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Interview with Card Collector & Consultant Don Boyer (The Deck Tailor)

2020.04.04 14:24 EndersGame_Reviewer Interview with Card Collector & Consultant Don Boyer (The Deck Tailor)

Interview with Card Collector & Consultant Don Boyer (The Deck Tailor)
I first came across Don Boyer a few years ago. It was in the early stages of my own hobby in collecting playing cards. I'd found a number of playing card communities and forums online, one of which was When I asked what made this forum unique from others, I was told by several people: "Well, the advantage of PlayingCardForum is that it has Don Boyer".
After joining there, it didn't take me long to figure out what they meant. Don Boyer is one of the most active members of the community there, and is very involved in running the forum and participating in it. Not only that, he is incredibly well informed about playing cards and the playing card industry. Whenever a question appeared, he would often be one of the first to post a response, typically with a tremendous amount of accurate information. Clearly he is a source of knowledge like few others, and he's more than willing to share it.
As time progressed, I began to learn a little more about this incredible contributor who could be relied upon as a wonderful and knowledgeable source of information about playing cards. Don is a long-time collector of playing cards, and heavily involved in the American Playing Card Collectors Club, also known as 52 Plus Joker, which he currently serves as a Vice-President. He also runs a business making gaff cards and custom alterations to playing cards for magicians.
But I'll leave it to Don to tell us all the details about this and more. Given his expertise and interests, I figured he would be an excellent person to interview, and when I approached him for this article, he kindly agreed. So, over to Don it is!
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I’m just your average 52-year-old guy who really enjoys playing cards! I always had a fascination with cards as a kid - what other product out there is so versatile in terms of the number of things you can do with them? So many games, plus magic and divination? Sold!
I dabbled with magic as a kid, but didn’t get serious about it until 2010, around the same time I started getting into collecting playing cards. That summer, I was thinking about getting my old poker game back together when I saw an ad on TV for one of the new online poker websites. They were playing cards with an all-black deck, which I thought looked really cool. After a little poking around with Google, I learned that the deck in question was a Bicycle Black Tiger deck with the red and white pips, so I wound up on the Ellusionist web site.
They had some pretty cool-looking custom decks, and at the time, they were still not terribly common (remember, this was before the Kickstarter revolution in playing card projects). Arcane was still relatively new. I looked over that website many times over the next few months, but kept holding off because of how much the decks cost - they were notably more expensive than your typical pack of Bicycles.
Come December, I found myself with some extra cash and decided to take the plunge, ordering some decks and a handful of magic tricks to go with them. The order showed up in the mail on Christmas Eve, I was working overnight shifts at a job with a fair amount of peace and quiet, so I brought the gear with me. By Christmas morning, I was making cards levitate, among other pretty cool tricks! It was the launch of my career as both a magician and a playing card collector.
What do you currently do for a day job and/or what are your other interests?
My day job is a night job - I’m a concierge for a residential building in Manhattan. On the side, I’m running a business, a sole proprietorship called Don Boyer Magic, of which The Deck Tailor is the biggest “division”: custom alterations for magicians and mechanics!
My other interests are film, science fiction and fantasy, pop culture, reading and practicing a Japanese martial art called aikido. I’m currently ranked ikkyu, or “first grade,” which is the final rank before you take the test for black belt. I hope to test for black belt in perhaps one or two years.
What sparked your interest in playing cards to begin with, and how did you get immersed in the world of collecting?
I started collecting cards in 2010, and eventually wandered into a card forum called the Discourse at AetherCards, which became what’s now known as The owner of the forum was a newbie playing card designer who created a deck and made the forum initially as a way to promote the deck, but kept it going as a way of promoting custom cards in general. At the time, United Cardists was in a bit of disarray and there were no other thriving playing card forums, so the Discourse started to really take off.
Hanging out on the forum, I started learning more about playing cards. I eventually wandered over to Lee Asher’s website and noticed that his information on dating USPC decks was a little out of date, so I contacted him and let him know this. We kept in touch, eventually leading to me taking a trip up to Toronto with my then-wife to meet him, which led to me meeting his neighbor, the well-known Tom Dawson, who was president of 52 Plus Joker, the largest playing card collecting society in North America - possibly even the world. I got the chance to browse through just a portion of his collection - and it took hours! He offered to give me two decks from his collection, some less-expensive decks he’d set aside for trading, in exchange for me joining the club. How could I resist?
It was roughly around then that the “Kickstarter revolution” was taking place. Until then, it was nearly impossible for anyone except those with pretty deep pockets to make their own deck of playing cards - suddenly, nearly any artist with a quality concept could sell that concept to backers and raise the money needed to make a deck. It started slow, with maybe two or three playing card projects running at any given time, to eventually reaching something more like thirty! USPC went from requiring minimum print runs of 5,000, down to 2,500 and eventually to a mere 1,000 - with higher per-deck costs, of course.
How did you get involved with the 52 Plus Joker club?
