Dan and Dave Buck are household names in the world of cardistry, or card flourishing, with an insane ability to manipulate playing cards in a creative, visual, and original way. These twin brothers live in San Diego, California, where they run Dan and Dave Industries, a lifestyle brand and design firm that produces luxury playing cards, apparel, and accessories for magicians and cardists. Now in their early 30s, Dan and Dave first made their name as magicians. They have since branched out into the world of card flourishing, where they are considered pioneers and innovators; they have even appeared for this purpose in Hollywood films. As an example of their impact on this growing art-form, they helped organize the inaugural Cardistry Con in 2014, which has since become an annual event, drawing an international crowd of cardistry leaders from around the world.
In September 2017, the Buck twins were featured by Great Big Story as part of their "Human Condition" series in a three-minute Kings of Cardistry micro-documentary entitled "Inside the Hypnotic Art of Card Juggling" (link). Definitely check this short video out right here, to get an idea of what cardistry is about, and to see the kinds of crazy moves that Dan and Dave Buck are capable of with a deck of playing cards!
The official overview of this video gives an accurate assessment of the skills that Dan and Dave have, and the respect they have earned in the world of cardistry: "Cards twirling, knuckles blazing, hands-a-blur—welcome to cardistry, the sleight of hand acrobatic sensation all done with a simple deck of 52. The kings of the cards are Dan and Dave Buck, twin brothers dealing out some of the best moves in the game. Their mesmerizing, seemingly gravity-defying flips and tricks stem from card flourishes originally used by magicians to introduce their tricks. Now, thanks to artists like Dan and Dave, cardistry has spun off as an art form all its own—keeping the magic without the abracadabra."
Art of Play
As well as being highly regarded in the world of cardistry, and having had a major industry in its development and growth over the last few years, Dan and Dave Buck also run Art of Play, a subsidiary of Dan and Dave, and an online retail outlet which they founded in 2013 with the purpose of embracing the wonders of the world and connecting people through a state of playfulness. When Dan and Dave tapped into the playing card industry by producing custom decks of their own, the remarkable success of their published decks bred further success, and they have continued to produce designer playing cards of the highest quality. In 2016 they produced no less than 16 original decks of custom playing cards, and they've shown no sign of stopping in 2017, with many more new and wonderful designs.
It was inevitable that Art of Play would branch out from playing cards to other games and puzzles, and today it is home to a collection of amazing and playful curiosities from around the world. Dan and Dave explain its mission as follows: "We travel the world in search of objects designed to dazzle the eyes and fascinate the mind. From luxurious playing cards to ingenious puzzles and stimulating amusements— each beautiful item in our collection holds a whisper of mystery, brimming with potential for surprise and delight ... From the finest playing cards in the world, innovative puzzles and games, and magical amusements for the home, we collaborate with artists to create remarkable products unlike anything else."
Luxury Playing Cards
In this article I will cover about a dozen beautiful decks of playing cards produced by Dan and Dave under their Art of Play label. Not surprisingly, many of these are ideal for cardistry. But featured in this article are certainly other beautiful decks that you can use for playing games as well, so whether you are looking for something classy and sophisticated for your card magic or poker game, or a quality deck to play some cards with friends, at Art of Play you're almost certain to find a deck that is right for you.
Let's begin our tour of some of Art of Play's decks by taking a look at some specialized decks that are particularly suited to cardistry.
Cardistry Con 2017 deck
Cardistry-Con is an event in which people who all share a love for cardistry gather together and together explore all the possibilities that can be done with a deck of cards, and the Buck twins are significant organizers of this event.
This year’s Cardistry-Con of 2017 took place in Los Angeles, and was so popular that the tickets sold out in a minute! Created specifically for this event was the Cardistry Con 2017 deck of playing cards.
Designed by Next Exit, a design company that works primarily within the music industry, these cards feature a borderless, colourful, wave-like design.
The cards are housed in a colourful tuck box with a wraparound design the same as the backs of the cards.
This design and colours are said to have been inspired by the at the time current fashion trend in Los Angeles, the location of this year's Cardistry Con.
The card backs are very colourful. As you'd expect, there is a custom Ace of Spades card that mentions the cardistry convention, along with its location and date, and which also reflects the overall design pattern of the deck.
