Imagine having over 1000 backers for a Kickstarter project! That's a pretty good indication of strong support, and that's exactly what Alex Chin had with his Magna Carta Playing Cards back in 2015. But Alex is not a one hit wonder. His first project, Seasons Playing Cards, was also very successful. He also had over 1000 backers one of his most recent projects, Apothecary Playing Cards, which was fulfilled earlier this year. His current project for some sequel Apothecary decks is easily on target to do the same, and was funded in just eight hours.
In this review I'd like to introduce you to Alex and to Seasons Playing Cards, which is his online home. Alex is the one who established Seasons in 2011, and you'll find all his designs under that label. He describes Seasons as "a global lifestyle brand dedicated to the art of card collecting."
The Seasons website brags quite an impressive set of accomplishments: - Premium Quality: "Our Aristocrat stock and New Magic Finish give a guaranteed performance and handling over other standard decks." - Award-winning Series: "Our designs and illustrations push boundaries and we have the awards to prove it. Winner of over 4 different international awards including the 2016 A'Design Award." - Iconic Packaging: "Our innovative and iconic packaging has garnered international attention and placed us as an industry leader in interactive playing card packaging and experiences.
I'm all for innovation and seeing new things, so as you can imagine, these accolades immediately drew me in and had my attention! The award referred to, the "Silver A' Design Award Winner for Packaging Design Category in 2015" for Alex's 800th Anniversary Magna Carta deck can be found here. In fact, the Magna Carta deck is one that Alex is particularly proud of, since in areas outside of the realm of playing cards (i.e. where it had to compete with other consumer goods), it was the most awarded playing card deck of 2016! And of the six awards it won, three of them were international awards, which is also an amazing achievement!
It's not the first award he's received either, with other credits including "Deck of the Year 2012" from UnitedCardists for his Primavera/Seronda decks. After the creation of the follow-up Verana/Inverno Alex won "Best Deck Series" in 2014 for his Seasons Playing Cards series from Playing Card Awards. He's also been the keynote speaker for the 52 Plus Joker Playing Card Convention in 2012, and was chosen to make their annual deck for 2017. Most recently was been nominated for Joker Plus 52's "Artist of the Year 2017", and his Apothecary deck was nominated as their Deck of the Year 2017. Clearly he is a man who is being widely recognized for his talents!
So how did all this come about? Alex has always enjoyed drawing, and in his high school years he developed an interest in card magic. It was Ellusionist's Black Tiger deck that first introduced him to the world of custom playing cards at that time. After high school, he attended university, majoring in architecture, where he continued to develop his skills at illustrating and design. Today he runs his one-man design studio, SHUNG SHUNG, where he demonstrates his ability to work in several different disciplines and markets. He's self-described as a visual communications professional who works with companies and clients, and who specializes in interactive package design.
When he was still trying to figure out his direction in life during his university years, together with a friend he tried starting a tea company called Mood Company. The project was unsuccessful, but in the process Alex learned valuable lessons about package design. It was around this time that the custom playing card industry was expanding significantly, and the arrival of Kickstarter meant that individuals could compete with the big and established companies. This created an explosion of new custom decks, many of which rivalled the very best that the big publishers were producing. It was in that setting that Alex created his first two decks of Seasons Playing Cards, investing a lot of time in designing the court cards in particular. Fortunately all his hard work paid off, with the incredible success of these projects being greater than what Alex had ever imagined.
When applying his vision to custom playing cards, Alex describes it as follows: "Since the start of our journey in 2011, Seasons Playing Cards has been consistently focused on crafting high quality decks for the world with a dedicated passion for what we do. Through the artistic world of card collecting, we strive to create memorable products for our community that give inspirational pause to your day. Playing cards to us are more than just pieces of paper, they're an under-discovered medium of craftsmanship, passion, and storytelling. Each deck added to our collection is a growing extension of ourselves, a tangible totem of time and dedication created for you to enjoy. We strive to create timeless designs that continue to inspire, because when done properly these decks become a shared experience between artist and collector - and it is for these moments that we celebrate. Each deck has an experience waiting to happen. It's up to you to discover it."
Now it is time for us to become part of this experience for ourselves, by discovering some of Alex's beautiful decks and taking a look at his work so far.
THE SEASONS SERIES: Part 1
The Seasons Playing Cards series consists of a themed set of four decks, produced in pairs, first Primavera & Seronda (Spring & Fall), and then later Verana & Inverno (Summer & Winter).