In due time, I was approached by Mr. Dawson with some proposed changes to the club’s charter, largely adding about how the club wanted to increase its online presence. I knew that the owner of the Discourse had been in talks a year earlier to sell to the Blue Crown, but that the deal fell through as he felt TBC would commercialize the forum, something he didn’t want for its future. I got the two talking and within a few months, the club announced that it was buying the forum. By this point, I was spending so much time there, learning from others and teaching others, I’d reached a point that with about 100,000 posts, I’d written about one in six of them! I’d been named the forum administrator just before the sale and Tom Dawson kept me in charge of it after the ownership transition.
As 2015 rolled around, I went to attend my first 52 Plus Joker convention, in Orlando. I drove the entire trip solo - it was supposed to take 18 hours, but due to South Carolina being heavily flooded due to a recent storm, I had to detour and it took 20 hours, driving non-stop except for food and restroom breaks. (It helps to have a good selection of Pandora channels on your phone!) I arrived around midday and barely had time to get my bags into the room when I was being scooped up by club treasurer Steve Bowling and whisked off to a conference room. It seemed that the club decided to name me to the Board of Directors and the Board was holding its pre-convention meeting…
The convention itself was a blast. It was at a turning point for the club - in addition to the increasing presence of playing card designers coming to the convention, it was also attended by a growing number of people involved in manufacturing playing cards - Liberty Playing Cards, Expert PCC and USPC all had representatives at the convention, all talking about the growing world of custom playing cards. It was a great deal of fun being among people involved in both ends of the world of making custom playing cards.
So yeah, my history with the forum and my history with the club all contributed to what I know about playing cards. For the first two years, I was also the editor of the club’s first all-digital magazine, Card Culture.
What kind of playing cards do you prefer to use for card magic, and why?
It really depends on whom I’m performing for. I’m not terribly fussy about the deck I use - I like custom designs, naturally, but performing can put wear and tear on a deck beyond what you’d normally experience, especially when you permit spectators to handle the cards or you work in an environment where they might get wet, such as a bar, restaurant or catered event - anywhere liquids are everywhere. So for those events, I’ll use something of decent quality that I won’t lose sleep over if it gets ruined.
I’m not one of those magicians that insists on only using Bicycle Standard because “if I use anything else, my spectators will think it’s a trick deck!” I find this terribly ironic, because these days, the exact OPPOSITE is true more often than not - more gaffed decks and cards come in the Bicycle Rider Back design and/or with USPC standard faces than all others combined.
Do you use playing cards for anything other than card magic?
Of course! I’ve been an inveterate playing card player my whole life. As a kid, it was rare to find me without a grubby, heavily worn pack of cards in my pocket. These days, it’s rare that I’m carrying less than four decks, sometimes more! I’ve played in semi-regular poker games now and then and in my quiet time enjoy playing some Canfield solitaire.
Do you have any favourite decks that you have used over the years?
Wow, there’s so many… I like Aristocrat reprints with the Banknote backs. I’m fond of the standards. I’m especially fond of American-made Streamlines - USPC briefly moved the production of those decks to a printer in China, but abandoned this because of the lower quality. New Streamlines are excellent quality but still very inexpensive - as little as a buck in some stores. I’m keen on some of the older Theory11 and Ellusionist decks. I have most of the David Blaine decks, the Card Experiment decks, the Big Blind Media decks… it’s hard for me to narrow it down to a single deck!
What do you think are the essential qualities of a good deck of playing cards in terms of design?
That largely depends on what you’re using it for. Different designs work better for different purposes. A deck for cardistry won’t be the same as a deck for magic, and a diehard poker player won’t use the same deck that either of them would use.
Collectors have entirely different criteria for what they like - I’ve known collectors who buy specifically because they like the box, or because the deck is part of a specific set, or because a specific artist made it. Some of these collectors will NEVER even open the box; they’ll put it on display, unopened. Now to me, this is akin to buying a rare piece of artwork and placing it on display in the crate - it might be a really lovely crate, but it’s still the crate; you don’t get to see or handle the cards inside!
So it really depends on to what purpose you plan to put a given deck. It can be a very individual decision, too - there are cardists who like flashier cards with a unique look when fanned in different directions and sharp, geometric designs on the back, and there are cardists who would rather work with something more plain, wanting their audience to appreciate the moves more than the cards being moved.
What should buyers today look for in a quality deck of playing cards?
They should look for what appeals to them, period! Don’t buy a deck simply because everyone else is. And as much as there are manufacturers that make very high quality decks, you shouldn’t utterly ignore the cheaper, lower-grade end of the spectrum, either. Playing cards are a sort of cultural artifact, and the cheap tourism deck you find at the gift shop can be as interesting and evoke as many memories as the latest custom deck from a popular designer.
The three main printers producing quality custom decks today are USPCC, LPCC/EPCC, and Cartamundi. Whose decks do you prefer, and why?
