Archive for Playing Cards
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 Next »
A deck of cards isn't just a box filled with 52 pieces of cardboard. These playing cards can become your friends in a card game, your accomplices in a magic trick, and your companions in a deck collection. They can even represent something much bigger than the contents of a small box.
To some, a deck of cards can represent a prayer book and a Bible. There's an old story - sometimes circulated by email - where a soldier explains how his playing cards help him talk to God. When hauled before a superior to explain why he uses the devil's picture book in church, he starts going through his entire well-worn deck, explaining as follows: “Your Honor, to me this deck of cards is my prayer book and Bible. When I look into these cards and see an Ace, it reminds me that there is only one God. When I see the Deuce, it reminds me that the Bible is divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments. When I see the Trey, it represents the three persons of the Blessed Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." He also explains how it represents the 52 weeks of a year, four seasons, and more. You can find many versions of this great story online - read one here.
But playing cards can also be a source of wisdom. These 52 paste-boards have inspired witty thinkers, philosophers, and comedians alike, to come up with clever one-liners and sayings about playing cards. The fact that playing cards have served as chosen symbols and metaphors to impart wisdom says something about how popular and influential playing cards have been in our culture. I've scoured far and wide, and what you see here represents the best quotes and one-liners about playing cards that I could find. I haven't been able to verify each and every source, although I've done the best I can to attribute these correctly. But in the end, the most important thing is the genius of the quotes themselves. So enjoy these pithy sayings, and put them to work for you!
"Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will." - Jawaharlal Nehru
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game." - Randy Pausch
"Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well." - Jack London
"Just because Fate doesn't deal you the right cards, it doesn't mean you should give up. It just means you have to play the cards you get to their maximum potential." - Les Brown
"Has fortune dealt you some bad cards? Then let wisdom make you a good gamester." - Francis Quarles
"Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game." - Voltaire
"Destiny plays its cards in a way that no one can comprehend." - Anurag Shourie
"Just when you think you’re playing your cards right, God shuffles the deck." - Mark Sheppard
"One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards." - Oscar Wilde
"In order to win you must be prepared to lose sometime. And leave one or two cards showing." - Van Morrison
"A good lawyer, just like a good poker player, must always keep his cards close to his chest." - Mallika Nawal
"The cards always look different when it’s your turn to play them; loaded with subtly different possibilities." - Alastair Reynolds
"If you are going to build something in the air it is always better to build castles than houses of cards." - Georg C. Lichtenberg
"No one knows what is on the other side of a playing card." - Jose Hernandez
"Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator." - Daniel Handler
"A pack of cards is a pile of 52 pieces of cardboard that can be bent, stacked, and stuck together in a seemingly endless array of variations." - Jay Sankey
"When I look at playing cards, I see limitless potential. When these simple symbols are shuffled, fortunes are won, the future is foretold, or magic is unleashed." - Joshua Jay
"Playing cards have the ability to cloud men's minds, or to dominate them." - Ricky Jay
"Cards are power; learn to harness that power, and you will be forever rewarded." - James Swain
"Cards are like living, breathing beings and should be treated as such." - Dai Vernon
"Cards are one means of bridging differences in age and habits, drawing children and parents, old and new friends together in fair and friendly competition." - Florence Osborn
"Rummy is deservedly popular because it is easy to learn, fast to play, suitable for all ages, playable by any number, and as suitable for gamblers as for missionaries – though perhaps not both at once." - David Parlett
"Cards are war, in disguise of a sport." - Charles Lamb
"There are no friends at cards or world politics." - Finley Peter Dunne
"Trust everybody, but always cut the cards." - Finley Peter Dunne
"Playing cards is addictive. So are the playing cards themselves. My habit has me up to two packs a day." - Joshua Jay
"For a professional magician, a stack of playing cards is as good as a stack of money." - Amit Kalantri
"A magician may step out without a purse, but he should never step out without a pack of playing cards." - Amit Kalantri
"All the magicians have 52 mutual friends." - Amit Kalantri
"I stayed up one night playing poker with tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died." - Steven Wright
"Those bellhops in Miami are tip-happy. I ordered a deck of playing cards and the bellboy made fifty-two trips to my room." - Henny Youngman
"Men are like a deck of cards. You'll find the occasional king, but most are jacks." - Laura Swenson
"Love is like a card trick. After you know how it works, it's no fun any more." - Fanny Brice
"Marriage is a lot like playing cards. In the beginning, all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end, you’ll wish you had a club and a spade." - Unknown
So next time someone challenges you that playing cards are just for kids, speaks condescendingly about your deck collection, or frowns at your love for playing card games or performing card magic, whip out some of these verbal gems, and silence their criticism with some philosophy, wit, or humor!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
When you start immersing yourself into the world of playing cards, you'll soon discover that it has its own language. Before you know it, you'll be using terms that don't even exist in the average person's vocabulary! You'll find yourself talking about various cards sleights and flourishes, and the finer details of crowdfunded decks, which are purchased in "bricks", and can include "interior printing" and "embossing" courtesy of "overfunding" and "stretch goals." Fans, spreads, and shuffles are relatively easy to understand, but do you know the difference between a riffle shuffle, hindu shuffle, overhand shuffle ... and a faro shuffle?
Ah, the faro shuffle. I've always been fascinated by this technically difficult move, which involves making the halves of a deck interweave perfectly. But it's not just the name of a shuffle, because it is also the name of a popular gambling game from the 1800s. Where does this name originate from, and are there more "faro" related terms in the world of playing cards? Let's find out!
The Faro Shuffle
Of the faros that we'll meet in today's article, the faro shuffle is probably the most well-known today, so let's start there. The faro shuffle is the most common way of referring to it, although in some places it is also called the weave shuffle or the dove-tail shuffle. It's a very impressive move, and it can be combined very naturally with some other flourishes like a waterfall or a cascade for a dramatic visual display.
The faro shuffle involves splitting the deck into exactly two equal halves of 26 cards each, and then interweaving them perfectly so that the cards from each packet alternate exactly, coming together much like a zipper. The new order of the cards after a perfect faro shuffle should always turn out exactly the same each time you do it, but this does depend on where you start the weave, and there are two different methods for this. An out-shuffle keeps the top card and bottom card in those positions, while an in-shuffle moves the top and bottom card to second from the top and bottom respectively. An interesting fact about the faro shuffle is that eight perfect out-shuffles using the faro will restore the deck to its original order exactly. You need to be a skilled card handler to do this, because you only need one tiny mistake and it won't work! Meanwhile doing 26 consecutive perfect in-shuffles will reverse the order of a complete deck, which is even harder to do without error!
Let me warn you: the faro shuffle is not an easy thing to learn! The hardest part is where the cards get weaved together, which requires pushing the cards against each other with a small amount of pressure and at just the right angle, causing them to interweave smoothly just like a zipper. It's one of those "knacky" things, that all of a sudden you'll just master, much like learning to ride a bike. Riding with training wheels can help, but in the end, you just need to launch off and hope for the best. And perhaps you'll wipe out a bunch of times, but then all of a sudden you'll figure out the knack of keeping your balance, and off you go, and you'll never look back. For many people, that's what learning the faro shuffle can be like, and that's certainly how it was for me. There are a few decent tutorials online, and I've included some links to a number of these below, including the free one by Howcast. I watched a few tutorials online, and the one I personally found the most helpful turned out to be the paid tutorial from The Virts, which included instructions for how to do the beautiful cascade as an immediate follow-up to the faro shuffle.
The type of deck you are using can also make a difference as to the ease or difficulty of doing a faro shuffle. A new deck tends to work best, while a very worn or cheap deck will often be very difficult to faro smoothly. The direction in which the cards weave together also is important, because this depends on the "cut" of the deck. This in turn is a result of how the cards were punched, which creates a tiny bevel on the edge of the cards, and the direction of this bevel will affect the direction of how the cards can be best faroed. Most Bicycle decks have a modern cut, which will faro best face down, whereas a deck with a traditional cut will faro best face up.
The Faro Game
The game of Faro does bear some connection with the faro shuffle, the relationship being this: when a game of faro ends ends there are two equal piles that have to be combined for the next game. The method of interweaving the cards perfectly as described above was traditionally used for combining these piles, and one source says that it was originally called the "faro dealer's shuffle". If true, it means that the faro shuffle originated with the game, and only later came to be associated with card magic as we know it today. So what is this card game about?
As it turns out, Faro is a casino gambling game that originated in France in the late 17th century, and was a derivative of the gambling card game Basset (also known as Bassetta in Italian), also known as Barbacole and Hocca. The name was apparently first Pharaon, and was likely a reference to the Pharaoh picture on some French playing cards. It's not too difficult to surmise how this title later became Pharo, and eventually turned into Faro.
During the 18th century the card game of Faro was very popular in Europe. Faro was mentioned multiple times by 18th century Italian adventurer and writer Casanova in his autobiography. It also received mention in many important films, plays and novels, including Tolstoy's War and Peace. It eventually made its way to the United States, and was commonly played during the Gold Rush era, although by this time it had largely disappeared already from Europe. When gambling became legalized, Faro enjoyed great popularity in American casinos, with some even describing it as "the national card game". It appears to have been the main attraction at many gambling houses.
Faro did go out of style by the 1950s, eventually being overtaken by Poker, so it's not at all very well known today. But during its hey-day in the wild west, it was one of the most played games in the country. So if you found a group of cowboys playing a card game in a saloon, there was a good chance they would be playing Faro. It was reportedly the favourite card game of well-known 19th century names like lawman Wyatt Earp and gambler Doc Holiday. Travellers in Nevada can still visit the famous "Suicide Table" upon approaching Virginia City, which is an old faro table from the 1860s that is now a tourist attraction. This legendary table apparently led to the death of three of its owners by suicide, including "Black Jake", who gambled away his lifelong savings of $70,000 in a single evening.
So how do you play? I won't describe all the rules in detail, but you can find them in some archived websites here and here. Only one deck of cards was used, and the key moment of a game was when the banker turned up cards to match cards that were already face-up. Often called "faro bank", one player served as the banker. A standardized betting layout corresponded to the 13 values of an entire suit, and other players would bet on these values using money or chips.
