Your chance to view the main events from 52 Plus Joker's annual convention (Part 3)
by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame
The biggest club in the world for playing card collectors is 52 Plus Joker. While it started off as American based, it has since broadened its reach and gone global, attracting playing card collectors from around the world.
The club holds an annual convention for members, but the arrival of COVID put an end to that in 2020. But 52 Plus Joker was not about to let that entirely kill their plans for spreading the love for playing cards. So instead of completely cancelling the annual convention, they replaced it with a virtual convention, which was free for collectors around the world to participate in, and was organized online using Zoom. That was held over four days in October 2020, and a follow-up "Virtual Day" event was held in October 2021.
One of highlights of the online convention was the opportunity to go on a tour to get an inside look inside the homes of renowned playing card collectors. In addition, separate tours were organized for the facilities of some key industry figures, including manufacturers and retailers. The good news is that it was all caught on camera, and you can now view these videos in their entirety, regardless of whether or not you are a member of the 52 Plus Joker club. So join me for an exciting ride, as the curtain is pulled back, and we get a unique chance to see some amazing playing card collections, and visit some of the facilities that make our favourite playing cards.
== Creator Tours ==
Jackson Robinson: Kings Wild Project FacilityJackson Robinson is the man behind the well-known Kings Wild Project, one of today's most popular brands of custom playing cards. He's one of the few playing card designers in the world that makes a living designing custom playing cards on a full time basis.
When he began, he started as a one-man operation in his garage, to use his words, "trying not to screw up". He says that he's still "trying not to screw up". But at the time of this tour, Kings Wild Project has been doing very well thank you very much. It has grown rapidly and supports 19 employees. Jackson himself is the creative brains behind the entire Kings Wild Project, and aims to focus his time and efforts on designing, while having the rest of his crew manage other aspects of his operation.
He recently moved from Austin, Texas, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is where non-playing card items like limited edition prints and Kings Wild Coffee are produced. The actual main production facility is still in Texas, however, although aspects of the operation are being moved to Chattanooga.
The tour of the Austin facility begins by introducing us to members of his team. It then runs through the entire process by which one of Kings Wild Project's gorgeous Postage Paid decks is produced. The cards are printed elsewhere, but from then on we see different members of the Kings Wild Project team at work: building the tuck box, adding individual stamps, wrapping it with cello, packaging it in a box, organizing the label, and preparing it for shipping.
I was surprised by how young the team members are, but they are developing a great amount of expertise in customizing individual elements of the process. In the future Jackson may even offer this as a service to other designers. We also get to meet other team members who focus on other aspects of the Kings Wild Project business such as customer care, marketing, advertising, and taking photographs and video footage.
In the Q&A that follows the tour, Jackson shares some info about some of his licensed projects, like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn. He's also working on some custom shirts that feature his artwork, and some of these will also have companion decks with matching artwork on the card backs.
● Video: Kings Wild Project Facility Tour (Jackson Robinson)
Eddie Kamal and Sam Zubai: Gambler's Warehouse FactoryGambler's Warehouse is one of the largest fulfilment operations used by creators of playing cards. In this video, we join Eddie Kamal and Sam Zubai directly from their factory in Texas, as they take us on a walk-through of the full process involved with making custom tuck boxes.
The process begins with the customer making a selection of materials from their catalogue. There are many options to choose from, especially the type of card stocks (e.g. soft touch), and types and colours of foil that will be used on the box. Using the client's artwork, Gambler's Warehouse then produces copper plates which will be used for making the tuck box. It was especially neat to see the actual rolls of foil and some examples of these plates.
Next we get to see the actual process at work by demonstrating the creation of a tuck box of Arcadia Playing Cards. With hot foiling, which is what we see happening in the video, the foils have an adhesive. When heat and pressure are applied in a special press used for this purpose, the foil sticks to the card stock of the tuck box. Adding each foil or embossing requires a separate process with a different press, so alignment is critical to ensure perfect registration of the final product. In the case of the Arcadia deck, we see three different coloured foils applied separately, and then a fourth step to produce the embossing, by pressing the card-stock between two custom dies. The final result looks magnificent, with perfect registration. Another machine then cuts the card-stock into the shape of the box. From there glue or tape is added, and the boxes are folded and constructed - although we don't get to actually see this final step of the process happen.