I think it’s less about which one is best - they all produce very good quality work. With Cartamundi taking over USPC later this year, I’ll be very interested to see what changes take place in both of their product lines. Expert and Legends are fantastic quality manufacturers, I strongly recommend their work. When doing consulting work and I’m talking to a designer who’s working on a tight budget, I will often steer them to - they aren’t perfect, but their quality has improved significantly over time and they seem to have a commitment to the custom market. I personally know many designers use MPC for printing their demo decks, even when they’re printing the finished product with another company. I’m also always impressed with Expert’s commitment to making the best quality decks they can - I know Bill Kalush and we’ve talked about his various product lines; he’s not one to be content with sitting on his laurels, preferring to seek out better and better ways to make playing cards the best way he can.
What are some ways that you have noticed that decks of playing cards have changed in the last decade or so? What are your thoughts on the explosion of custom playing cards?
The bar has been raised. With all the quality work that’s out there, you really need to bring your “A” game if you want to get a deck made and sold.
I like that custom playing cards are finally spreading to a broader audience. I’m seeing custom decks, things other than your basic Bicycles, selling in places like Barnes and Noble and Walgreens. It means that people are curious and willing to explore beyond the basics. I’m hoping magicians will see this in time as well and start performing with more unique and interesting designs.
What impact has crowdfunding like Kickstarter had on the custom playing card industry and collecting? And what has your own experience with this been like?
My crowdfunding experiences are more limited. I’ve been a backer and I’ve had personal involvement in other people’s campaigns, but I haven’t run a campaign of my own.
The impact is pretty plain to see - would we have anywhere near as many cool and new deck designs out there if it wasn’t for Kickstarter? Would there have been pressure on printers to make smaller-sized print runs available to designers? Simply put, it takes a deck design project that at one time in history would never have gotten past someone’s fertile imagination and turns it into a real thing, a tangible object - a deck that you or I can own.
Where do you think the custom playing card industry will go from here, and what innovations or changes might we see in the coming years?
I’m curious to see where Jackson Robinson’s experiment in custom decks by subscription is going. I’m also intrigued by how a company like can offer people print runs as tiny as a single deck, thanks to digital printing presses. The quality isn’t as high as a deck from an offset press, but it’s still pretty good and seems to have gotten better over time.
If I had “lottery winner money” lying around, I’d probably be sorely tempted to make a playing card company of my own; printing presses and the whole nine yards. I’ve been told it’s very unlikely to ever happen outside of big companies because of the costs of labor in the US as well as the expense of getting an offset press, but, it’s nice to think about...
What role do you play as a consultant to playing card designers? What should designers potentially interested in your services know about this?
I deal mostly with artists who’ve never before created a deck of cards. My first client was Uusi, back between their first deck, Blue Blood, and their second, Bohemia. I advise them on the various key elements to consider in the design of an International Standard deck of playing cards - back design, indices, court cards, etc. It’s less about telling an artist what to do, more about educating them about what makes a good deck of cards and considering what elements they wish to keep close to the standard and what elements they wish to alter somehow to create something interesting and creative.
I also provide advice about the eventual process of production and fundraising, largely in terms of crowdfunding and selecting an appropriate printer for one’s project. I’m currently providing consulting services for a psychotherapist who is working on creating a unique custom deck in the self-help category - I can’t go into the details too much, but it’s the kind of project that won’t necessarily be for collectors, but will still be attractive nonetheless and definitely has a target audience in mind.
When did your interest in playing cards begin, and what got you started in collecting?
I’ve been interested since childhood, and I’ve been collecting since December of 2010.
What are some of the reasons motivating people to collect playing cards, and what do you enjoy about it yourself?
In addition to being such a versatile means of play, they can be downright artistic.
I enjoy the incredible diversity of ways in which people can express their creativity while at the same time hewing to the International Standard design. It’s astounding.
How many decks would you estimate that you currently have in your personal collection?
Roughly 2,000, including a small but growing inventory of decks I’m using for my business.
How do you organize and display your collection of playing cards?
Funny you should mention that… My wife, who’s a budding playing card collector of her own, is in the process of writing an article on just that topic for printing in one of the club magazines!
To summarize, I use stacking drawers from Staples for holding open decks, I use “Super Monster” archival boxes designed for sports cards to hold sealed decks (a Super Monster box holds 5,000 sports cards or 125 standard poker-sized decks) and I store all my uncut sheets in poster-sized hard plastic top loaders, with a select number of them displayed using poster hanging rails in my home and one in particular, an autographed Split Spades Lions given to me as a gift from David Blaine, in a special frame in my living room that allows me to display either side of the sheet.
What do your family and friends think of your interest in collecting playing cards? How do you explain your interest to non-enthusiasts of playing cards?
Well, as you now know, my wife has started a collection of her own! She has a very specialized collection, leaning toward decks that are more artistic. One of the more interesting decks she has is a hand-painted Ganjifa deck from India that I acquired at a 52 Plus Joker convention. Her most recent favorite is the Parisian deck that Randy Butterfield debuted at the Magic Live convention in August 2019 at Las Vegas.
As far as explaining my collecting to others - well, the moment I tell them I’m a magician, it’s one of those “say no more” moments…
Do you have any special categories of decks that you focus on collecting, and what are your favourite types of decks to collect?
