The Case of the Missing 40,000 Jerry Nugget Decks: A Detective Story

Posted by Will Roya on

by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards. These playing cards from the Jerry's Nugget Casino are the stuff of legend. Produced in 1970, and banished to storage for 20 years, these playing cards eventually trickled out of the casino's gift shop for as little as a buck or two each. But these forgotten relics weren't going to stay hidden forever, and their star began to rise when their praises were sung by high profile magicians like Lee Asher. Their popularity was further fuelled when they were regularly featured in cardistry videos by the famous Buck twins. Before long, everyone wanted to get their hands on a genuine deck of Jerry's Nugget decks, given their unique qualities that modern printing methods could never replicate, and their famed handling abilities.

Slowly the price began to rise on the secondary market, and today you can expect to spend around $500 on the secondary market in order to own an unused deck of Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards. Do they really sell for that much? Yes, and here's proof. About a year ago, around half a dozen decks were listed for sale via the playing card market on Reddit, and sold for $480-$500 each.

On 28 March 2020 Potter & Potter Auctions hosted an auction for Gaming Memorabilia and Playing Cards, and the catalogue included a listing for one dozen sealed decks of original Jerry's Nugget decks (lot #461). The catalogue for the auction estimated them as worth $2500-$3500.

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

The price realized turned out to be even higher than that, clocking in at a very respectable $3841.

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

So what makes these decks so unique? In 2019 a recreated deck was produced as a tribute to the classic Jerry's Nugget deck, and here's what the official ad copy says about the originals.

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

The story of the original Jerry's Nugget decks is a fascinating one, and there are many interesting side-stories to explore about along the way. You can read the main story about the Jerry's Nugget decks in my previous article here: The Legendary Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards.

But the full truth still remains somewhat hidden, and there are aspects about the Jerry's Nugget story that even today we can't totally be sure about. And with the passage of time, several juicy tidbits of lore have become attached to this famous deck. It's now been fifty years since their original production, and there are outstanding questions about them that remain unanswered, at least without a definitive amount of certainty. For example, why were they never used in the casino? Were there any other decks produced around this time that had the same card stock and perform exactly the same? Did a Jerry's Nugget deck with alternative artwork that was produced by Arrco around the same time in fact precede the deck we all know and love?

Unfortunately I'm not in a position to set the record straight on all of these questions. But in this article I invite you to join me in a quest to explore another juicy story that has become part of the Jerry's Nugget legend. Is it true that the final stock of 40,000 Jerry's Nugget decks was bought up from the casino by a mysterious overseas buyer? Because this is an oft-repeated part of the story, that you'll hear whispered rumours about across the landscape of the internet. But this a statement of fact or fiction, and is it truth or myth? It could mean that right now someone is potentially sitting on a small fortune of Jerry's Nugget decks worth around $500 a piece. If it's true.

So please put on your Sherlock Holmes trench-coat and deerstalker hat, arm yourself with a good amount of deductive logic and persistence, and join me as we see if we can really get to the bottom of this mystery, and dredge up the truth behind this famed haul of 40,000 decks!

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

A Secret Stash of 40,000 Decks?

If you are curious - like I am - and do some digging about the story and history of the Jerry's Nugget decks, it won't take you long to stumble across mention of the claim that a stash of the final 40,000 decks of Jerry's Nuggets was bought up in a single swoop, cleaning out the casino's remaining inventory of these prized decks.

The story about some lucky buyer nabbing a final stash of 40,000 decks is circulated quite widely around the internet. Do a Google search for "40,000 Jerry's Nugget" and look at how many hits this gets! Some places that sell the decks even include this in their ad copy. For example, here's the ad copy over at one online retailer, which was selling authentic decks for $525 before they sold out:

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

Another online retailer says the same. Many reviewers have parroted this information as well, such as this example. So do various sites dedicated to information about playing cards, such as this example.

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

As far as many people are concerned, this information is more along the lines of "fact" than fiction, and it's become part of the story that everyone accepts. Little wonder that it is often repeated by collectors in discussion forums about playing cards, and that it has given more than just one person a tinge of envy. Here are some examples:

"Someone is rumored to have bought 40,000 decks and still has most of them." (1)

"Jerry’s Nugget cards are rare in the sense that the guy who bought the remaining 40,000 of them doesn’t sell them." (2)

"Here's the story I heard. Jerry's Nugget is a casino and it closed down, and there were like 40,000 decks from the casino left, and one magician bought most of them." (3)

"Unless you need the money it would probably be best to hold on to them because (unless the person who bought out the remaining 40,000 decks from Jerry's gift shop starts flooding the market) these will only get harder to find and they are much sought after. I would really like to get a deck but will probably have to pass at the $500.00 and up price level...my wife would kill me." (4)

"That French guy, forgot his name, HE BOUGHT 40,000 DECKS AT ONCE, BASTARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (5)


Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

Who is the mysterious buyer?

So who is the lucky guy with 40,000 decks of precious Jerry's Nugget decks hidden in his basement or garage? And is the story even true?

Some of the sources for this story seem quite credible. And they also reveal the buyer's name: French magician Dominique Duvivier. One person quotes Jordan Lapping, apparently among the first cardists to get Jerry's Nugget decks and use them for flourishing, who explains why the decks are so rare and so costly:

Jerry' Nugget Playing Cards

Dominique Duvivier is a French magician who performs and works with his daughter Alexandra, and together they have a high profile in the world of French magic. They are even well known in the circles of international magic, and were featured on the cover of the June 2013 issue of Genii Magazine.