The borderless back design has different colours going to the edge, allowing for beautiful and eye-catching spreads and displays, all helped and enhanced by the bright and visual colour choice.
Aside for the Ace of Spades, all the face cards of this deck are quite standard, with only small changes in size and colour. The colour of the faces of the cards has been adjusted to match the colours of the back (i.e. so the reds of the hearts and diamonds are more of an orange), and the courts have slight colour modifications as well to match the back design’s colours, creating a great looking deck that has an internal consistency.
The courts colours have all been toned down and faded, which makes the yellow stand out far less than usual, a very nice touch.
Since this deck was made especially to coincide with Cardistry-Con 2017, these cards are a limited release of 5,000 decks, of which some were sold before the event and some for the attendees to the event. They are already sold out at the publisher level!
These cards are a great grab for anyone who loves cardistry, as they have an excellent design for spreads and fans.
They have also been printed on the USPCC’s premium crushed stock, which Dan and Dave say has resulted in one of their best handling decks to date!
Lucky Draw deck
The Lucky Draw deck is a brand new deck for 2017 that was produced in collaboration Sideshow Press, a company which claims says of themselves that “Sideshow Press celebrates curiosity, nostalgia and function with their modern line of lifestyle necessities for the desktop, tabletop and travel.”
Lucky Draw Playing Cards come in a beautiful matte tuck case, with stylish embossing, luxurious gold foil, and printed letterpress making it an absolutely nice to handle box. A perforated seal looks great and closes everything off nicely. It's easier to just show you how amazing it looks than try to explain it!
The back design of these cards is a minimalistic design composed with a large bold orange diamond in the centre. This minimalistic design makes the deck ideal for cardistry, and the bold diamond in the centre looks especially great for packet cuts and rotations.
You can immediately tell that the faces of this deck are entirely custom, and very well designed with strong geometric lines.
The court cards are composed of a large variety of simple shapes and fit in the simplistic idea, creating a very unique looking style of court cards, very different than most. The way that stippled dots are used to create a shading of colour also looks amazing!
The simple back design looks great in motion, and fans and spreads also showcase how wonderful it can look with the tips of colour showing at the edges.
The Aces all feature a simplistic design composed of lines filling the interior, which creates a very different and unique look, pleasing to the eye.
All the other number cards are of a similar design, with the pips made up of lines filling their inside. The hearts and diamonds are a red/orange to match the colour of the diamond on the back, rather than the usual red.
Meanwhile the two Jokers are made up of a large capitalized letters in the two colours of orange and a very dark blue navy/black. This complements the back design of the cards uses the same colours, and also is keeping with the overall minimalism of the deck.
The cards of the Lucky Draw deck are printed on a premium crushed stock by the United States Playing Card Company, and they handle amazingly. Right out of the box they are nice and soft, and handling them is a dream!
Thick Lines deck
Next up is a colourful deck that brings us back to the colourful times of the 1970s, those heady days of orange sofas and brown wall-paper.
The man behind the Thick Lines deck is noted designer Aaron Draplin, creator of the Fields Notes memo book company, and hee produced this deck in 2014.
The design on the cards has a mirrored and playful design that is based on thick lines and seventies colours. In Aaron's words: "I wanted to make something that felt oddly “off.” Like, big, thick lines that just feel good in your hands."
The effect of the colours on the card backs is amplified when fanned or ribbon spread, or when performing cuts, creating a fabulous visual display of colour and patterns!
As for the court cards, these have been completely redone, in line with the Thick Lines theme of the deck.
Even the pips have been re-designed, as is particularly evident here with the over-sized Aces.
The Jokers give a visual reminder of the entire colour palette used in the deck.
The two main colours are orange and brown, creating a real retro and throw-back feel. That means they might just match beautifully with your basement wallpaper, or the old shirt that resides in the back of your closet after you received it as a birthday gift in the 1980s!
But this deck is at its best when creating blurs of colour - ideal for spreads and flourishes, and very visual when in the hands of an experienced cardist.
It's also worth mentioning that a special box was produced for this deck - the Burgopak packaging system. It has a unique and innovative mechanism that seems to magically slide when opened or closed, and is super impressive - people I've showed this too were blown away by how novel and cool it looked!
