While well-known in Taiwan, magician Hanson Chien came onto the international radar in a big way and with much fanfare when he burst onto the custom playing card scene with his immensely successful and highly amusing Chicken Nuggets Playing Cards.
Most card collectors are very familiar with the legendary Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards from the 1970s, which is one of the most iconic and valuable decks of cards you can get. Today they can fetch up to $500 on the secondary market, and they are the holy grail of card collecting. Aside from their unique handling qualities and iconic status, what the Jerry's Nuggets unique is that they are impossible to replicate due to changes in printing processes.
But magicians specialize in the art of making the impossible possible, and so Hanson Chien set out to use his magic to remake them - but very much tongue in cheek. His aim was to breathe new life into the original deck by recreating it in painstaking detail. At the same time, he turned it into a humorous parody by poking fun at fast food culture and junk food consumption. And so presto, like a rabbit out of the hat, the hilarious Chicken Nuggets Playing Cards were released in 2016, and have been a huge success. You can see my detailed pictorial review of the Chicken Nugget decks here.
But Hanson is clearly a man of many talents, and he has many accomplishments besides creating the Chicken Nugget playing cards. He's well known in the world of magic and cardistry as a skilled magician and card flourisher. He was one of the select attendees at this year's international Cardistry Con along with big names like Dan and Dave Buck, whom he considers as friends. He is particularly respected in his home country of Taiwan, where his creativity in magic is highly regarded. He is also creator of the DVD Touch, which features impromptu effects with a rubber band. He's active on various social media sites, where he makes regular contributions with photos and videos.
In addition, he has also set up his own playing card company. The Chicken Nugget decks were printed in Taiwan by Hanson's own publishing company, Hanson Chien Production Company (HCPC). Taiwan is also where industry leaders like Expert Playing Card Company operate and get their decks printed, and it has an excellent reputation for producing quality playing cards. Proving that he isn't just a one-trick pony, Hanson Chien's company has also produced some other fantastic and beautiful designs besides the Chicken Nugget decks, most of these designs geared towards the world of cardistry. Examples include the stylish Red Stripe deck, the artistic Pearl, the minimalist Frostbite, and the bright Odyssey deck, and it's some of these that I'll cover in this review.
There's a word that fits this project perfectly. Inspired by the beauty of nature, the Pearl Playing Cards are this: Beautiful. The radiant colours, the exuberant designs, and the vibrant look - it all captures something of exquisite natural beauty.
Two versions of this deck were printed and produced by the Hanson Chien Production Company: Pearl Sunrise and and Pearl Sunset.
The tuck boxes use an imported paper stock that has a natural sheen to it, which makes them look magnificent. This is particularly evident with the interior of the tuck boxes, which have the colour and shine of pearls, and look rather stunning.
They also feature a beautiful hand-painted design all the way across the box in the two different colour palettes according to the different decks. An added touch of luxury comes in the form of a signature on the tuck box lid, one in gold foil and the other in bronze foil.
Pearl Sunrise deck
The Pearl Sunrise deck is named after a painting by the famous Impressionist painter Monet, entitled "Impression, Sunrise". There's an epic video about the ideas that inspired this set of playing cards here.
The back designs of these cards is a hand painted design from Estonian artist Toomas Pintson, who also created the Mondrian, Mako, and Big Boy No1 decks. He first tried launching an earlier version of his Sunrise deck on Indiegogo in 2015, without success. The original design subsequently underwent revision and improvement after ending up in the hands of Hanson Chien.
The design features a variety of colours that swirl on the card and mix and meld into one another to create a beautiful piece of art. The cards are also bordered, which creates clarity from one card to another in different moves and can be helpful for some magic.
The Ace of Spades is absolutely gorgeous, and contains a sample of the artwork found on the card backs, which not only looks beautiful, but helps ensure that the whole deck feels like a coherent unity.
The court cards of these decks are truly wonderful. They maintain the main design and pattern of the usual court cards, but feature the paint design through the rest of the court card.
Despite the interesting artistic effect created by this, the standard indices with a traditional pip keeps these cards very standard and so very usable for card games or card magic.