The dealer would always turn up two cards at a time, and the first card turned up represented a loss for that value, while the second card always won. Players were effectively betting whether a card would lose or win, although there were some special rules and situations. Bets would be paid and collected immediately, before dealing another two cards. Losing cards would form one pile, and winning cards another - these would then be shuffled for the already mentioned "faro dealer's shuffle" at the end of a game.
Cheating was common, often leading to fights, and occasionally weapons were even pulled out and used. But there is also a non-gambling variant of Faro, called Stuss.
Are there other card-related Faros? I was able to find a few more, and perhaps there are others that readers can tell us about.
The Faro Playing Card Company attempted to crowdfund three custom decks in 2013, but judging by the Kickstarter pages for these projects, these didn't end very happily for the majority of customers.
Much more positive things can be said about the Faro deck which was crowdfunded by noted designer Stockholm17, and released this year. This stunning deck is a companion to his Cartomancer deck, and together these two decks make up the House of the Rising Spade set. The Faro deck is inspired by old gambling decks from the 1800s, and features cards with a one-way design and no indices, and of course fully customized artwork in Stockholm17's inimitable and classy style. Indices were a development that occurred at a later date, so at the time when the game of faro was popular, cards would typically have been indexless just like this particular deck is.
Also worth mentioning are the Faro Playing Cards from the Parnell Playing Card Company, which specializes in authentic faro playing cards and games from the Wild West. Besides selling felt faro layouts (which come with game rules), they also make available a faro deck, each packaged with a picture of a legend like Wyatt Earp. Like the House of the Rising Spade deck, these cards do not have any indices, and are intended to look like the cards from the Wild West era in which the game of Faro was popularized.
Produced more recently are Will Roya's Bicycle Edition Faro Playing Cards. This deck has Bicycle standard faces, except that in true faro style all indices are absent, creating a very satisfying, pure, and clean look. The card backs have the familiar rider-back artwork, and the cards feature the usual quality of an USPCC-produced air cushion deck.
Do you want to try the game of Faro, or are you perhaps looking for a vintage deck of playing cards that looks as if it hails from the Wild West era? Consider picking up the House of the Rising Spade Faro deck, or check out the other Vintage decks that PlayingCardDecks has on offer.
Do you want to learn how to do the faro shuffle? Besides the instructional video from Howcast, there are plenty of other good tutorials teaching this difficult shuffle, including ones from Chris Ramsay, 52Kards, Cardistry Academy, Hester23BearsCH, Ekaterina, School of Cardistry, and lotusinhand. Don't give up too easily - it's well worth the effort required to master this classic and rewarding shuffle!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
A new super-thin deck from Ellusionist - or is it?
Ellusionist is a company that makes magic products and playing cards. Recently came the big news that they had produced a new ultra-thin deck of playing cards, the Blue Cohorts deck. Printed by Cartamundi, how would the new thin E7 card-stock compare with a regular deck from the same publisher, using their usual B9 card-stock?
A picture says a thousand words, and so here is the product image that Ellusionist posted on their product page to illustrate how thin their new E7 stock is compared with their regular B9 stock. Notice especially how the yellow arrows indicate how thick the two decks are. The size difference is represented by the arrow on the top right. Seems impressive, doesn't it?
Something is wrong with that picture...
But something seemed wrong with that picture. It gives a powerful message about how much thinner the new E7 deck is. But is it telling us the truth?
To begin with, I noticed that the arrow on the top right is completely misleading, because it doesn't take into account the relative position of the two decks.
So in the picture below, I used parallel green lines to compare the arrow on the left with the arrow on the right. The pink arrows represent the actual difference in size between the yellow arrows, and thus indicate the actual difference in thickness between these two decks. And it's considerably smaller than the arrow that Ellusionist has added at the top right to show this!
Conclusion: Ellusionist is trying to make us think that the difference in thickness is much bigger than what it actually is.
Response from Ellusionist
Was this intended deliberately, or was it just an accidental blunder by the person responsible for this image? Either way this picture does misrepresent the facts and gives a distorted impression, making things look much better than what they actually are. In my opinion, this is deceptive advertising. I suggested that Ellusionist should remove the image from their product page, or at least fix it.
When first I posted about this in a couple of playing card forums, not everyone was immediately convinced. Responses included things like this: "Most advertising is exaggerated." And: "Surely you can expect them to use a favourable angle in an ad, so is it really a big deal?"
A representative from Ellusionist also responded. He wrote: "Womp womp. The point is the blue deck is much thinner than the red. And it is -much- thinner. The difference in thickness is 6 red Cohort cards ... Some people just want to make it out like Ellusionist is some big evil company, despite the amount of good the company has legitimately done for the magic world ... What doesn't really help anyone is "calling us out" for meaningless things like a picture trying to illustrate a point."
Wait a moment. "Meaningless things like a picture"? If the picture was so meaningless, why would they include it? I wasn't satisfied, so I engaged further with the customer representative, trying to be positive and polite. I indicated that I'm a fan of Ellusionist products, have quite a few of their decks and videos, and have even posted a positive review in which I had a lot of nice things to say about them. I added this:
"But let's be honest here - someone messed up here by putting in an arrow (top right) where it shouldn't be, and where it miscommunicates and misleads. That arrow is not at all "meaningless". On the contrary, it was very meaningful, because the whole point of putting it there was to communicate meaning about the difference in thickness. But it's simply not accurate, because it suggests that the E7 stock is more than 20 cards thinner than the B9 stock. That is misleading, because it's actually much less. Here's my suggestion: Remove that top right arrow from the image on your product page, and we can all be totally okay with the picture. Without that arrow, the picture already speaks volumes about how thin the E7 stock is!"
But Ellusionist wasn't interested in doing anything about this, even though they'd been called out. The curt response was simply this: "I just told you - it's 6 cards thinner."
Making my own comparison
I wasn't satisfied with this response. In my opinion, Ellusionist's "this is how thin E7 luxury stock is in comparison" arrow doesn't make the E7 deck look 6 cards thinner, but is deliberately placed to make the E7 deck look at least 20 cards thinner. I was still convinced that this was dishonest and misleading.
So I did a little more work to help put to rest any lingering doubts about my concern. I own both the Red B9 and the Blue E7 Cohort decks, so I could compare them firsthand. So I took some photos to show the difference in thickness more objectively. These photos show both decks side-by-side, each with exactly 52 cards and 2 Jokers included.
Notice the difference in thickness? It doesn't look quite as big anymore, does it? Here's a close up shot, showing the individual cards more clearly, using lines to demonstrate the actual difference in thickness between the two decks.
How big is the difference really?
How much of a difference is it? Well count the cards between the lines and see for yourself: the E7 deck is 6 cards thinner than the E9 deck.
For the record, I do like the thin E7 stock of the Blue Cohorts deck, and I have even written a positive article about this new card stock from Cartamundi. It's slightly thinner than a typical USPCC deck with thin-crush stock. And a 6 card difference in thickness is quite considerable, and doesn't need exaggerating to impress. I am quite impressed with the thin cards, and their handling is noticeably different from a regular deck. All good things. But...
Yes, there's a "but". But as good as the new card stock is, I think it is also important to be truthful and share facts, and not make things look more impressive than they actually are. Perhaps now my photos would convince any remaining doubters, and help set the record straight about how the difference actually looks in person with the naked eye.
A closer look
But it gets worse. After my own photo taking exercise, I was left wondering: is it even technically possible to take a photo with a favourable perspective like the one that Ellusionist was using?
So I checked Ellusionist's original image more closely, and zoomed right in and counted the cards. Conclusion: The B9 deck on the left has 56 cards, while the E7 deck on the right only has around 42 cards! Wow, that's no longer a matter of a "favourable angle" or a "misleading arrow". That's pure deception, plain and simple! See the image below, where I've shown detail from their product image, and marked each set of ten cards (counting up from the bottom of the deck).
Even if I've miscounted by a couple of cards, it's still an obvious discrepancy that proves that this is more than just a misleading perspective. Apparently Ellusionist hasn't even got a complete deck of cards in their photo to begin with. So no wonder the E7 deck looks so much thinner - it's missing more than a dozen cards! This also explains why the difference in the thickness of the two decks seems much more drastic in Ellusionist's comparative photo than it does in my photos.
Further response from Ellusionist
Again I contacted the Ellusionist representative for comment in the discussion thread about this. He didn't deny the accuracy of what I had uncovered about the E7 cards in the image not being a complete deck. They had apparently been caught out, but didn't seem to care. His response was simply: "Adverts sometimes exaggerate to make a point. Like, this may surprise you, but in the Bowflex ads? Those people looked like that already."
Yikes. Basically this is admitting that they got caught out, and telling us that we shouldn't expect Ellusionist to be honest and reliable in their advertising. Effectively they are saying this: "Don't trust what we show you in our advertising pictures, because we won't always tell you the truth."
Quite frankly, I find that very disappointing. There is no indication in the accompanying ad copy that the product image is an exaggeration to make a point. It is clearly presented as giving an objective comparison between the thickness of the two decks, when in fact it turns out that one of the decks has more than a dozen cards missing! Ellusionist's product page doesn't even mention that the actual difference between the two decks is only a thickness of 6 cards.
More misleading statements?
As further evidence that Ellusionist doesn't seem to be honest with us, more questions arose when I came across another discrepancy. On their product page for the Blue Cohorts deck, Ellusionist states that the E7 stock is exclusive to Ellusionist:
"Printed on our brand new luxury pressed E7 stock in a vibrant blue, this is the crushed stock deck you’ve been waiting for. We worked hand-in-hand with Cartamundi to find an answer to ‘Bicycle Crushed' and boy did we deliver! As an Ellusionist exclusive this is the only place you can get the thinner-stock cards produced with a durable Cartamundi finish."
But meanwhile, a brand new Kickstarter for the custom Conjurer deck from Arcadia Playing Cards states the following: "Cards printed by Cartamundi on their exclusive E7 finish (also called B9 slimline)." In response to questions about this, they confirmed: "Yes, it's the same stock as the Blue Cohorts."
