Answers to Frequently Asked Questions: An Essential Guide for Newbies
Welcome to the hobby of collecting playing cards!
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 Hearts), 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 (Bona Fide 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