Wow - I collect all kinds of decks, not really narrowing my collection like my wife does. I’m particularly fond of decks that are exceptionally beautiful and also decks of gaff cards used by magicians.
What would the most valuable deck in your collection be, and what accounts for its value?
Hmm, it’s hard to say. I don’t have a Jerry’s Nugget, if that’s what you’re asking! It’s probably a Tomohiro Maeda light blue Tally Ho Gold Edition Circle Back, though I do have a number of scarce decks. Maybe it’s the Artist Proof deck that Jackson Robinson gave me of his Equinox deck. Or perhaps its the Arthurian deck of his that I won at a giveaway he held during a 52 Plus Joker convention (I’m telling you, it’s worth checking out a 52+J con!).
How do you go about adding new decks to your collection? is a good place to go! I recently had the pleasure of visiting Will Roya’s facility in Henderson - I was impressed. Naturally, there’s also the Kickstarters and the other direct-seller retailers that sell their own stuff, like Ellusionist, Theory11, etc. The Art of Play is good, too, as is Vanishing, Inc., which is two magicians, Joshua Jay and Andi Gladwin.
And yeah, I get caught up at 52 Plus Joker conventions as well - lots of really cool decks, ranging from the newest releases to antique decks well over a hundred years old. And did I mention that this year’s club deck was designed by Lotrek, will debut at the convention, and is only available to club members? You should have seen the feeding frenzy last year when he released the Damask deck in red and blue at the convention! I didn’t even get any of the blue ones and I’m the guy who drove him to the convention from New York!
If you would start collecting all over again today, would you do anything different?
Hard to say. Sure, there are decks that I bought that I later said, what the heck was I thinking? But that’s called the learning curve, and everyone in every field of endeavor has one - no one jumps in knowing it all right off the bat.
What other advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today?
Very simply, buy what speaks to you, not simply what everyone else is buying. Never exceed your budget - it forces you to be very choosy about what you get, thus pushing you to really identify what’s worth owning.
You're currently Vice-President of 52 Plus Joker. What is this club all about, and what important things should collectors and playing card enthusiasts know about it?
Most of the club officers are VPs and all are on the Board of Directors. Specifically, I’m the VP/Director of Club Forum as well as the Chair of the Diamond Awards Committee.
How and when did the 52 Plus Joker come about?
The club was founded, oh, I think around thirty or so years ago, out of a desire for people to get in touch with other playing card collectors, learn more about the hobby and have people to swap cards and ideas with.
In your experience, what have you found to be some of the benefits of being part of a playing card organization like 52 Plus Joker?
Well, there’s that nice convention I’ve been mentioning! We hold club auctions for people looking to sell select items from their collection. We have the two club magazines. And there’s all the friendships you make over time - I’ve met some really cool and interesting people all as a result of being in 52+J.
What can you tell us about the club magazines?
Card Culture is a digital magazine released monthly and focusing more on vintage and modern decks, while Clear the Decks is a print magazine that’s been around for close to thirty years, comes out quarterly and focuses on vintage and antique decks. The rough definitions between them would be that modern is less than twenty years old, antique is pre-1930 and vintage is everything in-between. If you’re a new member, there are digital copies of pretty close to all the older issues of both magazines available to club members through an arrangement the club has with the Conjuring Arts Research Center (CARC) to store them in their Ask Alexander database, which is normally only available to CARC members.
How would you describe what your role as a Vice-President of 52 Plus Joker involves?
My role as VP/Dir. Club Forum/Chair DAC is that I keep the forum running, checking in and posting, I help organize and lead the Diamond Awards Committee when it comes time to select new nominees and hold the voting, and occasionally there are smaller projects that need to be managed. For example, I recently helped the club with creating an online survey of the membership for determining their preferences for future conventions - where, when, how much per night for the hotel, etc. - and then compiling that data in meaningful ways for analysis that will be used for determining the future of our conventions. And speaking of conventions, there’s that - lots of little details that need to be managed, it can be an “all hands on deck” situation for the club’s officers.
Who can become a member of 52 Plus Joker? What does membership involve, and how can people join?
Anyone can be a club member, but it helps if you like to collect playing cards! Joining is as easy - go to the club’s website, register, and submit your payment - we take PayPal for a small premium. The regular rate is $25 for a year, $45 for two years or $60 for three. You get subscriptions to both club magazines, you get a forum account (and if you already have one, you get club member status added, which has a few privileges) and you can attend the club convention.
What can you tell us about the annual 52 Plus Joker decks?
Do you like really gorgeous, premium decks made by some of the hottest designers in the field, made exclusively for members? Then you’re in the right place! Let’s see if I can remember them all… Jackson Robinson made the first, followed by Paul Carpenter, Mark Stutzman, Randy Butterfield, and this year’s deck is by Lotrek.