Wait, this seems to contradict what Ellusionist's ad copy says. Is the E7 stock an Ellusionist exclusive, or is it not an Ellusionist exclusive? Someone doesn't seem to be telling us the truth here.
In response to my further inquiries about their "exclusive", Ellusionist has told me that in fact they only had a 6 month exclusive on the E7 stock. That exclusive will expire soon, so in coming months we can expect Cartamundi to produce decks with the E7 stock for a variety of other creators and publishers. That's a positive thing, and I think a lot of people will really warm up to the E7 card stock as an alternative to Bicycle thin-crush stock. After all, it's not the deck or the card stock that I have an issue with, just the Ellusionist marketing image.
I find this all deceptive and misleading, and this should make it harder for all of us to trust what Ellusionist says about their products. If this example is any indication, they seem quite happy to compromise the truth. If Ellusionist really wants to maintain their credibility and integrity at this point, they should take the comparative product image down, given that it has now been exposed as factually inaccurate - apparently quite deliberately.
Is this false advertising? One contributor to the discussion elsewhere on this matter actually works in advertising, and he stated that to exaggerate a visual representation like this is false advertising, and will get you sued and worse. He further said that if he ever did something like this when doing an ad, he would get fired and blacklisted. He shared the legal definition and requirements for false advertising, and in his opinion all five points were applicable in this instance:
Under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, a claim can be made against a defendant for false or misleading advertising. For a claim against a defendant for false advertising, the following elements are met and the plaintiff must show: (1) defendant made false or misleading statements as to his own products (or another’s); (2) actual deception, or at least a tendency to deceive a substantial portion of the intended audience; (3) deception is material in that it is likely to influence purchasing decisions; (4) the advertised goods travel in interstate commerce; and (5) a likelihood of injury to plaintiff. However, the plaintiff does not have to prove actual injury.
There is a simple and honest solution here that I have suggested that Ellusionist consider. It is this: remove the misleading arrow, and include a caption below the photo that says: "Image is deliberately exaggerated for dramatic effect. Actual difference between the two decks is the thickness of 6 cards." In the end, they have to make a choice about what is more important to them: making extra sales, or being credible to their customers? The fact that they've taken no action on this so far, says volumes about what their choice is.
Note: As of the date when I published this article, the image in question is still on Ellusionist's product page, unaltered, and with no further explanation or comment.
Who is Victor Jose?
If you ever do any research on a deck that you are considering buying, you almost certainly have come across the name Victor Jose, or VJose32 as he is better known on his youtube channel.
Victor is a Canadian who has been collecting playing cards since around 2010, and as of today his personal collection numbers well over 3,000 decks! But Victor is especially known for his contribution to the playing card industry as a video reviewer. He began posting reviews of playing cards on youtube around 2011. To say that he is prolific would be somewhat of an understatement, because since then he has posted around 4000 videos - a staggering number! The vast majority of these are reviews of playing cards or related to playing card topics. It has often happened that I was doing some background research about a particular deck, and sure enough, there was Victor with one of his helpful reviews!
Like me, you are probably curious to learn more about him. How did he get started with this, how do these decks keep rolling in, and what keeps him motivated with this enormous output? Well, let's find out by hearing from the man himself! Victor was kind enough to agree to an interview with me, so I put these and other questions to him. Given his vast experience with the custom playing cards that have been produced over the last half a dozen years, he's well positioned to share some insightful perspectives about his work and about the playing card industry.
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background? What you do for a day job, and/or what are some of your other interests besides playing cards?
For starters I live in Winnipeg, Canada and I currently work as a woodworker in a small furniture shop which i've been at for the last 6 months or so, before that I worked in construction for a number of years. Outside of cards I have an interest in video games and of course enjoy Youtube and Netflix. I was also previously a Toastmaster years ago. It was at this point that I discovered the Tally Ho Circle Back, one of my favorite back designs, and started discovering other decks as well.
How did you begin having an interest in playing cards?
My interest in playing cards started with my interest in magic. I've always been a fan of magic since I was a kid but never became a magician. However sometime in 2010 I started watching magic videos on Youtube and came across many card tricks and tutorials, especially by mismag822. It was at this point that I discovered the Tally Ho Circle Back, one of my favorite back designs, and started discovering other decks as well.
When and how did you get started with doing video reviews?
According to my channel my first deck reviews were in August 2011. I guess they started because I felt like showing the world my decks.
Your first video review of playing cards on your channel seems to be a review of the White Lions deck [link] more than 7 years ago. Was that your first ever deck review, and how did that particular deck review come about?
Yes my first review seems to be the White Lions, I don't recall exactly how or why that was.
How many video reviews of playing cards have you produced altogether now? In 2014 you posted a video entitled "200 Videos" [link] to mark 5 years of producing videos. How many have you produced now, almost 10 years after you started?
I believe it currently shows I have 3924 videos, I can't say for sure how many exactly are deck reviews but the majority of them are related to playing cards or magic in some shape or form.
How often on average would you post a new video review?
I generally post new reviews every weekday with other card related videos on the weekend.
What kind of camera do you use to film your reviews, and how do you do the actual filming?
Currently I record all my videos with my iPhone however previously I used a Canon. I film them in my room on a small table with a tripod, nothing too exciting. Also currently I record an intro via my webcam for most of my reviews.
How much work is involved in doing a video review? What kind of preparation or follow-up is required beside just filming the video itself?
Most of the work for my reviews is usually doing research. I try to get any info I can on the decks I review, whether it be the stock and finish, info on the tuck case, info on the deck theme itself, or info on who the court cards represent, and so forth. Usually I obtain information from the various Kickstarter projects or whatever site that releases the deck. Of course I spend some time on editing but I try to keep things simple. There isn't much in terms of setup or editing for that matter.
What is it that you especially enjoy most about doing video reviews? Given how prolific you are, what motivates you to keep this up?
I enjoy showing new decks to my viewers, I have many decks that you won't find on other channels and a large variety of decks.
Where do you source the decks that you review? Do you have any sponsors that help out?
I buy the majority of my decks, which isn't cheap as i'm sure you can imagine, from a variety of sites, especially playingcarddecks.com. But I buy from a variety of card shops, just depends who has what i'm looking for. I do have some good relationships with a few known Kickstarter creators that often send me some perks in exchange for promoting projects. I am also fortunate enough to have a sponsorship with Murphy's Magic which allows me to buy decks from their site at wholesale prices.
Do you keep all the decks you review? What happens with decks that you decide not to keep?
I generally keep all the decks I review. There have been some in the past that I wasn't a fan of that I did giveaways with and there are others that I have available for sale or trade or potential future giveaways.
Your review of the Bicycle Gaff Deck [link] has almost 10 times as many views as any of your other reviews. What can you tell us about this review and why it is so popular?
I'm not really sure why but for some reason gaff deck reviews are popular on my channel, perhaps because no one else reviews them or shows the cards. There a few gaff deck reviews in my top ten most watched videos. I guess there's always someone on the lookout for a gaff deck.
How much feedback do you get from viewers, and what does this involve for you to keep up with this?
Sadly I don't get a lot of comments or feedback on most of my videos but I do occasionally get some feedback regarding video quality or audio which I have improved over the years. I always respond to any comments on my videos.
What do people seem to appreciate the most about your reviews?
People appreciate the honesty in my reviews and also the variety of decks I review. Also that I open and review extremely rare decks that many would never open, and would otherwise never know what the cards look like.
You also have a play-list of more than 100 tricks and tutorials [link]. What can you tell us about your own interest in and experience with card magic?
As I mentioned earlier, I am a fan of magic and especially card magic. I've never really performed much outside of the channel and haven't done much magic related in a while but I enjoy it. I started off learning tricks from mismag822 and others on Youtube.
When did you start collecting playing cards, and what got you started?
I started collecting in 2010 I believe and that was the result, as I mentioned previously, of watching card trick tutorials on Youtube which introduced me to decks I didn't even know existed beforehand. I was only familiar with pretty much standard Hoyle, Caravan, Bicycle, and Bee decks until that time.
What are some of the things you especially enjoy about collecting playing cards?
Well what I enjoy about collecting is always finding something new to experience and to share with my viewers.
How many decks would you estimate that you currently have in your collection? According to your Portfolio52 page [link], as of today there are over 3500.
Not including a bunch of decks I have available for sale or trade, the figure on Portfolio52 should be fairly accurate though I have more on the way all the time.
How do you organize and display your collection of playing cards?
Currently I don't display my collection or even have room to do so. I wish I had more organization but I always seem to have many decks coming in and then never organize themselves, lol. Generally I keep all my decks in boxes in my closet, I have some organized by brand, such as Bicycle, and others by company such as Theory11 or Ellusionist but i've got many other boxes that are just a random assortment waiting for some organizing.
Do you have any special categories of decks that you focus on collecting, and what are your favourite types of decks to collect?
Mainly the types of decks I collect are new decks that come out, either from Kickstarter projects or card websites. I do also collect the odd vintage deck as well as some casino decks, particularly local casino decks that I find via thrift stores. In addition I like to collect some odd decks, like mini decks or jumbo decks as well as some tarot decks.
How do you go about adding new decks to your collection?
As for adding decks to my collection, I look for new stuff via Murphys Magic or Playing Card Decks or search for stuff at local thrift stores or vintage decks on Etsy. If that's what you mean.
Do you have any thoughts on the explosion of custom playing cards that we are seeing today?
Yeah the explosion in playing cards is hurting my wallet, lol. But I think the best thing is to sort through them and choose the best ones or the ones you like.
What impact do you think crowdfunding like Kickstarter has had on playing cards and on collecting?
I think Kickstarter has opened up the card collecting to more people than ever before and has also opened the door to many new designers to get their art out. However it has also opened the door to many projects which aren't so good in design and has also opened the door to a variety of scammers. So there's both good and bad things about it.
Which deck (or decks) in your collection is your favourite, and why?
I get this question a lot and with over 3000 decks it's not easy to answer but I would probably say my favorite decks would have to be the Tally Ho Circle Back, JAQK Cellars, Artifice, Split Spades, and Federal 52 among others although i've probably forgotten a few and hope I don't offend any creators if I didn't name their decks.
