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More than tricks and trump, playing cards are works of art

If you're like a lot of people you may have more than a few decks of playing cards in your house, but did you know they are a historically rich collectible? In a recent Book Review, Antoinette Rahn discusses the benefits of the book "The Collector's Guide to Playing Cards".

By Antoinette Rahn

Playing cards are among the items that easily fall into the category of miniature works of art, and in The Collector’s Guide to Playing Cards (Schiffer Publishing), author Mark Pickvet offers a glimpse inside this “gallery” of jacks, kings, spades, hearts and jokers galore.

PLaying Cards

The Collectors Guide to Playing Cards: Softcover • 8-1/2 x 11 • 160 p • 1,323 photos $34.99 directly from the publisher, Schiffer Publishing (

In this extensively illustrated reference, Pickvet offers an easy-to-understand history of the advent of playing cards, including the evolution of card production from stenciled, woodblock and metal engraved cards of the 14th century to the mass-produced printing of playing cards in the 20th century.

Particularly interesting is the explanation of the historical royalty that influenced modern American/English “face cards” in a deck of playing cards. For example, he states that the king of diamonds is modeled after Julius Caesar, while the Greek goddess Athena is said to be the inspiration for the image on the queen of spades.

In terms of determining a value range for collectible playing cards, besides the common factors of age, condition, demand and availability, the author explains how style of cards (which is largely about the dimension) also contribute to value. While the average value of playing cards/decks, even Mint in Box condition, may not be lofty, there are some treasures to be had; and if a collection is large enough the potential value is worth bidding on. Equally as important, this book demonstrates the intricate artwork featured on cards, both traditional and the largely popular advertising-based playing cards, and just how affordable it is to become a collector of playing cards.

I’d wager a bet that in many a house, at one time or another, there were at least two decks of playing cards – one featuring the traditional playing cards issued by brands such as AAA, Bicycle and Hoyle, just to name a few. The other with images advertising everything from automotive companies, movies and sports teams, to beverages, cigarettes and travel destinations.

The only thing that would have made this interesting book even better, is if it included tips and hints for helping me become a master euchre player.