The whole club deck concept has kind of ballooned a bit - it went from being just the club deck to becoming a debut event for many different designers, sometimes a half-dozen or more. So now, it’s not just “come see the new club deck,” it’s “come see the new club deck, one of a dozen new decks debuting right here, made available for the first time anywhere!” Bill Kalush is the VP of the Club Deck and he prints the annual deck through Expert PCC - plus he frequently has something else new up his sleeve to premiere at the convention, as do other designers and producers.
Each year the club hosts a convention. When is this and what is it about?
It’s about a lot of card collectors coming together and having a grand old time! Seriously, though, we have lectures, we have auctions, we have blind auctions, we have poker games, we dine, we drink, we make merry, we meet-and-greet, we get autographs from favorite designers, we talk shop, and just plain have a lot of fun. Many designers are members and attend the convention, as do reps from many of the major playing card companies - USPC, Cartamundi, Gambler’s Warehouse/Liberty PCC and Expert PCC are all expected to be there this year.
What makes this convention interesting is that every single member gets to have a dealer table as part of their cost of admission. If you don’t have anything you’re interested in selling, that’s fine - but if you do, you get to set up a table and show off your wares to the rest of the people in attendance. It’s a great opportunity to trade off some of the excess you have in your collection and to pick up something new that someone else is looking to trade. And all those companies I mentioned? They typically set up tables as well, often selling decks that you won’t or can’t easily find elsewhere!
The convention is usually held in early-mid October each year, often a different city each time, based on both the members’ preferences as a group and where we can get a favorable deal from the hotel and the local Convention and Visitors Bureau, which many decent-sized cities have to attract business and tourism. In the last handful of years our conventions have been held largely in Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states, with one in Orlando.
Last year, the convention was at October 9-12 at the University Place Hilton in Charlotte, North Carolina. It concluded with a gala dinner and the Diamond Awards presentation. Registration for the convention was lowered to merely $10 for members to attend, plus $50 for each person attending the gala dinner. Guests of members may attend the dinner - some members bring their spouses along.
What is the New Deck Presentation at each convention about?
The New Deck Presentation is always a special event - in addition to revealing the new annual club deck, many designers and producers give special presentations of decks they’re either premiering at the convention or in the immediate future. For 2019, the presentation included a total of four decks from Kevin Reylek, Alex Chin, Bill Kalush and Lotrek - and there was the club’s annual deck itself, also created by Lotrek in conjunction with the Expert Playing Card Company! Lotrek’s club deck set a club record, completely selling out in just three weeks.
In previous years, the club decks have been made by Jackson Robinson, Alexander Chin, Paul Carpenter, Mark Stutzman and Randy Butterfield, all of whom were club members and have attended the conventions themselves. In addition to the club deck, which is sold only to club members, many of the other decks that are premiered here are extremely exclusive releases - I still remember missing out on Blue Damask by Lotrek back at the 2018 convention; most of the print run was sold at the convention, with only a small number remaining for general sale afterward.
What can you tell us about the next convention in 2020?
The next convention has been announced - it will be held Wednesday, October 14th through Saturday, October 17th at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh - Green Tree, located in-between downtown Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT). The club is getting a great room rate of $119/night, double occupancy, extended to three days prior and three days after the convention, for those wanting to take in the sights or visit family/friends nearby. I don’t have pricing on this convention yet, but it’s entirely likely that it will be priced similar if not the same as last year, which was $10 for the convention itself, including a dealer table for each member interested in offering one (that’s a steal!), and $50 each attending the gala banquet on Saturday night, which includes the Diamond Awards presentation. This is naturally, for members only, but membership is extremely affordable at only $25 for one year, with multi-year discounts. For the banquet, members may bring non-member guests/family for the same $50 fee each.
It’s worth noting that for those who aren’t yet members or simply can’t make it to the event, some of the highlights are live-streamed to the web, such as the New Deck Presentation and the Diamond Awards. In case the card collectors out there didn’t get the hint yet, if you’re into playing cards and want some really RARE stuff, vintage as well as new, the 52 Plus Joker Convention is the place to be! But if you can’t make it, you can at least enjoy it vicariously through the web streams. We try to get word out in advance, and they’re often hosted by Expert PCC, the official printer of the club deck.
While it has not yet been officially announced I have been told that it is not a secret that our 2021 convention will be held in Niagara Falls, New York - to my knowledge, this is the first time the convention has been held in New York State, a highly desired but expensive destination, however, we were able to get a very favorable rate at a hotel very close to the Canadian border.
You're also the chair of the 52 Plus Joker Diamond Awards Committee. Can you explain what this is about and how it works?
First, a little about the Diamond Awards. This year is the third annual, and there are three awards presented - actual award trophies, not simply a “kudos”. There’s the Dawson Award, named after long time members Judy Dawson and her dearly-departed husband, Tom Dawson, who together are the authors of the Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards. For now, the award is chosen by the Board of Directors and is given to people who have significantly contributed to the hobby in a meaningful way and is meant as a lifetime achievement award. While we have given it out every year so far, it’s not necessarily annual - it’s given only when a deserving recipient can be identified. Soon, we will have a separate committee for determining the Dawson Award winner, headed by none other than Judy herself.
