Playing Cards

My Collection and Experiences

[A correspondent once asked me about my collection and sources. This is what I had to say in 1996.  Much of the information is dated; the indented text has updates.]

Actually I have a fairly broad definition of what cards I like. It boils down to cards with unusual faces. Thus, I'm just not impressed with the Piatnik cards which have beautiful artwork as backs, but standard faces. As of June 1, 1996, I have 313 decks of cards (312.9 - one old Fournier is missing four cards), almost all of which are modern/current cards. There's not much in the way of a central theme - I'll pick up anything I can get my hands on.

[As of August 2004, I have 1079 decks of cards in 799 varieties (yes, I do occasionally buy duplicates).  Many are, in fact, Piatnik, and it's worth drawing a distinction between their product lines.  They sell standard-face playing cards with artistic backs in bridge sets, which are quite nice to use for actual bridge playing, but just not exciting to me.  They also sell bridge sets with slightly unusual faces, which while interesting, have sort of become commonplace for me, no longer exciting me the way they did in the 80s, when it was all new and different.  But Piatnik continues to produce more interesting decks, like their art series, including the Art Pack, the Portrait Pack, and the Art Details deck.

Notably, I seem to recall that Fournier was purchased by US Playing Cards in the past decade, but I can't seem to find confirmation of that,]

I've actually gotten most of my cards from local dealers. I started way back when I lived in Baltimore (I'm in Boston now) at a store called "The Royal Flush." I think their variety really got me started into collecting. Before that, I didn't know that there were so many beautiful decks out there. They were in Baltimore's Harbor Place (harbor-side urban-renewal shopping center) for only about three months before retreating back to the countryside. In addition to the standard Piatnik decks, they also had a really good selection of B.P. Grimaud cards, the breadth of which I haven't seen since. And there used to be a chain of stores in the Baltimore-Washington area called "What's Your Game," which also occasionally had good selections of interesting decks.

[B.P. grimaud is actually a part of France Cartes.  It's interesting to me that, despite finding a number of good sources for playing cards, I've not since seen a selection of decks that was as good as the Royal Flush.  Even though they had pretty much just the Grimaud and Piatnik lines, they had what seemed to be the complete lines.  However, now that the Internet is what it is, there are a number of huge on-line playing cards stores out there, and I couldn't begin to list them.  They aren't exactly hard to find.]

Since moving to Boston, I've found a handful of good sources to get cards, the best of which is a game store called "The Games People Play" in Cambridge. The wife of the owner is a serious card collecter herself, and handles all the purchasing of cards for them. Another place which has had good selections of cards occasionally, is "The Compleat Gamester" in Waltham. Surprisingly (to me, at least) another place which has had a consistently good, if limited, selection is a tobacconist store in Harvard Square called Leavitt & Pierce.

And finally, I have once dealt directly with U.S. Games Systems, who are both a manufacturer of novelty decks, and an American distributor for Piatnik, Grimaud, Fournier, and occasionally everyone else in Europe. They charge full retail, though, so I'm not sure I can afford to buy as much from them as I'd prefer. I certainly dropped a sizeable sum the one time I did deal with them. Notably, the Games People Play uses them as a wholesale distributor, too. I guess I just need to convince them I'm really a store...

[Of course, now there are plenty of on-line sources for the decks that USGS sells, so the average consumer has lots of places to look.  Rather than list the various places I look, I will just suggest you look through your favorite search engine.]
I haven't found any store or manufacturer who seems to have a good selection of music-related cards. U.S. Games has their "Great Composers" deck, which is identical in structure to their "Baseball Greats" deck which you do carry, but I think that's it. And Piatnik has a series of decks which have pretty backs and standard faces that have vaguely musical themes. There is one with a musical manuscript with a rose laying across it, one with a portrait of Mozart, and so forth. They're not, as I've said, "my" kind of deck, but they do sell well. And they may well have really interesting decks I just haven't seen yet.

Piatnik's American distributor is in Connecticut somewhere, so they might be willing to give you their big catalog to browse through. If you don't have their address, I know it can be gotten from and dig down through "World of Toys" to the Piatnik page.

[And boy it that link out of date...]
But I've been told by friends and family that I absolutely have to go to London or Edinburgh, to stores there that sell nothing but playing cards. They've brought me home some, and they were spectacular, and from manufacturers I didn't recognize.

And actually, I found a web site yesterday which listed all the museums in the world (or so he thought) which had collections of decks of cards. It really made me want to travel to Europe and just tour all of them.

And, for that matter, there are two serious card museums in the US - one in Connecticut, and the other in Ohio. Perhaps I should go there first.

[Both of which are closed now, alas.  I need to go to Belgium, to the Turnhout museum of playing cards, instead...]

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