Dominique Duvivier

Norwegian magician Allan Hagen has a long-time interest in the Jerry's Nugget decks, and he also mentions Duvivier's purchase of 40,000 Jerry's Nugget decks as apparent fact in something he posted on Reddit in 2015, where he describes his perspective on their rarity and value:

Dominique Duvivier

You'll read similar reports in an article published by Ukrainian cardists Alexander and Nikolay about Jerry's Nugget decks in June 2017. Two things are common to all these accounts: the number 40,000 for the haul of decks purchased by the mysterious overseas buyer. And now his name: Dominique Duvivier.

I contacted a number of different sources, including people who had personal connections with some of the key players who were closely involved when Jerry's Nuggets decks first became a fad among magicians and cardists in the late 1990s. One source told me: "Interesting, the name of the European magician - it was a big secret back then. Someone actually told me his name back then, but it was on the proviso that I never publish it. Well, I see it's out of the bag now."

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Was Dominique Duvivier the buyer?

But is there any evidence that Dominique Duvivier was really the mystery buyer whose name had been a carefully kept secret for some time at least? It was time for some more detective work. Google brought me to Duvivier's personal website.

Dominique Duvivier

It didn't take long to discover that Duvivier does indeed have a real fondness for Jerry's Nuggets Playing Cards. They are everywhere - in his photos, his videos, and his instagram.

Judging by the many French-language comments on his site, it also becomes apparent that Duvivier is highly respected and appreciated in his home country for his magic. It's also evident from reading some of the comments that his Jerry's Nuggets decks are a signature of his performance. Some even consider them to be the equivalent of a Stradivarius that Duvivier uses to perform with as a master magician.

Dominique Duvivier

But it was when I checked Duvivier's youtube channel that I found some real gold: Dominique himself performing with Jerry's Nugget cards in this clip. In fact, if you check out his other videos there, you'll find quite a few where he performs magic with Jerry's Nugget playing cards, like this performance from 2014, this more recent ace cutting routine, and this false shuffle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYqjy_ydnKw

Duvivier has even contributed a Jerry's Nugget themed trick to the magic industry, entitled Jerry's Nuggets Cards in Bag.

You can watch the promo video for this trick in French or English. His daughter Alexandra Duvivier successfully used it to fool Penn and Teller on their show Fool Us. Here's the episode, and some unseen footage.

Duvivier

But just because Dominique Duvivier happens to really, really like Jerry's Nugget playing cards doesn't prove that he bought out a massive stash of the last 40,000 decks from the casino. So this still begs this question: Did any of this even happen? And is there really someone on this planet with a hoard of 40,000 decks, whether it is Dominique Duvivier or anybody else?

One of my favourite photos on Duvivier's site is this one here, pictured below. If that's any indication, surely the legendary haul was starting to seem somewhat plausible. It was time to ask around, and check in with some of the people who were around when the Jerry's Nugget decks first became the rage.

Dominique Duvivier

Of the sources I consulted, few could be considered more reliable than Lee Asher. For many people Lee is synonymous with the Jerry's Nugget phenomenon. He also had close connections with the events of the time, and was instrumental in bringing the Jerry's Nuggets into the limelight in the first place, by singing their paises. He was kind enough to respond when I contacted him for comment about Duvivier's alleged haul of 40,000 Jerry's Nugget decks, and Lee bluntly told me the following:

"This is misinformation. There weren't 40k decks left in 1999. We don't even know if Jerry's even printed 40k decks."

Really? Apparently Lee Asher knew Duvivier personally, and he was the very person who first told Duvivier that the casino even had the cards for sale. He also visited his home and shop in Paris many times throughout this period of time. In Lee's words:

"Without a doubt, I NEVER saw 40k of ANY deck there. That's basically nine pallets worth. The house, their magic shop and night club weren't big enough to house these decks. It also seems Duvivier isn't the last one to buy the remaining decks. Jerry's Nugget Casino believes they sold the last case of cards to someone in Japan in 1999."

Well, it seems that the story had to be put to rest. Was this entire story perhaps just a magnificent urban legend after all? And if it was, where does the number of 40,000 decks come from, and how did this story get so much traction that it spread all around the internet, and is accepted unquestionably by so many people? My task had just become a bit harder, but I wasn't going to give up yet. It was time to try to track down where the many websites that quoted this story got the figure of 40,000 from in the first place.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Where does the figure of 40,000 come from?

With some more digging, the oldest article I could find on the subject was by a card collector who has a collection of fine articles on his site, White Knuckle Cards. This particular article dates back to 2009, and is one of the earliest references to the legendary stash of 40,000 decks that I could find. In this particular article our collector writes:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

That seems to be the first time the figure of 40,000 pops up, pre-dating all the more recent mentions of it. And it's not hard to figure out how it spread from there. On 6 August 2015, someone called "Doctor Papa Jones" added these details to Wikipedia's article on Jerry's Nuggets, evidently relying on the White Knuckle Cards article. As a result the Wikipedia article now read as follows:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

So now this "fact" is on Wikipedia and has some real "credibility". In fact, the number 40,000 stays up on Wikipedia for the next five years unchallenged! And that allows it to spread around the internet and go wild. Because where does everyone go when they're looking for reliable, authoritative, and trustworthy information about something? Wikipedia!