Each deck was illustrated individually to represent a different season, so that the entire series represents a deck that is changing over time. Each contains different artwork, and yet there is a consistency between all the decks of the series.
Primavera & Seronda (Spring & Fall)
The first two decks
The series began with the Primavera and Seronda decks, which represent Spring and Fall.
These two decks focus on the themes of white and black respectively.
Like the decks that would follow, the Primavera and Seronda tuck boxes are complemented with stunning foil platinum accents and stylish embossing for a gorgeous and luxurious look.
Primavera deck (Spring)
In terms of thematic significance and artistic feel, the Primavera deck has ideas that emphasize the new beginnings of Spring.
Seronda deck (Fall)
The Seronda deck, on the other hand, has a darker theme that corresponds to the darkening days of the Fall season, while remaining consistent with the flavour of the artwork from the Spring deck.
Primavera and Seronda decks were Alex's first decks, which he created via private funding rather than crowdfunding. They were printed by USPCC at their Ohio plant (prior to their move to Kentucky). These were later reprinted again in a platinum edition, so some of these reprinted decks are still available.
THE SEASONS SERIES: Part 2
Verana & Inverno (Summer & Winter)
The second two decks
The Seasons series that began with Primavera and Seronda was completed with Verana and Inverno, which represent Summer and Winter respectively.
Concerning the Summer-Winter pair, Alex writes: "I have always been inspired by the ideas of transformation and growth. In the midst of change, there is a moment of serenity around what was and what it becomes. This set is made to capture this rare moment of duality through a luxury collection of playing cards."
The tuck boxes again have beautiful foil accents and embossing.
Here's a close-up, showcasing the luxurious look of the stunning embossing and foil on the boxes, as they are placed alongside each other.
The touch of golden luxury even includes the flaps!
Inside the two tuck boxes are some inspiring quotes: "Great art picks up where nature ends" and "To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often." Added touches like this echoes something of Alex's own commitment to perfection in his art, and also reflect something of the seasonal themes.
As for the card backs, the Verana summer deck features white, red, and gold colours, while in contrast the Inverno winter deck features a darker colour scheme of black, blue, and silver colours; in the following sections I'll go through each deck separately.
Verana deck (Summer)
Pictured here are some cards from the Verana deck, displaying bright and vibrant colours. The court cards all have a very elegant and royal look, which is a result of a distinctly fresh take on the standard artwork. A simplified colour scheme works well to accentuate the gold and black which is used on the card backs and faces.
The pips are especially noteworthy, and the idea of having flowing lines inside the pips isn't something I recall seeing before. Certainly it adds a touch of class to all the pips, and makes them look very unique and stylish. If you look carefully, some of the pips (e.g. on the court cards, and the center pips on some cards) also have thin gold borders for an added touch of sophistication.
For the court cards, Alex has tried to create bold figures that are reminiscent of the traditional cards that we are familiar with, but significantly customized with his own style, and further polished with layers of shading and highlights.
Inverno deck (Winter)
The Inverno deck has a much darker colour scheme, which is evident from the blue and black on the card backs and card faces.
The colour scheme now changes from the summer gold of Verana to the winter silver of Inverno. This works particularly well in combination with the blue and black that dominates this deck.
All black decks can be somewhat hit and miss in terms of aesthetics, and sometimes they can look awkward or unnatural. But Alex's Winter deck has to be one of the more classy black decks I've ever seen, particularly with the strong use of silver to complement the other dark colours (although reflective metallic ink would have heightened this effect with even more luxury!).
Alex describes the inspiration behind these two decks as follows: "The Verana deck is a captured moment of summer. This clean white deck with metallic gold accents emanate elegance as it displays a design in full bloom. "
In contrast, the Winter deck has a very different feel: "The Inverno deck is a frozen moment of winter. The stunning black deck commands attention with a perfect touch of metallic blue accents that frost the back. The rigid central structure couples with the loose flowing winds throughout for an added element of depth and contrast."
Alex explains his thought process in this way: "These designs are created by abstracting the elements of the seasons. The style of the artwork focuses on soft highlights, bold shades, and subtle hatching to create these eye-catching illustrations."
The card-backs also feature a design that is ideal for card flourishing, but they also look beautiful when shuffling and using in a typical card games, with intricate flowing designs that have exquisite and attractive details.
