We had the honor of collaborating with Jessie Barber this spring! Jessie is a wonderful artist and mother who runs the Etsy store AWoodlandFairyTale . Being a full-time artist with little ones and a farm can be challenging, but Jessie still shines through and shares her journey! Jessie opens up with her viewers to inspire future mothers who love to be creative, but may feel that they struggle with finding their identity while balancing the role of motherhood. After recently giving birth to a girl almost two years ago, she mentions how 2022 “has been filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows as I adjusted and settled into the role of motherhood, while also finding a way to keep my identity as a creative and artist.”
If you would like to learn more you can follow her on Instagram here. There you can find her brilliant creations along with sneak peeks of the family!
We were excited to take this beautiful piece that Jessie created for spring and record the process of turning her artwork into playing cards! Click here to watch the process: Spring card process
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Working With Shuffled Ink
I know that most testimonials traditionally start out with something a customer is very pleased with regarding a product they previously purchased, or service rendered. Mine is being written a little bit more in the middle of the process.
An idea was hatched when a colleague of mine suggested that I create a “pocket product.” Something that I could sell or even use in my sales training seminars in conjunction with my books, CD’s, etc. This evolved into the idea that I had wherein I could possibly put some of my greatest sales tips onto a deck of cards. The idea really excited me. I envisioned a salesperson arriving early for a meeting and reviewing their “deck of cards” so that they were completely in the right frame of mind for their sales call. I just had endless ideas in my mind about how this sales deck of cards could be used.
Through fortuitous serendipity, I found Shuffled Ink. More importantly, I found Charles and Lisa. Charles is the founder and owner of Shuffled Ink and Lisa, his daughter, the VP/Project Manager. I was blown away by their customer service. The most important thing to me when working with someone is that I feel like they actually “give a s…” (pardon the expression.) Well, not only did my proof look incredible (from the elements I shared – for my deck of cards), but Lisa and Charles are so down to earth. As Charles said, their biggest unique selling proposition IS their customer service with a sprinkle of TLC. They want happy customers. Customers that turn into lifelong, raving fan customers.
So here I am, the last step, waiting with eager anticipation for my cards to arrive. Kind of like Christmas morning is coming. So thank you Shuffled Ink, Charles, Lisa, Isaias (in graphics), and everyone else that has helped. When I really like something, I have a tendency to want to share that with everyone I know. I look forward to steering people towards Shuffled ink. These cards are going to get a lot of mileage for sure.
Forgotten people have interested me for many years. Looking back I realized it all started in 1968. That was when my Uncle Earl handed me a single sheet of paper with a hand-drawn family tree on it. At that time I didn’t even know who my great-grandparents were. Or even know anything about my family history. As my uncle slowly turned over the role of family historian to me, that tree grew into thousands of forgotten people and their stories. Without having that curiosity about my past, and learning how to research the information these stories would be lost forever.
This research experience came into play when my son, The Congress Guy, asked me to help find the location of the National Playing Card factory in Indianapolis where we live. So, using the address stated in the Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards I started the search using my genealogy skills. As it turned out the address listed was incorrect. After finding the correct location, I realized I had even passed by the old factory during my lifetime quite a few times. Unfortunately, it’s now gone and has been replaced with an apartment complex.
It was then that I went with my son to our first 52+Joker Convention to pass along my discovery to other playing card enthusiasts. At that 2017 convention in Erlanger, I became hooked on playing cards and joined.
But, it was the history that has come to fascinate me. Who were these people that made these interesting items? What was the story behind them and their cards?
My research ended up with me writing stories about these people for the 52+Joker club magazine and then creating websites to share the information with others.
Many of the uses of a deck of playing cards are well known to everyone. After all, playing cards have been used for centuries in order to play card games, and perform card magic. But what exactly is this new kid on the block, that goes under the name “cardistry“, is wearing out many an old deck, and is having brand new decks designed especially for its use?
To whet your appetite, if you really do not know anything about cardistry at all, I would suggest that you start by checking out the following four-minute video clip. It already has more than 2 million views due to its popularity, and you will soon understand why when you see the cardistry highlights featured here.
Cardistry can best be defined as “the performance art of card flourishing”. It is what happens when you take traditional playing cards to the next level – literally! It is about spinning them, tossing them, cutting them, and otherwise manipulating them – up, down, sideways, and around, and however else you can – in order to create an aesthetically pleasing display.
Cardistry does have a long history, because when card tricks became popular in the 19th century, magicians would often do simple card flourishes as a way of demonstrating their skills, to entertain, or to otherwise enhance a magic performance. It is true that many magicians are good at cardistry and card flourishing, simply because using cards is part of their job, and so they like to play with cards in new and interesting ways. However true cardistry on its own is not magic, and does not involve any magical manipulation or sleight of hand, but is rather a display of skill.
The word “cardistry” is a combination of the words “card” and “artistry”. So it is an activity that is about sheer skill and manual dexterity, in which a performer tries to create a beautiful display through the movement of individual playing cards or an entire deck. Cardistry takes an ordinary object that we are all familiar with – a deck of playing cards – and turns it into an art-form, by doing unfamiliar things with it.
You could describe cardistry as the next step in the evolution of playing cards, because their original purpose for playing games or performing magic has been completely dispensed with. Instead, they are used for a brand new and interesting dexterity game of their own, without the strict rules and boundaries we are used to. And that is how it becomes a performance art, because this activity lends itself to creativity, and forces you to widen your usual perspective on a deck of cards, and do things with it that you previously have never even thought of, and things that you previously did not even think were possible!
Some have referred to cardistry as card juggling, and that is an apt description, because cardistry is much like juggling, but with playing cards. Zach Mueller, who is a big name in this relatively new art-form, describes it as “kinda like yoyo tricks with cards.” Cardistry is about doing things like fanning and cutting cards in a creative way and with a high level of skill, thereby turning it into a performance art. Instead of doing ordinary cuts and shuffles, expert cardists are able to do one-handed cuts, complicated shuffles, turnovers, tosses, and catches, in a way that is a beauty to watch.
Cardistry moves typically have unusual names that reflect their creator, origin, or appearance. There is Kevin Ho’s “Flurf”, “Off the Hook”, and “Racoon”, Joey Burton’s “Skater Cut”, Huron Low’s “Firefly” and “Flicker”, Daren Yeow’s “Rev 2 Twirl”, Bone Ho’s “Anaconda” and “Tornado Deck Split”, Oliver Sogard’s “Friffle”, Dan Buck’s “Vertigo”, and many more. Chris Kenner’s two-handed “Sybil Cut” flourish uses multiple packets of cards, and is a good example of a popular flourish. It is arguably the most well-known and recognized move among cardists, and is a common starting challenge that newbies to the art try to take on. But from there, there are all kinds of advanced maneuvers to learn, some almost being a sub-genre of their own, such as “isolations”.
Here is a spectacular video produced by Kuma Films, which covers the international cardistry convention that was held in Los Angeles last year. It introduces cardistry, includes some stunning footage, and features commentary and moves from some big name cardists:
In the last few years, cardistry has enjoyed a huge boom. What was formerly described as “card flourishing”, and considered to be an activity used as a filler in a magic performance, has now become its own separate art form. Creative and skilled performers are performing moves of increased complexity. And yet anyone can give it a try, because the ingredients are simple: as long as you have a good deck of cards, you are ready to go, you can do it anywhere, and you are limited only by your imagination, creativity, and manual dexterity.
As testimony of how big this new art-form is growing, you will find many performance videos and cardistry tutorials on the internet. Social media and sites like youtube and instagram have really helped popularize and advance the art, because cardists can share their new moves and tutorials and videos with other enthusiasts globally.
There are even international gatherings of top performers, and over the last few years, a Cardistry Con was organized as an international and annual convention for cardistry enthusiasts. The next event is planned for September 2018, and will be held in Hong Kong. Some of the big name attendees from around the world have included Dan and Dave Buck, creators of the biggest selling instructional DVDs on the subject, and a huge influence on the art; Zach Mueller, a viral video sensation, and creator of the popular Fontaine Playing Cards; and The Virts team from Singapore, makers of the Virtuoso deck, the world’s first playing cards optimized for cardistry.