What would the most valuable deck in your collection be, and what accounts for its value?
My most valuable decks would be the original first release Monarchs due to it's sheer limitation, White Centurions, Jerry's Nugget, first and second edition Smoke & Mirrors, and Red Artifice, all mainly due to their rarity and value.
What do your family and friends think of your collection, and of your interest in collecting and reviewing playing cards?
Honestly outside of my fellow collectors and viewers no one in my family is aware of my collection though my parents know I "waste" my money, lol. I've mentioned it to one or two people who either thought it was interesting or weird. The only people who've really known about my collecting where those in my former Toastmasters group who seemed to think it was pretty cool.
Do you belong to any playing card organizations, or connect with other collectors, either online or in any other way?
I'm not part of any playing card organizations but I connect to other collectors via my Facebook group, The Card Club, as well as on the United Cardists forum.
If you would start collecting all over again today, would you do anything different?
Well if I started collecting all over I would definitely avoid most decks that weren't produced by known manufacturers, such as random souvenir or advertising decks, and generally try to be more specific about what i'm collecting in general. I would probably try to set some kind of a budget, which I should probably do anyway.
What advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today?
To anyone starting collecting I would say don't buy every new deck you see, also try to be specific about what you collect or else you well spend a lot of money. Collect just vintage decks or just casino decks or just cardistry decks for instance, don't try and collect everything because there are just so many decks out there.
Are there any other written or video reviewers of playing cards online that you follow or admire?
I am a fan of 2 other Youtube deck reviewers although they are both currently not reviewing anything, that being cardsrfun and sacproductions101. I also enjoy magicorthodoxy though I don't watch his videos very regularly.
What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any goals to expand or do anything different than what you are currently doing?
I'm not sure what the future holds especially with the prices of playing cards always going up but I will try to continue doing reviews as long as I can.
What I appreciate about Victor's reviews is that he gives you an excellent idea of what to expect when you buy a deck. He shows you the tuck case, runs through the cards, and comments on how they feel and handle. In the case of specialty decks, he'll even show you every single card in the deck, which can be tremendously helpful when you're thinking about picking up a gaff deck, or wondering what some specific cards in a deck look like. As such, he provides a very valuable service and helpful contribution to the playing card community.
So if you're ever wondering about what a deck of custom card looks like, want to check out the tuck box from all sides, or are wondering what exactly is inside the box, definitely check out his channel, to see if it's covered by one of his reviews. Thanks Victor, for your extensive contribution to the industry, and for all the work you've put into this in the past years!
Where to find Victor Jose? The best place to find Victor is over on his youtube channel (VJose32). You'll also find him over on the Facebook group that he created in 2012 for fans of playing cards, and which now boasts over 200 members. To see his collection, head over to Portfolio52.
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
How should you break in a new deck?
In the previous article I've covered some of the situations in which you might want to "break in" a brand new deck of playing cards, to make it perform and handle optimally. So suppose we do want to break in our deck, how should we go ahead doing that? Let's imagine that our deck is still staring at us from the kitchen table, grinning at us from within its cellophane. So let's begin right at the start of the whole process, and list some steps that we can do.
Step 1: Preparation
So what do we need to get started?
● Be clean. You didn't see that coming did you? There you were, with your grimy hands, all ready to rip into your brand new deck, and you almost forgot this important step! Go ahead and wash your hands - and dry them thoroughly! The oil on your hands, and any grime that might be invisibly clinging to it, will quickly transfer to your brand new cards, and before you know it they will start looking grimy as well. So it's important to get rid of any sweat, dust and dirt that your hands might be carrying, and give your new deck the very best start it can, rather than throwing mud at it on its first test drive!
● Get your tools. Don't worry, you won't need a hammer or any heavy equipment! But a sharp knife will come in handy shortly, in order to do a neat and tidy job of opening the seal.
Step 2: Opening the Tuck Box
You didn't really think that the cards magically pop out of that wrapped box do you? This process involves several steps:
● Cellophane. We begin by opening the cellophane, or shrink-wrap as it's sometimes also called. Rather than ripping this from the top or bottom, I usually like to pull the tab provided for this around the deck. What this does is divide the wrapper into two halves. I typically remove the smaller top half, but leave the larger lower half on the deck. This provides additional protection to the tuck box, helping it stay in shape, and preventing the corners from becoming dinged up or tearing. But not too much can go wrong when removing the cellophane - unless you're using a knife, in which case be careful that the sharp blade doesn't slip and leave an unplanned but permanent tattoo on your skin or on the tuck box!
● Seal. Now for the seal, which is the adhesive sticker on most decks that keeps the deck closed and needs to be opened in order to open the top flap. Again, there are wrong ways to do this. Rather than just tear this in any fashion, I like to preserve the seal as best as possible. With a custom deck, the seal has often been thoughtfully and deliberately designed with unique artwork to fit with the rest of the deck, and it's nice to preserve as much of that as possible. Cutting it parallel with the top of the deck along the upper flap is less than ideal, because it means you'll invariably have part of the sticky side of the seal facing inwards, where it will occasionally attach itself to a playing card, and over time accumulate dust and dirt. Instead, it's often best to get a sharp knife, and cut the seal right along the semi-circle shape. In a pinch, you can use a thumb nail to do this. But the result will be very neat and tidy: when the tuck box flap is closed, you'll see the two parts of the seal come together in entirety, and there's the added advantage that you won't be leaving any sticky surfaces around to attract grime.
● Top flap. Ideally you want to bend the top flap backwards. There is usually a line about 1cm below the top flap, which has been pressed into the deck during production, and that's where you want to bend the top flap backwards - not at the very top of the deck itself. What this does is reveal the top centimeter of the cards, making them easy to grab. If you don't do this, and the cards are somewhat of a tight fit in the tuck box, you may find yourself butchering the top of the case trying to get the deck out.
Step 3: Removing the Cards
Wait, do we really need a whole step that explains how to remove the cards from the tuck box, and do I really think you have an IQ lower than an Ace of Spades? I'm sure you're bright enough - after all you're reading this! - but the truth is that you can butcher this part of the process as well.
● Take out the cards. If you have pushed back the top flap at the line described in the previous step, you should be able to get your fingers on both sides of the top of the deck. The most natural way to do this is to have your thumb on one side of the deck in the semi-circular thumb tab (another reason for not cutting the seal directly across the top!), while your forefinger grabs the other side of the deck along the top centimeter of the cards that has been revealed when you bent the top flap of the tuck box backwards. Now you can just pull the cards out, but even that can be a little tight at times. Get gravity to help, and tip the box over, so that the cards fall naturally into your hand. Don't forget to inhale that new deck smell - that's not something you want to miss is it? Breathe in deeply, and smell those new cards - you know you want to! This is also a good time to remove the ad cards, so that what you're handling is a 54 card deck without unnecessary extras.
● Smooth the edges. In the case of a USPCC produced decks, the edges of the playing cards of a brand new deck will feel noticeably rough. While this can improve over time, you might want to take your deck and rub all four sides a number of times against some fabric - denim jeans are perfect. This will remove any loose bits and can help reduce some of the roughness.
Step 4: Conditioning the Cards for Optimal Friction
Some swear that there's a particular order of steps that must be followed when breaking in a deck in terms of how you handle the cards for the first time once they're outside the box. Personally I fail to see how the order of what follows matters too much - although I wouldn't begin with a riffle shuffle or spring for reasons I'll explain in a moment. So here are the moves you should consider doing to make your cards perform better than when you have them in your hands for the first time.
First of all, you want to give your cards a workout to help ensure optimal friction. These first moves are geared to ensure that the cards slide smoothly over each other. Cards have a coating that is designed to optimize how they glide over each other, but in the factory the cards have just been produced and never actually rubbed over each other, so there may be some small imperfections. We want to make sure that with the help of some warmth, wear, and pressure, everything is in good order and sliding smoothly and evenly. A helpful way to think of this is that you are polishing the cards by rubbing them against each other.
● Overhand shuffle. Shuffle off all the cards one at a time, to ensure that all the cards move freely, and there are no clumps of cards sticking together. It's important to make sure that all the cards are properly separated.
● Wash. At this point some people recommend "washing" your cards. No, don't get out the soapy water! A wash refers to spreading all the cards on the table, crudely overlapping each other, and shuffling them around over each other. The term "granny shuffle" is also used for this method. Personally I think that a systematic series of overhand shuffles accomplishes the same thing, is neater, and does a better job of looking after your cards, but you might find it more satisfying and effective to give your cards a "wash" as just described.
● Fan. A few fans are now the order of the day, in both directions. The idea of this and the previous step is that you get the cards sliding over each other every which way.
If you did the above steps face up, now repeat them face down. This ensures that each card has gone through its paces in each and every direction, from both sides.
Step 5: Conditioning the Cards for Optimal Flexibility
But cards don't only need to slide over each other smoothly, they also need to be able to flex in different directions. If they were stiff and rigid like wooden boards, there's no way you could handle them at all, so we want to make sure that they are malleable and soft. That's something that the printing process won't do for us by bending them in different directions to soften them up, but fortunately it's something we can easily do, by giving the cards a workout to help ensure optimal flexibility.
These next moves are geared to ensuring that the cards flex properly, and return back to their natural shape easily and quickly. I strongly suggest doing these steps after the ones just described to get optimal friction, because when sliding the cards across each other, you don't want them to be previously bent as a result of riffle shuffles or springs. Although if you find that your deck is warped out of the box, these flexibility routines will help straighten it out, so you may need to adjust the order of things.
● Aeration. This is simple and interesting "flex-ercise" in which you hold the deck similar to the beginning of a spring, squeezing both ends towards each other. This causes the deck to bend into a C shape, and you'll notice the cards all separating from each other with a layer of air between them. This helps separate the cards, and helps prevent the oil or coating causing them to stick together. Do this in both directions.
● Riffle shuffle. Now it's time for a good riffle shuffle, since not only do you want the cards sliding smoothly over each other, but you also want them flexing nicely. Do this both face up and face down, completing each shuffle with a bridge, so you don't end up with bent or warped cards, and so that the cards are flexed in both directions.