Depite the mention of the magical stash of 40,000 decks, Duvivier's name remained out of the spotlight for a further four years. It was simply a mysterious "private collector" who had purchased the big haul. But in 2019, someone connected the dots to Duvivier, and so the Wikipedia article was changed to read as follows:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

So how did that happen? Well the supporting reference that Doctor Papa Jones included in his 2015 edit was a link to an article by Dan and Dave Buck, dating back to 7 Dec 2011. This article is also no longer available, but can be tracked down with the help of the Internet Archive here. It doesn't give the figure of 40,000 but does drop Duvivier's name, when it says:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Dan and Dave Buck

So the evidence seems to suggest this development: Apparently relying on the White Knuckle Cards article from 2009 as a source, the number 40,000 first embedded itself in the WIkipedia article on Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards in 2015. Slowly the story grew, until somebody finally connected the dots that were hidden in plain sight elsewhere on the internet, and as a result Duvivier's name gets added four years later. Now things are set up for a great story: Mr Duvivier is sitting on a massive stash of 40,000 Jerry's Nuggets in France.

The story gained even more traction as a result of the revived interest in Jerry's Nuggets that inevitably happened when a tribute deck was printed in 2019. It was inevitable that many would rely on Wikipedia as a source, and so the details even ended up being quoted in ad copy for the reprinted decks. What had previously just been a matter of quiet rumour or speculation, was now considered as fact. Oh, the joy of Wikipedia - it has certainly helped promote quite the legend here!

And it doesn't take a genius to see that if this is true, Duvivier could be sitting on a small fortune. At $500 each, 14,000 decks would be worth around $7 million. Naturally a market flooded with them would drop their value. But even if the going price dropped to $100 a piece, that would still value his holdings at over $1 million. Even if he just sold the occasional decks at $500 a pop, this windfall could generate a nice little secondary income. That is, if the legend is true, a fact yet to be proven....

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Revising the figure

Because this year, the Wikipedia article was changed. By now of course the (mis)information about Duvivier's haul had gone far and wide, and a lot of potential damage has already been done. But on 25 March 2020 someone called "TheCongressGuy" changed it to read:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Suddenly the number of Duvivier's legendary purchase had been reduced from 40,000 to something around 5% of its size. A figure of 1,500-2000 seems much more likely. So who made the change and what was their source?

I did some more digging and managed to track down TheCongressGuy. He is Kevan Seaney, who describes himself as an "antique playing cards collector, specializing in the Congress 606 brand" and posts here.

In February 2020 he wrote this:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

I was curious, and eventually found the following video that he posted about this:


And who was his source that Kevan credits for correcting the previous (mis)information about the number 40,000? If you watch that video, you'll find out that it is none other than the great Lee Asher. Lee Asher isn't just "anyone". He's a playing card expert, and the current president of 52 Plus Joker The American Playing Card Collectors Club. He's the guy who first generated public interest in Jerry's Nugget decks, brought them to the attention of cardists like the Buck twins and Chris Kenner, and was later a purveyor of these icon decks via his website. He's also had personal connections with Duvivier, was the person who informed Duvivier that they were available from the casino, and has personally spent a lot of time with him in Paris.

And Lee Asher is a key person that has helped get real Jerry's Nugget decks into the hands of a new generation today. He's the guy who was instrumental in making a collaboration happen between Jerry's Nugget Casino and Expert Playing Card Company, by suggesting that EPCC get the exclusive licence needed to reprint these iconic decks in 2019, as announced in an official press release here.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

It's plain that along with EPCC's Bill Kalush, Lee Asher (pictured below) was singularly responsible for getting an officially licensed Jerry's Nugget deck back into the hands of a new generation and into the collections of those who couldn't afford the massive sticker price of the originals. So if anyone has a passion for the original Jerry's Nuggets, it is Lee Asher. Of anyone in this picture, Lee is the person with the most credibility, and his opinion and perspective should carry a lot of weight.

Lee Asher

With Asher as his source, Kevan Seaney points out that 40,000 decks of Jerry's Nugget playing cards is the equivalent of around 8 pallets. That's a massive amount, and would weigh around four tons. And it would take up a tremendous amount of space! Kevan cites Lee Asher as saying (via voice messages in Instagram) that in 1999 Asher told Duvivier that he could get the decks from the casino, and that Duvivier bought around 1,500-2000 decks at the time. Lee subsequently visited his home and store - France's oldest magic shop - in France many times. And according to Asher, there was no way Duvivier had room for 40,000 decks. Kevin also says that Lee Asher pointed out to him that these were technically not the final lot of decks sold by the casino anyway, and that the last decks (a "case" of unknown size) probably went to Japan.

Wow. That really changes things! So based on this apparent "new information" from Lee Asher - who to his credit has apparently been saying this all along - Wikipedia gets a new edit by TheCongressGuy aka Kevin Seaney. The impressive figure of 40,000 is reduced to a much more modest 1500-2000, which is paltry by comparison to the much larger figures circulating the internet, and not nearly as impressive a story. But this is only after Wikipedia has been singing a different tune for five years, so the `damage' has been done, and the story of Duvivier's windfall of 40,000 Jerry's Nuggets is already accepted by most people as a true story.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

The mysterious Nathan B

So where did this original information come from then? I corresponded with several people who have previously written about this story and mentioned Duvivier's haul of 40,000 decks, and asked for their source, but most of them aren't sure. It seems to have been a common understanding among some leading cardists around ten years ago, I was told. It was just what everyone at the time was saying. I got shrugs from all sides. It was just common knowledge in cardist circles at the time that people like Dan and Dave Buck, Chris Kenner, and Lee Asher all had a small personal collection of Jerry's Nuggets decks, and that their stock paled besides the massive supply owned by Duvivier, who was rumoured to have bought a large stash. Everyone was saying it, so it must be true. But, it was admitted, upon reflection this was just all word of mouth, and possibly pure rumour.