As an indication of cardistry’s popularity and appeal, Zach Mueller’s Hypnotic Cardistry Kid collaboration video by Kuma Films has over two and a half million views. The follow-up California Cardistry video seems destined to crack the one million views mark as well.
But with time, cardistry has continued to evolve, and with that comes the creation of new toys. Today the playing card market is full of custom decks that particularly lend themselves well to cardistry, and the last few years in particular have seen an explosion of new decks created specifically for this purpose. Since cardistry is all about creating a visual impact, creating a deck of playing cards that have carefully designed aesthetic qualities to maximize their visual appeal when fanning and spreading cards makes obvious sense. It is only a logical progression to create a deck with aesthetics that will visually accent every card flourish, from spins, to cuts, to pivots, to fans. A growing art form needs evolving materials, and that is what cardistry decks are all about.
And there is a steadily growing throng of cardists around the world who are more than ready to support this growing market, by throwing money at projects that produce decks designed specifically for cardistry. As a result, we are seeing some beautiful decks of playing cards being produced, with stunning colour combinations, and striking visual designs. These decks are just a dream to use, and make even a basic flourish like a fan or spread look like a work of art.
One of the best known examples of this is the series of Virtuoso Playing Cards created by The Virts, which is considered to be the world’s first deck of playing cards specifically designed for cardistry. This deck has a real visual appeal when fanned and flourished, and many other cardistry decks followed suit. At the extreme end of this trend are the School of Cardistry decks from the New Deck Order. With these decks, playing cards have arrived a point they have not been before: 52 completely identical cards, front and back, designed purely for cardistry – and so further removed from the original purpose of a deck of traditional playing cards than ever before! But for the most part, cardistry decks still include traditional suits and values on all the cards, although their creativity and new purpose often makes them quite unsuitable for playing a card game or performing magic.
Not only is cardistry a new art form, and not only are there many wonderful new decks of custom decks available that give it opportunity to really shine, but this new art form also has at its disposal new tools that allow this art form to grow in an unparalleled way. After all, we live in a digital age, and that means that the technology is there for people to produce high quality instructional and educational videos in the comfort of their own home. In addition, the global use of the internet and social media means that it is possible to easily share these videos with the rest of the world.
All this means that at almost any other point of history, this new art form would be consigned to the fate of being unheard of, and at best experimented with by a select few. But in our modern age, cardistry enthusiasts can connect with and learn from each other, and share their expertise. While cardistry is a rewarding hobby even when performed in the privacy of your own home, cardistry will often be at its best when shown on film, with the benefit of slow motion video and accompanied by a suitable soundtrack. The progression and availability of technology means that high level and creative performances of card flourishing can be performed and filmed, and shared via the internet for the rest of us to enjoy and admire.
A fine example is this stunning video from The Virts, which features one of the newer versions of their popular Virtuoso deck, and has already clocked up more than 2 million views.
Because social media, shared videos, discussion forums, and other internet tools have played an important in growing cardistry, this also means that this young art form is very community focused. For the most part, the way that cardists connect and share is online. Social media platforms like Instagram and youtube, have played a key role in developing relationships and building friendships among cardists, and these provide ideal mechanisms to exchange ideas and learn from each other. The role of the community in the advancement of cardistry cannot be understated. The internet doesn’t just help bring new cardists into the fold, but more importantly it helps ensure that the art form keeps exploring new territory. Because cardists are constantly coming up with new moves, it is by sharing these novelties that others in the community can then build on these further and take these new ideas in different directions. This ensures the ongoing evolution and maturing of this young art form in healthy and creative new ways.
The fact that the actual number of people who enjoy cardistry in a particular location is usually quite small, makes it all the more important to connect with fellow enthusiasts over the internet. But while learning from videos posted by fellow cardists is one of the most important ways to advance your skills, there is nothing like meeting up and learning from another cardist in person. The annual international convention, Cardistry Con, is one way that physically brings together cardists from around the world. But cardists will often look for informal opportunities to do this and seek them out. So it is not at all uncommon to come across posts on internet forums from cardists who are travelling to another city, and looking to meet up with other cardists that they can “jam” with. Its vibrant community is one of cardistry’s biggest strengths, and almost certainly guarantees that it will continue to grow in years to come. Here is a group shot of all the attendees from the 2016 convention in Berlin, Germany.
An Accessible Art Form
But do not let the highly skilled performances you see of experts dampen your enthusiasm. Cardistry is an art form that remains well within the reach of beginners, because all you need to try it is a good deck of cards. From there you are limited only by your imagination, creativity, and manual dexterity.
Certainly you can buy specialized decks of playing cards that particularly lend themselves well to cardistry. And if you would like to give cardistry a go, definitely consider picking up a deck like the Virtuoso deck, because it will automatically make some of your basic moves look amazing, and make the whole experience far more enjoyable, motivating you to stretch yourself and try new moves.
But technology also means that there is also a wide range of excellent instructional materials that is readily available online. Using this material will give you a head-start in your new cardistry career. Begin by heading to the School of Cardistry channel on youtube, which was started in 2013 by cardistry team New Deck Order. This channel currently has almost 100,000 subscribers, and millions of views. While there is no shortage of cardistry tutorials online, some are very poor quality, and in contrast The School of Cardistry has been professionally produced. It was designed to function as a centralized and structured platform for complete beginners to pick up the wonderful art of cardistry, as its own mission statement describes it: “School of Cardistry is the best free Cardistry resource for absolute beginners. Tutorials for each card flourish are kept short, and include easy-to-follow verbal instructions.”
For those new to cardistry, the School of Cardistry is a fantastic place to start, and will give you the ability to start with the basics, and naturally progress to more advanced moves. Their progressive system of learning ensures a systematic approach in which you can build up skills, with the benefit of videos that are short and yet have clear instructions. If you are serious about learning some cardistry, head to the fantastic Resource and Beginner’s Guide that was created by cardistry enthusiasts on Reddit.
So why not try something right now?! If you have never tried anything much more complicated than a shuffle before, why not start by learning a classic beginner-friendly two-handed cut, The Werm, from the very best, the Buck twins themselves:
Want to give cardistry a whirl – literally? Why not treat yourself to a nice cardistry deck from PlayingCardDecks, and give cardistry a go for yourself? The Virtuoso FW17 deck created by The Virts is an ideal place to start, but you will find many other creative and colourful decks that are ideal for cardistry by checking the range at PlayingCardDecks here.
Want to check out some more cardistry videos? Here are a couple of videos that are compilations of short clips posted by cardists around the world on Instagram, and feature some mind-blowing moves: Best Cardistry Compilation 2017 Video #2 and Video #3.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, and collecting playing cards. This article first appeared on PlayingCardDecks.com (here)
Ah, the sweet smell of a brand new deck. There it is, a fresh arrival in the mail, now waiting on your kitchen table. It is taunting you in its shiny cellophane, begging to be opened. Inside, as you know, is the joy of discovery, the smell of newness, the feel of brand new playing cards, and the promise of future experiences. You can hardly wait!
But do you need to break in your new deck first? If you want the handling to be smooth, are there any special steps you need to take to get your deck into optimum working condition for peak performance? And if so, what is the right way to do that? In this article, we’ll consider and explore this topic.
DO YOU EVEN NEED TO BREAK IN A DECK?
Whether or not you even need to break in a deck depends on a number of factors.
1. Are you a professional magician, about to perform a gig?
If so, then it’s not likely that you want your first experience with a new deck of cards to be on stage in the middle of a performance or when you’re on stage. Ideally, you’ll want to have at least given it a short test drive in advance, just to make sure it feels right, and has that gently worn and familiar feeling, so that it won’t cause any issues during your performance. The last thing you want is a couple of cards to be stuck together, or to find some other issue with the deck.
Obviously magicians won’t want to perform with a tired and worn deck that is full of grime, because it makes a poor impression, so it is professionally important to use a deck that is brand new or near new. But when using that new deck, you don’t want to have to worry about a less than optimal performance, so you do want it handling as best as it can from the moment your performance begins. You certainly don’t want to be spending precious minutes fiddling with cellophane wrappers, or getting rid of the standard “new deck order”. And are the cards too stiff? Too slippery? These are the two main issues you may find with a new deck, and are the kinds of things that you can address by breaking in a deck.