The other two awards are voted on by the general membership, and that’s for the Deck of the Year and the Artist of the Year. Eligibility requirements are that a deck by a given artist has to have been released within the award period (for last year, that’s from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019) - released being defined as available for retail sale, distributed to crowdfunding backers or made available as a promotional giveaway. Come July 1, I gather the committee together, we go over the long list of deck releases that have come out in the previous twelve months, and we toss out deck and artists names. After we’ve gathered a healthy pool of eligible decks and artists, we hold a vote to determine which five of each (sometimes six, if there’s been a tie) will end up on the club’s ballot, which gets sent out to members in the form of an email with a link to a Google Form ballot.
In 2019 the voting began on August 14 and concluded on September 4th. I tallied the votes and the winners were kept a secret until the awards presentation during the convention’s gala dinner. In the event there’s a tie in the general membership voting, the Diamond Awards Committee reunites for a tiebreaker vote.
In the previous three Diamond Award votes, the award winners were: ● 2017 Deck of the Year: Golden Oath (by Lotrek) ● 2017 Artist of the Year: Uusi (Peter Dunham and Linnea Gits) ● 2018 Deck of the Year: Cartomancer Poker Deck (by Alain Benoit) ● 2018 Artist of the Year: Lotrek ● 2019 Deck of the Year: House of the Rising Spade (by Stockholm17) ● 2019 Artist of the Year: Stockholm17 (Lorenzo Gaggiotti)
The most recent Deck of the Year went to "House of the Rising Spade,” in Cartomancer, Faro and Gatekeeper Editions; Cartomancer and Gatekeeper Editions printed by Cartamundi, Faro Edition printed by the U. S. Playing Card Company, tuck boxes printed by Oath Playing Cards; and created by Lorenzo Gaggiotti, also known as Stockholm17 of Requiem Team. Artist of the Year went to Lorenzo Gaggiotti for all three editions of “House of the Rising Spade,” mentioned above, and “Ravn Series III” in Mani (blue), Sol (yellow) and Eclipse (black) editions, cards printed by Cartamundi, tuck boxes printed by Oath Playing Cards.
This was the first time a single winner took both the Artist of the Year and the Deck of the Year awards in the same year. The closest accomplishment to this was Lotrek, who won Deck of the Year in 2017 and Artist of the Year in 2018.
What should collectors and enthusiasts know about, and what does your role as administrator of this involve?
It’s an online gathering place/message board for people to talk cards. While it is the official online forum of 52 Plus Joker, it’s also free of charge for anyone to sign up and participate. Club members do get a few little perks, but everyone’s welcome and newbies never get hazed!
We have it broken up into different categories - there’s Playing Card Chat, 52 Plus Joker Members Only and Off-Topic Chat. Each category has a selection of message boards on a general topic, like the Playing Card Plethora, a Cellar of Fine Vintages, the Magical Cardistry Bonanza, and so on. People create individual topics on the board about whatever strikes their interest and others chime in with their own replies on that topic.
As administrator, I generally keep the conversations flowing as best as I can, moderate when needed if people are getting off-topic or not behaving politely, and make changes as needed, such as the introduction of new boards based on user demand.
It's obvious that Don is very passionate about playing cards. Not only is he actively involved with the 52 Plus Joker club, but he also contributes to the playing card industry in various other ways, including as a consultant for card designers and manufacturers. Professional magicians and card sharps will especially appreciate the service he offers in modifying and altering playing cards, because high quality custom gaffs require real expertise to make, and Don clearly has what it takes to make these. Besides his custom alterations, he also sells a number of pre-made gaff decks, with his own Wizard Deck being of special interest.
But Don Boyer is first and foremost someone who enjoys playing cards, just like most of us reading this interview. I'm grateful for his many contributions to the playing card industry, as a collector, creator, consultant, and well-informed conversationalist in the online forums about playing cards. A big thank you to Don for being willing to answer all our questions, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who enjoyed learning more about him, and about our shared passion: playing cards!
Where to learn more?The Deck Tailor - Don Boyer's official website ● Don Boyer Magic - Online store for pre-gaffed decks ● Facebook & Instagram - Follow Don Boyer on social media ● 52 Plus Joker - Official website for the American Playing Card Collectors Club
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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2019.08.03 02:13 EndersGame_Reviewer Different Uses for Playing Cards in Previous Centuries

Different Uses for Playing Cards in Previous Centuries
For a long time I had the mistaken impression that customized playing cards were a relatively modern innovation. Ignoring for a moment all those cheap souvenir decks of bridge sized playing cards, most of us associate the traditional deck of playing cards with a Bicycle ride-back deck with a standardized set of court cards. Perhaps we've seen some minor variations, but this is what we thought a deck of cards has always looked like.
But then at some point, we discovered customized playing cards. And we found ourselves getting excited about the possibilities this opened up. I suspect that many of us also see these creative decks as a new development in playing cards. Certainly it's true that for much of the 20th century, a very fixed and standard deck was dominant in the world of professional magic and gambling, with its immediately recognizable set of court cards and other face cards.
