playing card convention

The 52 Plus Joker Club and Virtual Conventions

Your chance to view the main events from 52 Plus Joker's annual convention (Part 6)

by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame

I don't need to convince anyone that collectors of playing cards enjoy talking to other collectors. If two playing card enthusiasts find themselves in the same room, they will quickly find something to talk about. Collectors enjoy showing each other decks from their collection, discussing their favourite playing cards and designers, talking about the latest and greatest news in the world of playing cards, and even buying and selling from each other. The playing card community is a particularly vibrant one, and it's not surprising that you don't have to look far to find many collectors active in playing card related forums such as Reddit and elsewhere.

So it's also no surprise to discover that playing card clubs also have a solid history. And of the many such organizations around the world, the most well-known and the biggest one for playing card collectors is 52 Plus Joker. Catering to antique, vintage, and modern playing cards, as well as playing card related ephemera, it is the world's premier playing card club to be part of.

But now that we're in the year 2022, things are changing. Not only are people around the world connected more than ever before with the help of the internet, but there are also new ways of meeting, courtesy of modern technology. The current global pandemic in particular has forced us to discover new ways of getting together virtually. It has also helped give us the tools and experience to do so.

And that's why 52 Plus Joker is at somewhat of a turning point, and arguably on the edge of a new era. Over the past two years it has demonstrated a willingness to experiment with new formats. Particularly their 2020 online convention was a landmark event. It is a harbinger of the exciting new opportunities that lie ahead for playing card enthusiasts in years to come. In this article I want to do a broad review of their 2020 virtual convention, and talk about what might lie ahead in the future.

playing card convention

The 52 Plus Joker Club

But first, a few things about the club itself. 52 Plus Joker was founded in 1985, which means that it's not that far away from its 40th year of operation. The Chicago Playing Card Collectors club is another long-standing club of this kind, and in 2018 the two merged to become the largest association of playing card collectors across the globe.

The club was founded out of a desire for people to get in touch with other collectors, to learn more about the hobby, and give opportunities for fellow enthusiasts to connect, trade, and share ideas. Benefits are numerous, even for those who will never attend an event in person. For an annual fee of $25 per year, you get access to the club's two magazines, entitlement to attend the annual convention, and the option of purchasing the club's annual deck.

I've personally been very impressed with the quality of the two club magazines. Card Culture comes out digitally every month, and is jam packed with interesting articles and information. I especially enjoy browsing through all the delightful pictures of historic and modern playing cards that are found within its pages. The larger periodical Clear The Decks comes out quarterly, and you get a hard copy mailed to your address. It gives the opportunity for more detailed exploration of playing card related topics. The magazines have regular contributors who are well informed and passionate, and both of them are well put together in a professional looking format. But perhaps best of all, with your club membership you also get access to all the back issues from both magazines. So the moment you become a member, you instantly have plenty of great reading to keep you busy for a long time!

The annual convention is usually a highlight of the club calendar, and includes auctions, presentations from leading figures in the playing card industry, and other special events. Because of COVID, in the past two years these events have been conducted online instead, including the auctions. The quality of the items up for sale at the auction is very high, with many rare and old decks being a real treat to see. Each year the club also produces a unique Club Deck, for which they often bring in big name playing card designers like Alex Chin, Randy Butterfield, and most recently, Stockholm17. And there's the annual Diamond Awards, which among other things recognize the Deck of the Year and the Artist of the Year.

playing card convention

Virtual Conventions

The global landscape of the year 2020 was very different from previous years, and the pandemic forced 52 Plus Joker to reinvent itself and go digital. For the very first time in club history, instead of being able to meet in person, the annual convention was held online. So in retrospect, how did it go?

The virtual convention was organized using Zoom, and with some good techies on staff, the mechanics of this new initiative worked quite well. There were some technical issues from time to time, like a flipped camera, muted sound, and the usual growing pains you'd expect as everyone gets used to video conferencing. But overall things went fairly smoothly. Throughout the conference there were good visuals and audio, and opportunity for viewers around the world to participate and engage with speakers via the chat. There were typically 100-200 people in the chat room at any one time, who had the opportunity to ask live questions or share comments.

Lee Asher did a terrific job of running things from his President's chair, introducing the speakers, and being the main hinge around which the convention turned. He is a fantastic ambassador for 52 Plus Joker specifically, and for playing cards generally. It's hard to imagine anyone on the planet doing a better job of this than he does, or being more suited for this role. Seriously. Watch him do his thing and you'll see why. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and positively brimming with enthusiasm about playing cards. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that parts of his body are made out of playing cards, or at the very least that he eats them for breakfast. He is very welcoming to new members, and exudes warmth, and where appropriate, humor. Not only is he a fantastic President of the club, but he's perfectly suited for that role and for running a convention, and I can see him doing this for years to come.

One benefit of a digital format is that it makes it possible to preserve a record of all the events that were part of the online convention, and put them online for people to view. In previous articles I've already covered most of the components of the convention, in which I gave a short overview of each part of the conference, along with a summary of some of the main points gleaned from each segment. If you haven't seen those articles, I encourage you to browse through them. Even more importantly, do check out the convention videos yourself, to get a taste of what things were like. You'll find a chronological overview of all the events over on 52 Plus Joker's convention page and on their youtube channel.