For many professionals, it will be a personal thing as to whether or not a deck performs exactly the way you want fresh out of the box, or whether you prefer the slightly different handling that results from a slightly worn deck. But for the rest of us, unless our first drive with our deck is at some official event, the need to “break in” a deck is much less necessary. It will get broken in naturally simply by using it, so just go right ahead and put it to work. It’s not like some new car that you need to handle gently for the first few kilometers, nor are you like a test pilot nervously taking a brand new plane on its first flight. Little can go wrong, and if you just use the deck for what it is intended for, everything will work out fine.
2. Who is the publisher, and what kind of deck is it?
Decks from some publishers will perform just beautifully straight out of the box, and this can also depend on the card stock that is used. Many cardists like using a deck that feels soft, and typically a deck will become softer by sheer use, as pressure is applied to the cards in the course of shuffling and handling. A USPCC deck with their “Thin-Crush” stock will have this feel immediately from the box, whereas a deck with their thicker and higher grade Casino Bee stock may require some wearing in before the cards feel softer. The B9 True Linen stock from Cartamundi also has a very soft feel from the box as well, and many cardists will just love how this feels from the get go. In contrast, LPCC/EPCC decks with the Diamond/Master Finish will have a much stiffer feel from the outset, and this sense of snap and firmness isn’t likely to change much despite intense use of the cards, given that these are intended to be much harder wearing and longer lasting cards.
All this means that whether or not there’s a need to break in a deck can depend on how it handles straight out of the box, which can vary according to the publisher and the kind of deck it is. So let’s talk about the typical USPCC deck a little more, since that represents by far the majority of decks. Decks with their standard Bicycle stock and with their higher grade Casino Bee stock will both become softer over time, so it can be helpful to wear these in if that is important to you. This is largely a process that will occur naturally as you use the cards, so there’s no need to artificially wear them in as such. But if it is very important to you that all the cards arrive at the same degree of softness at the same time, you might want to systematically go through a series of moves that puts all the cards through their paces in the same way.
Certain decks will also be more slippery when they are first used, which is a result of the coating on the cards. Some use will see this wear slightly, and the cards won’t quite slide as freely as they did initially, which is another reason some magicians will want to break in a deck first. On the other hand, other decks may perform worse over time, although this will largely be with decks from inferior publishers. These may appeal to spread and fan smoothly immediately from the box, but over time can quickly start clumping and be inconsistent.
3. How do you like your deck to feel and perform?
For most people, a deck will slowly change its feel as it gets used. In some cases, a deck may perform worse as it wears, and fans and spreads that were initially super smooth and consistent may start becoming clumpy or less than optimal. But generally speaking, as a deck becomes slightly softer it can become more pleasant to use, and sometimes this can even mean that fans and spreads can improve. It also can become less slippery, and the cards will actually spread and fan a little more consistently and pleasantly.
One thing about USPCC produced cards is that the edges of the cards can be somewhat rough after the cutting process. You can feel this by running your hand alongside the edge of a brand new deck, especially if you compare it to the super clean and smooth cut of a LPCC/EPCC produced deck. This will wear smoother with time, but there are things you can do to speed up this process.
To summarize, a deck that has been worn in slightly will generally perform better than a brand new deck – although there are exceptions. Cards will be less slippery, and spread evenly and smoothly, springs will be easier due to the cards being softer, faros will be more consistent (in both directions), and packets and double lifts can be formed more cleanly. This will happen naturally over time with any deck, so in many cases you don’t need to do anything special – just go ahead and enjoy the cards, and they’ll wear in automatically as you use them. But sometimes you do want to accelerate that process for performance reasons.
HOW SHOULD YOU BREAK IN A DECK?
So suppose we do want to break in our deck, how should we go ahead doing that? Let’s imagine that our deck is still staring at us from the kitchen table, grinning at us from within its cellophane. So let’s begin right at the start of the whole process, and list some steps that we can do.
Step 1: Preparation
So what do we need to get started?
● Be clean. You didn’t see that coming did you? There you were, with your grimy hands, all ready to rip into your brand new deck, and you almost forgot this important step! Go ahead and wash your hands – and dry them thoroughly! The oil on your hands, and any grime that might be invisibly clinging to it, will quickly transfer to your brand new cards, and before you know it they will start looking grimy as well. So it’s important to get rid of any sweat, dust and dirt that your hands might be carrying, and give your new deck the very best start it can, rather than throwing mud at it on its first test drive!
● Get your tools. Don’t worry, you won’t need a hammer or any heavy equipment! But a sharp knife will come in handy shortly, in order to do a neat and tidy job of opening the seal.
Step 2: Opening the Tuck Box
You didn’t really think that the cards magically pop out of that wrapped box do you? This process involves several steps:
● Cellophane. We begin by opening the cellophane, or shrink-wrap as it’s sometimes also called. Rather than ripping this from the top or bottom, I usually like to pull the tab provided for this around the deck. What this does is divide the wrapper into two halves. I typically remove the smaller top half, but leave the larger lower half on the deck. This provides additional protection to the tuck box, helping it stay in shape, and preventing the corners from becoming dinged up or tearing. But not too much can go wrong when removing the cellophane – unless you’re using a knife, in which case be careful that the sharp blade doesn’t slip and leave an unplanned but permanent tattoo on your skin or on the tuck box!
● Seal. Now for the seal, which is the adhesive sticker on most decks that keeps the deck closed and needs to be opened in order to open the top flap. Again, there are wrong ways to do this. Rather than just tear this in any fashion, I like to preserve the seal as best as possible. With a custom deck, the seal has often been thoughtfully and deliberately designed with unique artwork to fit with the rest of the deck, and it’s nice to preserve as much of that as possible. Cutting it parallel with the top of the deck along the upper flap is less than ideal, because it means you’ll invariably have part of the sticky side of the seal facing inwards, where it will occasionally attach itself to a playing card, and over time accumulate dust and dirt. Instead, it’s often best to get a sharp knife, and cut the seal right along the semi-circle shape. In a pinch, you can use a thumb nail to do this. But the result will be very neat and tidy: when the tuck box flap is closed, you’ll see the two parts of the seal come together in entirety, and there’s the added advantage that you won’t be leaving any sticky surfaces around to attract grime.
● Top flap. Ideally you want to bend the top flap backwards. There is usually a line about 1cm below the top flap, which has been pressed into the deck during production, and that’s where you want to bend the top flap backwards – not at the very top of the deck itself. What this does is reveal the top centimeter of the cards, making them easy to grab. If you don’t do this, and the cards are somewhat of a tight fit in the tuck box, you may find yourself butchering the top of the case trying to get the deck out.
Step 3: Removing the Cards
Wait, do we really need a whole step that explains how to remove the cards from the tuck box, and do I really think you have an IQ lower than an Ace of Spades? I’m sure you’re bright enough – after all you’re reading this! – but the truth is that you can butcher this part of the process as well.
● Take out the cards. If you have pushed back the top flap at the line described in the previous step, you should be able to get your fingers on both sides of the top of the deck. The most natural way to do this is to have your thumb on one side of the deck in the semi-circular thumb tab (another reason for not cutting the seal directly across the top!), while your forefinger grabs the other side of the deck along the top centimeter of the cards that has been revealed when you bent the top flap of the tuck box backwards. Now you can just pull the cards out, but even that can be a little tight at times. Get gravity to help, and tip the box over, so that the cards fall naturally into your hand. Don’t forget to inhale that new deck smell – that’s not something you want to miss is it? Breathe in deeply, and smell those new cards – you know you want to! This is also a good time to remove the ad cards, so that what you’re handling is a 54 card deck without unnecessary extras.
● Smooth the edges. In the case of a USPCC produced decks, the edges of the playing cards of a brand new deck will feel noticeably rough. While this can improve over time, you might want to take your deck and rub all four sides a number of times against some fabric – denim jeans are perfect. This will remove any loose bits and can help reduce some of the roughness.