It's also true that recent decades have seen an explosion of sorts in the playing card industry, with the emergence of customized playing cards as an established and rapidly-growing branch of its own. This has been accelerated with the arrival of crowdfunding about ten years ago. Platforms like Kickstarter have enabled creative individuals with good design ideas to get access to the financial backing needed for them to make their projects a reality. Other factors contributing to this growth include improved technology in digital design and manufacturing, and easy access to all these resources in a global community connected by the Internet. The rise of cardistry as an emerging art-form in the last half a dozen years has been a further catalyst to this process. With social media playing a lending hand, there is not only an increasing demand for highly customized playing cards, but also an increasing range of published decks available to meet this need.
If you've been a spectator to these exciting developments that have a radically changed the landscape of the playing card industry in the last 5 to 10 years, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the customized deck of playing cards is something not seen before. But it would be a mistake to think that customized playing cards are a new phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth, and when researching something of the history of playing cards in the 1800s, I discovered that in fact there have been previous times in history where customized playing cards were very common.
So over the course of two articles, I invite you to join me in a time machine, and let's travel back to the 1800s and learn what role customized decks from yesteryear had in the culture of their time. They may not have had Kickstarter back then, but creative designers and publishers certainly did exist, and so did their customized playing cards. So let's take a look at how playing cards were used in previous eras.

For Card Games

From the very beginning, the primary use of playing cards has been for playing card games. Adding gambling and alcohol to card games only served to accelerate their popularity. Some historians have observed that until the 18th century, hardly any games were played without gambling. Given that card playing was so closely linked with gambling, and almost inevitably resulted in drunkenness and fighting, it is not surprising that the church strongly condemned all card playing. Among the most important historical documents about the history of playing cards are countless sermons which deride cards as a tool of the devil and as an evil influence upon humanity. Edicts were passed that forbade playing cards, and fines were imposed on those who violated such laws. In the 15th century, card playing was forbidden in England except on the 12 days of Christmas. There is even one recorded instance in 1423 where playing cards were burned in a public bonfire.
But playing cards weren't inherently the cause of moral decline, however, despite the many prohibitions against them across time by religious preachers, starting as early as the 14th century. Like so many created things, playing cards are not in themselves evil, and can be used for well or for woe. It is the fallen human condition that accounts for the many unsavoury contexts in which playing cards have played a role. But in themselves, playing cards are intrinsically a tool that can also be used for good ends. Card games can be attached to virtues just as much as they can to vices. Mankind has long enjoyed recreation and play, and playing games of cards is simply a way to give structure and rules to such activities of leisure.
In fact, in Europe card games were originally a respected activity of the aristocracy. Initially, due to the high costs in making playing cards, each card was hand painted and made individually. That meant that they could only be afforded by the nobility, who typically used them for playing games that required skill. For the upper class, playing cards were primarily used to demonstrate real abilities to memorize cards and clever play in games of skill. One recorded example dates from 1643, when Cardinal Mazarin proposed a series of card games to help stimulate the royal mind of the eight year old Louis XIV, with a published explanation of these games as prepared by Jean Desmarets following in 1644.
It was the advent of the printing press around 1440 that made mass production of playing cards a real possibility. Their popularity for card games is what made playing cards spread rapidly and led to them being widely used throughout Europe. But for the lower classes, playing cards were often closely associated with and used for gambling - hence the previously mentioned religious prohibitions that often accompanied their spread. They also became a concern for military leaders, who found that playing cards would easily distract soldiers from their duty. In the 16th century, King Henry VIII complained that his bowmen were being distracted from their practice by too much card playing.
Today we witness a similar challenges as a consequence of technological advances. The invention of computers, the internet, and smart phones has facilitated new uses for games, both for well and for woe, and for purposes both noble and ignoble. This includes potential pitfalls, such as online casinos and addictive gambling. But the rise of online gambling doesn't negate the fact that technology has also opened up wonderful new possibilities for impacting the playing card industry positively. These positive developments include the ability to exchange and share information about playing cards with fellow collectors; the rapid rise of cardistry as a separate art-form largely with the help of social media and modern videography; and opportunities to use crowd-funding platforms to create a myriad of custom decks by connecting playing card designers with quality printers and with financial backers. If you enjoy playing card games, whether it is a game like Hearts or Poker, there are many wonderful websites and apps that allow you to enjoy these games with people across the world via your internet connection. Playing card games has always been a primary use of playing cards, and clearly this is still the case, even in our digital age.

For Art

Playing cards especially enjoyed a place of honour at the tables and in the parlours of the wealthy upper class so they could be used for games of skill. But the truly rich could also afford very luxurious decks that were decorated with highly ornate illustrations, and even adorned with precious metals like gold.