The team then showcases some of the tuck boxes they have made over the years, including their very first one, Delirium. They won an impact stamping / letterpress graphics award for that box, and have won similar awards for other work. The gallery of tuck boxes they have produced and display for us is truly an impressive greatest hits collection of excellence and luxury. You'll immediately recognize some of their clients like Thirdway Industries, and the Planets decks. They also demonstrate some specialized boxes, like a two deck box, and the crazy box design of the Cardistry Touch decks. Some of the packaging options they have available are absolutely incredible.
The main Gambler's Warehouse company focuses on the packaging, but they also do complete fulfilment of playing card projects, which they do for a lot of clients and creators. At one point Eddie mentions that they are shipping over 2000 orders a day, which gives you an idea of the scope of their operation. Now that I know something about the process involved in making tuck boxes, I now have a new-found respect for the beauty of custom decks that use multiple foils and embossing on the tuck box, and will never look at a deck of cards in quite the same way again!
● Video: Gambler's Warehouse Factory Tour (Eddie Kamal and Sam Zubai)
Will Roya: PlayingCardDecks FacilityWill Roya is the founder of PlayingCardDecks.com, one of today's biggest online retailers of playing cards, which he launched in 2017 after a full-time career in magic. He takes us on a personal tour of his warehouse, starting us off right from the front door of his facility. It is a multi-purpose building that doubles as an office, showroom, packing area, and storage facility.
A massive collection of decks is organized alphabetically in the showroom. It's quite remarkable to see so many decks of playing cards in one place! All their items are listed on their website, as well as on eBay and Amazon, via an electronic inventory system. There are multiple working areas for specialized tasks such as assembling their Frankendecks (great for singles collectors), putting together their Pip Boxes (their monthly subscription club), and packaging.
There's also an upstairs office with extra space and computers used to run the business. It was especially cool to see some of Will Roya's displays, such as a large display featuring decks he's produced, and several framed uncut sheets, as well as artist proofs of upcoming decks from USPCC. Will has produced recreations of several beautiful historic transformation decks, and those uncut sheets look particularly lovely, especially when framed.
And just when you think the tour is over, Will takes us through a door into a warehouse which is his overstock area. While his display showroom only carries a dozen of each deck at most, this warehouse room is where we get to see piles of brick boxes and larger boxes filled with cards. As some would say, this is playing card heaven! He also has a large range of tarot decks, and playing card accessories like carat cases.
In the Q&A section after the tour, there are some great questions that get asked, such as how many decks he has sold in total (Will estimates around one million). He sends out around 3000 orders a month, and that doesn't include his fulfilment to Kickstarter supporters or sales of the decks he produces to wholesalers. People may have thought that custom playing cards were just a passing fad, but it's clear that growth is continuing. Don't miss the final section of the video where Will sniffs a deck and talks about how different decks have different smells!
● Video: PlayingCardDecks Facility Tour (Will Roya)
== Collector Tours ==
Mike Quinn: Playing Card CollectionMike Quinn is the guy behind a very popular Instagram account (a_deck_a_day). Several years ago he began a challenge to post a photo of a different deck every single day. What prompted this was the realization that he had such a massive collection of playing cards, and that he had enough decks to keep him busy with a different deck every single day for several years. He's been doing this for a few years now, and has over 2,000 posts and over 2,000 followers.
His collection focuses more on modern playing cards, and watching him run through the highlights of his collection will make anyone who enjoys modern decks drool. He has decks from all the major brands and all the top designers: Lotrek, Stockholm17, Alex Chin, and Kings Wild Project, to name just a few. It's amazing to see all these remarkable and popular decks together in one place.