Special mention must be made of the Jokers, which are absolutely gorgeous. They feature a stunning looking peacock, with intricate line detail that easily makes this among my favourite Jokers of all time!
Two extra cards come with these decks: a double backer (useful for magicians), and an ad card.
The Limited Edition of the Verana and Inverno decks is similar to the decks pictured above, but comes with limited number seals, and an added touch of luxury inside the tuck box with a completely gold and silver foil interior! Inside these boxes are more inspirational quotes: "Art is stored honey of the human soul" and "The power of imagination makes us infinite."
A notable feature of the tuck boxes is the wrap-around design, which is a feature evident in more of Alex's decks, and is one of the ways in which he enjoys innovating. The front and backs of the deck form a single image, and both the Summer and Winter decks can be placed alongside each other to make a larger picture and in a variety of configurations, depending on which decks and which sides you place adjacent to one another.
THE MAGNA CARTA SERIES
The Magna Carta series of decks was created to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Alex considers this document to be the foundation of liberty and human rights in many parts of the world, and thus something worthy of being honoured with this tribute.
Besides a special limited edition, there are two main decks in the series, representing the two factions from this historical era: Royals and Rebels.
Of course, both tuck boxes feature all kinds of luxury, since this is what Alex is particularly good at. Striped vertical lines run up and down the front and back of the box, while the opposite corners have lavish decorations in gold foil, to finish an absolutely stunning look.
There's full interior printing as well, featuring handwriting from the event.
Even the tuck box flap gets special treatment!
The tuck cases are especially clever, and do a good job of displaying Alex's skill in interactive packaging. They all have a peek of each suit in the front and back, and can be paired perfectly together to create any suit you choose. Brilliant!
But that's not all. The sides of the three different decks in this series (Rebels, Royals, and the limited edition King John) can be combined to create a wonderful polyptych mural that celebrates the actual signing of the Magna Carta.
Both the Rebels deck and Royals deck have card backs with narrow and precise borders, with a white, gold, and black colour scheme. The Rebels deck is white, and the various lines on the card backs create regions that symbolize various barons uniting against the king. The wording on the ribbon on this deck's card-back is the Latin "Legem Terrae", meaning "Law of the Land".
The Royals deck is black, and represents the King and his empire, with the crowned lion representing the three lion crest of the Angevin Empire. The ribbon on this deck's card-back says "Magna Carta".
The ribbons on both decks are on different parts of the card, and unite to create a perfect circle, which represents both temporary unity and the King's seal. Clever huh?! I'm amazed at how much thought Alex has put into all these elements of his design, to reflect different elements of the theme.
The simple colours of the card-backs allow the swirling lines and patterns to have all the emphasis, and also look beautiful when fanned or spread.
The court cards feature a style and portraits that represent people from the time of the Magna Carta, and were inspired by existing illustrations Alex found of people from that time period.
This gives the characters a look that is immediately distinguished from standard looking court cards, and resulting in a fresh take that is still very much within the bounds of traditional courts.
Ornate borders in gold add a lavish touch of detail and sophistication.
The courts from the Royal deck have the same colour scheme of white, gold, and black, with the occasional well-chosen addition of modest amounts of red and blue-purple, which creates a very royal look.
The colours of the court cards also look absolutely stunning, with the gold colours complemented by reds, blue-purples, and blacks, to give a very royal look, totally in keeping with the theme. Seeing these cards on a black background creates a whole different look of luxury and style.
The four different suits suggest different family factions, and are featured on the Aces in exquisite detail. The cross on King John's coat is on the Ace of Spades, the Angevin Empire's lion face is on the Ace of Clubs, the crest symbol of Robert Fitzwalter is on the Ace of Diamonds, and the fleur de lis for Louis VIII is on the Ace of Hearts.
The Jokers feature an authentic and attractive recreation of the face and back of King John's seal.
The Rebels deck includes an extra Joker with a King of Clubs reveal, along with an ad card. The Royals deck adds to the two Jokers two full art cards which show the mural as a complete and beautiful picture.
King John deck (Gilded)
To add to the luxury, a special King John deck was also made available in a limited printing of only 500 copies, which has all kinds of extra features. It represents the Magna Carta's origin by telling the story of the taxation crisis that prompted the rebellion, as represented by the Rebel Baron's gold. Here's this deck's unique tuck box, featuring the exquisite Ace of Spades completely decked out in gold:
Since gold is the central idea of this deck, not only is the tuck deck decorated with lavish amounts of gold foil, but the edges of the cards are gilded with gold, for a look of supreme luxury!