The reds of the Diamonds and Hearts pips are slightly less garish than usual, with a metallic red ink, while the traditional black of the Clubs and Spades employ a metallic gold colour that complements the rest of the Sunrise palette beautifully.
I really can't say enough about how well the colours of the card faces complement and fit with the card backs!
There are two identical Jokers in each deck, each of which features a ribbon of colour in a painted style that matches the rest of the deck's design, and produces a simple yet elegant splash of vibrant colour.
Besides the artistic Jokers, there's also an information card that explains the significance of the deck's name and origin.
Hanson Chien Production Company has produced this deck on their Classic Stock with their Magic finish, and this makes the cards great to handle, fanning very evenly, and creating great patterns due to their design.
See the official video trailer for the Pearl decks here:
Pearl Sunset deck
The Pearl Sunset deck is an altered version of the Sunrise deck. While the overall design is the same, it adds the oranges and reds that we typically see with a glorious sunset to the more yellowed colour palette of the Sunrise deck.
Like its companion deck, the Sunset deck was also inspired by Monet's Sunrise painting. While using the same Impressionist theme, it has a slightly different colour scheme for all the cards.
Special mention can be made of the Aces, which in both decks are oversized and feature elements of the hand-painted design from the back design of the deck. This results in great looking Aces, and also ensures unity between the cards.
Noticeable in the above picture is how the Hearts and Diamonds pips use metallic red colours that are a slightly deeper red than those from the Sunrise deck. Also, instead of a metallic gold colour, the Spades and Club pips now use a metallic bronze colour that fits better with the sunset colours.
The number cards of the decks are mostly traditional, as they are standard in shape and design, but they have the adjusted metallic/rose colours used for the Hearts and Diamonds. Once again, there is a wonderful coherency between the card faces and card backs, with a sea of vibrant colours.
The Joker has the same design as that of the other deck, but again has an adjusted colour palette, showcasing the radiance of sunset colours.
Unlike the Sunrise deck, this deck has been printed with the company's Royal finish, which is slightly less slippery, and thus handles slightly differently. But both decks look and perform terrific. They are great looking decks that are perfect for artists who might love this paint design, or just for anyone who appreciates a beautiful design and an artistic look in a high performance deck of playing cards!
See another official video trailer for the Pearl decks here:
There is something wonderful about looking up into the night sky. The stars, other planets, wonderful galaxies - these are all so awe-inspiring to gaze upon, and the beauty of them is amazing. The Odyssey Playing Cards allow you to enjoy a wonderful array of distant space in your own hands, where you can indeed feel the universe.
These wonderful playing cards were designed by Sergio Roca, from the company Feel the Universe. In 2014 Sergio had idea of combining two of his passions: cosmology and playing cards. He's always loved everything related to physics, cosmology, and astrophysics, and has read a great deal about it. The Odyssey playing cards are based on the Orion's nebula, one of the most beautiful nebulas we can see from the Earth. By creating playing cards with this theme, Sergio wanted to evoke a sense in which you can feel the universe in your hands, as a reminder we are not alone in this universe - even when performing magic or cardistry. The name of his company also reflects this concept: Feel the Universe!
After two years of hard work, a limited edition deck was released in 2016 on Kickstarter. More than 250 people funded the project, and it was funded in only four days, reaching 200% of the goal needed. Since then, this limited deck has become well known and recognized amongst cardists, and due to its great art, high demand and popularity, its price has increased significantly on the secondary market.
The following year Sergio created a sequel deck, Odyssey Boreal, with a similar graphic design but different colour scheme.
Odyssey Limited deck
The tuck case of the Odyssey Limited deck is a simple white colour with a single line and border across the front of the deck. The line has changing gradient of colours incorporates various stars, showing how it is a piece of the universe. The name of the deck, Odyssey, is featured on the top and bottom of the deck, while the sides show various printing and company information, and the front also has the words "Limited Edition". The back of the box features a triangle that seems to be Feel the Universe’s trademark. A small star enhances the opening flap of the tuck.