Mike also has some delightful ways of displaying his decks so that they can be enjoyed and appreciated, and you'll get some good ideas from seeing how he has his collection set out. Just try not to get too jealous! The Carat Cases created by Sherman Tsao are easily Mike's top recommendation for a variety of quality ways to display your playing cards. Besides playing cards, Mike also has a wide range of unique accessories, prints, clocks, sculptures, collector coins, and boxes.
But that's not all, because Mike also has some good advice for other collectors, especially his philosophy: collect what you like. He's certainly done that. By his own admission, he's backed over 1,000 Kickstarters, so it's not surprising that he has acquired some prized goodies for us to admire. To learn more about Mike, you can also check out the interview he did with PlayingCardDecks back in 2018.
● Video: Playing Card Collection Visit (Mike Quinn)
Joseph Pierson: Playing Card CollectionJoseph Pierson is a rockstar among playing card collectors, who specializes in collecting antique Bicycle decks, many of which you can see on Instagram (pip_nosher). He also runs the amazing website bicyclecards.org, an essential resource for anyone looking for complete and reliable information about antique Bicycle decks. At his home Joseph has what is effectively a private museum, with all kinds of vintage items like old typewriters, telephones, tobacco tins, cigarette packs, phonographs, fans, and more. We get to see some highlights, and will quickly realize how Joseph came to the realization that he'd eventually run out of space, which saw him develop a focus on collecting playing cards, due to their smaller size.
He has a special love for 19th century graphics, and his speciality is antique Bicycle 808s. His collection started in the 1990s with a purchase of ten decks from the collection of Lenny Schneir, the man who started 52 Plus Joker. That led to him specialize in Bicycle 808s, which have seen 82 different back designs, and besides the popular Rider Backs there are designs like Acorn Backs, Thistle Backs, Handle-bar Back, Wheelbarrow Backs, and many more. Each of these different back designs is typically available in red and blue, but some also appeared in other colours such as brown and green.
I can't say enough good things about the 25 minute video showcasing collection highlights that Joseph produced for the convention. It is absolutely fantastic, with terrific footage. He shows us several wonderful display cases, and then the real treasure: a massive cabinet loaded with multiple drawers containing his complete collection of prized decks, carefully stored and arranged. The real treat was seeing Joseph pulling out some of his prized decks, and actually opening them to show us the cards, with great close-ups of the actual decks. It's like being actually there!
And Joseph certainly does have some very rare decks, such as his four 1917 war decks, which are among the rarest of all Bicycle decks, with hardly any known copies. Joseph also owns some Bicycle decks that were produced exclusively for the UK. In terms of ephemera, you can't help but marvel at his gorgeous mounted Bicycle advertising posters from 1904 - the only known ones in the world. He also shows us some wonderful sample salesman display books that go back as far as 1885. Not all decks from that time came with boxes, but Joseph has also come up with a clever way to create his own antique-looking tuck boxes for decks that are missing a box.
Just when you might think Joseph is one-dimensional, he informs us that he is actually a hybrid collector, and that he also collects some of the best modern decks. We don't get to see any of those on camera, but our jaws are already dropping from his treasure trove of Bicycle decks that we did see. What we did get to see in the Q&A section that follows is his collection of beautiful singles. As well as enjoying some beautiful cards, we get some great ideas for organizing and displaying decks and playing cards. Pierson also has a background in art and graphics, and also shows his personal deck project, which includes his own Fire Bike Back design, and a gorgeous design on the Ace of Spades.
● Video: Playing Card Collection Visit (Joseph Pierson) - promo
● Video: Playing Card Collection Visit (Joseph Pierson) - 52 Plus Joker members only
Phil Bollhagen: Playing Card CollectionPhil Bollhagen has impressive credentials as a playing card collector. He's a second generation collector, historian, and expert, who has even done presentations on playing cards for museums. He's one of the founding members of 52 Plus Joker, and a winner of their prestigious Dawson Award for his incredible contributions. And he has a massive, massive collection of playing cards that will make antique collectors drool.