A matching silver gilded version of this deck was also released.
It's not hard to see why these decks have been the subject of so much praise, especially the packaging! The innovation here was that the packaging could display multiple different images, depending on the position and direction it was facing. These multiple display options, and particularly the use and incorporation of side-displays as part of this, will appeal to collectors, and helped it win the award for packaging design.
In winning the A'Design Award, the inspiration and concept of this deck was described as follows: "The design focused on a growing world through information revealed by the user's interaction with the project, starting from packaging and ending with product. Packaging takes a micro look at the event with pleated linen embossing - textured after knight uniforms of the time, partial reveals of family crests, and the 1215 Magna Carta itself. A larger story is formed with illustrations based on real people and Jokers that feature authentic illustrations of the King's seal inside."
They really are stunning decks, and worthy of all the accolades they have received. The Magna Carta series is definitely something fit for Royalty!
You might think that after tremendous successes like Seasons and Magna Carta, Alex Chin might not have much left in the tank in terms of new ideas, because those stellar projects raised the bar very high, and are very hard to match. Yet match them is exactly what Alex seems to have done with his newest series, Apothecary, the first installment of which was recently produced, and the second installment of which is currently on Kickstarter.
Similar to the original Seasons series, this newer series consists of another themed set of four decks, produced in pairs, the first being Primavera Ponderings & Inverno Insights (Spring & Winter). This set is already available, while the second pair, Seronda Sentiments and Verana Virtues (Fall & Summer) is currently being crowdfunded via Kickstarter, so you can get on board with this project with your support (link).
The name Apothecary alludes to Alex's own source of creativity. He describes it as the place "where curiosity thrives and inspiration is always at your fingertips. The Apothecary is an homage to the mystical, to the handcrafted, to the detailed, and to the inspirational. It emphasizes the craft of what it takes to create playing cards, embracing the mystery of what we strive for."
So what kinds of curiosities might the Apothecary have in store for us? Well it turns out, two wonderful decks, Primavera Ponderings and Inverno Insights. You'll recall from the Seasons decks that Primavera represents Spring and Inverno represents Winter, and in these contemplative decks, Alex has continued his visually lush style that captures unique elements of the different seasons.
Of course, the standard versions of these decks (which we'll look at in a moment, one at a time) have all the luxuries we've come to expect from Alex and Seasons Playing Cards: embossed tuck cases, gold and silver foil stamps, and beautiful metallic gold and silver ink.
The tuck boxes also list mysterious and humorous "Ingredient Logs" and "Directions for Use". For example, the Primavera Ponderings deck states the following: Ingredient Log: Handpicked Primavera Ponderings distilled in essence of curiosity. Directions: Use to keep sense of curiosity high and inspiration at your fingertips. For best results keep Ponderings prominently displayed in the home or office for daily doses of inspiration.
Inverno Insights (Winter)
The Inverno Insights deck features a soft green and yellow, with silver accents.
The borders are white, and match the white of the face cards. The court cards are absolutely exquisite, with a very nostalgic feel.
I'm also a huge fan of the pips in this series, which are very stylish. For instance, the Diamonds have a kite shaped design, and the points and curves on all the pips make them look very elegant and classy.
Primavera Ponderings (Spring)
The Primavera Ponderings deck features a soft red and blue, with gold accents.
Like some of the deck pairings we've seen previously, this deck uses similar artwork to its companion, but with jet black cards.
The use of ornate borders on the court cards also helps set this design apart from some of Alex's other creations.
Here are the gorgeous Aces from both decks. In the case of the Primavera Ponderings deck, it is the Ace of Clubs that has the honour of elaborate artwork, rather than the usual Ace of Spades.
White Label edition
We know that Alex specializes in innovative packaging, and the Apothecary decks have given him opportunity to stretch boundaries and enter new territory with the White Label edition.
These amazing decks have beautiful gilded edges, with silver for the Inverno Insights deck, and metallic gold rose for the Primavera Ponderings deck seen here.
But what's especially unique thing about this remarkable edition is that it features a colour changing box design! These tuck boxes use heat-sensitive technology to literally respond to touch! See a visual demonstration of this here and here.
This fits perfectly with the theme of the Apothecary series, which is designed to create a tactile experience that goes beyond what the digital age can provide, and to encourage us to explore our curiosities. "Curiosity is the engine of achievement."
