Card Games

I’m New To Collecting Playing Cards, So Where Should I Start?

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions: An Essential Guide for Newbies

Welcome to the hobby of collecting playing cards!

Welcome to the wonderful hobby of collecting playing cards! There will be many old-timers who are reading this, and who have already been collecting playing cards for years. Associations and clubs devoted to collectors of playing cards have existed for decades. But there’s also an increasing number of people discovering this rewarding hobby for the first time, and just starting out with collecting.

So there are tons of decks to choose from, and it’s easy to buy them. Collecting playing cards is a rewarding hobby that can be tremendous fun, as you research the wide range that is out there, chase after that elusive hard-to-find or limited edition, and best of all: receive a package in the post, and get to unwrap end celebrate your “mail day” haul. But the internet can also provide endless options, and sometimes there’s too much choice. So where should you start, and what approach should you have? In this article, we aim to answer some of the more common questions asked by newbies about collecting playing cards, and direct you to helpful resources where you can learn more.

Playing card collecting
● What basic playing card terms should I know?
● Why are there so many decks?
● What kinds of decks should I collect?
● Should I collect older decks?
● What playing card brands should I know about?
● What playing card designers should I know about?
● What playing card manufacturers should I know about?

Playing card types
● Is it better to get decks made out of paper or out of plastic?
● What size playing cards should I get?
● What should I look for in a good quality deck?
● Why does everyone recommend Bicycle decks?
● What different types of decks I should know about?
● What are transformation playing cards?
● What are marked decks?
● How are Tarot and Oracle decks different from regular decks?

Playing card shopping
● Where can I buy decks?
● How much should I pay for a quality deck?
● Should I buy playing cards as an investment?
● What essentials should I know about buying and collecting?

Playing card care
● Should I open my decks?
● Do I need to break in a new deck?
● How do I break in a new deck?
● How should I store my decks?
● What other playing card accessories and novelties should I know about?
● How can I keep track of my collection?
● How do I create my own deck of playing cards?

Playing card uses
● How do I learn how to do basic card handling?
● How do I learn how to do cardistry?
● How do I learn to do card magic?
● What good card games should I learn?
● What good solitaire games should I learn?
● What else can I use playing cards for?

Playing card facts and news
● What should I know about the history of playing cards?
● What other interesting things about playing cards should I know?
● How can I stay up-to-date with news about the latest decks?
● Where can I discuss the hobby with other collectors?

What basic playing card terms should I know?

The playing card industry has developed its own language, and while the lingo will be familiar to experienced collectors, some words and phrases will seem foreign to a newbie at first. But you’ll quickly learn some of the basic terminology, much of which you’ll see in the description of decks in crowdfunding projects, on product pages, and in discussion forums.

The “tuck box” is simply the common way to refer to the box that the cards come in, and is usually wrapped in cellophane. The “embossing” refers to the dimpled finish on the surface of the playing cards, although it can also refer to raised surfaces on more luxurious tuck boxes. The metallic printing on higher end tuck boxes is usually described as “foil”. In the last couple of years some companies have been experimenting with “spot UV printing”, which is a secondary printing process that adds a clear coat to selected parts of a card or box, which creates a raised surface that adds a tactile feel and glossy look. A “brick” refers to a dozen decks, usually purchased together in a brick-shaped box.

The “court cards” consist of the Jacks, Queens, and Kings, and are also called face cards, picture cards, or just “courts”; these contrast with the “spot cards”, which are the number cards from 2 through 10. The “indices” of a card refer to the number and value of the card on opposite corners, while the “pips” are the suit symbols, i.e. Spades, Clubs, Hearts, and Diamonds.

Particularly in the world of card games and especially poker, individual cards have attracted there only nicknames over time, like the Suicide King (King of Spades), Black Lady (Queen of Spades), and Beer Card (Seven of Diamonds). The same is true of particular card combinations, the most famous one being immortalized as “The Dead Man’s Hand”, which is a reference to the legendary story of the hand that gambler Wild Bill Hickok was holding (a pair of black Aces and a pair of black eights) when he was gunned down in 1876.