● Faro shuffle. Another good move to do at this point is a faro shuffle. Given the new deck order, the central place that splits the deck exactly should be even easier than usual to find - for most standard decks it will be right between the King of Clubs and King of Diamonds. You can complete the shuffle by bridging the cards, or by cascading the cards together if you know how to perform that flourish. A faro shuffle will also tell you immediately whether or not a deck has a traditional cut or a modern cut, depending on which way you need to weave the cards together for the faro shuffle.
● Spring. Just like a riffle shuffle, a couple of good springs will help, and be sure to do these in both directions (face up and face down).
To round things off, you might want to conclude with another series of overhand shuffles, just to make sure that the factory coating has had another pleasant polish and final warm up, so that it can behave optimally.
In most cases, for the average person anyway, there's no real need to artificially "break in" a deck. Just go ahead and use it! How it will handle and feel will change naturally over time, and as long as it's a good quality deck, often this may make the handling smoother and better.
But if you're a performing professional, it may be important to make sure that a deck is in optimal handling condition ahead of a performance. In that case you will want to put a new deck through its paces before using it for the first time on the stage. Usually the best way to do this is by a systematic series of shuffles, fans, spreads, and springs, as described above, to break the cards in faster, and to ensure that they have optimal friction and flexibility ahead of your performance. It's not a complex process, and simply spending 10 minutes with your deck in this way should do the trick.
For most of us, none of this really matters enough, and wearing in a deck is what happens automatically as we use it. Even so, it is good to be aware of how to treat a deck well, and be familiar with some of the things you can do to help give your playing cards that familiar feel, and ensure that they won't let you down. Treat your cards right, and they'll treat you right!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
Do you need to break in a new deck?
Ah, the sweet smell of a brand new deck of playing cards. There it is, a fresh arrival in the mail, now waiting on your kitchen table. It is taunting you in its shiny cellophane, begging to be opened. Inside, as you know, is the joy of discovery, the smell of newness, the feel of brand new playing cards, and the promise of future experiences. You can hardly wait!
But do you need to break in your new deck first? If you want the handling to be smooth, are there any special steps you need to take to get your deck into optimum working condition for peak performance?
Whether or not you even need to break in a deck depends on a number of factors.
1. Are you a professional magician, about to perform a gig?
If so, then it's not likely that you want your first experience with a new deck of cards to be in the middle of a performance or when you're on stage. Ideally, you'll want to have at least given it a short test drive in advance, just to make sure it feels right, and has that gently worn and familiar feeling, so that it won't cause any issues during your performance. The last thing you want is a couple of cards to be stuck together, or to find some other issue with the deck.
Obviously magicians won't want to perform with a tired and worn deck that is full of grime, because it makes a poor impression, so it is professionally important to use a deck that is brand new or near new. But when using that new deck, you don't want to have to worry about a less than optimal performance, so you do want it handling as best as it can from the moment your performance begins. You certainly don't want to be spending precious minutes fiddling with cellophane wrappers, or getting rid of the standard "new deck order". And are the cards too stiff? Too slippery? These are the two main issues you may find with a new deck, and are the kinds of things that you can address by breaking in a deck.
For many professionals, it will be a personal thing as to whether or not a deck performs exactly the way you want fresh out of the box, or whether you prefer the slightly different handling that results from a slightly worn deck. But for the rest of us, unless our first drive with our deck is at some official event, the need to "break in" a deck is much less necessary. It will get broken in naturally simply by using it, so just go right ahead and put it to work. It's not like some new car that you need to handle gently for the first few kilometers, nor are you like a test pilot nervously taking a brand new plane on its first flight. Little can go wrong, and if you just use the deck for what it is intended for, everything will work out fine.
2. Who is the publisher, and what kind of deck is it?
Decks from some publishers will perform just beautifully straight out of the box, and this can also depend on the card stock that is used. Many cardists like using a deck that feels soft, and typically a deck will become softer by sheer use, as pressure is applied to the cards in the course of shuffling and handling. A USPCC deck with their "Thin-Crush" stock will have this feel immediately from the box, whereas a deck with their thicker and higher grade Casino Bee stock may require some wearing in before the cards feel softer. The B9 True Linen stock from Cartamundi also has a very soft feel from the box as well, and many cardists will just love how this feels from the get go. In contrast, LPCC/EPCC decks with the Diamond/Master Finish will have a much stiffer feel from the outset, and this sense of snap and firmness isn't likely to change much despite intense use of the cards, given that these are intended to be much harder wearing and longer lasting cards.
All this means that whether or not there's a need to break in a deck can depend on how it handles straight out of the box, which can vary according to the publisher and the kind of deck it is. So let's talk about the typical USPCC deck a little more, since that represents by far the majority of decks. Decks with their standard Bicycle stock and with their higher grade Casino Bee stock will both become softer over time, so it can be helpful to wear these in if that is important to you. This is largely a process that will occur naturally as you use the cards, so there's no need to artificially wear them in as such. But if it is very important to you that all the cards arrive at the same degree of softness at the same time, you might want to systematically go through a series of moves that puts all the cards through their paces in the same way.
Certain decks will also be more slippery when they are first used, which is a result of the coating on the cards. Some use will see this wear slightly, and the cards won't quite slide as freely as they did initially, which is another reason some magicians will want to break in a deck first. On the other hand, other decks may perform worse over time, although this will largely be with decks from inferior publishers. These may appeal to spread and fan smoothly immediately from the box, but over time can quickly start clumping and be inconsistent.
3. How do you like your deck to feel and perform?
For most people, a deck will slowly change its feel as it gets used. In some cases, a deck may perform worse as it wears, and fans and spreads that were initially super smooth and consistent may start becoming clumpy or less than optimal. But generally speaking, as a deck becomes slightly softer it can become more pleasant to use, and sometimes this can even mean that fans and spreads can improve. It also can become less slippery, and the cards will actually spread and fan a little more consistently and pleasantly.
One thing about USPCC produced cards is that the edges of the cards can be somewhat rough after the cutting process. You can feel this by running your hand alongside the edge of a brand new deck, especially if you compare it to the super clean and smooth cut of a LPCC/EPCC produced deck. This will wear smoother with time, but there are things you can do to speed up this process.
To summarize, a deck that has been worn in slightly will generally perform better than a brand new deck - although there are exceptions. Cards will be less slippery, and spread evenly and smoothly, springs will be easier due to the cards being softer, faros will be more consistent (in both directions), and packets and double lifts can be formed more cleanly.
This will happen naturally over time with any deck, so in many cases you don't need to do anything special - just go ahead and enjoy the cards, and they'll wear in automatically as you use them. But sometimes you do want to accelerate that process for performance reasons. In the next article we'll cover some of the steps you can take to do this properly.
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
Debunking Common Myths About Playing Cards
Claim: Playing cards were invented in China
At some point you are almost certain to come across the often-repeated claim that the first playing cards were in China. It is a particularly common assertion that you will find online in basic and simplified articles about the origin of playing cards. And we all know that everything on the internet is true, right?
Certainly there is some historical evidence that points in the direction of supporting this claim. China is where paper and printing was first invented, and it's also where we find games like dominoes and mahjong, which bear some resemblance to playing cards. So it's not surprising to discover that an early ancestor of playing cards did exist in China. But were playing cards actually invented there?
The reality is that we can't be sure. Certainly it appears to be a real possibility that playing cards were invented in China during the Tang dynasty around the 9th century AD, as some believe. There is some evidence that games involving cards in some way were used in this time, although we can't be sure whether these cards functioned as currency for other games, as stakes for gambling, or whether they served as the game itself. But if playing cards did originate during this time, possibly from or alongside tile games like dominoes and mahjong, it would mean that they have their first beginnings prior to 1000AD. From China, playing cards would have proceeded west via India and Egypt, and eventually made their way to Europe.
But it is also possible that playing cards were invented in Persia, and from there spread east to places like China and Korea, and only then west to Europe. Historians really can't be sure, because paper is a very fragile product, so there's very little evidence that has survived the centuries and which we can reliably go by.
Playing cards unique to the native Americans of the 18th and 19th century also exist, with colours, suits, and icons that are derived from their own culture, and manufactured on rawhide and horse skins. Does that mean that they also invented playing cards? Not at all, because it is obvious that they just adapted an existing concept that was brought over to America from Europe by the early settlers. In most cases these native American decks were simply adaptations of existing Spanish decks they had already been introduced to. It is not impossible that the same happened with Chinese decks, which may actually have originated elsewhere.
What does appear to be certain is the striking resemblance between the first playing cards that emerged in Europe in the late 14th century and those used in Egypt prior to this. Playing cards first appeared in Italy in the late 1300s, and the four suits used there (cups, coins, swords, and clubs) are a close match to the goblets (cups), gold coins, swords, and polo-sticks found on playing cards used in Egypt during the Mamluk period.
But while playing cards appear to have made their way into Europe via Mamluk Egypt, this still doesn't establish their origin. In fact, in his book about the history of playing cards, Roger Tilley argues that it is even possible that playing cards in Europe had an altogether independent development. Perhaps we will never know where they first emerged on the pages of history, although once we get to the 14th century onwards in Europe, there is ample evidence about their function in society and culture.
With the absence of solid historical evidence, we may never be entirely certain about the precise origin of playing cards, although it does seem likely to have been in somewhere in the East, with China being at best a strong candidate. Unfortunately inaccurate information can easily acquire a life of its own in our internet age, and the oft-repeated claim that playing cards originated in China reflects a rather simplistic interpretation of the facts, that while undoubtedly well-intentioned and having some basis, remains to be proven. While we can't thank the unidentified ancestors that bequeathed us with playing cards today, we certainly can thank the many modern designers, publishers, retailers that are building on the foundation inherited from the past, and are giving us wonderful playing cards to enjoy today!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
Debunking Common Myths About Playing Cards
Claim: Playing cards developed from Tarot cards
You'll often come across the claim that our modern deck of playing cards was developed from the Tarot deck. Occultists and fortune tellers like to make the suggestion that Tarot decks are in fact the true and original form of playing cards, and that the symbolism of Tarot cards lies at the heart and background of our modern deck.