Black Label edition
Some exclusive Black Label editions were also available, which were hand engraved in metallic ink, and hand signed, numbered, and wrapped by the artist, to create a truly unique item.
All in all, the first two decks in the Apothecary series did not disappoint, but provided classy and stylish additions to Alex's already distinguished and growing list of quality playing cards.
Given how the original Seasons series consisted of four decks that were produced in two sets of two, it was inevitable that the first two Apothecary decks would be followed up with two more decks. And so it won't come as a surprise that the Primavera Ponderings & Inverno Insights pair (Spring & Winter) has a sequel pair, Seronda Sentiments and Verana Virtues (Fall & Summer), which is currently being funded on Kickstarter (link).
Just as with the first two Apothecary decks, these two new decks explore more "intangible curiosities from the other side", and aims to transform the intangible concepts of ideas and thoughts into physical things that can be touched, felt, and held. In a world that is going more and more in a digital direction, Alex wants us to travel in the opposite direction, by making things more physical. By having these decks in our hands, he wants us to feel something real, as if they have been pulled from an invisible world.
As he notes: "In this digital world, we need physical touch. The Apothecary is an homage to all things handcrafted and inspiring and the extensive illustrations and print techniques follow suit. Represented through the medium of playing cards, these ethereal concepts are captured to deliver an inspiring and awe-provoking experience that you've never felt before with regular handheld art. Responsive design, handmade boxes, and engraved sleeves, increase the connection between the artist and the receiver of these packs in a way that is literally seen and felt throughout. "
So what are the kinds of "curiosities" that the Apothecary has in store for us this time? Just as their predecessors, Seronda Sentiments and Verana Virtues continue Alex's love for visual and tangible luxury, with an extravagant production to please the senses of sight and touch. Even the standard versions of these decks have tuck cases with linen-textured card-stock and sculptured embossing, along with all the trimmings, including stylish silver and gold foil on the cover, while the cards themselves are finished with metallic gold ink to enhance the sense of luxury and class.
Similar to Primavera Ponderings and Inverno Insights, the tuck boxes list mysterious and humorous "Ingredient Logs" and "Directions for Use".
Seronda Sentiments (Fall)
The Seronda Sentiments deck features silver accents on an ornate design with shades of soft purple, maroon, and yellow/orange.
The cards are jet-black on the front and back, with exquisite court cards that are immediately indicative of Alex's style, complete with stylishly shaped pips, ornate borders, and classic artwork.
Verana Virtues (Summer)
The Verana Virtues deck on the other hand features a more earthy brown/red with orange/yellow, with gold accents.
The artwork is similar to the companion Seronda deck, but the cards have white faces and backs instead of black.
Each suit in the Apothecary series has the honour of getting a heavily customized Ace. Typically the Ace of Spades, with this new set this honour is given to the red suits, with the Ace of Hearts for the Seronda deck and the Ace of Diamonds for the Verana deck.
White Label edition
The While Label editions of the two new decks are where Alex's creativity and innovation in packaging really shines.
These limited editions have stunning gilded edges, in Lavender (Seronda deck) and Ruby (Verana deck).
But even more amazingly is the colour changing box design that we already saw with the White Label edition of the previous two decks. This uses heat-sensitive technology that actually responds to your touch, with the Seronda box changing from Anthracite to Blush, and the Virtue box from Apricot Orange to Yellow. See a visual demonstration of this here and here.
These decks best exemplify what the Apothecary series is all about, namely adding a tactile dimension in addition to the obvious visual appeal, thus providing an experience that the digital age cannot mimic.
The colour changing White Label editions are also capped with a lovely white sleeve, hand engraved in metallic ink; this sleeve is also hand signed, numbered, dated, and handwrapped by Alex himself, for an extra touch of uniqueness and style.
Black Label edition
Like the previous pair of decks, some exclusive Black Label editions are also available, which add a customized sleeve made of premium black stock to the standard deck. Not only is it hand engraved in gold and silver metallic ink, but it is also hand signed, numbered, dated, and handwrapped similar to the White Label editions.
Just like the first two Apothecary decks, these two new releases look to be fantastic additions to the series, and to Alex's ongoing legacy of stylish playing cards.
THE NPCCD SERIES
National Playing Card Collection Day (NPCCD)
There's another special project that Alex is involved in which deserves separate mention. National Playing Card Collection Day (NPCCD) was created in 2016 to raise awareness about collecting cards, and Alex produced a special deck to mark the occasion.