What about the collector over at White Knuckle Cards, and what was his source? A key quotation from another source that is included in this article is this: "They were purchased by a magician, from Europe, for his private use". But I could only find this quote in one other place online, which refers back to the White Knuckle Cards, and in corresponding with the author of the White Knuckle Cards article, he couldn't recall his source either. I could hardly blame him for that - he wrote the article more than ten years ago!

So I trawled through all the references that were provided at the bottom of that article, and finally found one source that does mention something similar to what he'd quoted:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Once again the original source page isn't up anymore, and you need the help of the Internet Archive's `Wayback Machine' to read it, but fortunately a record has been preserved. With further probing, I discovered that the Internet Archive first captured a snapshot of that page on 10 August 2004. It read as follows:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Bingo, now I was getting somewhere! Now I had a source dating back to the year 2004 which mentioned the number of 40,000. But who was the writer? Once again I had an important clue that I could work with, because I knew that the original page was hosted on a website with this URL - long a dead link - http://www.nls.physics.ucsb.edu/~nathanb

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

From that it wasn't hard to deduce that this was a fan site from "nathanb". And judging by the URL of the website, Nathan was either staff member or a student in physics at University of California in Santa Barbara.

With the help of the Internet Archive, I could poke around other corners of Nathan's website that had a previous life in 2004. It offered the following introduction under the title "Playing Cards for Magicians", along with an appropriate quote from famous writer of card magic, S.W. Erdnase, "We do not claim to know it all."

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

So who is this mysterious Nathan B, and what expertise does he have? Obviously this is someone with an interest in card magic and in playing cards. With further research, I found out that Nathan Becker did a PhD thesis at the University of California in 2006 entitled "Domain Chaos in Rayleigh-Benard Convection". If you're really keen, you can read his doctoral thesis in its entirety here.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

If you're like me, with no expertise whatsoever in this field, it will mostly read like meaningless gibberish. But obviously it impressed the people that matter. It was undoubtedly the result of a lot of good and original research - good for Nathan - because the outcome is clear. According to this page, in 2006 Nathan was subsequently granted his doctorate after successfully completing this Ph.D. thesis, and his name is permanently nestled among other successful candidates:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

So could I find a way to track Nathan down, and ask him about his source for the figure of 40,000 decks of Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards that were apparently snatched up by a French magician, thus making these prized decks firmly out of print? I didn't want to turn into a weird internet stalker, but this was important, right? After all, facts about the legendary Jerry's Nugget playing cards are at stake here! The truth had to be pursued, maybe not at all costs, but now that I'd come this far, I had to keep going.

With my detective hat on, I discovered that according to this page, Dr Nathan Becker is now an assistant professor and medical physicist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. What's more, this page lists him as a Radiation Physicist. Assuming I had the right guy, now I even had a face to match the name - although undoubtedly he would have lost some of the youthful look he would have had as a university student some 15 years earlier, when he wrote that article about Jerry's Nuggets.

Nathan Becker

Now I was finally getting somewhere! With a bit more digging, I even managed to track down his email address at the University Health Network, because it was listed somewhere on their site. Perhaps by now his interest in playing cards was long over. And would he even remember writing this back in 2004, or be able to recall anything about it?

Unfortunately, here is where I started to run into some dead ends. The email address bounced. I sent out messages to two contacts that might be able to provide me with his current email address, including the supervising professor that Nathan did his doctoral studies with at the University of California, and the person listed as the lead of the team that Dr Nathan Becker apparently works with at the hospital. While those messages didn't bounce, neither of those emails ever received a response. Given the extra pressure that the medical field is under in these days of COVID-19, I was reluctant to push that further, since health care professionals probably have enough on their plate. Reluctantly, it was time to call off the hunt.

So where did this leave me in relation to Duvivier's famed haul of 40,000 Jerry's Nugget decks? Well as best as I could tell from my digging, it all began with the writings of a university student back in 2004, who was then used as a source of an article in 2009. This in turn was relied on as a source for a Wikipedia entry in 2015. And from there the information spread far and wide for the next five years until it was corrected as a result of a fact check with Lee Asher. Where did Nathan get this from? I'm still curious to know, and perhaps one day I'll still get his email address and have the opportunity to ask him.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that his website back in 2004 had a particularly amusing preface:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Undoubtedly this cleverly written piece (a parody of the opening part of the famous The Expert at the Card Table by S.W. Erdnase) was already funny to read at the time it first appeared. But notice especially the irony or humour of the very last sentence: "If it becomes popular, it will accomplish the primary motive of the authors". Given the mileage that Nathan's claim about the final 40,000 decks being bought up in one foul swoop by a private magician, that last part may just have become more true than Nathan could ever have imagined!