Some even defend the view that the Tarot deck represents a deck that was used by secret societies like the Masons or Knights Templar to transmit secret information. According to this interpretation, there are secrets within Tarot cards that go back to books and playing cards from ancient times that pre-date standard playing cards.
In reality, Tarot cards appear to have had a separate and much later origin than regular playing cards, possibly as a means of instruction and education, and certainly not first of all as a result of an interest in the occult or a usage for fortune-telling. The earliest surviving Tarot cards date from a period much later than regular playing cards, and the historical evidence supports their original use as additional trump cards. They consisted of 22 separate designs with allegorical illustrations that were added to a standard deck, in order to create a larger overall deck which was used first of all for gaming. As such they were initially part of a 78 card deck that was primarily used for more elaborate and complex games than was possible with a standard deck of 50+ cards. The symbolism and significance of the original illustrations from the era has been lost, and likely just reflects 15th century cultural fashions in Renaissance Italy. This means that present-day interpretations of these cards don't have an early historical basis.
Tarot cards were only used for cartomancy for the first time around 1750, which is more than a couple of centuries after the expanded tarot deck was first conceived and used for games. Fortune-telling with tarot cards was only popularized in the latter half of the 18th century, and the colourful images of the tarot cards did especially lend themselves well to this purpose. Jean-Baptiste Etteilla (a deliberate reversal of his actual name Alliette, to make it appear more mystical) was one of the first and most influential fortune tellers of the time, and is considered to be the first professional tarot occultist to make a living by card divination. He claimed that the tarot cards were linked to ancient Egypt, and he assigned esoteric meanings to them, many of which are still used today. Antoine Court, a French mason in the late 18th century, made similar claims that Tarot cards were derived the occultic Book of Thot, which supposedly originated in ancient Egypt, was the source of all knowledge, and was written by the Egyptian god of writing. Studying it was claimed to reveal secrets about humanity and keys to ancient knowledge.
Many modern day practitioners of the occult and voodoo continue to perpetuate the belief that the Tarot is embedded with secret symbols and images that hail back to ancient times, and that it gives answers, direction, and spiritual guidance. Particularly influential was Arthur Edward Waite, whose approach to the Tarot deck at the start of the 20th century would influence all subsequent Tarot playing cards. He was a member of an occultic society called the Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn, and the designs of the Ride-Waite Tarot that was first published in 1909 became in many ways a standard. Aleister Crowley's deck was painted over several years (1938-43) and was also very influential; it deliberately included many occultic elements, and some even find it disturbing.
Modern Tarot decks consist of 78 cards with two distinct parts. The Major Arcana (greater secrets) corresponds to the original 22 trump cards, and are numbered with Roman numerals from I to XXI, along with a Fool card. The Minor Arcana (lesser secrets) consists of 56 cards in four suits that are similar to the Italian swords, clubs, coins, and cups, although the clubs are typically called wands, rods or staves, while the coins are typically called pentacles or disks. Each suit has 14 cards, with four court cards accompanying ten number cards: King, Queen, Knight, and Page.
Despite its claims to be a tool to uncover the secrets of both past and future, it seems most likely that the Tarot is not a mystical key to the past, but rather that layers of meanings have been ascribed to it over time. Serious historians remain convinced that its origins lie in an innocent card game, and that occultists have bestowed it with a far greater significance than it ever had to begin with, adding meanings that were not present when the artists from the Renaissance painted the first Tarot cards. Academics like Michael Dummett have done extensive research on this topic and make a compelling case that the Tarot deck originated as popular trick-taking game in 15th century Italy, and that occultic interpretations were unknown prior to the 18th century. Even so, Tarot decks today are still popular. If nothing else they give artists and creative designers a larger canvas of cards to work with, resulting in some very artistically and beautiful designs.
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
Factors That Affect the Handling of a Deck
Part 2: Non-Bicycle Playing Cards
Most creators of custom playing cards today choose to print their decks with United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), makers of the famous Bicycle brand of playing card. USPCC is a well-known publisher with solid credentials, and has a long history and positive reputation for creating quality playing cards. In previous articles we have covered the process by which Bicycle playing cards are made, why it's worth the money to get a Bicycle deck, and what factors affect their handling.
But USPCC doesn't produce perfect playing cards. Their decks are often printed in high volume on a web press, and one disadvantage of this process is that the print registration can be slightly off, creating slightly misaligned borders. We've probably all seen decks like this, and it can be disappointing to receive a deck that has this issue.
The good news is that this issue is typically a rarity when decks are printed on a sheet-fed press, which is the printing method used by most of the competition, which typically produces runs of playing cards in lower volumes. As a result several reputable publishers have emerged in recent years that offer an excellent alternative to the industry giant of USPCC, and many of them have already earned for themselves a solid reputation for producing consistently high quality playing cards.
The first of these is Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC), which is based in Taiwan. EPCC often works in tandem with Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC), and even uses the same facilities and factories, so we'll take these two together and refer to them as LPCC/EPCC. The second of these is Cartamundi, which is based in Belgium. Along with Bicycle cards, these are arguably the key players that are at the top of the industry right now, and are producing the highest quality playing cards today. But what you need to know is: how are their playing cards made differently from Bicycle decks, and how does this affect their handling? Let's find out!
Legends and Expert Playing Cards
The stock refers to the paper used to print the playing cards. LPCC/EPCC has a slightly different approach to this than USPCC, which typically uses either Bee stock (thicker), Bicycle stock (normal), or Thin Crush stock (thinnest and softest). Instead, LPCC/EPCC sources their paper from overseas, and this paper stock comes pre-embossed from their suppliers. As a result, LPCC/EPCC uses a single name that doesn't distinguish between their embossing and their stock. They both offer several four main "finishes", all of which feel and handle differently: Diamond/Master Finish, Classic Finish, Elite/Damask Finish, and Emerald/JN Finish. These are really just different combinations of paper stock and embossing, and the main differences between these "finishes" has to do with the type of paper and embossing used. These different paper stocks not only vary in thickness and firmness, but are also embossed to varying depths, making each unique in terms of how they handle. The Classic Finish and Elite/Damask Finish use the thickest paper stock, while the Diamond/Master Finish uses a thinner stock. The Emerald/JN Finish is thinner yet, and represents LPCC/EPCC's efforts to replicate the feel and handling of the Jerry's Nugget Casino cards from the '70s, which were considered legendary for their performance.
Decks produced by LPCC/EPCC in their Classic Finish and Elite/Damsk Finish are the most similar to a standard USPCC deck, and have a relatively soft and papery feel. In contrast, decks with their Diamond/Master finish have thinner cards, while decks with their Emerald/JN Finish are 0.01mm thinner still. Unlike the Thin-Crush stock from USPCC, these thinner cards from LPCC/EPCC are amazingly hardy/durable, and have a real spring and pleasing snap to them, with a surprisingly stiffer feel than the Classic Finish decks.
The texture refers to the embossed surface of a playing card. While you won't notice significant differences in embossing with USPCC produced decks, the different "finishes" of LPCC/EPCC produced decks do have different types of embossing, both in terms of the pattern and the depth used. The Diamond/Master Finish and the Emerald/JN Finish decks are the least-embossed paper stock, and that makes these cards feel somewhat oily and plastic-like. Yet these decks are also their stiffest and longest lasting cards, since these cards have a real spring to them, and prove very hardy and durable. Their Classic Finish decks have a deeper embossing pattern that the most similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish". As a result, it feels softer, and has an overall feel that is arguably closest to a Bicycle-type deck from USPCC. The deeper the embossing, the softer the cards will feel, so while the Elite/Damask Finish decks use a similar paper stock to the Classic Finish, a different and deeper embossing pattern on these cards makes them feel even softer yet. In practice, this means that a deck of custom playing cards by USPCC will feel most similar to LPCC/EPCC's Classic Finish. In contrast, LPCC/EPCC's Diamond/Master Finish and Emerald/JN Finish deck are noticeably stiffer and also feel more "tacky", making them more ideal for moves and sleights like springs, cuts, and even double lifts.
The coating refers to a protective finish added at the end of the printing process, to protect the cards and make them slide over each other smoothly and evenly. LPCC/EPCC uses the same coating for all their card stocks/finishes, although they are constantly experimenting with their coating formula to improve it. Like the Magic Coating used on Bicycle decks, the aim of this coating is that it combines with the embossing to create the perfect amount of drag, slip, as well as durability. LPCC/EPCC's coating tends to be sightly less slippery than those of USPCC produced decks. In my experience, the coating on USPCC produced decks tends to wear out more quickly, meaning that your cards won't spread or fan as evenly over time. In contrast, LPCC/EPCC produced decks have a coating that seems to be harder wearing, slightly less slippery, and they seem to perform consistently for a longer period of time. But this is not always true - while most LPCC/EPCC decks are produced in their factory in Taiwan with a consistent level of quality, watch out for decks produced with their JN Finish in China - these don't seem to be as good, and these cards tend to clump much more quickly.
The cut refers to the direction of the bevelled edge of the cards, and affects the direction in which cards can be faroed or weave shuffled together. LPCC/EPCC decks are all given a traditional cut (face to back) rather than the modern cut (back to face) that is used as a standard by USPCC. Their cutting process also involves a Diamond Cut technique that produces a much smoother cut than UPSCC. As a result, their decks feel super smooth on the edges, making the cards of a USPCC feel noticeably rough in comparison. These beautiful clean edges are clearly superior to those of a USPCC deck, and can make maneuvers like a perfect faro easier and smoother.
Based in Belgium, Cartamundi is a large publishing company with an established reputation in publishing games, but which has only more recently entered the custom playing card market by producing a growing selection of decks, the most well known being the Copag 310s. These have been printed on the company’s B9 True Linen or Cardistry stock, which has also been used for a growing number of cardistry and other custom decks. Examples of decks using the B9 stock include Ondrej Psenicka's innovative Butterfly Playing Cards, the stunning Cobra Playing Cards, Bas John's Cubeline deck, and many others.