What is great about this tuck case is how all the different elements - the stripe, words and triangle - aren’t just a single colour, but are composed of pink and dark purple galaxy. This adds some beautiful colour to the tuck and makes it very visually appealing. The simplicity of the tuck box's design really makes these colours stand out, as most of the tuck box is white, and it creates a very nice effect.
The back design of these cards also has the pink to purple colours as seen on the tuck case, creating good unity between cards and box. The cards were inspired by Orion’s Nebula, located in Orion’s Belt, and the nebula has a whole beautiful array of colours from the star's radiation, creating that amazing look that we all love to admire in space.
The back design is composed of a bordered image of a wonderfully arrayed Nebula, with the pink and dark colours and pin-pricks of light really making it appear to be as if you are looking out into space. These colours make the cards look great from a distance, and the wonderful detail makes them look even better up close.
A simple white line crosses from one corner of the card to the other. This makes the cards look very interesting and gives an extra element that looks good for cuts.
The faces of these cards are also very unique and heavily customized. The composition of the faces is a very simplistic and geometric design, making it ideal for cardistry. Each pip is composed of simple shapes with lines going through them, creating unity between the pips and the back design.
The court cards are composed of simple shapes as well, and their colour is taken from the wonderful starry background that appears elsewhere in the deck, and makes them look very impressive. A blank circle is in the centre of each court card, incorporating the relevant suit pip. This circle makes spins have a focus point, enhancing them greatly, and the pip makes it easier to figure out which suit it is.
The colours of the card faces fit well with the card backs, to ensure that the deck feels like a coherent unit. And since the cards are also bordered, there is great clarity between cards, making cuts look amazing with the colours and line all together. The fact that the colours change from pink to dark along the card allows the cards to create beautiful fans and spreads.
The two Jokers are identical, making them ideal for some magic routines. For the indices of the Jokers there is a star similar to that found on classic Jokers, but these look more impressive. The Joker's graphical image itself is very simple with two triangles above and below the name of the deck, Odyssey.
As for the pips on all the cards, the colours used for these also feature the starry background from the backs of the cards. This makes the whole deck have a great deal of the same colour, and emphasizes the colourful impact the cards create.
While the faces might not be standard and easily recognisable, they are very impressive looking. The indices are in a clear font, and what is interesting is the fact that instead of having the number 10 as their indices, the tens have the Roman numeral X, which is an interesting and unique touch. A whole uncut sheet of this deck impressively displays the card faces, as can be seen below.
The Limited Edition of the Odyssey deck was printed on Hanson Chien Production Company's Classic Paper Stock with their Magic Finish. The cards have a very high quality, and the finish and embossing allows them to fan smoothly, easily, evenly, and consistently, making them highly suitable for striking spreads, fans, and other such moves.
See the official video trailer for the Odyssey Limited deck here:
Odyssey Boreal deck
Sergio Roca wasn't done with feeling the universe after the first deck of Odyssey Playing Cards was released. He wanted to create another deck of cards that was different to most decks, and yet retained the same idea and feel of the original Odyssey deck, while still being different to it.
And so a year later he released a second Odyssey deck, the Odyssey Boreal deck - another great set of playing cards!
The tuck case of this edition is very similar to the Limited Edition. It features the same design with a line across the front, just in a different colour than previously, being shades of blue rather than pink and purple. As before, the Odyssey title is located on the top and bottom of the box, with the sides having printing information on them. On the back of the box is a triangle with lines through it, which you might recognise from its link with the design used for the spades pip.
The colours of this back design are a light and dark blue nebula, which Sergio Roca says reminds him of the Aurora Borealis, a beautiful display of nature showing its wonder in beautiful light displays.
Like the limited deck, the back design of these cards also features a line going from corner to corner. But instead of this line being white and the rest of the card back being coloured, for this deck the line is the coloured part of the design, as is a thin border going around the edge of the cards.
Since the cards still have a border, this makes it look great for packet cuts, and it also shows up in fans and spreads which improves their look vastly.
The faces of this deck are entirely custom, featuring the same design as in the Limited Edition deck, but with a different colour scheme, being different shades of blue in this deck. Each pip has been totally customised with a variety of simple shapes and designs to create a very geometric looking effect.