At this point it seemed that I was at a dead end, and that my detective story was over. Maybe one day Nathan Becker will still get in touch with me. If I am right that his web-page was the original source behind the articles that led to this going on Wikipedia and spreading around the internet, it would be interesting to find out where he got this from! But I'm not very hopeful. The poor man likely has no clue about the furor he might just have created, and he's probably put his student days far behind him. He's probably working hard at the hospital, doing the important things that medical personnel do, doing his bit to help society, while trying to pay off the mortgage of a suburban home and trying to raise a family with four kids and a pet Golden Retriever. To be honest, I don't fancy the chances of university student - who was likely just a dabbler in card magic - remembering something from more than 15 years ago, let alone being an authoritative source. Given his credentials, even though he is the oldest source I can track down some 15 years later, it seems more likely that he was just repeating something he'd read or heard anyway.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Duvivier's own story

But I wasn't about to give up just yet. Suddenly it occurred to me to investigate Duvivier himself. Was this perhaps a line of inquiry that might produce some solid leads and definitive facts? Has the man himself ever commented on all these stories about his legendary haul? Could I find anything directly from the man himself that would shed some light on these legends? In fact, why hadn't I thought of this earlier? Just because nobody else seems to have dug up or reported anything from the man's own mouth, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. I slapped myself for my own foolishness, and headed back to Google.

As it turns out, Duvivier has written about this! But because it's an article in French, it's escaped notice from most people. Since he's popular as a professional magician in France, he not only has his own website, but he also writes his own blog. And sure enough, he's addressed this very topic in a blog article that he wrote in April 2011 under the title "Magiphageuh No 14: Les Jerry's Nugget".

With the help of an online translation tool, we learn this:

"As most of you already know, I only use real "Jerry's Nugget" cards to work with and have been doing so for many years. As these cards happen to be extremely rare to find on the market (I am obviously talking about the original Jerry's Nugget cards and not the recently reprinted ones) and they excite the magical world a lot, I am therefore constantly asked how many I own, how long have I owned them, what deal I made to get them and with whom, why do I have so many cards, why did I choose these specifically, why don't I want to sell them, why, why, eh?! And I hear such amazing stories about myself on these famous "Jerry's Nugget" cards that I decided to speak on the subject myself today."


This sounds very promising! Duvivier then goes on to tell the story about how the Jerry's Nuggets gained their legendary reputation, and the unique qualities they have. In France in the 1970s, American playing cards were quite rarely seen, and Duvivier knew a French pilot commandant called Reyno who loved magic, who would occasionally bring back cards from the US to a small circle of French magicians. At this time even standard Bicycle and Tally Ho decks were prized by these French conjurers, so besides them a Jerry's Nugget deck was considered a real crown jewel.

Card In Bag Magic Trick

Over the years Duvivier occasionally got more of the Jerry's Nugget decks, sometimes even an entire case of them at once, especially via his friend Michael Weber, who was his main supplier. We fast forward to 1999, when he finds himself heading to Las Vegas to perform at The Magic Castle. Here's the story in his words, courtesy of an online translation tool:

"In 1999 (if I'm not mistaken) my daughter Alexandra and I were hired to perform for a whole week at Magic Castle and then for a few contracts in Las Vegas. You may think that I had only one idea in mind at the time: a trip to the original casino where my favourite cards were from, Jerry's Nugget! Michael Weber had told me that there were still a few decks for sale there, so as soon as we arrived I immediately asked Philip Varricchio, who had come to pick us up in a limousine, to take us there. He was rather surprised, as we hadn't even put our bags down at the hotel (yes, I'm a fool) and the old Jerry's casino wasn't really known for being a must-see place! So I told him that I wanted to go there to buy Jerry's Nugget cards. According to him it was impossible to get them for the simple reason that they hadn't been around for a long time, but I was so insistent that he finally complied (hey, hey, hey!). When we arrived there, we went to the gift shop of the casino and I asked the salesman if he was selling their decks.

- Yes," he told me, "I have a few.

He shows me a small piece of wall in the back of the store where a hundred decks were on display. I ask about the price. Not even expensive!

- Well, I'll take them," I say (laughs).

And of course I ask if he has more in reserve! Yes, there were about a hundred boxes left (each box containing a large number of cards, 144 decks!). After a little negotiation, the unit price was even lowered to less than $1.

That's it, that's how it happened and that's it. In fact, in all this story, the most difficult, the longest and the most expensive was to get the stock back to France.

Since then, I've been seeing, little by little, the bids going up on these cards in a rather hallucinating way, whereas, of course, that wasn't my initial motivation at all. From the moment I bought the remaining stock, it's as if everyone wanted to own even more! But I just wanted to have enough stock of Jerry's Nugget decks because I'm a card fanatic and these in particular. I use these cards because they're the best cards I know and I've fought like a big man to own enough of them for me (I should mention that I never had a middleman or a partner to buy these cards). Anyone could have done as I did and I don't understand why no one did: you just had to take the trouble to go to this casino, because the cards were available! In any case, now they are all warm and cosy in different safes, which I won't tell you about. They say I'm the person with the most cards in the world, but I have to say I don't care. I know Chris Kenner is the one who planned it, he has a lot of them too. I've been offered golden bridges to sell a few packages, or even my entire stock. I've had some incredible offers over the years. I never intended to create a buzz with these cards: I just use them for my own personal consumption, that's all...because they're my favorite cards."