Step 4: Conditioning the Cards for Optimal Friction
Some swear that there’s a particular order of steps that must be followed when breaking in a deck in terms of how you handle the cards for the first time once they’re outside the box. Personally I fail to see how the order of what follows matters too much – although I wouldn’t begin with a riffle shuffle or spring for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. So here are the moves you should consider doing to make your cards perform better than when you have them in your hands for the first time.
First of all, you want to give your cards a workout to help ensure optimal friction. These first moves are geared to ensure that the cards slide smoothly over each other. Cards have a coating that is designed to optimize how they glide over each other, but in the factory the cards have just been produced and never actually rubbed over each other, so there may be some small imperfections. We want to make sure that with the help of some warmth, wear, and pressure, everything is in good order and sliding smoothly and evenly. A helpful way to think of this is that you are polishing the cards by rubbing them against each other.
● Overhand shuffle. Shuffle off all the cards one at a time, to ensure that all the cards move freely, and there are no clumps of cards sticking together. It’s important to make sure that all the cards are properly separated.
● Wash. At this point some people recommend “washing” your cards. No, don’t get out the soapy water! A wash refers to spreading all the cards on the table, crudely overlapping each other, and shuffling them around over each other. The term “granny shuffle” is also used for this method. Personally I think that a systematic series of overhand shuffles accomplishes the same thing, is neater, and does a better job of looking after your cards, but you might find it more satisfying and effective to give your cards a “wash” as just described.
● Fan. A few fans are now the order of the day, in both directions. The idea of this and the previous step is that you get the cards sliding over each other every which way.
If you did the above steps face up, now repeat them face down. This ensures that each card has gone through its paces in each and every direction, from both sides.
Step 5: Conditioning the Cards for Optimal Flexibility
But cards don’t only need to slide over each other smoothly, they also need to be able to flex in different directions. If they were stiff and rigid like wooden boards, there’s no way you could handle them at all, so we want to make sure that they are malleable and soft. That’s something that the printing process won’t do for us by bending them in different directions to soften them up, but fortunately it’s something we can easily do, by giving the cards a workout to help ensure optimal flexibility.
These next moves are geared to ensuring that the cards flex properly, and return back to their natural shape easily and quickly. I strongly suggest doing these steps after the ones just described to get optimal friction, because when sliding the cards across each other, you don’t want them to be previously bent as a result of riffle shuffles or springs. Although if you find that your deck is warped out of the box, these flexibility routines will help straighten it out, so you may need to adjust the order of things.
● Aeration. This is simple and interesting “flex-ercise” in which you hold the deck similar to the beginning of a spring, squeezing both ends towards each other. This causes the deck to bend into a C shape, and you’ll notice the cards all separating from each other with a layer of air between them. This helps separate the cards, and helps prevent the oil or coating causing them to stick together. Do this in both directions.
● Riffle shuffle. Now it’s time for a good riffle shuffle, since not only do you want the cards sliding smoothly over each other, but you also want them flexing nicely. Do this both face up and face down, completing each shuffle with a bridge, so you don’t end up with bent or warped cards, and so that the cards are flexed in both directions.
● Faro shuffle. Another good move to do at this point is a faro shuffle. Given the new deck order, the central place that splits the deck exactly should be even easier than usual to find – for most standard decks it will be right between the King of Clubs and King of Diamonds. You can complete the shuffle by bridging the cards, or by cascading the cards together if you know how to perform that flourish. A faro shuffle will also tell you immediately whether or not a deck has a traditional cut or a modern cut, depending on which way you need to weave the cards together for the faro shuffle.
● Spring. Just like a riffle shuffle, a couple of good springs will help, and be sure to do these in both directions (face up and face down).
To round things off, you might want to conclude with another series of overhand shuffles, just to make sure that the factory coating has had another pleasant polish and final warm up, so that it can behave optimally.
In most cases, for the average person anyway, there’s no real need to artificially “break in” a deck. Just go ahead and use it! How it will handle and feel will change naturally over time, and as long as it’s a good quality deck, often this may make the handling smoother and better.
But if you’re a performing professional, it may be important to make sure that a deck is in optimal handling condition ahead of a performance. In that case you will want to put a new deck through its paces before using it for the first time on the stage. Usually the best way to do this is by a systematic series of shuffles, fans, spreads, and springs, as described above, to break the cards in faster, and to ensure that they have optimal friction and flexibility ahead of your performance. It’s not a complex process, and simply spending 10 minutes with your deck in this way should do the trick.
For most of us, none of this really matters enough, and wearing in a deck is what happens automatically as we use it. Even so, it is good to be aware of how to treat a deck well, and be familiar with some of the things you can do to help give your playing cards that familiar feel, and ensure that they won’t let you down. Treat your cards right, and they’ll treat you right!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, and collecting playing cards.
This article is the next installment of a two-part series about how playing cards were used in different ways in previous centuries. Before our modern deck obtained its traditional look, playing card decks were often highly customized, and used for a variety of different purposes. The previous article covered how playing cards were used in more typical ways: for playing card games, for art, and for education. But the past has also witnessed playing cards being commonly used for other purposes, like the ones described here.
For Fortune Telling
Fortune telling, or cartomancy, has a long history and association with playing cards. While a traditional deck is rarely used for fortune telling today, the connection between playing cards and cartomancy continues, even though playing cards were used for playing games long before they were ever used for fortune telling. Especially in some cultures, there continues to be a close relationship between cards and fortune telling, which is why in the popular mind gypsies are associated with fortune telling cards.
Despite what some people think, the origin of our modern deck does not lie in the fortune telling Tarot deck. Tarot cards appear to have been a separate and later development from a standard deck of playing cards, and rather than pre-date the traditional deck, the 78 card Tarot deck actually came a century or two later. In fact, historical evidence suggests that the additional 22 cards common to a Tarot deck originated as trump cards for more advanced games, and at some point the addition of these cards to a standard deck led to a larger Tarot deck. This was first used for more complex trick-taking games, but later began to develop a life of its own in the hands of cartomancers and occultists.
The rise of divination eventually did see the use of playing cards for fortune telling and cartomancy, and the earliest known fortune-telling deck is by John Lenthall and dates from around the late 1600s. While the legitimacy of fortune telling will be dismissed by most modern secularists today, it cannot denied that it has made an important contribution to the history of playing cards and also had an impact on its artwork. This is particularly the case with the larger Tarot deck, which soon became a tool of choice for cartomancers, and is still commonly used as such today. Many Tarot decks were created with all the cards having colourful images that depicted all manner of disasters or good fortune. Many different Tarot decks exist, and these often feature wonderful artwork, and continue to be popular with collectors worldwide.
As we’ve seen already, playing cards were first used only by the aristocracy that could afford them, and it was only with the arrival of mass production that playing cards found themselves in the hands of the general public. Along with this welcome development came a less welcome one: gambling. Gambling soon became a real problem, especially because this is what the lower class chiefly engaged in when playing card games. It’s for this reason that the church frequently and strongly denounced card playing. And along with gambling came another dark activity: cheating.
But what about if cheating techniques are used to create illusions which are designed purely to amuse and entertain? That’s effectively what magic is all about, and so playing cards became an obvious tool for magicians to use, using similar techniques used by crooked gamblers. Magic as a performing art has a much longer history, of course, and sleight of hand existed long before playing cards, whether it was intended to cheat or to entertain. But playing cards did lend themselves very naturally to magicians looking for ways to create illusions, especially because they were a familiar item for the masses who used them for playing card games.
18th century Italian magician Giovanni Giuseppe Pinetti is often credited as being a pioneer that paved the way for playing card magic. His charismatic popularity made him a popular entertainer, and he was one of the very first to include card tricks in his official theater performances, and he even entertained royalty. Prior to this, the only place you could expect to see card magic was on the streets or in private rooms, and it didn’t have any real respect or credibility. Many famous magicians followed in Pinetti’s footsteps, such as the 19th century icons Robert-Houdin and Hofzinser, the latter being considered by some to be a father of card magic. From this time onwards, magicians began to include card tricks in their repertoire more and more, and card magic became a growing art form. Names like Dai Vernon, Charles Bertram, and Erdnase, are well known to magicians today, but these magicians played an important role in popularizing and shaping card magic as we know it.