Since all the faces of these cards all contain varying shades of blue like the back design, this creates a lot of unity throughout the whole deck, and makes it great for cardistry and all the cards look good together in different moves.
The court cards also are totally customised and are composed of simple shapes as well. A circle in the centre of each court contains suit pip, and helps create a point of interest for spins and other flourishes.
The overall design also makes it match the Limited Edition deck very well, as it is a very similar design and yet different.
Finally there are two identical and minimalist Jokers, each containing the name of the deck on them, Odyssey.
The line that passes through the cards creates interesting effects in displays and other cardistry moves, of which one can be seen below (the move pictured is Zach Mueller's Bloom).
All the face cards can be seen below in the form of an uncut sheet.
Hanson Chien Production Company has printed these cards on their Luxury Paper Stock with their Magic Finish. This paper stock is super soft, and the deck handles amazingly right out of the box. The soft stock makes it so nice to handle, and it is hard to go back to a normal stock after feeling how nice this one is! The finish also creates easy and smooth fanning and spreading of the cards, which is very helpful. The cut of this deck is a standard cut, but these cards faro shuffle with ease, which all makes this deck so enjoyable to handle. For a card flourisher, it is a dream to use!
See the official video trailer for the Odyssey Boreal deck here:
RED STRIPE DECKS
We now take a journey to the Cubist style of Pablo Picasso with two versions of the Red Stripe deck - which unsurprisingly has as its chief notable feature: a red stripe! Two versions of this deck exist, a digitized one made in higher numbers (left) and a deck featuring original hand-drawn artwork (right).
The creative process behind the Red Stripe deck occupied an enormous amount of time. Omar created some templates, and then painstakingly spent three straight days of eight hours each colouring in pockets of colour on a blank deck of cards, then framing them with black line work. The final result was scanned, traced and digitized, and this turned into the deck pictured above.
But once he was done with an entirely hand-drawn deck, Omar couldn't decide whether he liked the digital version best or the hand drawn one. With an apparent demand for both, that's what ended up being printed: two versions of the Red Stripe deck, one being a more limited Hand Drawn edition.
Below is is how one of Omar's original hand-drawn decks looks, which demonstrates how the fanning effect looks dramatically different depending on the direction in which the deck is spread or fanned. One direction creates warm colours while the other creates cooler colours, and this represents sunrise and sunset.
Red Stripe deck
Our tour guide and creator of the Red Stripe deck is magician Omar Renfro, whose creative process began by hand-drawing all the cards in 2015 (hence the date on the tuck box), and then digitizing them, and now having it finally published in 2017.
The tuck box has a canvas feel that makes it feel like an authentic piece of art, with embossing for added impact, and has a wrap-around design that makes a larger image.
There's full interior printing as well, reprising the back design of the cards, plus a hand reaching into the box, which is actually the artwork from the King of Diamonds card.
Designer Omar Renfro describes the influences behind this vibrant and colourful deck as being stained glass, cardistry, modern art, and architecture. The striking design of the card backs was actually the last stage of his design, to ensure that it would resemble the court cards in some way. The horizontal ribbon is separated from the rest of the artwork with a decorative border, to enhance its visual appeal.
The court cards have been described as having humorous Picasso-style faces. To create these, Omar began with freestyling abstract lines, filling the resulting shapes with colour, and then styling them into faces based on the elements typical of classical court cards, like the sword.
The result is a radically unique interpretation that reflects a Cubist inspired style. The court cards are also borderless, with every line going to the very edge of the card.
How did Omar end up here? Well the starting point of this concept was his desire to have a bold red stripe in the middle of the deck. In his words: "The design comes from the concept of wanting a solid stripe in the middle to accent the bright color palette I had in mind. I wanted to play with the idea of having a deck that was both borderless and bordered." This vivid red stripe is very eye-catching, and has a powerful impact on all card flourishes and moves, especially spreads and fans.
This was a challenging goal to accomplish, and even Omar Renfro realized it. " I didn’t know how I wanted to execute the idea but I knew I wanted to apply the same concept to the face of the cards, so I started there." Omar wanted to change the orientation of a typical pip configuration, as well as use custom pips, and this is where his project began coming to life. The number cards all feature his hand-drawn artwork for the pips.