Different handling techniques also have their own terminology, and there are words that refer to different grips (mechanics grip, biddle grip), as well as shuffles (overhand, riffle, hindu). Card games employ a lot of specialized words and terms as well, and some of these are even unique to specific games.

Learn more:
● Playing card terms you should know
● Common playing card nicknames
● The legend of the Dead Man’s Hand

Why are there so many decks?

But first: why the increase in decks of playing cards and the growing number of collectors? One factor that contributes to the rapid rise of playing card collecting is the arrival of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter a decade ago. These have been exactly the catalyst that many designers needed, as a way of bringing their personal projects to the mass market, and it’s also been a tool used by creative teams to build and develop their own playing card brands. The amount of playing cards arriving on the market today is far greater than ever before, and there’s a wide range of truly novel and incredible designs to choose from.

Another big factor is technology and the internet, which helps both creators and consumers. Technology helps creators design decks from the comfort of their homes, and as a result, a creative designer can produce something special on their personal computer, and then partner with printing companies and crowdfunding platforms to get their design printed and produced. The internet also gives massive marketing opportunities, because as a collector, you can browse a wide range of decks from the comfort of your home, see photos and videos of the latest and greatest custom decks that are hitting the market, and purchase them from online retailers or on the secondary market.

Another important factor is that decks of playing cards are created to serve different needs. Some are created for card magic and playing card games, and these kinds of decks will tend to be quite functional and usable. Cardistry, which is the art of card flourishing, has totally a different set of requirements, since this sees the use of playing cards as a visual demonstration of skill and beauty, thus leading to the rise of a wide range of different decks that emphasize different shapes and colours, since the readability of indices and pips becomes of minor importance. Other decks are unashamedly created simply for collectors, and cater to a wide range of tastes and styles, which are just as diverse as the people who make them and buy them.

Learn more:
● Reasons why so many playing card decks are being produced
● Market saturation: Are there too many decks of custom playing cards?

What kinds of decks should I collect?

Playing cards can have a variety of uses, and if you’re looking for playing cards in order to play card games, perform card magic, or do cardistry, you’ll have different needs. In this FAQ we’ll focus more on the considerations that a collector will be look for in deciding what deck to buy.

Perhaps one of the biggest things you should keep in mind is only to buy cards that you like. Stamp collectors can’t possibly collect every postage stamp in the world, so they usually tend to have a focus, e.g. they might collect stamps only from a particular country, or stamps with pictures of cars or flowers. Something similar is true with collecting playing cards, and you will have to narrow down your area of interest in some way.

Playing cards exhibit the same kind of creativity and diversity that you find in the world of art and design, and are effectively miniature art pieces. So they are often superb examples of beauty, creativity, and imagination, and are also often of important historical interest. There are many areas of special interest that you can focus on, just as with other hobbies.

Here are some examples of areas that different collectors focus on:
● Themes: Possible areas of focus include comics, animals, horses, cars, railroads, geography, history, wars, pinups, royalty, commemorations of events, or other interests like music.
● Brands: Many collectors like to try to assemble a complete collection of popular brand name playing cards, like Fontaines, Virtuoso, Orbits, Cherry Casino, or the Organic series.
● Creators: Popular creators that some collectors specialize include designers like Stockholm17, Alex Chin, Giovanni Meroni, Jody Eklund, Jackson Robinson, Paul Carpenter, and Randy Butterfield.
● Publishers: Certain publishers have a range of decks that people collect, notable ones being Theory11, Ellusionist, and Art of Play.
● Locations: Some collectors only collect cards that originate in Europe, or perhaps Germany or France, or the United States, or some other part of the world.

You can also focus your collecting on a specific type of deck of playing cards:
● Souvenir: featuring scenes from different locations or landmarks that capture a particular place.
● Advertising: created to promote a product or company, like Coca Cola.
● Transformation: where the pips have been incorporated creatively and artistically into a larger image.
● Reproduction: reproducing historically significant or rare decks from the past.
● Standard: traditional style faces, especially the court cards, rather than cards with custom designs.
● Others: Other themes and categories to check out include: Animals, Fiction, Military, Vintage, Gilded
● Singles: Some collectors only collect one card from a deck, their focus being on the unique card backs. Or they might have a binder full of Jokers all from different decks and with different artwork. Due to the elaborate design of the Ace of Spades, some collectors focus exclusively on collecting these.