Magicians

Probably the key sentence in that account is this one:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

The best translation seems to be something like this:

"Yes, there were about a hundred boxes left (each box containing a large number of cards, that's 144 decks!)."

The formula is simple: around 100 boxes with 144 decks each. If true, that would mean 100 x 144 = 14,400 decks. Given that this is directly from the horse's mouth, suddenly the story becomes slightly more plausible. So too is his additional statement:

"In all this story, the most difficult, the longest and the most expensive was to get the stock back to France."

That suggests he didn't bring the whole stash to France in one go, which might explain why visitors like Lee Asher and others who saw his home and magic shop never saw any evidence of them. I'm not a French speaker, so I'm happy to be corrected if I'm misunderstanding anything Duvivier has written - by all means check the article for yourself in the original French, to see if I've got it right. But the long and short of it seems to be that Duvivier is saying that what he bought from Las Vegas around 1999 was not a stash of 40,000 Jerry's Nuggets decks, but 14,000 decks.

14,000 is not nearly as impressive a figure. But even though it's only a third of the size of what the legend floating around the internet says, 14,000 decks is still an incredibly impressive haul. Certainly the amount of pictures and videos that show Duvivier performing with Jerry's Nugget cards, seems to suggest that they are very much part of his regular repertoire. It could just be possible, and maybe I've finally found the truth!

Perhaps the most defining photo of all is this one (credited to Zakary Belamy), which shows Duvivier enjoying a bath with his Jerry's Nugget playing cards! Given the value of these playing cards on the market today, some might consider this sacrilege, but it sure suggests he has a large enough supply of Jerry's Nugget cards. At any rate, his collection of them seems large enough that he can even afford to take them to the bath for a photo op along with his favourite yellow rubber ducky.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

But is it true?

Was the mystery solved at last? It was time to get back in contact with Lee Asher, and share my findings. But despite the claims of Duvivier in his 2011 article, Lee is not convinced that Duvivier is a credible source. To be fair, this is what Lee Asher has been saying all along, and for years he's been saying that the story about the legendary haul of 40,000 decks wasn't supported by the facts.

Ultimately what this comes down to is: are we going to believe what Duvivier says? For the most part, Duvivier has appeared to have had little interest in setting the record straight, despite the fact that the rumour of him nabbing 40,000 decks persisted as long as it did. And if he does have a large stash, why has he shown little interest in selling any of the decks that he does have, instead being happy to hoard them or use them only for himself? Would he really have spent all the time, energy, and money necessary to ship even 14,000 decks of playing cards across the ocean from the United States to Europe, just for his personal usage, at a time when the street value of these was only a dollar or two a piece? And if he did, where did he put them, and why has nobody ever seen his stash, including those who visited his home?

There are other details about Duvivier's record of events that call aspects of his narrative into question, such as his complete omission of any mention of Lee Asher, who was the one who made him aware of where he could get them. And in those days, the casino gift shop was very small, so is it really reasonable for them to display 100 decks on their back wall, as Duvivier claims in his 2011 article, when they had such little space to work with?

I had some private correspondence with another magician/cardist who has also stayed at Duvivier's house, and that individual expressed similar sentiments. He agreed that there was no evidence of Duvivier ever owning that many decks. Just do the math: 40,000 decks would mean Duvivier could use a brand new deck every single day for more than 100 years before he chewed through a collection of decks that size. Again: very unlikely. If he really did have that many, it would be way more than he could ever use, and surely he would have sold some by now - which he hasn't. This person remains somewhat skeptical, but acknowledges that the figure of 14,000 is a more realistic number that is not beyond the realms of possibility, especially if Duvivier has them locked up in a storage facility in Paris somewhere.

As an educated guess, it seems that there is good reason to cast some suspicion on this story, and there are some aspects about it that seem rather unlikely. Shipping that many decks, at the time only worth a buck or two each at most, all the way from Las Vegas to Paris would be crazy. But a man willing to jump into a bath with a yellow rubber duck and destroy $1000 worth of playing cards in the process strikes me as crazy enough to do it. Perhaps Duvivier's story is true after all.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

A final twist

I was now several weeks into my adventures as an investigative journalist, and I was getting ready to wrap up my story and publish it. But there was one final lead that I had not yet explored. If I was really going to try every possible avenue of information, I had to try contacting Dominique Duvivier himself. Why not? Admittedly, the odds of getting a response from someone about his apparent stash of precious Jerry's Nuggets wasn't likely. If there was any truth to the story about his legendary haul, even to some degree, then he's undoubtedly had hundreds of inquiries over the years. Just imagine the long lines of people asking him about his stash, trying to convince him to part with some of it. If yet another email comes in on this subject, he'd probably roll his eyes and press `delete'. He is working full time as a professional magician after all, and has a career to worry about. I couldn't blame him if he was tired of responding to what undoubtedly would be countless messages from prospective buyers.

But I had no intention to buy anything, so as a good amateur journalist, I had to try. It was a long shot, but to my surprise, I got a response from Duvivier the very same day! It wasn't much, but it included one unexpected bombshell - especially after the journey I'd been on so far:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

I was stunned. Was someone else working on exactly the same story as me, and had they beat me to the punch? Maybe even Duvivier himself? Could it really be true that in little more than two weeks time, the next issue of Genii was scheduled to come out, and would potentially reveal all? Suddenly I knew that I had to wait with publishing my story. In further emails, Dominique was tight-lipped about any more details. At the very least, surely I would have to wait until that issue of Genii was available, and fork out my cash and purchase a subscription in order to read it. I owed it to my readers to explore every last clue, and give them a story that included all the evidence.