And in case you're lost for ideas about what to do with this or any of the above decks, there's some helpful suggestions on the back of the Thick Lines deck box: "Multiple Uses: Passing Hard Time, Card Houses, Throwing, Cardistry, Loose Magic, Dimwitted Cons, Shuffling Stunts, Solitaire, Poker, War, Euchre, Gin Rummy, Go Fish, Blackjack, Pinochle, Spoke Flickers and Sketchy Sleights of Hand."
Sticking with bold patterns and bright colours brings us to the stunning Prime deck, which was designed by the UK's Ben Newman.
Designer Ben Newman wanted to only use primary colours and simple shapes, to create a deck that is both striking and playful. He hit all the right notes with this imaginative and colourful deck, which makes an immediate impression with its vibrant back design.
The card faces all have custom illustrations, with the court cards created as composites from simple shapes, with minimal colours just like the card-backs. These add elements of amusement and life that fit the overall tone and feel of this deck. At the same time the geometric and colourful focus of the court cards ensures that they don't distract too much when used for cardistry.
Besides the completely custom court cards, the Joker has also been customized with a similar style.
The Hearts and Diamonds employ regular pips, whereas the Spades and Clubs use triangular and circular geometric shapes, which is particularly noticeable on the number cards. The indices are clear and precise, so each card remains recognizable despite the unorthodox design on the card faces.
The borderless back design will especially be appreciated by fans of card flourishing, because it is ideal for fanning and for elaborate cuts, which do a good job of showcasing the colours, while the patterns will help accentuate the moves themselves.
Unlike most borderless card backs, the edges of each card are still very distinct courtesy of the bordered pattern, making this deck ideal for cardistry moves of all kinds. This clever design is one of this deck's real strengths, and once again cardistry fans will especially appreciate what this aspect of the design contributes to its usefulness.
The Prime deck was produced by Dan and Dave, and printed in Taiwan by the Expert Playing Card Company, respected for their high quality cards.
Of course you can take any deck into the great outdoors, so this category isn't specifically about playing cards suitable for playing with outside. Rather, it's about decks that are themed about outdoor adventure, which especially appeal to those who enjoy nature, wilderness, hiking, or other aspects of the great outdoors. Most of us will find it hard to resist some of the rugged good looks showcased here.
Camp Cards deck
This deck of cards is tailored to outdoor types, such as those who love to go camping and exploring. The Camp Deck - Ranger Edition is the third print run of the Camp Cards, and is a limited-edition print run of 5,000 decks.
The back design of the cards is a very simplistic design of a tent on a green background with the words "Venture Onward, Live Adventurously!" above and below the tent. Its simplicity allows it to look visually appealing while still being great for games or other uses.
Special mention should be made of the attractive tuck box, being a beautiful letter pressed green tuck, with one side of the box having various camping images surrounding the words "Be Brave Or Die", and the back of the box showcasing the back design. The seal is a simple black, perforated seal that has a compass on it, which matches the style of the deck as an outdoors theme.
The Ace of Spades features a skeletal hand hiding some dice/cards as if cheating, which is quite an interesting idea. While the picture itself doesn't look like an ace at all, the word Ace is below it, which makes it easy to identify what it is.
The court cards are made up of a variety of different woodland creatures, which fits right into the idea of a camping deck, and under each picture is the name of the court card, which makes them very easy to play with. The artwork is all made up of entirely black ink and no other colours, but the detail is great, and they look amazing.
The pips of the cards and indices also have a hand drawn style, and seem to be almost sketched onto the card, which creates a good look. The hearts and diamonds are a burnt-orange colour, which ensures that they are easily distinguished from the black suits - a practical upgrade from earlier versions of the Camp deck.
An extra card included in the deck has instructions of how to use playing cards to survive in the wild, with some really neat ideas. It supplies an additional point of interest with the deck, and makes it great to take camping with you.
In a similar vein, a unique and interesting thing about the tuckbox is the interior printing - which has a map of Yosemite Valley. If you ever get lost or stuck there, at least you will have a map, and some great tips of how to survive! (I don’t advise trying to get lost though…)
The Joker features a bird in air, with the word Joker below it.
Overall the Ranger edition of the Camp deck is a delightful deck with a rugged feel that will be enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation for the outdoors.