From there he developed the card faces, including the court cards, and last of all the all-important card backs.
Not surprisingly, these cards are excellent for spectacular card flourishes, like the one Omar himself is demonstrating here!
The Cubist style, continuous line work, and vibrant colours dominates all the cards, and it makes for a very energetic and "loud" deck that won't ever go unnoticed.
For the production, Omar partnered with the Hanson Chien Playing Card Company, which produced these decks in their Classic paper stock with their Magic finish, plus the traditional cut preferred by most card flourishers for easier faro shuffles.
See the official video trailer for the Red Stripe deck here:
Red Stripe Hand Drawn deck
Given the positive response to Omar's artwork it was decided to produce a printed version of the hand-drawn deck alongside the digitized version. It's still a printed deck with top quality cards and handling, but is unique in that it features his original hand drawn look.
Here then is the Red Stripe Hand Drawn deck, of which only 1000 were printed, unlike the digitized version which had a print run of 2500.
The tuck box features a wrap-around design derived from part of the back design, which allows for multiple decks to be placed together to create a single picture.
Like the other Red Stripe deck, the material of this tuck box makes it feel like canvas, so it feels almost like holding a painting wrapped around a deck, and this effect is also enhanced by the fact of the hand-drawn look.
The faces of the cards continue the hand-drawn look, with all the individual pips being hand-drawn in a grey and deep red colour.
The hand-drawn style doesn't disguise the fact that markers have been used to colour in the different areas of the card. Brush marks are clearly evident, and this creates a very unique and visually appealing effect that makes it feel truly authentic.
Spreads are one of the best ways to showcase the amazing design.
The Ace of Spades is also composed of some lines with colour fill, and despite the hand-drawn design it still obviously reflects the shape of a Spade pip.
The Jokers feature a face with a Jester's hat, one of which has this Albert Einstein quote: "Imagination is more important than Knowledge".
The court cards are composed of a series of lines and fill across the card, with the faces being draw in between the lines. Some still maintain distinctive features unique to that card (e.g. King of Hearts with sword into head).
The back design is semi-borderless, in that some sections of the card are bordered while others aren’t, and this creates a visual appealing look in fans and spreads, with the red stripe in the centre of the card enhancing this.
The handling of these cards is great, and the Hanson Chien Production Company has produced these with a great finish that allows smooth fans and even spreads, which are perfect for this deck. The stock is a rather average thickness, and the cards do still have a snap to them that allows them to go back to regular shape after springs and shuffles. The cards seem to be quite long lasting, and the quality should satisfy both the card flourisher and collector.
In this video Omar explains all the key features of the original Red Stripe deck:
What do I think?
Pearl: I was just blown away by the Sunrise and Sunset decks when I first saw them. I was immediately impressed the moment when I held the colourful tuck boxes in my hand, with their pearl-like sheen. The impressionist style artwork on the bordered card backs were nice, but what really blew me away was how this had been incorporated onto the gorgeous court cards and signature Ace of Spades, with a stunning visual look that still employed classic pips and indices. Metallic inks for the clubs and spades finishes off the elegant look beautifully. It's an absolute treat to hold these cards in your hands, and I love how they are a fantastic blend of the traditional and the artistic, making them suitable for practical use and for visual flourishes. It's hard to say which of the two I like best - I think in the end I appreciate each of them even more alongside each other, because they complement each other beautifully as a set. Outstanding!
Odyssey: The Odyssey decks are also wonderful decks of playing cards. While also usable in various ways, they are especially ideal for cardistry, with their colourful and eye-catching back designs, and the custom geometric faces. It has a colourful, minimalist, and futuristic design that lends it particularly well for card flourishing, and the whole sense of unity throughout the decks makes them especially suitable for this purpose. The galaxy theme might also make collectors drawn to them, and they certainly are a beautiful custom deck that looks great on the shelf. They're less suitable for magic due to the unorthodox pips, which lack some of the clarity needed in identifying suits easily, but that's not really a criticism since it's obvious that these decks are going to be most at home in the hands of a passionate cardist. The two decks also fit well together as a pair. Sergio Roca has done a great job designing these cards with the idea of giving you playing cards that let you have a sense of holding a distant nebula in your hands.