Is this National Playing Card Collection Day really on the calendar?
Yes it is, absolutely! And in fact, Alex is the person who successfully went through the formal process of applying for this event, and here's a certificate to prove that it is legitimate and real!
The first National Playing Card Collection Day was on October 17th, 2016, and coincided with the launch of the world's largest online playing card database, Portfolio52. This is a free service that enables collectors to manage their personal card collection - go check it out! Alex is the man behind this project, which he has spearheaded for quite some time, and he has poured lots of his passion and time into it.
So what is Portfolio52? It is the world's largest playing card database which focuses on three main elements: 1. collection management; 2. discovering decks; 3. trading. I've used it personally, and find it a terrific resource that I can highly recommend. It's an excellent way to keep way of your personal collection, and also to manage personal lists for trading and wish-lists. It also has ways of incorporating your personal notes.
Alex has built and bankrolled the site himself, and continues to develop it when he has time and opportunity, and he is looking to continue to improve it with addition of more quality content over time. But running a site like this costs money, and that's why the Playing Card Collection Day deck was designed. To mark the occasion of Portfolio52's official launch in 2016, and to help raise funds to support it, in both 2016 and 2017 Alex created a special limited edition deck of playing cards with only 400-500 copies. This would give people opportunity to support this project, while at the same time giving them something in return.
The 2016 NPCCD Deck
Alex has poured his heart and soul into these playing cards, and so the inauguarl 2016 NPCCD deck is a real labour of love and a beautiful piece of work. It represents something about a unique personal accomplishment, but also the creation of an impressive online tool that is free for collectors around the world to benefit from. Purchasing the 2016 NPCCD deck was a great way to support this new project.
Here we get a look at some of the court cards from the very first NPCCD deck. The ornate borders and artwork will look very similar to the Apothecary deck, although this deck was actually created before that one, and evidently sowed the seed for the curiosities that later became Inverno Insights.
One unique thing about these decks is that the tuck boxes were hand-made, in the sense that Alex personally hand fed them into four different machines, and after they were die-cut, he personally folded, glued, packed, and sealed them. Another difference from his other decks is the card quality. Although they were MPC produced given the small print run, they have the look and feel of the Emerald Finish (JN Finish) produced by Legends Playing Cards, which means they are slightly smoother and more durable than a typical USPCC produced deck.
The 2017 NPCCD Deck
The 2016 NPCCD deck was definitely a very special deck, but fortunately for us it wasn't the last of its kind. Playing Card Collection Day is going to be an annual event, right? Of course! See the official NPCCD website right here.
So on October 17th 2017, Alex launched the second NPCCD deck in support of Portfolio52. In my opinion this deck was even more glamorous and stunning than its predecessor, as is immediately evident from the exquisite tuck case.
The luxury of the tuck box looks even more stunning when contrasted with the minimalist colour scheme of the playing cards themselves, which feature an ornate design in a simple black and white on the card backs.
The cards themselves are printed by USPCC for quality handling and durability. They are certainly beautiful, as exemplified by these court cards, which have a truly royal feel against a inky black backdrop. The courts are very stylish, yet the simple colour scheme creates a very sophisticated look and feel.
As impressive as the cards are, it's really the tuck boxes that will blow you away. These showcase what Alex is best at: pushing the boundaries of production, with a gorgeously handcrafted work of beautiful art, and a fitting commemoration of the art of card collecting. They have metallic gold engraving, an individually numbered sleeve, and a cotton linen seal on the front and back. And in keeping with the fact that this was the second NPCCD, the tuck box is comprised of twos: an inside and outside layer, and a top and bottom. Alex calls this innovative tuck box a "Pluck Tuck", because an exposed thumb tab allows you to pluck the deck open.
Two editions were created, both with a limited print run of 500 each. There's the Pearl edition shown above, which comes in five different colours, and a Midnight Gold edition, which has the added luxury of hand-gilded gold edges on the cards.
Do mark October 17th on your calendar, because National Playing Card Collector Day is an annual event in which you get to celebrate being a collector! Will there be another NPCCD deck in 2018? The best thing you can do is stay tuned on Alex's social media for news about any further decks. If these first two decks are anything to go by, any follow-ups promise to be something special as well! And if you are a playing card collector, then you definitely need to head to Portfolio52 and check out this great free online database, and give it your support - I highly recommend it!