So that is what I did. I waited for the July issue to appear online. Digital editions of Genii are released online each month on the 20th of the month. Finally 20th of June rolled around, and I eagerly perused the contents of the latest issue. Nothing. Nothing remotely Duvivier related. Nothing Jerry's Nugget related. Was Duvivier for real? An inquiry with the editor of Genii produced this response: "Not this issue. Coming up." Would it be August or September maybe? Further inquiries produced only silence.

In follow up correspondence with the Frenchman himself, Duvivier told me "I wrote the article myself. It’s quite long." That sounded promising, but it could just be about his love affair with Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards, rather than a "tell all" story about his haul. There still was no guarantee that it would even be published. And I couldn't be sure that it would offer any more information than his blog article from 2011 which already gave his side of the story, or that it would be any more reliable than the version of events he'd provided there. Was it really worth waiting any longer? It was time to share my findings with the world anyway, and I could always provide an addendum to my story if any credible new information appeared.

Genii Magazine

Forecasting the future for Jerry's Nugget original decks

What does the outcome of our detective work mean for the value of a deck of original Jerry's Nuggets Playing Cards? If Duvivier is sitting on a stash of original decks, even if it's somewhat smaller than the improbable 40,000 decks claimed by the urban legend, there's a good chance that some of these will enter the market one day, increasing the supply, and thus causing the price to drop. Our French magician friend insists he has no plans to sell them. But here's what Jerry's Nugget enthusiast and Norwegian magician Allan Hagen had to say about that in 2015:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

In his opinion, Duvivier can't hold on to his stash forever and the price must eventually drop:

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

We can't say that this will happen for sure, but just the fact that it is a possibility means that there's a real chance that your original Jerry's Nugget deck isn't worth nearly the amount that you think it is.

The case for a decrease in prices

Some good arguments can be raised to suggest that Allan Hagen's assessment is correct, and that the price of an original deck of Jerry's Nugget playing cards may have peaked. I find it hard to believe that original decks of Jerry's Nuggets will start fetching amounts much more than the current high water mark of around $500. Will people really want to start spending more than that to own one of these decks? I'm guessing of course, but we all know that the price is simply generated by whatever the market can bear, which comes down to the simple matter of supply and demand.

● The demand: Is the demand really going to increase significantly right now? The reality is that there are other ways to get your Jerry's Nugget fix, with the help of the recreated decks that were released last year. Sure, these are not the same as the real thing, but they do take some of the shine and prestige away from being a collector with the rare privilege of owning an original. "So you have an original Jerry's Nugget? Well big deal, I have a Jerry's Nugget now too - in multiple colours even!" And is it really worth spending so much money on a deck that it's going to be hard to justify actually using? Plus we've already seen the market get flooded with counterfeit copies, so there's already a risk of getting a fake. Is the reward of owning your own deck really worth the risk if you have to spend over $500 to get a copy?

● The supply: And what about the supply? If Duvivier really does have some kind of stash of Jerry's Nuggets, eventually some of them may have to find their way to the market, causing prices to drop. But even if he doesn't have quite as many as what he says he does, my investigative journalism did lead me to discover that he is not the only person who has a decent amount of Jerry's Nugget decks. From several different sources I learned that there is a handful of other magicians who also have a reasonable amount of Jerry's Nugget decks, which they purchased from the casino around the same time as Duvivier. At any rate, it would appear that there are far more of these decks in the wild than many people have previously thought, and they aren't all in the hands of Duvivier.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

The case for an increase in prices

In light of all the above factors, it is plausible to think that interest in owning an original Jerry's Nugget deck might wane, and the price will slowly drop. But a case for the opposite conclusion can also be made.


● The demand: The project for the recreated version of the Jerry's Nuggets saw a massive groundswell of support from playing card enthusiasts. Lee Asher has been evangelising the merits of Jerry's Nuggets for a couple of decades now, and since this deck has attained a legendary status in playing card circles, there is a huge amount of interest in it. More than 4000 backers supported the Kickstarter alone, which generated almost half a million bucks to help realize the production. Those are all instant sales, but there is more to consider than just this initial level of support. In addition there's a further large wave of these decks that hit retail, where they have also proven to be a very popular seller. Besides the initial red and blue decks, the publisher has gone on to release other versions of the deck in different colours: yellow, black, steel gray, and even rose pink. This is where the collector instinct kicks in, and some playing card enthusiasts want to collect the whole set. As a result, some of the decks in these new colours are selling out just as quickly as they get listed for sale. All this can in fact strengthen the Jerry's Nugget brand and increase its appeal, leading to increased demand for the originals as new buyers and collectors enter the market.

● The supply: We've already established that Duvivier's stash is much smaller than what has been claimed. Even so, he's already had twenty years to take advantage of inflated prices, and until now we've seen no flood of decks hit the market. And what about the fact that a small number of magicians, cardists, and other anonymous collectors also appear to have small stashes of original Jerry's Nugget decks? It doesn't appear that these are going to flood the market any time soon either, otherwise surely that would have happened already. Most seem to be content to hold on to them for their own use, or as part of their own personal collections. Of those who might have a decent supply, they never purchased these in order to make money off them from a changing market in the first place. They love these decks too, and aren't going to be inclined to part with them too readily. As it was, Lee Asher had to discontinue selling the decks from his official site, because he simply couldn't keep up with the demand, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to supply decks for the growing number of people that wanted them.