He starts his tour in what he calls his "singles room". I found it particularly interesting to see how he stores and displays singles inside plastic sleeves within large binders. And there's a lot of them: binders full of Jokers, and binders full of Ace of Spades (especially from English and American decks). Some of what he has is very rare, such as decks with square corners, and from little known companies. He even has some items from the early 1700s. Besides all his singles, he has some massive collages on the wall, one consisting entirely of European singles, another consisting entirely of Art Deco singles.
But that's just the start of his collection, because about halfway into his video Phil goes down into his basement, where the really good stuff is, with cabinets and cabinets filled with wonderful antique decks. There are decks from all kinds of different countries, with drawers and drawers full of prized treasures. He pulls out a number of these to show us, such as a couple of 19th century transformation decks. Besides an incredible number of historic decks, he also has ephemera like posters and calendars, a couple of massive collages and displays, including a gun cabinet he's revamped into a card cabinet. We even get to see his oldest single, which dates from before 1500.
Phil is currently in the process of selling his collection, and mentions that he has enough cards to sell in auctions for the next 20-30 years! One unfortunate part about this presentation is the quality of the video, which was sub-par to say the least. Fortunately we could hear his color commentary, and perhaps it's just as well we couldn't see everything too clearly, because the amount of good stuff he has is hard to believe!
● Video: Playing Card Collection Visit (Phil Bollhagen)
Matt & Liz Romeril: Playing Card CollectionMatt & Liz Romeril will be familiar to many modern playing card collectors from their popular instagram account (bayou.playing.cards), where they showcase outstanding and creative photos of some outstanding modern decks. It's an absolute pleasure browsing through their images, many of which feature close-up details from tuck boxes or individual playing cards.
This couple can show how deep of a rabbit hole you can fall into once you get into collecting playing cards, because they only started getting immersed into this world when Matt pledge for his first Kickstarter deck in early 2018. Unsurprisingly the majority of the decks in his collection are modern decks, primarily sourced from Kickstarter. It's amazing how much he's accumulated since then, and in his collection we get to see some of the best decks from popular contemporary creators like Stockholm17, Thirdway Industries, Alex Chin, Lotrek, Kings Wild Project, Uusi, Bona Fide, Theory11, and more.
Liz is the artistic member of the team, and has even written a novella used by Thirdway Industries for one of their Kickstarter campaigns. She does a great job of sourcing used cabinets and shelving from thrift shops and Facebook Marketplace, and repurposing them into gorgeous displays for playing cards. I especially love how the decks are displayed to show off as much of the tuck case as possible. Matt isn't a collector who leaves his decks sealed, because he wants to enjoy the artwork on the cards. I really enjoyed the fact that he took the time to open a number of his more interesting decks on camera for us, and thumb through the deck to show us the beautiful artwork on the actual cards themselves.
As well as individual decks there are also numerous boxed sets in their collection that are particularly lovely, such as Erte, Kinghood, Standards, Planets, BrainVessel Creative, and Alex Chin's NPCCD decks. Of course there are other novelty playing card related items to show, such as framed uncut sheets, card potion vials, collector coins, and an impossible bottle.
Although most of their collection is modern, there's a few vintage and antique decks as well, as well as some tarot decks and reproduction decks. Some of the standouts here for me were ones that Matt opened and showed us, such as a lovely vintage Icelandic deck, the gorgeous Ephemerid by Mr Cup, a deck by Salvatore Dali, and as the grand finale of the tour, a wonderful antique deck 1890. There's plenty here to make modern collectors salivate, while Matt & Liz also pass on sage advice not to buy everything but to curb our instincts, wisely pointing out that taste is refined with experience.
● Video: Playing Card Collection Visit (Matt & Liz Romeril) - from the 2021 Virtual Day
Where to learn more? Official website for the 52 Plus Joker American Playing Card Collectors Club
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.