
● The faro: A card shuffle and a card game
● Interview with card handling expert Roberto Giobbi
● Interview with card thrower Rick Smith Jr
How do I learn how to do cardistry?
If you’re not familiar with cardistry, which is the art of card flourishing, start by checking out some of the fantastic videos of cardistry highlights that are included in the first couple of articles listed below.
While expert card flourishers can produce a stunning arrangement of visual `magic’, anyone can learn some basics, as long as you have a decent quality deck, like a basic Bicycle rider-back. We’ve got some tips to help get you on your way to enjoy doing some fun and impressive moves of your own in the articles below. And if you’re looking for video tutorials that will help teach you some elementary flourishes, look no further than the last one on this list.
● What is cardistry?
● Some big names in cardistry
● Why children should try cardistry
● How to get started in cardistry
● Top moves and flourishes that beginners in cardistry should learn
How do I learn how to do card magic?
Everyone should know how to do some basic card tricks – and there’s plenty of terrific and easy-to-learn tricks you can do that are a lot more entertaining than the tired and familiar “21 Card Trick”! I recommend you start by learning some fundamentals by checking out some of the many great materials readily available that will help you get started with card magic. And if you are looking to progress further or find further learning resources, look no further than our curated collection of top recommendations.
We’ve also got several articles about “self-working card magic”. Don’t under-estimate the power of easy-to-perform card magic, because you don’t need to use sleight of hand to fool people, and some of the world’s very best card tricks are self-working! Besides an overview of the top tricks in the world in this category, including performance videos of the best of the best, I’ve also put together a collection of video tutorials that will teach you some easy self-working card tricks for beginners to help get you started.
● Why children should try card magic
● How to get started in card magic
● Recommended resources for beginners in card magic
● Why you should try self-working card tricks and where to learn them
● Popular self-working card tricks for complete beginners
● 10 of the best self-working card tricks in the world
● 10 more of the best self-working card tricks in the world
We’ve also done some interviews with famous magicians like Harry Lorayne, Jeff McBride, Lee Asher, and Roberto Giobbi, as well as other magicians like Steve Brooks
If you become genuinely interested in doing card magic, you’ll find these articles about how to approach magic helpful as well.
● The magician’s oath
● Golden rules for magic that every beginner should know
What good card games should I learn?
Besides collecting playing cards, and appreciating them for their beauty, putting them to use for card games, magic, or flourishing is a great way to get even more enjoyment out of your decks. Traditional card games are one of the best ways to enjoy a custom deck of playing cards. You probably know a number of card games already, but to discover some of the best, check out my article that covers more than 40 great card games, some highlights of which are covered in the recommendations below. You’ll also find rules for many card games right here on our website.
For just two players, Cribbage and Gin Rummy are two classics that are every bit as good today as they have always been. If you want a trick-taking game for just two, then Briscola and German Whist are both straight-forward and good choices, while Le Truc is fantastic for those who like bluffing, and Schnapsen is worth the effort to learn if you enjoy skilful play. GOPS and Scopa are two simpler games that are quite rewarding, and the latter is a classic game that can also be played with four players using partnerships.
Recommended trick-taking games for more players include the ever-popular Bridge, although the learning curve can be steep. I recommend starting with a simpler game like Euchre or Whist, or else something that involves more skill, like 500, Rook, or Spades, which incorporate the fun of bidding and give opportunity for a winning bidder to strengthen their hand. Hearts and Oh Hell can both handle various player counts, and are very good. Ninety-Nine is the best trick-taker that plays with exactly three players.
For a light social game for a larger group, try the classic climbing game President, the almost brainless Ranter-Go-Round, or the frenzy of Spoons, all of which are easy to learn and do not require too much brain power. Blitz and Cheat are also good choices that can work with more than four players.
If you enjoy fast-paced games, try the craziness of two player Speed or Spit, or else ramp up the difficulty slightly with the frantic game-play of the popular Nertz, all of which have simultaneous real-time game-play. Egyptian Ratscrew also requires quick reactions and speed. In contrast, the clever and inventive Eleusis is a pure exercise of logical deduction.
Many of the above games will work for older children, but I have had good success with Cheat, Fan Tan, Knock Out Whist, Palace, Speed, and Spoons. Once they’re old enough to handle the scoring system, Scopa is a very rewarding game, while with younger children you should focus on simpler classics like Beggar My Neighbour, Crazy Eights, Go Fish, Old Maid, Slap Jack, Snap, and War, although some of these are completely devoid of decisions and exercises in pure luck.
● 40+ Great card games for all occasions
● Card game rules
What good solitaire games should I learn?
Solitaire card games are also a terrific way to enjoy playing card games. Some of the most popular ones are the following:
● Adding & pairing: Golf, Monte Carlo, Pyramid, TriPeaks
● Builders: Baker’s Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Forty Thieves, FreeCell, Klondike, La Belle Lucie (Lovely Lucy), Scorpion, Spider, Yukon
● Non-builders: Accordion, Aces Up, Calculation, Clock Patience, Cribbage Solitaire, Gaps (Montana), Grandfather’s Clock
● Others: Miss Milligan, Osmosis, Sir Tommy, Sultan (Emperor of Germany), Windmill
Especially with the advent of personal computers, playing a digital version of solitaire has become very popular. Microsoft first included Solitaire in the 1990 release of their Windows operating system, and it has been a staple ever since, and provided countless hours of amusement to millions of people. There are some wonderful resources which you can use to enjoy the many different solitaire card games that exist, including browser-based sites, high quality apps, and software for Windows or Mac.