Today we are building on the work of these pioneers, and magic with playing cards is often one of the places that beginners now start their journey in magic. Almost everyone has a deck of cards and is familiar with them, so they are an ideal starting point, requiring no real investment. Magicians tend to use cards extensively for practicing and performing, and the production of playing cards for working magicians represents one of the biggest shares of the playing card market in our modern era.
Playing cards have long served as an ideal souvenir, particularly when each individual card is used for a different picture. This turns a deck of cards into a mini photo album of 50+ individual works, making it perfect for depicting places or events. Souvenir decks started emerging in the 1890s, coinciding with the growing popularity of photography, which was at that time a very expensive undertaking. In contrast, a deck of souvenir playing cards allowed you to own a mini photo album of an exotic place or country you visited at a relatively low cost.
Special events have long provided a rich source of material for playing card artwork as well. Notable events such as various wars led to the production of commemorative decks of playing cards, to serve as memorials of the Napoleonic Wars, American Civil War, and many others. Royal occasions and other special state events have been commemorated in a similar fashion. Royal coronations and weddings have often featured on playing cards; so too anniversary celebrations of important discoveries or conquests.
Current events have also been a catalyst for new decks of playing cards, the First World War being a prime example. Some of these decks were used for the purposes of propaganda, with decks in Germany printing court cards that gave places of honour to the Kaiser and other leaders, while war scenes were depicted on other cards. Meanwhile playing cards reflecting Allied sentiments were produced in the United States, some featuring court cards depicting generals, officers, and other ranks. During the Second World War, a pro Allied deck produced by Van Mierle Proost included Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and de Gaulle as Kings, while the Aces had outlines of Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and the Kremlin.
But souvenir decks aren’t limited to events, with many decks created that depict colourful images of towns, countries, and cultures, geared to serve the tourist industry in particular. This, too, doesn’t exhaust the potential, since playing cards can depict almost any hobby or interest under the sun, and so we have seen the production of playing cards with images of anything from house-cats to antique furniture. Decks have been created to commemorate all kinds of unique interests, from ancient mythology to modern bull-fighting. A good example of this is a deck that was produced to honour the medical profession, featuring doctors, nurses, chemists, and research workers in hospital gowns, along with the expected equipment of stethoscopes and medicines.
The scope of souvenir and hobby decks is limited only by the imagination of the creators. Today’s custom playing card industry continues to benefit from this, and decks that celebrate popular films, celebrities, or sports, have a ready market. And virtually anywhere you travel, you’re bound to find a deck of cards with pictures that you can take home as a souvenir of the place you’ve visited.
This list by no means exhausts the many ways that playing cards have been used. For example, an important secondary usage of playing cards in previous centuries was as a source of writing paper. Early playing cards didn’t have artwork on the card backs, and were simply blank on the reverse side. Given that paper was often expensive to produce, this made a deck of playing cards a valuable source of paper. Individual cards became a very handy resource, and could be used for writing notes or lists, and were even used more formally as invitations, calling cards, coupons, or as a record of financial transactions, debts, or currency.
Playing cards no longer have blank card backs, so that particular secondary use has all but vanished. But today we are seeing new uses for playing cards emerge, the most notable one being for card flourishing. Cardistry is a thriving industry, and since cardists tend to wear out their decks even faster than magicians, and because of the importance of visual aesthetics, there’s a growing demand for colourful and creative designs.
The Standard Deck Today
Our historical overview demonstrates that playing cards have been used for a variety of uses across the ages besides playing cards, and so it comes as no surprise that in the past there has never really been a “standard” deck as we often imagine it today. Customized decks have existed for centuries, and there are many fine examples of playing cards created especially for the purpose or art or education. This means that the typical Bicycle style card deck as we usually think of it is in reality by no means “standard”.
Even today there’s actually a great variety of different types of decks used around the world, not just in terms of style, but also in size. Most of these are localized in their usage, but you will find places where 32 card decks are very common, or 48 card decks, and even 100+ card decks. In many cases, the size of the deck is closely connected with games that are popular in a specific region, and these games can’t even be played with a deck of a different size.
And not only is the size of a deck non-standard, but so is the artwork. Given the multiple uses for playing cards across the centuries, it was inevitable that there would be a diversity of artwork and styles. In that respect the modern custom playing card industry is hardly new, and customized playing cards have existed for centuries.
Yet despite all this rich variation throughout the history of playing cards, there does remain a commonly accepted “standard” for playing cards today. This standard is primarily based on the French suits that swept Europe and spread across the globe in previous centuries. Today’s court cards largely go back to printer Thomas de la Rue of London. Mr de la Rue was granted a patent for printing playing cards by letterpress and lithography in 1832, and subsequently took control of the playing card market due to his enormous success. With prices and taxes dropping, his production and sales increased significantly. Smaller designers that produced custom decks simply could not compete with him, and slowly disappeared, leaving de la Rue with a monopoly.
For better or for worse, it was the fact that de la Rue effectively cornered the market that led to cards becoming more or less standardized. In his book Playing Cards, Roger Tilley gives this very unflattering assessment of this development: “To add insult to injury, the very expressions of the cardboard court have been crystallized in commercialism. The kings’ looks have become those of company directors, strained and indicative of ulcers, while the queens and knaves have taken on the air of the attendant secretaries: the personal are pawky, and the company ones circumspect … Thomas de la Rue was without doubt a very great printer; yet that very genius proved calamitous to this small branch of the graphic arts … it might be said of Thomas de la Rue that he found a small quantity of marble and left a great quantity of brick.“
Certainly there have been attempts from time to time to create new designs that break with tradition, by designing and producing playing cards that are more easily recognized or with fresh or more contemporary patterns. But these have always failed to receive any serious degree of general acceptance. Of interest is the fact that the De La Rue Company itself promoted a competition in 1957 for new playing card imagery for the court cards to help celebrate the company’s 125th anniversary. But while the prize winning efforts of Jean Picart le Doux were beautiful, they were a commercial failure.
So it could be argued that the history of playing cards has become somewhat stale in the last era, since there have been no significant alterations to the “standard deck” of playing cards for a long time. The dominance of the USPCC has also led to the Bicycle rider-back design becoming somewhat iconic, and its success has also stifled other designs somewhat. Perhaps that is changing given the enormous success of the custom playing card industry, and the gradual acceptance of custom playing cards in the world of professional magic. But for now, at any rate, it seems that custom playing cards will continue to remain somewhat of a novelty rather than becoming a new standard. Even cardistry demands and encourages constant novelties, rather than the adoption of a new accepted standard.
A Lesson from the Past about the Present
We are fortunate to live in a new era of history, which has witnessed the explosion of custom playing cards, and also a growing acceptance of these by the general public. It remains to be seen what future generations will consider to be our contribution to the ongoing history of playing cards. I believe that the increasingly high standards of modern printing techniques, and the ability of the internet to connect creators and consumers, means that we are living in a time that is unprecedented. Highly imaginative and attractive playing cards are being produced, the likes of which have never been seen before. Perhaps today’s biggest contribution to the history of playing cards lies in new abilities to produce high quality decks, and to connect creators with backers and buyers, while ensuring that the entire enterprise remains affordable. The result is a marketplace flooded with new and exciting designs. Not only are we witnessing some very imaginative designs, but we are seeing incredible innovation in the area of tuck box designs, with the use of unprecedented techniques that allow boxes to be created with embossing, metallic foil and inks. The final product of the custom decks we can buy today is often a real work of art, and no wonder collectors love them.
Perhaps for now the lesson of history is this: to consider ourselves privileged for the luxuries we enjoy today. The future will undoubtedly look kindly on what our era has been producing. May we have a real eye of appreciation for the rich heritage that has produced this wealth, and respectfully tip our hat to those who have gone before us, and to the designers, printers, and middle men that help get these works of art into our hands and onto our game tables today.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, and collecting playing cards.