There's no doubt that going virtual was a big success. When the 2021 Convention planned for Niagara Falls also had to be cancelled, a Virtual Day was organized on 2nd October, 2021, with a similarly run Deck Release Event on 21st October, 2021. But the party hasn't stopped yet, and plans are currently underway for a larger 2022 April Virtual Weekend event to be held on April 23 and 24, 2022. This will include presentation of the 2021 of the Diamond Awards, more lectures, another playing card game show, a "Desert Island Edition" show and tell, and an auction. The virtual convention format is obviously working well, and will only get better with the benefit of more experience.

playing card convention

General Meeting

So what are some things about the convention that help give us insight into the internal machinery of the club itself? To answer that, we got the chance to observe their 2020 General Meeting, which was one of the events that was part of the 2020 online convention. It is quite a privilege to sit in 52 Plus Joker's General Meeting, because normally non-members don't get the opportunity to see this, and it's held behind closed doors for members only. But the club is all about transparency and I'm glad that they released this for anyone to see.

Prior to the convention the Executive Board of the Club had an online meeting where they made various decisions, charting the way forward for the club. The first part of the General Meeting simply involved sharing the outcome of these decisions and various related details, such as a report from the treasurer, reports from the editors of the club's Clear The Decks publication and their monthly Card Culture magazine, and some internal reshuffling in the board as a result of a resignation. I found it interesting to learn that as a result of their new website, new membership in the club has gone up significantly, with around 25 new members joining each month. Some information was also shared about the annual Club Deck, the location for the next conventions, and the club's annual awards. The final part of the meeting gave members the opportunity to ask questions, or make suggestions and comments.

For an outside observer, this video will give you a good idea of how the club works, and the kinds of things they do. It's also very obvious that the club wants to be very proactive about attracting new members and spreading the word about playing cards. Historically, it has largely consisted of older members over the age of 60 or 70, who focused on antique playing cards, and many of these aren't tech savvy. Social media platforms like Instagram are a perfect example, because while they are flooded with cardistry channels and modern decks, there's less than a dozen collectors showcasing antique decks. There is a growing recognition that there is a need to share this love for older cards with a new generation, to pass on the wealth of knowledge, and also to bring modern collectors and cardists into the fold.

This was part of the vision of former president Tom Dawson, and is something Lee Asher really emphasizes as the current president. So the club has been taking steps like supporting new creators on Kickstarter, and looking at ways of providing scholarships for budding designers. With forward thinking visionaries like Lee Asher and others at the helm, it is obvious that the future of 52 Plus Joker is bright, and that the club will continue to grow, especially if more modern collectors come on board.

Watch the video here: General Meeting

playing card convention


While the pandemic has taken a lot of things away from us, it's also given us some good things too. And in my mind, 52 Plus Joker's 2020 Virtual Convention was more than just a historic first. I wouldn't be surprised if in years to come, it is something that people look back at as a significant turning point in the history of 52 Plus Joker, and an indication of good things that lie ahead for the club.

1. A broader participation

Historically 52 Plus Joker originated as a club for American collectors. While these do make up a significant part of the membership, it's now very much an international club rather than simply a national one. Over time the club has attracted a growing number of members from around the world. This virtual event is only going to accelerate that trend, by making it easier for a global audience to be involved and experience the benefits of the club. Unlike the past, you no longer need to be physically in the same room any more.

That certainly is a silver lining in the COVID cloud. The pandemic has forced all of us to learn how to use video conferencing programs like Zoom. And one benefit of that is that most people are open to the possibilities of having online meetings using this kind of technology, and have experience with them. It's hard to imagine a virtual convention like this being possible without the benefit of the experience most of us have been forced into as a result of COVID, and it wouldn't nearly have attracted the same level of participation. As a result, this really opens up new possibilities for doing this kind of thing more often, even in a non-pandemic setting, because it comes with the very real advantage of trumping geographic limitations, and enabling enthusiasts around the world to participate.

2. A broader scope

Historically the club has focused on antique playing cards, and on American playing cards. But already years ago the club's former president Tom Dawson had a real vision that if the club was going to survive and grow, it needed to broaden its scope. He believed that the club had to embrace and welcome vintage collectors, modern collectors, and cardists, since that was the way of the future, and they had to be brought into the fold.

Lee Asher is also a visionary who shares this perspective, and his arrival at the club was an important catalyst that helped make this expansion start happening. It's a vision he has continued to implement ever since he served on the board and once he became president. He is very intentional about this, and I've heard him make mention of it numerous times, including in his closing remarks at the 2020 virtual convention.