Given that the two men who run Art of Play are twins with the surname Buck, what theme for a deck of cards would fit better than a deck of cards with two identical Bucks on the back? These are pair of limited edition Antler decks, showcasing the majestic and amazing beauty that is found outdoors.
There are two different decks of this edition, the Hunter Green and Deep Maroon. These boxes show the two different colours, with both boxes being embossed and full of intricate and detailed artwork. The boxes are sealed with a weathered and vintage looking perforated seal, which is in keeping with the style of the rest of the deck.
The limited edition of this deck, unlike the monochromatic standard edition, features two different fully coloured back designs with a buck on top and bottom. These back design is full of detailed artwork that creates a great back design.
Shown here is the Deep Maroon version, along with the exquisite Ace of Spades. The Ace of Spades showcases an elegant and noble buck, with beautiful natural ornamentation around his horns, which really illustrates the theme of this entire deck, and fits in great with the back design.
The Hunter Green version has the same design on the card backs, but uses a different colour scheme, which picks up the green also used in the court cards.
The beautiful flourishes surrounding the two twin bucks on the card backs are said to mimic the lush greenery that can be found within Yosemite National Park, a National Park in the USA that is a great place to visit, famous especially for its waterfalls and giant, ancient sequoia trees.
The court cards are depicted in an older style, but still are very recognisable for what they are. The colours used for these courts fit the theme of the two decks, and the use of the hunter green and deep maroon colours for these cards ensures they match with the rest of the deck.
What is really unique about this deck is the fact that each deck has actually been hand-wrapped in parchment paper before it was sealed inside the box. This is a great touch and makes opening the deck really special, and turns it into a rare experience.
The Jokers feature the name of the deck in an elegant style, with the indices having the word Buck.
A collector’s set of these decks was also released, in which the two decks were housed in a beautiful special leather case. This case has a great look and feel to it, and is even embossed on the front, creating a practical and luxurious looking carrying case for the two decks.
These cards have been printed by the United States Playing Card Company, so they are high quality cards that will be long lasting and durable, and you will enjoy using them for sure, for both their feel and great looks!
For those wild at heart and with a love for adventure and the wilderness, the Drifters deck is for you. This deck of cards is themed to be in a style corresponding to adventure the wild west, resulting in a very classy deck. It was designed by Curtis Jenkins from Neighbourhood Studios, who was also the designer of the well known Monarchs Playing Cards from Theory11.
The back design is composed entirely of blue and white colours, and has a real western and adventure feel to it, with an arrow in a skull, and wilderness plants. A snake forming a figure eight as it eats itself also fits into the desert theme, and may remind you almost of the designer's familiar Monarch deck.
The custom Ace of Spades features two bold pistols and a skull, again drawing on common images associated with westerns.
The faces of the cards are a real work of art, and totally fit the idea of the deck as an adventure. The court cards especially create the image of a western style, using the dusty brown colours to almost look like the outdoor wild, and the modifications from standard courts all help create a western feel, with the addition of details like guns, cowboy hats, moustaches and cigars.
The courts still have a standard feel to them, so are very useable, but the modifications give a really great outdoors feel to them.
Also noticeable is how the indices of the cards are slightly smaller than standard. There's an almost digital and retro look to the numbers, which is interesting and unique.
Each of the Aces is slightly oversized with some extra detail added, which is a nice touch and makes them stand out more.
Two identical jokers feature a cowboy on a hill, just like on the box.
The cards themselves have been printed by the United States Playing Card Company and come on a crushed stock, which is amazing to handle and you will find them long lasting. Two extra ad cards are also included.
To complete a beautiful package, these stylish playing cards are housed in a beautiful letter pressed, blue, matte tuck box. The front of the box features a man on horse silhouetted on a hill, and the words below being “Far from Home-Born to Roam”, a phrase that fits this deck as embodying the spirit of those who love to travel and enjoy adventure, while the lid confirms this sentiment: "Home I'll Never Be".
The tuck box is finished with a wonderful red seal that stretches out slightly more than a standard seal.