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Shuffled Ink is a multigenerational family business with an unwavering, decades-old mission: to provide an unparalleled experience in customer service and product quality to ensure that all clients’ card visions meet reality.
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In December 1999, Charles Levin, Founder & President of Shuffled Ink (formerly known as QPC Games), was raising three girls and two boys, ranging in age from one to 12. As a marketer living in the top U.S. travel destination (Orlando, Florida), he wanted to create an alternative to brochures and discount books.
He believed that custom-printed playing cards could deliver impactful marketing and branding applications, educational usefulness, and of course, fun-filled family game nights.
This thought, matched with an eager, entrepreneurial mindset, kickstarted Charles’ very first custom card project: advertisement playing cards, or Super Deck.
Charles’ Card Story: From Concept to Reality
The purpose of Super Deck was to promote and elevate tourist hotspots and establishments in the Orlando area. The original pack consisted of a map and cards with discounts and coupons for local attractions, dinner shows, restaurants, shopping, golf, and recreation. Soon after pitching the concept to prospective vendors, Charles had secured the marketing deck in 90 percent of Orlando hotel rooms.
Throughout the early 2000s, Shuffled Ink’s first employees were his 5 children: Melissa, Lori, Matthew, Lisa and Jonathan. The Levin family would regularly clear off the dining room table and use the space to create playing card prototypes and other related personalized products.
As sales blossomed and new opportunities arose, Charles moved the business into his three-car garage. For several years, this is where all marketing, sales, administration, and shipping took place.
For the past 9 years, Charles and his team of production facilitators, project managers and graphic designers have operated in an 8,000 square-foot office and production facility in Orlando, Florida. By Summer 2022, we are expanding into a 35,800 square-foot manufacturing and office space in Winter Garden, Florida.
Charles’ business model has changed quite a bit since Super Deck. Today, Shuffled Ink specializes in printing custom playing cards, tarot and flash cards, packaging, and more for businesses and individuals worldwide.
Family Entrepreneurship: The Shuffled Ink Team
Three of Charles’ kids are still involved at Shuffled Ink today.
Matthew, his oldest son, moved back to Orlando from New York City in 2016 to help him run the business as Chief Executive Officer. His daughter Lisa worked at the company part-time for many years but now oversees all customer services as Vice President of Sales. And youngest son, Jonathan, assists behind-the-scenes in the manufacturing facility.
“Throughout the past 22+ years, my kids’ incredible contributions and influence have added to the existence, growth, and success of Shuffled Ink.” –Charles Levin, Shuffled Ink Founder & President
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Shuffled Ink is a multigenerational family business with an unwavering, decades-old mission: to provide an unparalleled experience in customer service and product quality to ensure that all clients’ card visions meet reality.
Most people know what is meant by the phrase “stacking the deck”. It refers to a technique where you cheat in a card game, by arranging the cards in a particular order. The expression has even entered the English language, and can be used figuratively. Misleading your hearers by cherry-picking evidence and arguments to present only one side of a story is also known as “card stacking”, and is frequently used in advertising and politics.
But today we’re concerned with stacking cards in a more literal sense. Because card stacking can also refer to the literal stacking of cards into a building-like structure. In other words, it’s when you place cards on top of each other to build what is commonly called a house of cards.
The phrase “house of cards” has also migrated into the English language, and is used metaphorically to refer to a situation that is highly unstable or volatile, or to anything likely to fail or collapse. It’s not hard to see why it has this meaning. As you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to build one, a house of cards is a very precarious structure that requires a delicate touch and much care. You only have to bump it slightly, or place one card wrong, and the whole structure collapses in an instant.
The appropriateness of the image and its wide use in the English language proves that building an actual house of cards with real playing cards is incredibly difficult to do. But there are people who can pull this off successfully, and build card houses of incredible size. In this elite group, one man stands tall – though dwarfed by his card houses. That man is world record holder Bryan Berg.
Bryan Berg describes himself as a “cardstacker”, hence his official website cardstacker.com. His remarkable credentials are confirmed by the four separate World Records related to cardstacking that he currently holds.
● Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards (set in 1992)
● Largest House of Freestanding Playing Cards (set in 2004)
● Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards Built in 12 Hours (set in 2016)
● Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards Built in One Hour (set in 2018)
If those categories don’t sound challenging enough, consider the fact that the third of these (tallest house built in 12 hours) was constructed on a running, fully loaded washing machine! He set the first of these records at the age of 17, with a 4.4 meter tower. He’s bettered several of these records more than once since setting them, and has broken his record for the tallest house around ten times. In numerous instances his record-breaking attempts have been commissioned by sponsors. His 2004 record for largest structure was a new category that Guinness created especially for him, and was a replica of Cinderella’s Castle for Walt Disney World, which took 24 days to build.
It’s worth mentioning here that the world record for the tallest house of cards has increased significantly since the early 1900s. That’s when record-breaking card towers began receiving attention in the media, and reports indicated that the best structures from that time ranged in size from 15 stories or layers high to as many as 25 stories. In 1972 Guinness listed the highest authenticated claim as being 27 stories high.
The 1972 record was absolutely decimated by James Warnock in 1978 with a creation that consisted of an incredible 61 stories, which John Slain managed to increase to 68 stories in 1983. This lasted until Bryan’s record breaking attempt in 1992, which increased the bar to 75 stories. At the State Fair of Texas in 2007 he built a tower that was almost 8 meters high for the current world record. The size was limited only by the ceiling of the room in which it was built, and even then some ceiling tiles were removed to give extra building room into the attic!
To give an idea of the amount of cards required, here are some figures for a 7.6m high card tower that Bryan built in 1998. It used over 1500 decks, weighed more than 110 kg, and took more than two weeks to build. Or consider the replica of the Venetian Macao resort hotel which he spent 44 days building in 2010. It was 3 metres tall and 10.5 metres long, used over 4,000 decks (representing over 218,000 cards), and weighed more than 272 kg.
Bryan’s academic background is in architecture, but he insists that it was his love for cardstacking that led him in that direction, not the other way around. He credits his grandfather for introducing him to cardstacking at the age of 8, as an amusing activity between the many card games that his family played. But what his grandfather sparked was a love for building, rather than a specific method. Bryan continued experimenting with different methods, teaching himself different card stacking techniques, and perfecting the art. What he knows about building card houses is simply the result of continued experimentation – although he’s learned a lot about the structural behaviour of real buildings as a result of his expertise with playing cards. Remarkably, his incredible structures are all freestanding, and he uses no tape, glue, or tricks like bending or manipulating the cards in any way.
He turned professional in 1994, which gives him the unique position of being the only person in the world that actually earns a full-time living by stacking playing cards. So where does he make his money? He travels around the US and even the world, putting his card stacking skills on show. The instant appeal and visual impact of his remarkable card houses makes Bryan’s creations a real attraction, and this makes his work ideal to feature at the center of a special event, advertising campaign, or museum. For example, in 2005 he built a replica of the New York skyline using 178,000 cards, to represent those whose lives were lost in the 2014 Boxing Day tsunami, a project that gave supporters the opportunity to donate to survivors through several charities. He’s had clients around the world who have sought him out for his work. What he does is arguably a performance art.
When most people try building a house of cards, they use the pyramid or triangle shape as the main building block, with the aim of building another layer on top of this. A structure of this sort is notoriously difficult to build, and if you manage to get anything beyond three levels high, you can quite rightly be quite proud of your achievement.
Bryan has developed an entirely different technique, however. And given his success, it’s hard to argue with him. Instead of using the classic triangular shape as his base building block, he builds towers using square shapes. It’s a self-taught method, but it’s incredibly effective, and can support an incredible amount of weight. According to Berg, the higher the tower goes, the more solid the lower layers become, due to the physics behind this design. The combined weight of the cards actually makes the structure more stable. Moreover, because he arranges the cards in a grid-like structure, they prevent each other from falling over or bending, further increasing their strength and stability. Here’s a video clip from WIRED that features Bryan explaining his card stacking technique:
This repeated geometric pattern is surprisingly simple to learn, and is also the secret behind the large structures Bryan builds. You then cover the basic honeycomb shapes with cards, and go on to build the next layer on top. Once you master this basic concept, you can apply the same pattern for building walls, columns, and beams, which enables you to create variety in shapes. The result is surprisingly strong. In fact, to destroy his creations, Bryan typically uses a leaf-blower. Yes, really – you can even see him do this on video!