These cards combine to make up one of the thickest decks I have seen. Yet despite this thickness, it is a super soft stock that is reminiscent in feel of USPCC's thin-crush stock. As a result, straight out of the box, these cards handle perfectly, requiring no breaking in whatsoever. These cards hold up extremely well, and despite fairly intense use they go the distance with no obvious signs of wear - a somewhat surprising outcome because usually softer decks prove to be quicker wearing.
What is also unique about the finish is that the embossing pattern on the card faces is different than the embossing pattern on the card backs. This allows the cards to slide perfectly over one another for fans and spreads. The cards have a very smooth cut, resulting in perfect and smooth edges, unlike what I've seen with some USPCC cards. Cardists will find the stock super soft, and a joy to shuffle and spring, while still fanning and spreading evenly and smoothly. With its B9 True Linen stock, Cartamundi has announced itself as a strong competitor, and you're almost certain to be very pleased with any Cartamundi deck produced with this stock and finish.
But not everyone is a fan of the thicker cardstock, and more recently Cartamundi has been putting out some decks that aren't as thick as the B9 stock. Both the Touch Cardistry decks and Stockholm17's Ravn v3 decks use Cartamundi's C9 stock, which has a more traditional air cushion style embossing pattern, and a thickness similar to a standard USPCC produced deck. Even thinner yet is their E7 stock, which is used for the new Cohort Classics decks. These cards are so thin that they aren't likely to hold up to the exacting standards required for card flourishing. But with their new C9 and E7 stocks, Cartamundi is providing a viable alternative to USPCC, and we could see an increasing number of custom decks coming from this publisher.
There are a few smaller publishers that have produced a much smaller range of playing cards, such as Hanson Chien Production Company, and BOMB Magic. Both of these also use factories in Taiwan, and their playing cards seem quite comparable in quality and handling to those produced by LPCC/EPCC for the most part.
One other publisher's name you might see mentioned is MakePlayingCards (MPC). What makes MPC attractive to creators is that they offer the advantage of good pricing on smaller print runs. Unfortunately their products aren't considered as high end as some of the other publishers, but they do enable creators to produce a print run as small as a single deck for a reasonable price. According to some reports, their cost for producing a single prototype is about a twentieth of what USPCC charges for the same thing. While their decks are fine for collectors and prototypes, the handling is definitely inferior to those of the previously named publishers. Their playing cards tend to fan and spread smoothly out of the box, but will quickly start to clump. You'll often find the same with the JN Finish decks produced by LPCC/EPCC in China. This also tends to happen with decks produced by another relatively new kid on the block, WJPC, which is also based in China, and has printed a small selection of custom decks.
A final publisher worth knowing about is Noir Arts (NPCC), which is based in the Ukraine. They produce absolutely stellar tuck boxes with a high level of innovation and quality. But like MPC decks, their playing cards don't always handle consistently. NPCC does use high quality cardstock - German black-core linen 310gsm card-stock, which is also the top pick used by Make Playing Cards. This stock is also embossed with an air cushion finish, and has a real firm, snappy, and springy feel, with a stiffness somewhat similar to the Diamond/Master finishes from LPCC/EPCC, but it doesn't fan or spread as evenly or evenly as USPCC or LPCC/EPCC decks. While very durable and superior to a typical corner store deck, the handling will disappoint serious card flourishers.
Publishers like MPC and NPCC also reduce their printing costs by using a high-speed laser to remove cards from their press sheets instead of the die-cutting used by USPCC and LPCC/EPCC. The disadvantage of this method is that the laser creates a perfectly flat, 90-degree angle at the cut, with no bevelled edges whatsoever (unlike the modern/traditional cut), and this makes weave/faro shuffles more difficult.
Quality control: Some publishers also have exceedingly high standards of quality control. Special mention should be made of USPCC, which has different standards of quality control, depending on the deck they are printing. Q1 is their highest standard, and where they check the most closely for the best results in areas like centering, print registration, cutting, colour, and flaws. Q4 is their lowest standard, and is considered "tolerable" - it basically means that more margin is given for error. In most cases this will only affect how the cards look, and not how they handle.
Press type: LPCC/EPCC uses a sheet-fed press exclusively, which USPCC also uses for smaller print runs. In contrast a web press is preferred by USPCC for the sake of efficiency and speed when doing higher-volume print runs of many thousands. A sheet-fed press gives greater precision in printing and cutting, and a consistently crisp and bold printing registration. This also enables the use of narrower borders than normal, gives a greater range of options for designers, and also can produce a classier look. In decks printed by USPCC on their web press in high volume you'll sometimes notice that the borders are slightly off-centre for this reason, while this problem is rare to non-existent with LPCC/EPCC decks. However this will typically only affect the look of the cards, and not their handling.
Metallic foil: High gloss embossed metallic foil stamped onto the back of playing cards adds a real element of bling and visual appeal. But one challenge resulting from this extra bling, due to the materials needed to create these unusual cards, is that they do handle somewhat differently than a standard deck. The significant amount of foil on the backs does make them feel somewhat slippery, and you will find fanning and spreading a bit more challenging to master with these decks.
Spot UV printing: Another area of innovation in recent years is the use of technology that allows printers to produce embossed and glossy ink via UV spot printing. Basically this adds a secondary printing process where a layer of polymer is applied to create a raised glossy effect on the card faces. Cards printed in this way are like those of a regular deck, but in addition they have a glossy and raised surface that stands out visibly and can actually be felt. This naturally affects handling, because it can reduce the effect of the normal embossing and coating, since the raised surface that has been subject to UV spot printing becomes the point of friction instead of the entire card. When this happens, certain cards can become slightly more slippery, making it harder to have completely consistent fans.
Deck condition: Even the best deck will eventually wear out. A good quality deck will still handle and perform consistently over a long period of time. But eventually the coating will wear, and the cards will attract oils and dirt from your skin. When that all happens, your deck will no longer handle as smoothly as it did initially. A new deck will typically handle like a dream, and depending on its quality, will continue to handle well for a decent amount of time. But its handling performance will eventually be affected by sheer use as it wears, and slowly deteriorates.
Skill: A poor workman always blames his tools. No matter how good your deck handles, it is no substitute for skill, practice, and experience in card handling. The more time you spend mastering card flourishes and card fundamentals, the better you'll get. On the other hand, don't expect a good quality deck to be a short cut to mad card skills! It will certainly make difficult card flourishes easier to master, but is no substitute for skill!
So when you are purchasing a deck of playing cards, do you need to become an expert in all these details, and how decks are produced? Fortunately the answer is no. In the case of USPCC produced Bicycle decks, the quality will nearly always be identical, and the main difference in handling will depend on the thickness of the stock, and whether or not a deck is Thin-Crush or not.
With non-Bicycle decks, the most important thing to consider is who the publisher is. With the possible exception of their JN Finish decks produced in China (of which there have only been a few), decks from LPCC/EPCC that are produced in Taiwain are almost always going to be of a consistently high standard, which is why they are a popular choice for many custom designers. You will immediately notice smoother and cleaner cut edges in all their decks. Especially their Classic Finish and Elite/Damask Finish decks are quite comparable in handling and performance to USPCC produced decks. It is worth paying attention to whether a LPCC/EPCC deck uses Diamond/Master Finish, however, because these decks will feel noticeably different. They perform excellent and are very long-lasting, but do feel more oily/plasticky, and the cards feel noticeably firmer, with more of a spring to them, although they still fan and spread fine. Some people like and even prefer these, while others don't, so it's largely a matter of preference and taste, and sometimes even a matter of getting used to it. But virtually all the LPCC/EPCC decks are great quality and handle well.
Decks from other publishers, on the other hand, can be hit or miss. Cartamundi is doing an excellent job with their new decks in their B9 True Linen finish. There are also some publishers like Hanson Chien Production Company that are producing a small range of good quality decks out of Taiwan. But if a deck is produced by a company like Noir Arts (NPCC) or MakePlayingCards (MPC), you can expect the handling to be sub-par, and you'll immediately notice that spreads and fans won't be as smooth and consistent as you'd like. So it is worth taking note of who the publisher of a deck is if you're considering supporting a Kickstarter project or choosing a deck to buy. Of course all this only matters much if you're into cardistry or card magic, whereas such questions about handling will be less important to collectors or those wanting a deck for playing card games.
The good news is that for the most part, the vast majority of decks available at retailers that specialize in custom playing cards (e.g. playingcarddecks.com) are produced by USPCC and other industry leaders like LPCC/EPCC. Almost all playing cards produced by industry leaders like these are the printed with the latest machines and technology, and that's why you are almost certain to be satisified with one of their decks in your hands!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
Factors That Affect the Handling of a Deck
Part 1: Bicycle Playing Cards
Entering the world of playing cards can be a confusing business. When you speak with anyone who is already immersed in this world, or even if you read the small print on a Kickstarter project, you will find mention of things like "Bee Casino Stock", "Magic Finish", or "Traditional Cut". What on earth are they talking about? Then there are the common phrases you'll find on typical decks from big name publisher USPCC, like "Air-Cushion finish" (Bicycle decks), "Linoid finish" (Tally Ho decks), or "Cambric finish" (Bee decks). The mystery deepens! And what about the terms used by other publishers like LPCC, which mention things like a "Diamond Finish", "Classic Finish", or "JN Finish"? Is this some kind of secret code?
Let's be honest, you do want to understand the meaning of these riddles, especially if it's about a deck that you are considering buying or a project you are supporting! So let's see if we can solve some of these mysteries, and turn what seems to be a foreign language into plain English. In this article we'll introduce you to some of the things that go into producing a deck of playing cards, and talk about how these things can affect the performance and handling. Primarily I'll be talking about decks produced by the giant of the industry, United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), makers of the famous Bicycle brand of playing cards. In a follow-up article I'll consider how these same factors might apply to decks produced by other industry leaders like Taiwan-based Expert and Legends Playing Card Company, and European-based publisher Cartamundi.