CLASSY, CLASSIC & COLLECTORS DECKS
Once in a while, what you're looking for in a deck of playing cards is pure class. Whether it's for performing some card magic or for playing a game of poker or traditional cards, it's nice to have a deck that looks classic and sophisticated from the moment that its tuck box makes its first appearance. And when the cards do emerge from the box, the feeling of refinement is only confirmed by the classic beauty and style within. These are the kinds of deck I'm covering in this final section. I've also included a novelty deck, because while most playing cards are used for playing card games and for performing card magic or cardistry, sometimes a custom deck is so unique and interesting that it serves more as an artistic collector's piece.
Guy Hollingworth is a well-respected magician from England, best known for his trick The Reformation, in which a signed card is torn into pieces and then restored. He is highly regarded for his books and lectures, as well as for his skilful performances of card magic. He has had numerous television appearances, and has an elegant and refined style of performance, and so Hollingworth is certainly a name that has a strong association with sophistication and style.
An exclusive pack of commemorative Hollingworth playing cards was first produced by Dan and Dave as part of The Hollingworth Collection, a DVD collection that was a compendium of Guy Hollingworth's original material, and included eight hours of video footage. When The Hollingworth Collection was released, it was the only way to obtain the Hollingworths deck - Emerald Edition deck. Fortunately Art of Play subsequently released this classy deck as a separate item - although in limited numbers.
This classy deck owes its style to inspiration drawn from Art Deco, with emerald green being the prominent colour on the tuck box, the card backs, and the court cards.
In keeping with customized look intended for this deck, the court cards feature the strong presence of emerald green.
While the number cards are entirely traditional, to ensure a standard and familiar look, the court cards weren't alone in being customized. The Ace of Spades incorporates a clever Guy Hollingworth initialled monogram, and the Jokers include an attractive card reveal that magicians will especially appreciate.
For added luxury, the cards are finished with metallic gold printing, and the card-backs feature monogrammed initials of Guy Hollingworth.
In this companion deck, burgundy replaces the emerald as the feature colour throughout the deck, including the tuck box, card backs, and courts.
Like the original deck, this deck has all the hallmarks of sophistication and luxury, and despite the metallic gold, has the surprising distinction of being eight cards thinner than a standard Bicycle deck.
The court cards have a custom and sophisticated look, but are otherwise classic in appearance.
The stunning tuck box of the Burgundy Edition features an eye-catching combination of royal colours, and especially deserves a second look.
Both the Hollingworth decks ooze with class, and are ideal for almost any occasion where a sophisticated look is in order.
The Voltige deck derives its name from the French word for "aerial", and is used to describe the apex gesture of a flourish. Dan and Dave Buck are renowned for their expertise in the art of card flourishing, and so this deck is a fitting testament to their creative ingenuity in the domain of cardistry, as well as to their contribution to the world of custom playing card design.
The deck was designed as a collaborative project with French designers Henri de Saint Julien and Jacques Denain, who were also the creators behind the truly unique and rare Tungestene deck.
The Voltige deck is a homage to a vintage French deck, and even the colours that this deck is available in give a nod to its French origins, with Deep Parisian Blue and Moulin Rouge Red being the two colours of choice.
The deck also draws inspiration from Baron Haussmann's 19th century urban renewal program which saw new boulevards, parks and public works emerge as part of the reconstruction of the streets of Paris. Just as his vision still dominates the city of Paris today, so the Buck twins have a vision for cardistry and playing cards that has undeniably had a big influence in shaping this new art-form, and playing cards generally.
As Dave Buck explains about the design of the card backs in the Voltige deck, which is a deliberate tribute by the designers to the Buck twins: "The back design is a display of two separate hands working in tandem to reach a singular goal. To us, this is the epitome of not only our life story, but of our brand as a whole. Today we work in tandem to bring you the next chapter in the future of playing cards."
The borders are somewhat surprisingly wide, but the design has a very recognizable central motif in the two grasping hands, and there's also a myriad of details to reward the attentive observer; this is exactly the epitomy of a memorable design that thoughtful creators strive for!
Henri and Jacques drew upon a classic French court card design as their inspiration, giving it their own hand-drawn reinterpretation.
People who appreciate vintage designs will especially find this deck appealing, because even the number cards are customized and pay tribute to the French origins of playing cards.
The French origin of these playing cards has been made into a central theme of the entire deck.
These cards were printed by USPCC in their standard air cushion finish, to ensure clean and smooth performance in the hands of cardists or gamers.