Give it a try!
Now it’s your turn. Would you like to try your hand at cardstacking using Bryan’s method? It’s not something he’s kept secret, and he’s published a book entitled Stacking the Deck: Secrets of the World’s Master Card Architect which reveals all. But he’s also explained the basics of his method on videos readily available online. In addition to the video clip above from WIRED, you can see another helpful explanation from Bryan about his method in the following video:
Key to his success is a simple four card cell structure, which is repeated over and over, in a manner that can best be compared to a beehive or honeycomb shape, or even a waffle. Armed with his basic approach, will quickly be able to take your card stacking skills to the next level. Perhaps you won’t quite be building as elaborate structures as Bryan, who has created a wide range of architectural styles that range from stadiums and churches to pyramids and temples, and even replicas of specific structures like the Empire State Building. But when you try Bryan’s method it is remarkable how much you can achieve. You may be surprised to learn that Bryan even considers himself to be rather clumsy – but his solid design structure and his methodical approach have rescued him more than once.
Here are some helpful tips you should keep in mind, when trying to beat your “personal best”:
● Use new cards. Old cards tend to have bends in them, so it is recommended that you use new or near-new playing cards for the best results.
● Use embossed cards. Most playing cards have an embossed or “air cushion” finish. That is preferable to using cards with a high gloss and smooth finish, because they typically will prove too slippery.
● Build on the floor. It’s tempting to build your structure on a table, but tables invariably wobble. You only need to give your table an accidental bump and your house of cards will come crashing down.
● Avoid slippery surfaces. Don’t build on something slippery, like shiny wood. Particle board can work, or else a non-plush carpet that is tightly woven together.
● Use Bryan’s method. Instead of building with triangles, place the cards on their sides at right angles to each other, forming squares in a repeated pattern. To make the structure self-supporting, lean the cards against each other using the T shapes that this involves.
● Stay relaxed. Tension is your enemy, because your hands will shake if you are tense, increasing the risk of accidentally destroying your own building efforts. That makes it all the more important to stay relaxed.
● Watch your grip. Especially when you’re building on upper layers, Bryan recommends letting the card rest between your fingers rather than holding the card, due to the increased risk of transferring your “shakes” to the structure.
● Don’t give up too easily. Patience is a virtue, and you’ll need lots of it to be successful in building a house of cards. This is a skill you can learn, but don’t expect to become an expert right away.
Bryan’s method will help you improve almost instantly, but don’t be surprised to have your structure fall down. Persist, and keep on trying, because like any skill in life, it’s by persevering and by learning from your mistakes that you’ll improve.
If you think that you go through a lot of decks a year, spare a thought for Bryan, who estimates that he goes through well over 5,000 decks a year.
But Bryan’s achievements also teach us something truly important. While most people are wary of anything that is considered to be “a house of cards” due to its potential to collapse, Bryan shows that it’s possible to make a living from building a house of cards. He’s found a way to turn to the kind of structure that most of us consider a disaster into his bread and butter.
So perhaps the lesson in this is that there are times where we shouldn’t shy away from what seems initially difficult, and by persevering, we may sometimes even accomplish something very important. Spending time building a house of cards may even have rewards you never expected. So what are you waiting for – get out those playing cards, and give it a try for yourself!
Want to learn more about Bryan Berg?
● Official site
● Guinness World Records – Largest Playing Card StructureWant to see videos with Bryan and learn his techniques?
● How this guy stacks playing cards impossibly high (WIRED)
● How to stack playing cards (WIRED)
● Record holder profile (Part 1) (Guinness World Records)
● Record holder profile (Part 2) (Guinness World Records)
● World’s best card stacker builds insane outdoor card tower (Coolest Thing)
Images courtesy of Bryan Berg, and used with permission.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, and collecting playing cards. This article first appeared on PlayingCardDecks.com here.
● Official Shuffled Ink website: ShuffledInk
● Make Your Own Custom Playing Cards at: ShuffledInk
In my previous article I introduced you to ten different types of decks of playing cards. That doesn’t exhaust the types of decks, and so to follow up, here are another ten different types of decks you should know about!
A souvenir deck is a deck of playing cards created in order to serve as a souvenir for tourists or visitors. Typically such playing cards have scenes from different locations, and depict things like notable landmarks, buildings, wildlife, flora, or other unique elements about the place in question. In many cases the card backs will have an image or text that captures something of the overall locale. Each card will then have a different photo or image that occupies most of the space on the card in the area where you would normally find the main images for the court cards and pips. Indices on opposite corners that indicate the suit and value of each card ensure that it can still serve as a playable deck of cards. Effectively such a deck of playing cards serves as a miniature photo album, capturing key images of a place, so it’s an ideal product for tourists to purchase in a souvenir shop.
Souvenir decks need not necessarily be about a particular country or city, but could even be created for an attraction like a Zoo or theme park, and even for a notable event. They are primarily created for the visual images on the cards, rather than for intensive use in playing card games. As a result, they tend to be made very cheaply, with thin card-stock that performs poorly for handling and shuffling. But they do make great novelty items, and achieve the purpose for which they were created, which is as an item of memorabilia. At the same time they have some practical function, and enable you to play card games while you’re on vacation if you really want to.
While not strictly souvenir decks, many of the decks produced by US Game Systems Inc and Piatnik almost qualify for this category. Their novelty decks don’t come close to matching the quality of a Bicycle deck, but they are quite inexpensive, and contain many delightful images and pictures that are the center-piece of the individual cards, which are the real attraction and reason for buying these decks.
● See a range of Piatnik-produced novelty decks
It didn’t take playing card manufacturers long to realize the potential to use playing cards as a means of advertising. In a way much like souvenir cards, playing cards are ideal for companies to use to market their business or products. Advertising decks have been around for a long time, and there are some wonderful examples of 19th century decks. My favourite one is the Murphy Varnish deck, which features transformation cards, and wonderful court cards that depict and promote Murphy’s Vanish.
Many advertising decks are created on a budget, since the goal is about marketing a product or a brand, rather than producing a quality deck of playing cards that will be durable or visually exceptional. But there are many famous brands that have devoted fans, that makes advertising decks featuring these companies or products immediately attractive to collectors who collect memorabilia associated with that company or product. For example, a deck of playing cards that pays homage to Coca Cola won’t only appeal to playing card enthusiasts, but will have a crossover appeal to anyone who collects Coca Cola paraphernalia. Decks that feature brands of beer and whisky are popular for similar reasons. As a result you’ll find playing cards that advertise popular alcoholic drinks like Jack Daniels, as well as famous makes of motorbikes and motor-vehicles, like Harley Davidson and Ford.
● See a range of advertising decks
Closely related to the category of advertising decks are playing cards that pay tribute to popular movies, TV shows, books, music, or other icons in popular culture. These are extremely collectible, due to their immediate appeal for anyone who is a fan of the cultural icon in question. But to make them, creators of playing cards often need to pay a licensing fee to the owner of the “brand” or intellectual property that appears on the cards, and hence the unofficial designation “licensed decks”. They could equally be considered “fan decks”.
Examples of these include playing cards that pay tribute to films like Jaws, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings; TV shows like Saturday Night Live; comic strips like Peanuts, Spider Man, and Marvel’s Avengers; and characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck from Disney. Some of these are created as pure novelty decks, and the artwork is such that they could never even be used for card games.
● See a range of licensed decks
Card flourishing is not something new, and magicians have long incorporated flourishes within their acts. However in the last decade cardistry has really developed an independent existence alongside and separate from card magic, and is rapidly cementing its legitimacy as an art-form in its own right. Cardistry can loosely be described as the performance art of card juggling, and typically involves someone doing visually impressive cuts, twirls, spins, and more with a deck of cards. Social media and the ability to share videos online have really helped cardistry grow rapidly, and it’s especially being embraced by a younger generation.