Red Stripe: Omar Renfro's Red Stripe decks have the unique distinction of originating in hand-drawn artwork, and they have a background story that is just as colourful as they look. But these decks don't just have a great story behind them, they also look great. The red stripe on the card backs is very distinctive and memorable, and the graphic design means that fans and spreads look especially stunning. And depending on which way you do the spread or fan, you can produce warm colours or cool colours, for a very different effect. The card faces have also been designed with the artistic rather than practical in mind, but for card flourishing, that is exactly what you want. To my surprise, I find myself really liking the hand drawn deck, and while the artwork visibly shows signs of the coloured markers that produced it, this is exactly also part of its appeal. Most cards today are almost over-produced to the point of perfection, but this hand drawn deck feels like an original piece of art, that also looks just as fantastic with spreads and fans as the digitized version. Both are terrific! For the cardistry fan, the Red Stripe decks will look and feel like a dream, with a blur of colour in cascade and spreads that immediately gets attention.
Quality: All the playing cards I've seen and used that were printed by the Hanson Chien Production Company have been of high quality, and performed very well. The cards are printed in Taiwan, which is where the printing facilities used by other industry leaders like Expert/Legends Playing Cards are, but in private correspondence with me Hanson confirmed that his company doesn't work in partnership with Expert or Legends. HCPC even developed their own stock and finish, as he told me about the playing cards from the Chicken Nugget decks: "We called it Artist paper stock, combined our magic finish." He described the specifications for the stock and finish of those decks as follows: "These playing cards are made of German Koehler playing card board and coated with special finish." So while these cards aren't produced by a big name or well-known publisher like USPCC or EPCC/LPCC, like other decks printed in Taiwan they are of high quality in terms of card stock and finish. Like EPCC/LPCC decks, the cut is also noticeably smoother and cleaner than a USPCC produced deck.
Handling: Not all the decks produced by Hanson Chien Production Company use the same stock and finish. For example, the Chicken Nugget decks handle somewhat like the Master/Diamond finish from EPCC/LPCC, with a relatively firm stock that is long-lasting and very snappy. In contrast the stock of the Odyssey Boreal deck is super soft, and if you are a cardist you will love it! The two Pearl decks even use a different finish from one another, with the Sunrise having a Magic finish and the Sunset having a Royal finish, which also results in a slightly different handling performance. In all cases the decks have a very smooth cut, so the edges of the deck are not rough but nice and smooth, which makes them great to handle in the fingers. And although there are variations in paper stock and finish, all of them have an air cushion style embossing that relies on tiny dimples on the cards, to ensure that the cards spread and fan easily right out of the box. Overall I'm very impressed with the look, feel and performance of these playing cards, and the level of quality seems to be close to that of other Taiwanese publishing companies like EPCC/LPCC.
Where to get them: So where can you get hold of your own copy of some of these playing cards? You can purchase some of their playing cards from their official Facebook pages here or here, or at an online retailer specializing in playing cards, like Rare Playing Cards, which sells the Red Stripe deck, Pearl Sunrise, and Pearl Sunset.
So are the decks from Hanson Chien Production Company for you? As you can see from the photos, these are all some stunning decks of playing cards. They will especially be enjoyed and appreciated by those who enjoy card flourishing - just as Hanson himself does! The Pearl decks also have application for card magic and card games; certainly that's how I myself also use these decks, and they really add class and style to a traditional card game. Thankfully the quality look is also backed up by quality printing and performance, and these Taiwan-produced decks also handle beautifully.
Clearly Hanson Chien's Chicken Nugget project was not a flash in the pan or a one-hit wonder, and with these new decks he's proving that he can't only produce the equivalent of fast food, but also the equivalent of a three course dinner. Appetizer, main course, or dessert - whatever you choose, as long as Hanson is your chef, you should be pleased with what he cooks up in the custom playing card kitchen!
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