In place of a standard Ace, this deck revives the use of a card with the numeral one.
Shown here is the second edition of this stylish deck, which has a new special edition tuck box that improves on the original (which had a lateral design), although the cards themselves are the same.
As well as two Jokers, two extra cards explain the connection between cards and the Gregorian calendar
A Typographer's deck
The aptly named A Typographer's Deck is a unique Art of Play creation that was produced in collaboration with Turkish artist Furkan Sener.
The card backs feature a detailed design with a monochrome look that brings to mind the shapes of letters and symbols woven together in an intricate pattern.
Typography is the practical art of arranging how the printed word appears on the page, and includes things like fonts, letters, and symbols, and how they are designed and presented.
This deck is considered to be a celebration of the art of typography, and Furkan Sener has designed 54 completely custom cards that feature a variety of typefaces from different eras.
It is a stylish and creative deck that should please anyone with an interest in typography, or in collecting unique decks of creative playing cards.
Despite the variety in style, there is still unity in design, as is evident with this hand of four Aces.
The creative designs aren't intended to make this deck entirely disfunctional, and so clear indices ensure that this deck is still playable, as is evident from these court cards, which have exchanged court characters for typography.
As a nice finishing touch, the tuck case has a look that complements the card backs.
This deck was printed by USPCC in their soft crushed stock for optimal performance, and extra cards included are a double-backer and an ad card.
So are decks from Art of Play something for you? This isn't the first time I've sourced cards from Art of Play, and I continue to be impressed with the playing cards that Dan & Dave Buck have created themselves, as well as the other playing cards and products that they offer.
Cardistry: Since Dan and Dave Buck are cardists themselves, they have a real love for card flourishing, so it's no surprise that a large number of the decks that they have created lend themselves particularly well to this growing art-form. Card flourishers are fussy about the decks they use, because it is essential that playing cards handle well. But equally important to them are the colours and patterns of the design. Cardists know that the visual aesthetics of their art-form will be magnified when combined with colours and patterns that accentuate the movement of cardistry, and Dan and Dave's own expertise in this area ensures that the decks they have created for cardists are truly a dream to use.
Creativity: I love the creativity that has produced designs like the decks reviewed above. The cardistry decks like Thick Lines and Prime are full of flowing colours and patterns, while decks like Lucky Draw and Drifters offer original and fresh designs that are fun to look at and use. The Typographer's deck is especially unique and attention getting.
Sophistication: The Dan and Dave brand is all about sophistication and style, and this is evident from the moment you first hold these decks in your hands. Not only are the cards themselves good quality, but a great deal of thought as gone into designing and producing the tuck boxes. Carefully placed foil accents and embossing add elegance and style, while even the more earthy decks like Antler and Camp Cards have been carefully and thoughtfully crafted to accentuate an outdoorsy feel that is still refined and suited to the discerning gentleman.
Quality: The quality of these decks from Art of Play is consistently excellent. Most of their decks have been produced by US Playing Card Company, a reputable and established printing company that produces the Bicycle brand of playing cards with their proven air cushion finish. Using an industry leader like this ensures that we can expect consistently good card-stock and finishing that will be durable and will handle smoothly. It's evident that Dan and Dave only want to produce and stock playing cards with a high standard of quality and performance that matches the good looks of the cards themselves.
Visuals: One things I really appreciate about the Art of Play website is how professional its graphic design is. Not only is it easy to navigate and well laid out, but I especially love the fact that all the products have an image gallery, so you can see some of the cards from each deck, and know exactly what you are getting before you make a purchase. The accompanying promotional photography of their products is also outstanding.
Range: The selection of decks reviewed above in no way exhausts what Dan and Dave have produced. As was mentioned at the start of this article, in the calendar year 2016 alone they produced 16 new designs! In addition to decks they have produced themselves, they also stock a wide range of other quality playing cards, as well as puzzles and games - but only those of the highest quality.
If you're a cardist or a magician looking for a an eye-catching and quality deck of playing cards that looks great and performs well, Art of Play is hard to beat. I'm very pleased to recommend the decks I've featured in this article, so head over to Art of Play and you're almost certain to find some stunning playing cards, puzzles or games that you just can't resist!
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