But cardistry has also spawned a new type of deck, created especially for cardistry. Given that it is all about visuals, card flourishing will benefit the most when the deck used is colourful and has striking patterns that enhance the visual aesthetics of the flourishes themselves. This led to the creation of decks that were optimized and designed specifically for the purposes cardistry. Singapore-based cardistry group The Virts was at the forefront of this development, with the creation of their Virtuoso deck, which became a popular and highly sought after series.
The success of the cardistry movement meant that playing cards did not have to be functional for playing games or card magic, and that there was a ready market prepared to drop money to buy decks that were simply about visual aesthetics. Some cardistry decks can serve a dual purpose of being used for games or magic, but the primary goal of a cardistry deck is the visual appeal. Typically a cardistry deck demands the very highest standard in terms of quality and performance, and features a design and pattern that looks great when the cards are being handled. Some cardistry decks abandon pips and indices altogether, and there are even cardistry decks where every card is identical on both the front and back.
● See a range of cardistry decks
Also deserving separate mention are decks intended specifically for card throwing. Card throwing has received significant media attention as a result of the impressive feats of Rick Smith Jr, who has been featured in some remarkable viral videos from Dude Perfect, and who holds several world records for throwing playing cards the fastest and furthest. While any deck can be used for card throwing, there are custom decks that have been created specifically with the idea of enhancing this unique use of playing cards.
In some cases, the intended goal of a dedicated throwing deck is all about creating a visual effect when the cards are rotating and in motion. Rick Smith Jr’s Falcon Throwing Cards have been designed with exactly this kind of aesthetic in mind, and even incorporate a special marking system in the artwork to help measure how deep the cards go when thrown into objects like foam or fruit. Besides this, they are a relatively standard deck of playing cards in terms of the quality and feel, although a thicker than normal card-stock has been adopted in view of their intended use.
Some of the Banshee decks also include a measuring system on the card faces, but also have bevelled edges geared to maximize their ability to penetrate objects. Perhaps best of all, they incorporate custom holes uniquely designed to produce a sonic scream when the cards whiz through the air.
● See a range of throwing decks
In a unique category of their own are decks designed specifically to be animated. Typically this involves using a flip-book animation technique. The method used to do this is sometimes described as “taking a deck to the movies”. The idea is that you use your thumb to flip through all the cards rapidly, thereby creating the illusion of a moving image.
The Bicycle Cinema Playing Cards are one example of such an animation deck. It has cards that look like a film strip, with a classic yellowed finish for a nostalgic and old time look. When flipping through the cards, an animation feature creates the 3-2-1 count-down that old movies would have, while the film strip sides also appear to move vertically. The Mechanic deck uses a similar technique to create the impression of moving cogs, while the Optricks deck is designed to create a mesmerizing hypnotic effect with moving lines. Also belonging in this category are the Clockwork decks.
Those interested in card magic will also love Dan Harlan’s Card Toon deck, which is a gaff deck featuring an animated stick man, and which uses this principle to reveal a selected card in an amusing manner.
● See a range of animation decks
Limited edition decks
Not every deck of playing cards is intended to be used for playing card games, or for card magic or cardistry. There many collectors who enjoy the hobby of collecting out of sheer love for the variety and novelty of the playing cards themselves. Particularly in the crowdfunding era, many creators have emerged and cemented themselves with a solid reputation as designers whose goal is to create highly collectible playing cards, some of which are produced in limited editions to make them even more exclusive. In some cases, these can be in high demand in the secondary market, and over time can be highly sought after by collectors.
These limited edition decks often have extra touches that make them appealing to the card collector, with an individually numbered tuck seal being a key element of this. Such tuck seals will often indicate the size of the print run, and give each deck an individual number, e.g. 578/1000. Limited edition decks often have lavish tuck boxes, or have other intriguing features about them to help make them unique and interesting. They tend to be produced by well-known designers with an existing reputation of creativity and success, but even new creators will sometimes produce a limited edition version of a project, in order to appeal to the collector looking for something especially classy or unique.
● See a range of decks with numbered seals
Once in a while what you’re looking for is something absurdly expensive and over-the-top. There are lots of ways to add bling to a deck of playing cards, including gold foil and embossing on the tuck box, or else flashes of iridescence or UV spot printing on the cards, all delivered in an exotic looking tuck case. But perhaps there is no other feature in a deck of playing cards that screams “luxury” as much as gilded edges.
Traditionally, gilding was accomplished by hand, with master craftsman literally painting the edges of the cards with gold or silver paint. Sometimes this manual process is still used to create a gilded deck, although technology has opened up other ways of accomplishing this. But there’s no doubt that the end result looks absolutely fantastic! Gold and silver are the two most popular colours of choice for gilding, but modern gilding methods allow for a range of different colours to be used, so you’ll find gilded decks of all styles and colours.
Often a gilded deck will arrive with the cards still stuck together, because the gilding is still intact. That’s perfectly normal, and you need to carefully separate the cards individually before using them. Regular use will cause gilding to wear, so you can’t expect a gilded deck to retain its shiny look forever. However, even after lots of shuffling and handling, you will still be able to recognize that a deck was gilded, and distinguish it from a non-gilded deck. Primarily intended for collectors, a gilded deck certainly adds an impressive amount of bling to your deck, but naturally this also means that it comes at a much higher cost.
● See a range of gilded decks
Tarot decks deserve a separate category, and are often misunderstood. To begin with, the key difference that distinguishes a Tarot deck from a standard deck of playing cards is that it has 26 extra cards. Each suit has four court cards instead of three, and there are also 22 additional cards, usually described as Major Arcana. These extra cards are the simple explanation that lies behind the emergence of the Tarot deck, since it simply came about as a way of increasing the complexity of card games by including extra trump cards.
The origin of the Tarot deck is often the subject of controversy, with some people believing that Tarot cards had roots in the occult and that they were linked to ancient secret societies that disseminated esoteric knowledge. According to this view, Tarot decks were the original form of playing cards, from which the standard deck developed. But after the publication of The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City (1980) by respected academic Michael Dummett, there is a growing consensus that there is no evidence of Tarot decks being used for fortune-telling and the occult until the 18th century, while standard playing cards already appeared in Europe in the 14th century. The “Major Arcana” was first added to the traditional deck already in the 15th century, long before any occultic use, and it served as a fixed trump suit in trick taking games. That’s how Tarot decks were used for several centuries, until they cartomancers became infatuated with them around the 18th century, causing them to develop a life of their own for fortune telling, and taking their artwork in a new direction.
Regardless of the history, the number of cards in a Tarot deck is quite firmly established, and today it is clearly distinguished from a regular deck. It typically comes with highly attractive and visual artwork, often reflecting occultic themes linked to fortune-telling. Regardless of your position about their history, development, and function, it’s not hard to see how Tarot cards are very collectible, in view of their distinct characteristics and visual appeal.
● See a range of Tarot decks
Unlike traditional decks, and Tarot decks, Oracle cards don’t have a set number of cards or fixed structure. A deck of Oracle cards could consist of anything from 12 to 100 cards, for example. There are no real rules about what cards a deck might contain, other than that the cards are spiritual in nature. Besides that, an oracle deck can be anything that its creator wants to make it consist of, both in terms of the number of cards, and which ones. The Lenormand decks are good example of this kind of fortune-telling deck.
While the Tarot deck can be used for card games, Oracle cards are strictly used for fortune-telling. The expression “fortune-telling cards” need not refer exclusively to Oracle decks, however. The practice of fortune telling using a deck of cards is referred to as cartomancy, and the most popular deck used by cartomancers today is the Tarot deck. Sometimes even a traditional deck of 52 playing cards can be used for fortune telling and divination. There are also decks of standard cards that are particularly created with a view to cartomancy, such as the Ye Witches Fortune Cards (1896), Kadar Fortune Playing Cards, and Cartomancer Fortune deck.
● See a range of Oracle decks
Well, there you have it, an introduction to some of the diverse types of decks that you’ll find on the market today. There is indeed a tremendous amount of diversity, so the modern playing card collector has plenty of choice for different types of decks to enjoy.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, and collecting playing cards. This article first appeared on PlayingCardDecks.com.
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