● What you should know about solitaire card games
● The three most played solitaire card games in the world
● The advantages of playing a digital version of solitaire
What else can I use playing cards for?
And if you’re looking for ideas of how to use a deck of playing cards aside from the conventional uses in card games or magic, we have some great ideas to share about this, and even some amazing world records to beat. Playing cards have even been used as weapons of war – seriously!
● Alternative uses for playing cards
● Playing card world records
● Playing cards as weapons of war
PLAYING CARD FACTS AND NEWS
What should I know about the history of playing cards?
We’ve provided some links below to our other articles about the history of playing cards. But painting in very broad brush strokes, here are some of the key things you should know.
1. Early origins in the Far East: Despite often repeated claims that playing cards originated in China, we actually can’t be entirely certain about their true origins. They may well have originated in the Far East, and possibly developed from other games, with the mode transitioning from pieces into paper for convenience. But that’s our best guess, and evidence does appear to point to them travelling via the Middle East and North Africa to arrive in Western Europe in the late 14th century.
2. Arrival in Western Europe: From this point the historical data helps us establish a much clearer picture of their development. Italian playing cards and Spanish playing cards had different suits than the ones we’re used to today, and the number of cards in a deck wasn’t yet standardized. Suit symbols included a range of different things such as clubs, swords, and bells, and the amount of cards in a deck also varied widely.
3. Spread through Europe: The popularity of card games caused playing cards to spread rapidly throughout Europe. Each region tended to incorporate their own influences in the design and shape of the deck, which had an impact on things like the artwork, court cards, and pips used for the suits. Along with the spread of card games came the problem of gambling and cheating, and this was a prime factor that led the church of the time to criticize card playing, and for it even to be banned entirely in some places.
4. Dominance of French suits:: Given all the variance among playing cards, it was really the French who caused playing cards to be standardized in any meaningful way. They developed a method for printing using stencils that was quicker and cheaper than the much more labour intensive and costly methods used elsewhere. A successful export industry quickly arose, and the French style suits of Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds which we still use today quickly began to flood Europe, although the use of other suits and different sized decks still persisted in some areas.
5. English standardization: The next major influence was via the English. At first, French designs were imported en masse to Europe, especially through the leading production city of Rouen in Belgium, but eventually a host of publishers sprang up and established successful businesses in printing playing cards in England. The designs of the court cards still varied, but were largely influenced by those that came from Rouen. When printer Thomas de la Rue began monopolizing the industry with high production levels and lower prices, further standardization happened, and his designs for court cards are largely the basis of the ones we have in our decks today, as modernized by big names like Charles Goodall. We’re also indebted to England for the ornate designs for the Ace of Spades, which arose out of special rules developed that required the hand stamping of a card as a visible sign that the required taxes and duties had been paid. Double ended court cards also were developed in England, rather than the full one-way pictures previously used.
6. American influence: At this point playing cards still had no indices and a deck had no Joker, and we owe those changes to the impact of American publishers. The English colonists in the United States first imported playing cards from England, but eventually US based manufacturers were set up to meet the needs of their own people. Among the important 19th century printers was a company that would eventually become the famous United States Playing Card Company, makers of the famous Bicycle brand. The development of indices arose out of a desire to easily identify cards in a hand, and was first popularized in the late 1800s. Card games like Bridge and Euchre also shaped the modern deck, with the Joker first being included as an additional trump card for Euchre.
While there have been numerous attempts in the last half a century to “improve” on the traditional deck we are familiar with today, it has largely resisted any further changes, and none have endured. Regional decks specific to various parts of Europe also persist, often closely linked to popular games embedded in specific cultures. But the arrival of improved technology like computers and the internet, as well as the rise of art forms like cardistry, has caused a massive industry in producing custom playing cards to spring up. Today the look of playing cards today is more and more in the hands of the average Joe, rather than the big publishers. The demand for playing cards continues to grow, so the future of playing cards looks bright.
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What other interesting things about playing cards should I know?
Playing cards are absolutely fascinating, because they tell us something about our history and about life. For example, did you know that there’s a way of seeing an entire deck of cards as a calendar? And are you aware of some of the mathematical relationships that are contained in a deck? Because they’ve been a big part of our lives as a result of the popularity of card games, playing cards have also entered our language, and there are lots of phrases in common use that come straight from the world of playing cards. Read all about this and more in the articles below.
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How can I stay up-to-date with news about the latest decks?
Social media is one of the best ways of staying in touch with the latest and greatest decks. Find some of your favourite creators, designers, or publishers and following them on social media will ensure that you’re the first to know about their newest creations. Many online retailers will also publicize their newest inventory via their
Where can I discuss the hobby with other collectors?
In my experience, you’ll find some of the best and most activity communities of collectors over on the ● ● ● ● ● ●
Finally, remember to enjoy the hobby, and keep things in perspective. Don’t make it more important than it should be, because in the end this is just about pieces of cardboard that are perishable, and there are other things in life that even more precious, like the people around us. Don’t spend too much time or money on playing cards if it is coming at the cost of bigger things in your life. But with that proviso, go ahead and enjoy it immensely; make it part of your personal expression and who you are, and have fun with it!
I hope you’ll have as much fun collecting playing cards as I have, because this is a hobby that can bring a lot of joy and fun. Many people have never seen anything other than a standard deck, and have no idea that there is a wonderful wide world of custom playing cards, and an active community of creators and collectors that supports it. So be a good ambassador of the hobby, and spread your enthusiasm by sharing your interest in playing cards with others, or by sending them a link to this page.