THE 52 PLUS JOKER DECK
Alex has been extremely busy at the end of 2017, with multiple deck launches in just a few weeks! In addition to the latest Apothecary decks just launched, and the NPCCD 2017 deck that was launched on 17 October 2017, just a few days earlier on 12 October 2017 he launched the fourth annual club deck for 52 Plus Joker, the prestigious American Playing Card Collectors club which has been in operation since 1985. To be selected to produce their annual deck is a great honour. This deck was released at their annual convention for 2017 which was held in Erlanger, Kentucky.
The tuck box makes an immediate impression with luxurious and intricate gold foiling on the front.
But even more intriguing are the other three sides of this deck, which feature Mulberry tree bark. The theme of this deck is the paper making process, and this deliberate look refers to the need to strip bark from trees in order to produce the paper that is the main ingredient of a deck of playing cards. Ivan Choe from kardify.com (a great resource) has done some great photography here which shows the pulpwood look.
The luxurious gold lattice-work design on the front of the tuck box is reprised on the stylish card backs, which were printed with an impressive looking two-colour foil.
The face cards are completely customized, but have the signature Seasons Playing Cards look that immediately suggests Alex Chin as the designer. The Ace of Spades has a mulberry leaf, while the court cards have a rich green that continues to tell the story of how we get our playing cards from a paper-making process that begins with trees.
What do I think?
Packaging: It's obvious from the moment that you look at the packaging of any of these decks that Alex isn't an amateur. There is good reason has won design awards for his creative packaging, and he knows how to make decks incredibly stylish right from the outset. These decks have all the luxury you can expect: not just the embossing and gold/silver foil accents that we often come to expect of high end decks nowadays, but also a very elegant style, with innovative wrap-around artwork that is stylish and beautiful.
Innovative: Alex likes pushing boundaries and doing things differently. Not only has he really done something special with his wrap-around packaging concept, but he's shown innovation in other ways as well - a colour changing deck, for example, which adds a whole new element to a tactile experience; and the two piece design of the 2017 NPCCD deck. He's a guy who likes to create and experiment, and that immediately makes his decks very unusual and unique.
Artistic: I appreciate quality artwork, and the artistic designs of these decks are terrific. That begins with the tuck cases, but is especially evident on the card backs and the court cards, which are very stylish and stunning to look at. Everything feels beautifully balanced, and the colour scheme works well to enhance these delightful visual aesthetics.
Elegant: Everything about these decks screams elegance and class. The packaging. The artwork. The colours. The design. Alex really has what it takes to produce an absolutely classy product in every way. Even his website is stunning, and an outstanding example of elegant design!
Luxurious: I own quite a number of decks of playing cards, but these are easily among the most luxurious in my collection. Everything contributes to an experience of complete class and luxury, with refined and beautiful artwork, goil foil accents, and high quality tuck cases.
Thoughtful: I also really appreciate the depth of real thought that lies behind Alex's designs. For example, the Apothecary deck explores the theme of curiosity, and highlights the importance of exploring our curiosity, a sentiment that is largely becoming lost in our digital age, and yet which is an essential element that serves as the engine of achievement. Also the 52 Plus Joker deck explores the paper making process in all aspects of its design. This kind of thoughtful and philosophical underpinning behind Alex's designs gives them extra significance.
Series: Unlike many creators of custom playing cards, the different editions and versions Alex offers aren't merely different colours of the same thing, but genuinely represent a well thought out series that shows a consistent style. The Seasons series is a particularly good example of this, with a theme that returns and is worked out through several different decks that are individual and unique, and yet clearly linked.
Quality: From the decks I've seen from Seasons, the quality of the cards themselves is excellent, and they handle well. Seasons states that "Our Aristocrat stock and New Magic Finish give a guaranteed performance and handling over other standard decks". They give great performance, as you'd expect from decks produced by US Playing Card Company. It has slightly thinner cards than the Casino Bee stock used by USPCC, but the Bicycle stock used has the performance coating used in the higher end decks, making it even better quality than a standard Bicycle rider-back deck.
Outstanding: With the large number of custom playing cards constantly appearing on the market, you really need to do something different to stand out from the rest of the pack. But Alex of Seasons Playing Cards has achieved exactly that. These are truly outstanding pieces of work!
Expertise: You only need to visit the Seasons website to see that Alex really knows what he is doing. He is a skilled graphic designer, and whether he applies his talents to designing a website or a deck of playing cards, the result of his passion and expertise is clearly evident.