Playing card collectors have more similarities than differences, and can be united under one roof to keep the community thriving going forward. The types of events and lectures on the schedule of the 2020 convention reflects this vision, because there was a great balance of material, covering a range of things both old and modern. It might not yet be reflected with the auction listings (which mostly had antique decks) or the membership just yet, but that is slowly changing, and Lee has done a terrific job in executing Tom's vision, in order to ensure the ongoing and growing love for our beloved playing cards.

playing card convention


What lies ahead for 52 Plus Joker in the future, and what can we expect? I'm not on the executive, and I don't claim to speak for them. I do know that it includes some very competent and highly motivated individuals, whom I respect and admire greatly. So I have no doubt that the club is in good hands as long as they continue their good work. But I'd like to consider the future from a slightly different angle. The 2020 Virtual Convention should not only make us aware of the benefits of playing card collectors from around the world being able to connect, but also make us realize how important this is for the future. More specifically, the vision that Tom Dawson and Lee Asher have rightly recognized and have worked hard to turn into a reality is important for several reasons:

1. Antique collectors need modern collectors.

Folks putting out content about modern decks are a dime a dozen, and there's no shortage of material about that side of the spectrum of playing cards. But right now there's only a handful of guys on social media putting out content about historic and antique decks. Part of that is because most antique collectors are older people, don't use technology, and aren't on social media. A good number of the members of 52 Plus Joker are 60-80 years old or more, and not many of these are active online or technologically savvy, and you can hardly criticize them for that.

But what will happen to the love for antique decks when that generation is no longer around? And what will be the future of playing card collector's clubs 20 years from now? For clubs like 52 Plus Joker to survive, they need to embrace modern collectors and cardists. But just as important is the need for them to educate modern collectors about antique decks and get them interested. Otherwise valuable information about the past will be lost. Antique collectors need modern collectors to whom they can pass on the torch, and share their wealth of knowledge, and instil a love for the heritage we all share. Eventually there will be a critical mass where there's enough modern collectors who are part of the club, and can help ensure its future.

2. Modern collectors need antique collectors

Modern collectors typically don't know anything about antique cards, and they need to learn to branch out to older material. I know this because it's been part of my own journey: I got into collecting myself via modern decks. While I don't collect vintage/antique decks myself, I have come to realize how important it is to have a sense of the history that has brought us to the present, because that is the heritage that modern playing cards have inherited and are building on. It is critical for modern collectors at the very least to learn something about that.

This is something I personally enjoy, and it's a big reason why I've enjoyed picking up some reproductions of classic antique decks, giving me the opportunity to appreciate some of the heritage, without needing to spend the big dollars normally associated with antique decks. Putting the spotlight on content about the history of playing cards and about antique decks gives modern collectors like me a sense of perspective, helps broaden our vision, get more informed, be enriched, and be more appreciative of the past.

3. 52 Plus Joker connects the two

Clubs like 52 Plus Joker are playing an important role of connecting modern collectors with antique collectors, and giving both collectors a platform to share with one another. This crossover is essential, and both groups of collectors will become stronger because of it. Introducing a modern audience to the world of the past is essential if our heritage is going to survive.

The 2020 virtual convention has the potential to have a wonderful spin-off effect that promotes this kind of crossover and connecting. It helps make modern collectors see what other collectors are doing, and can make them interested in the club and its activities. And at the same time they start learning more about vintage and antique cards, and become more interested in that. That will really help the future of the club, and of playing card collecting generally. 52 Plus Joker is playing an important role in connecting these two groups of people who share similar passions, but might otherwise never meet.

One challenge 52 Plus Joker faces is to get a larger number of modern collectors into the membership, otherwise there's no incentive for them to use some of its features like the auction. Once there's a critical mass of modern collectors in the fold, it will potentially generate some real momentum, and finding ways like this to make the club appealing to cardists and modern collectors will really help it grow in years to come.

playing card convention


It's been a real blast to work my way through all the videos from the 2020 Virtual Convention, the 2021 Virtual Day, and the other online events that 52 Plus Joker has organized over the past 18 months. These developments and experiences bodes well for the future of the club. Given how successful these events were, surely we can expect more of the same in the future. Things can only get bigger and better from here, as the club gets more experienced in using the available technology, and putting it to work for playing card collectors around the world. The upcoming Virtual Weekend planned for April 23-24, 2022 promises to be another wonderful opportunity for playing card collectors to come together and have a grand celebration of all things playing cards.

Meanwhile, why don't you head to the website of 52 Plus Joker, check out what the club is about, and consider joining up? It's very inexpensive, and you'll immediately get access to all the back issues of the club magazines, which is a real treat. When collectors like you and me are willing to support clubs like this, the future of collecting playing cards will continue to be bright. And with 52 Plus Joker bringing us new opportunities to get involved online, the future looks bright indeed!

playing card convention

Where to learn more? Official website for the 52 Plus Joker American Playing Card Collectors Club
Want to be part of the next event? 2022 April Virtual Weekend (April 23-24)

Previous articles in this series:
● Part 1: Let's Visit an International Playing Card Convention: Featured Speakers
● Part 2: Let's Visit an International Playing Card Convention: Featured Speakers (Part 2)
● Part 3: A Personal Tour with Some Playing Card Creators and Collectors
● Part 4: The Collectors and Cards at a Playing Card Convention
● Part 5: Deck Releases and Deck Awards at 52 Plus Joker's Convention

About the writerEndersGame is a well-known and highly 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.

Last update date: 03/22/22

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