So all in all, it is hard to predict what the future holds for the original Jerry's Nugget decks. I initially leaned to the case for a decrease in prices, but having considered the case for the opposite point of view, as shared with me by Lee Asher, I can see the strength of that argument. The fact is that the Jerry's Nugget deck has become a modern icon, and with the playing card industry attracting more and more collectors all the time, it is not unreasonable to forsee that it will remain a "holy grail" for collectors for a long time to come.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

Final Thoughts

Is this the final word on this subject? No. I've tried to do the best I could based on information available to me, and shared as much as I could with my readers, so that you can form your own conclusions based on the evidence so far. Undoubtedly there are still some missing puzzle pieces, and in future years some new information could come to light that shows that some of my conclusions were misplaced or that puts aspects of this story a slightly different perspective.

Today we are two full decades removed from the time when the original decks first sold out at the Jerry's Nugget casino. And the further removed in time that we come, the harder it becomes to uncover the truth. Memories become murky. As it is nobody at the casino seems to remember the specific details of what happened. At the time they were probably only too glad to get the remaining stock out of their hands, and nobody could have anticipated how these decks would become the famous icons that they are today. Even their chief evangelist Lee Asher has to be somewhat surprised at the turn of events he's produced since first singing their praises some twenty years ago!

So what can we conclude from all of this? Here's some final thoughts that I'll leave you with:

1. Don't believe everything you read on the internet.

Unfortunately, it's a fact of modern life that not everything on the internet is true. And as we've seen, this also applies to sites like Wikipedia. For topics that have a large number of experts or people interested in a particular subject, changing the facts on a Wikipedia article will quickly see the changes being reverted. But with a more niche subject, like Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards, and especially when it concerns circumstantial material that nobody is quite sure about, it's easy for misinformation to enter Wikipedia. And once it's embedded there, eventually the lore spreads and becomes considered as "fact". So it's important to check your sources, and don't take everything you see online as gospel truth - even if it's on Wikipedia.

2. The legend about the stash of 40,000 decks should be put to rest once and for all.

It's a myth, and there simply is no evidence for this claim anywhere. At most, there is the claim from Duvivier himself that he bought up about 14,000 decks. That might be true, but again, we only have his word for this. As a counter-point, there are those like Lee Asher who know Duvivier and have visited him many times, and insist that they never saw any evidence of this. The enormous cost of shipping a large stash like this to Europe already makes it somewhat hard to believe.

There's no doubt that Duvivier is a huge fan of Jerry's Nugget decks, and he appears to own and use them more than most. But in the end, how credible is he? How seriously are you going to take someone who is happy to post a picture of himself in a bath with a rubber duck and playing cards from a Jerry's Nugget deck? Either that means he has far more decks than he knows what to do with, or he is a little loopy. Or perhaps it's a bit of both. You've had an opportunity to read all the evidence for yourself, so you decide.

Either way, we can safely say that there has never been a stash of 40,000 decks, and the jury is out on whether there was even ever a stash one third of this size. But even if the size of the legendary stash turns out to be smaller than first thought, the reputation and magnetism of the Jerry's Nugget decks has only increased in size, and these now iconic decks will remain firmly embedded in playing card lore.

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards

 

Where to get them?
● Recreated Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards: Modern FeelVintage FeelStripper DeckGaff DeckBrick Box
● Chicken Nugget Playing Cards: Available range

Want to learn more?
● Original Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards: Lee AsherDan & Dave BuckWhite Knuckle CardsDecember BoysDominique Duvivier
● Recreated Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards: Official siteFacebookInstagramComplete range
● Chicken Nugget Playing Cards: Official siteFacebook

Acknowledgement: In writing this article, I'd like to acknowledge the input of several playing card enthusiasts that I consulted with along the way, and who kindly helped me with insights and information that I would otherwise not have considered or had access to. Among others these include Lee Asher, Dan Buck, Bill Kalush, Allan Hagen, and White Knuckle Cards.

Update from the writer: After the publication of this article, Dominique Duvivier personally phoned me to discuss it (24 July 2020), and to share his side of this story.  He remembers events slightly differently than Lee Asher does.  As Duvivier recalls it, his own interest in the Jerry's Nugget decks dates back to the 1970s and 1980s.  At that time he was sourcing them from his friend Michael Weber, who along with magicians like Chris Kenner was also interested in these decks.  According to Dominique, he only met Lee Asher during his USA tour in 1999, after he had already bought out the remaining stock from the Jerry's Nugget casino.  Duvivier confirmed that the figure of 14,000 accurately reflects the approximate number of decks he purchased from the casino at this time.  He shipped the majority of these to France by boat, and stored them in a warehouse, intending them to serve as a life-time supply for himself and his family.  Look for his story in an upcoming issue of Genii magazine, which will include a modified version of what he previously published on his blog in French.

 

Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards


About the writerEndersGame 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.

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Last update date: 08/08/20

1 comment


  • Thank you for the mention. I’d like to chat with you a bit about the article. Very well written! You can contact me via the email added or my IG handle the.congress.guy

    Thanks!

    Kevan Seaney on

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