What It Means
A deck of playing cards can never be better than the paper that it is printed on, and the word "stock" is used to refer to the paper used in the printing process. Quality playing cards are typically made of pasteboards, which a word derived from the process of how they are actually made. Cards consist of two layers of paper that are pressed tightly together with a layer of glue or "paste" between them. The glue not only ensures that they adhere together, but also helps ensure that cards are opaque, so that you can't see through them in bright light.
Since being established in 1885, the USPCC has used different paper stocks over time. For many years they operated out of a plant based in Cincinnati, Ohio, but when they relocated to Erlanger, Kentucky in 2009, they discontinued using some stocks that had been used previously (such as their special "UV 500" stock, which was sensitive to ultraviolet/black light). So you may find that some older decks that pre-date their move in location use a different paper stock and handle differently than newer ones. Since their move they have been using two main card stocks, Bicycle standard stock and Bee Casino stock.
There can be variation in paper shipments, however. While Bee Casino stock is usually thicker and stiffer than Bicycle Standard stock, this isn't always the case. Since around 2013 USPCC no longer offers their card stock by weight in grams per square meter, and instead the two main stocks of Bicycle (lighter) and Bee Casino (heavier) are measured by thickness rather than weight, with the thickness determined by a machine. But the thickness of each stock can fall within a range of thicknesses, and these two ranges can overlap. So it can sometimes happen that a deck produced with Bicycle stock is as thick as some Bee Casino stock decks; the reverses can also occasionally occur, namely that a deck with Bee Casino stock is as thin as some Bicycle stock decks. But for the most part these two different paper stocks have noticeably different thicknesses.
In addition, more recently USPCC has added a Thin-Crush stock to their quiver of options, and many newer cardistry decks are opting for this stock. Strictly speaking this isn't a different type of stock, but is rather is an optional process in which the Bicycle or Bee stock is crushed to make it even thinner. As reported by Lyle Borders, who is the VP of Operations for USPCC's largest custom print customer Theory11, "Generally, USPC only offers two stocks (Classic / Bicycle stock, and the thicker Premium / Bee stock). There is no such stock as "crushed stock". Once you choose your stock from above, you have the option to have that stock "crushed". It is not a separate stock, it is an optional process."
How It Affects Handling
Different paper stock will have different characteristics, and that will affect its thickness, stiffness, and durability. The Bee Casino stock is considered by many to be the premium and best stock available from USPCC, because it is thicker and stiffer. That is why it is usually the stock of choice used for decks produced by Ellusionist, which has most of their decks printed by USPCC. It can require some breaking in, but it also tends to be longer lasting. As you'd expect, the Thin-Crush stock is the thinnest of the lot, which makes it more slippery, quicker-wearing, but most importantly, it makes the cards feel very soft and flexible. This makes flourishes like springs very easy and smooth, and so it's no surprise that cardists especially have a fondness for Thin-Crush stock. Cards produced with Thin-Crush option can't be expected to be as durable and long-lasting, but they have a very pleasant soft feel straight from the box, and this has proven to be a very popular option for cardistry in particular.
What It Means
Sometimes you'll see people refer to texture as the "finish" of a playing cards. By that they aren't referring to the "coating" which is added to the card at the end of the process, but rather to the embossed texture or tactile feel of the cards. For example, Aviator decks are well known for having a smooth texture (sometimes called "Ivory"), but most other decks (including Bicycle) use an embossed texture. An embossed texture simply means that the paper has dimples to help reduce the amount of friction on the cards for best handling, and sometimes this is referred to as an "air cushion".
In older decks, the dimples of an embossed card were not created as they are today, which is by pressing a metal roller with bumps into the paper. Instead, they were produced at the end of the production process when the card's coating was applied using cloth rollers (much like a painter would make a textured wall surface with a cloth-covered paint roller). Many finish names still used today (e.g. linen, cambric, linoid) originated in the fabric used on these cloth rollers, and these names persist even though cloth rollers are no longer used. Standardization in manufacturing and cost-cutting has resulted in companies like USPCC stamping the embossed texture into the paper itself, thus eliminating the cost of replacing cloth rollers, which also had a greater potential for causing problems.
This means that the different terms used on differently branded USPCC produced decks today often refer to the same thing. For example, the "Air-Cushion finish" (Bicycle decks), "Linoid finish" (Tally Ho decks), or "Cambric finish" (Bee decks), in reality are all identical today. To complicate matters, the legal department of USPCC made a peculiar ruling at one stage to designate all Bicycle branded decks as having an "Air-Cushion finish", regardless of the actual finish or texture! In reality these different finish names are legacies from the days when decks did have unique coatings/finishes, which were applied with fabric/cloth-rollers. Nowadays the texture is no longer in the coating, but is crushed into the paper with steel rollers to create an embossed effect, and this is identical for all USPCC decks that are embossed rather than smooth.
How It Affects Handling
The presence and depth of embossing has a significant impact on handling. An embossed card tends to have a little more "give" to it when you flex it, in comparison with an un-embossed (smooth) card made of the same paper at the same thickness, thus creating a softer feel. This may also be partially a result of the modern embossing process itself, which presses dimples into the surface of the paper, possibly weakening the structure of the paper somewhat.
But more importantly, embossed playing cards will handle much more evenly. Cheaply produced cards are typically very smooth and have no embossed texture, and thus will handle very poorly and spread very unevenly. In contrast, most USPCC produced playing cards are embossed with an air cushion style finish, which operates on a principle similar to the dimples on a golf ball: these create little pockets of air to reduce the wind resistance around the ball, allowing it to have more slip and travel further. An optimal dimple pattern in the paper's surface allows for better glide between cards, as well as between cards and the surface they are on. As a result, with an embossed "air cushion" finish, cards will spread and fan smoothly and evenly. In nearly all cases, a deck of custom playing cards produced by USPCC will have the same texture and embossing pattern, and thus handle consistently.
What It Means
This refers to the coating that is applied to a deck of cards at the end of the printing process. Big name publishers like USPCC add a coating to the card to ensure that the cards perform well and will last. This coating also helps protect the cards from moisture - which is paper's old arch enemy. Ideally, you want a publisher to use a consistent formula that creates a coating which enables cards to be easily spread, and yet not so slippery that shuffling becomes difficult. Publishers like USPCC typically advertise their deck as having "performance coating" or "magic finish", and this is what they are referring to. USPCC has been known to use two main coatings: either Magic Finish, or in the case of decks produced in high volume, Standard Finish, which is slightly less slippery.
How It Affects Handling
Without any coating at all, cards will not handle smoothly or consistently, and you will get messy and inconsistent fans and spreads. USPCC's default coating on smaller orders of custom decks is something they call their "Magic Finish", and was developed around 2011. It is slightly more slippery, and makes cards slide more easily. It's called different things depending on the brand of cards. For example, Ellusionist calls this same coating "Performance Coating", which was USPCC's code name for the coating when they first started experimenting with it, and Ellusionist playing cards typically all have this coating. While this coating tends to be preferred by magicians, others find it to be too slippery, and don't like the "chemical" smell of the cards when they first come out of the pack, which can linger for a a while. The slightly less slippery "Standard Finish" coating is only used on orders of 15,000+ and that have a web press appropriate design. Since most custom playing cards are typically produced in a print run of a couple of thousand at most, they will virtually all use USPCC's Magic Finish, and handle the same in that regard.
One other consequence of coating is that it can wear out. Particularly with USPCC produced decks, this can mean that over time your cards will no longer slip over each other as evenly or consistently. This can vary from deck to deck, however, and you certainly will come across long-wearing decks too.
What It Means
The cut refers to the direction of the bevelled edge of the cards. In the production process, playing cards are first printed as an entire deck on a single uncut sheet, which is then "cut" by a machine into individual cards. But the direction in which this cut happens will create a small and almost unnoticeable bevel or "lip" on the edges of the cards. A traditional cut means the cards are cut from face to back, while a modern cut means the cards are cut back to face.
USPCC changed how they cut their cards in the 1980s, and since then the modern cut is their normal way of doing things, and they'll only produce decks with a traditional cut when specifically requested. The reason for this change is that a modern cut didn't require flipping the stock before feeding it into the die cutter; it was a simpler and more efficient process, thus making production less expensive by a few pennies per deck, which adds up in the long run when you're producing tens of thousands of decks!
How It Affects Handling
For most people the difference in cut won't make any difference, unless you are doing weave shuffles or certain gambling sleights. In fact, for the average person the direction of the cut won't even be noticeable. It is primarily evident when doing faro shuffles, which is a special shuffle in which the cards are weaved together one by one. A traditional cut is often preferred for this, because it means that you can do a faro shuffle face-down with a deck straight out of the box. In contrast, decks with a modern cut only can do faro shuffles face-up, and require a breaking-in period before you can do a (preferred) face-down faro shuffle. Generally speaking casinos order decks to be made with a traditional cut for this reason. But for most people who don't do faro shuffles, the direction of the cut won't make any real practical difference to their card handling.
So now that you know more about the factors that are part of the production of playing cards, and affect handling and performance, do you need to worry about every little detail when making a choice of playing cards? Not really, because in most cases USPCC is very consistent in what they produce. If a deck is produced by USPCC, you can count on it being similar quality to your standard Bicycle rider-back deck, unless of course it uses their Thin-Crush stock, which will feel noticeably thinner and softer.
Some people might swear that one deck is always better than another, but that's highly debatable. In reality most USPCC produced decks are of similar quality, and will look, feel, and handle the same, with some minor variations of course. The differences between certain decks that some people insist on are largely just a matter of different branding, as well as normal variation to be expected in different batches of paper. Most USPCC-produced Bicycle-branded custom decks feature an embossed texture with a magic finish/coating, with the only significant difference between them will be the paper stock. You will immediately notice a difference in handling with a Thin Crush stock, but many people can't even tell the difference between the standard Bicycle stock and the slightly thicker Bee stock.
The good news is that for the most part, the vast majority of decks stocked by popular online retailers that sell custom playing cards (e.g. playingcarddecks.com) are produced by USPCC and other industry leaders like LPCC/EPCC, so it's rare that these will disappoint you. Almost all playing cards produced by industry leaders like these are printed with the latest machines and technology, and that's why you are almost certain to be satisfied with one of their decks in your hands!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 Next »