Learn more:
● Ultimate playing card holiday gift guide
● Playing cards about novels

Should I collect older decks?

This FAQ won’t deal much with older decks. Because once you start collecting older decks, you can also expect to be spending a lot more money. Most playing cards are made out of paper, and paper tends to deteriorate over time. Especially if a deck of playing cards has been well used, it will quickly start looking ragged. That’s why you won’t easily come across older decks in pristine condition. They were created in the first place for playing card games, and if they’ve been used, they’ve probably been worn out and trashed. So older decks either tend to look quite worn, and if they are in top condition, it will be something that was carefully preserved instead of being used, which is extremely rare, and also makes it quite pricey.

For this reason, it’s usually better for the brand new collector to start your collection with newer decks. Fortunately collecting playing cards has an enormous scope, and there are a lot of different directions you can go. While you might decide to collect older decks, if you can afford it, deciding only to collect modern decks which have been released over the last decade or so is quite fine too, and you’ll have more than enough choice to keep you busy, with far more options than you’ll ever be able to buy. In the last decade alone there’s been a massive influx of custom decks hitting the market. Since most new collectors tend to start their collection with newer decks that are readily available, that’s what the majority of this FAQ will be focused on, rather than too many details about vintage and antique decks that will largely be out of the reach of the average collector.

The good news is that if you really are keen on older playing cards, there are plenty of reproductions being made of famous decks. Home Run Games is a publisher that specializes in producing these, and they have made reproductions of decks like Hart’s Saladee’s Patent (1864), Triplicate No. 18 (1876), Mauger Centennial (1876), and my favourite: Murphy Varnish (1883).

Learn more:
● Restorations of famous American card decks
● Custom and reproduction decks produced by PCD in 2019

What playing card brands should I know about?

There’s a number of publishers who have created a solid reputation for producing high quality playing cards. Theory11 is one you should definitely know about. They are highly regarded for producing high quality playing cards that are ideal for card games or card magic, with some customization while not detracting from functionality. They put a lot of effort into creating highly attractive tuck boxes that look terrific and make an instant impression. Their playing cards are also very well priced around $10, and you won’t often get this level of quality at that price anywhere else.

Ellusionist has also been producing custom quality playing cards already before the modern era of crowdfunding. In recent years publishers like Art of Play have also produced a steady stream of wonderful custom decks, and their range can also be highly recommended.

People into card flourishing often are loyal to a brand that has been largely built up on the strength of a skilled cardist, and Fontaines and Anyone Worldwide are very popular name brands that tend to cost a little more simply because of the name.

Learn more:
● Brand spotlight: Theory11
● Brand spotlight: Ellusionist
● Brand spotlight: Art of Play
● Brand spotlight: US Games Systems, Inc
● Brand spotlight: Guru Playing Card Company
● Brand spotlight: Vanishing Inc

What playing card designers should I know about?

There are also many individual designers that have built up a loyal following, and are popular with collectors of modern decks. To see the work of some of the best and most popular modern designers, you should definitely take a look at the designs of creators like Lorenzo Gaggiotti (Stockholm17 Playing Cards), Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards), Lee McKenzie (Kings & Crooks), Paul Carpenter (Encarded Playing Cards), Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries), Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild Project), Randy Butterfield (Midnight Playing Cards), Lotrek (Oath Playing Cards), Alex Chin (Seasons Playing Cards), and Steve Minty.

Learn more:
● Introducing some talented playing card designers and their work
● Designer spotlight: Randy Butterfield (Midnight Cards)
● Designer spotlight: Alex Chin (Seasons Playing Cards)
● Inteview with Lorenzo Gaggiotti (Stockholm17 Playing Cards)
● Interview with Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards)
● Interview with Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries)
● Interview with Lee McKenzie (Kings & Crooks)
● Interview with Paul Carpenter (Encarded Playing Card Co)
● Interview with Karin Yan (Encarded Playing Card Co)

Credit: I’m New To Collecting Playing Cards, So Where Should I Start?