Portfolio52: As a creator of playing cards, Alex knows all too well the need for collectors to manage their collection, and his own passion for this has led to the creation of the Portfolio52.com database, the world's largest database for card collectors. It's an outstanding resource - and free to use. If you collect playing cards, then you absolutely can't afford to miss this wonderful tool. And do look out for the National Playing Card Collecting Day decks that have been launched on his website and portfolio52.com on October 17th each year!
Future projects: Alex is by no means done with designing playing cards, but is continuing to build his brand. The last couple of months are a good indication of how much of a contribution he is making to the custom playing card industry. The Apothecary series is in the process of being completed with the recent launch of two new decks (Seronda Sentiments and Verana Virtues) on Kickstarter. And last October the 2017 National Playing Card Collection Day deck was launched in support of Portfolio52, while the same month Alex had the honour of being the designer of 52 Plus Joker annual deck for 2017. Clearly the future is bright for this creative and talented designer, and if you're a collector of playing cards, you should definitely keep a close eye on his work, and follow what he creates next!
Where to get them? Some of the decks featured in this review series are now sold out, and you'll have to head to the secondary market to try to acquire them. But many of the decks are still available directly from Alex at his Seasons website here. Some of the National Playing Card Collection Day decks might still available at the official website here, but when I last checked they appeared to be sold out. You'll find the new Apothecary Kickstarter which has just launched here, and for news of other new decks in the future, tuned to Alex's social media here.
It's not hard to tell that I've very impressed with the calibre of Alex Chin's work, especially his creativity and ability to explore new territory in the world of custom playing cards. Certainly his decks of playing cards are superbly artistic and beautiful - but such praise can apply to a lot of custom playing cards in the current market. What makes him stand out above the pack, however, is his willingness to innovate in areas such as interactive packaging, and his superb skills in graphic design, with precise and perfect attention to the details that matter. It's these skills and expertise that enable him to take things to the next level when it comes to adding the small touches of luxury that make all the difference, such as exquisite gold embossing and gilding. It's hard to imagine his playing cards being any better than what they are, because it's evident that Alex has carefully given consideration to every last detail.
Alex's expertise and familiarity with the digital world also means that the images and design of his web site is absolutely second-to-none. Alex has also drawn on these abilities to give back to the playing card community with the creation of Portfolio52, an excellent free database for card collectors, and for that alone he deserves our applause and support.
If you like what you see, then consider heading to his website and seeing what he has on offer. The playing card industry needs important contributors like Alex, and he needs every encouragement to continue the fine contributions he has already made, with the hope that the future will continue to bring more good things from Alex Chin and Seasons Playing Cards.
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Ugh... so beautiful, but of course this is for some reason in the Product Design category on KS so I missed it when it launched and the limited boxes are sold out. Guess I'll have to "settle" for the gorgeous decks themselves.
Curious: do you use all of these beautiful card decks to play card games or do cardistry, are do you just collect them? I'm dipping my toe into the designer card deck waters, but I want to do more than look at them and at around $14 apiece at the low end it feels painful to put wear and tear on these things.
Curious: do you use all of these beautiful card decks to play card games or do cardistry, are do you just collect them? I'm dipping my toe into the designer card deck waters, but I want to do more than look at them and at around $14 apiece at the low end it feels painful to put wear and tear on these things.
All of the above. While some decks are just collectables, I do open and use most of them. I use some just for card games, to make the game experience more enjoyable. I use others for doing card magic (another hobby of mine), and others just for cardistry. Intense usage for cardistry does wear them out eventually; for this reason experienced card flourishers will often buy a whole brick of decks at once, which contains a dozen identical decks.
I also give away a lot of custom decks to other people, including friends and family, because they make ideal gifts. Almost everyone can use a nice deck of cards! Usually people just own a cheap deck at best, so they really appreciate a deck with high quality custom playing cards and a creative tuck box.
There are people who would almost consider it sacrilegious to open up a collectable deck like the ones above from Seasons. But I find that a real pity - they were designed to be enjoyed and appreciated. As long as they are functional (not every custom deck is), they add a real element of visual appeal and sophistication. While playing a game, I really get to enjoy the artwork and graphic design and all the thought that has gone into designing the cards.
Here's a great video from magician Chris Ramsay, in which he explains why he has so many different decks of cards:
One thing he doesn't mention is card games, which for me personally is a major way I enjoy a custom deck of quality playing cards.