The usage of playing cards as works of art is closely connected to the way in which they were made. Prior to playing cards being produced by printing on paper, they were typically made by woodcuts or engraving. While the faces were usually blank, the designs of the faces were typically very ornate and varied. Medieval artists were fascinated with colourful and elaborate images, and so playing cards in many instances became their own art form. They were usually produced by card makers who were considered artists and tradesmen. Playing card artwork was considered to be a wonderful exercise of the miniature artwork. As a result, highly imaginative cards were produced, sometimes as a result of commissions.
This attention to detail and luxury continued with the production of playing cards via the printing press. While the vast majority of playing cards from then on were produced for the masses to use for card games, high end playing cards continued to be produced as works of art for the rich and famous.
These artistic influences also lie behind the trend that produced transformation cards, which are sometimes also denoted as harlequin cards. With these ingenious cards, which are still popular today, the pips have been cleverly incorporated into a larger artwork or picture. Transformation playing cards primarily have artistic merit or are intended for amusement. They were especially common throughout the 1800s, and some delightful examples of transformation decks from this period have been reproduced in quality editions today.
Slightly less lavish - but still artistic - are the playing cards that pictured the rich variety in the clothing worn by the court card figures. In the 19th century there was a period in which there was a real fascination with costumes, and this is reflected by some of the splendid playing cards produced in that era. Royals and nobles are depicted dressed in elaborate robes, tunics, or tights; dresses with collars and frills; various shoe styles; and a range of accessories including hand held fans. As such, playing cards were not only works of art in themselves, but they also have become their own record of the art and fashions of previous eras.
Today playing cards still have an important role as works of art, and it is an important reason for the success of the modern playing card industry with its many customized decks. Popular creators like Steve Minty, Jody Eklund, and Uusi, are highly respected for their artistic creations, and enthusiastic collectors who appreciate their style of art quickly snap up each and every new project they produce. Such collectors would never dream of using these decks for game play, but purchase them simply to appreciate them as miniature art galleries with 54 individual works of art. Something similar can be said of many modern cardistry decks, many of which feature designs and colours that are intentionally geared to produce an aesthetic beauty when used for card flourishing. With the growing popularity of such custom playing cards, the time-honoured tradition of appreciating playing cards as works of art is set to continue in future years.

For Education

Mankind has always wanted to make a record of the information he learns, in order to preserve it for the future, or even in order to pass it on to the next generation through instruction. So it is no surprise that already in the 1400s and 1500s, there are many examples of decks of playing cards that were created specifically for the purpose of serving as teaching tools. After all, why not use this new canvas now available in the form of a playing card, to a good and noble end?
Already from an early time in the known history of the playing card, instructive playing cards were created. One of the first known examples is a deck produced in 1507 by Dr Thomas Murner, who created a customized deck of playing cards as a new method of teaching. Educational cards were only more generally accepted much later, but it was only a natural development that playing cards would be produced to record basic tenets of botany and heraldry, and to summarize the important facts of astronomy and chemistry, history and geography. A series of self-study courses on a range of subjects was even created, with attention being given to subject areas like the alphabet, arithmetic, astronomy, proverbs, natural history, music, and much more.
Here are some examples of early decks of playing cards that fit into this category:
Heraldry: Due to the importance of heraldry as a branch of education in this era, in 1655 a deck produced by M. Claude Orence Fine appeared which displayed the rules for painting heraldic devices and coats of arms. Several heraldic decks appeared in subsequent decades, some of which showed reigning families in parts of Europe. M. Daumont similarly created decks intended to teach military science, each card having different scenes that illustrated a particular military operation.
Geography: From 1665 onwards, a whole series of decks was printed in England that taught geography. For example, one deck featured different cities of foreign countries on each card. Another deck had a map of an English county, complete with chief towns, rivers, a compass, and details about the county. A deck published in 1799 by J. Wallis illustrated the geography of England and Wales, including boundaries, products, and more of each county.
History: Several decks were created which pictured famous historical personages, or renowned members of royalty from the past, as a way of educating young nobles. Decks exist from the 17th and 18th century with titles like "The Events of the Reign of Queen Anne".
Often the imagery on these educational playing cards had a moral or instructional content. But there were also instances where the artist took the liberty to express his own political or religious views, in the form of satirical artwork that functioned as a political or social commentary, or reflected elements of the popular culture of the day. That was especially the case with playing cards depicting historical personages, and some artists were rather unkind to their subject material, and used these as opportunity for political satire or even propaganda. Many of these playing cards give us an insightful glimpse into how the past and the present were viewed by the people of the time, and so these playing cards continue to be an important resource for historians.
Today there are still creators producing playing cards with an educational element, with Jody Eklund being one of the best examples from our modern era, having produced decks on themes such as important inventors, influential businessmen, famous airmen, or railroad tycoons. In most cases these modern decks don't have the primary purpose of being educational, however, but are collectors pieces and works of art that portray important and interesting historical information at the same time. But in the large range of modern decks that are readily available, you will find many wonderful examples of decks that depict birds, animals, cars, and much more.
Are there other uses? For sure. More on that in the next article!
Author's note: I first published this article at here.
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