I have recently been going back to playing cards which were, in effect, my first love. I have been smitten ever since I bought a Waddington’s patience deck as a child and learned to shuffle it. But times have changed and while my tastes are generally rooted in the more traditional/facsimile or historic decks, I see there has been much modernisation of the traditional (so called “Anglo-American”) Poker playing card deck. I have been drawn to Bicycle playing cards recently and have bought quite a few; the 1800s deck, the Alchemist X, the Karnival Ryujin and the 2nd edition Black Ghost deck. However, my favourite is probably the limited edition Karnival Dead Eyes which I received last week and which feels like an anarchic, Nietszchean deck (raging “destroy!”) brought back from the dead. It looks as if it has been used and abused, tossed into the beyond then spat back out again. It takes the standard Poker deck and splatters it with blood, censors the eyes of the court card and uses ransom note lettering down the side of each card to spell out the card title.
The backs depict an engraving of an anatomised corpse splayed out for all to see, a murky palette of sepia and gore (and, in the centre of the card, a dead eye staring). The Bicycle 1800s deck was aged and distressed to make it look like a well worn relic cast out from the saloon bar after a lifetime of service (and a few dips in the spitoon along the way). The Karnival Dead Eyes deck goes even further. It looks as if it has been stamped into the ground with muddy boots and shuffled with a motorbike mechanic’s greasy, tarred hands. The edges of the card face are filthy (trompe l’oeil, of course), filled with smears.
In a world where the new and pristine is valued and consumed, it was only a matter of time before fake dirt and false signs of use would become a selling point. This is a deck made to look ragged and well-used but is on the best air-cushioned cardstock, fans like a dream, has strong but flexible cardstock and is – in a word – the last word in playing card sophistication. I bet none of us would be capable of using a deck so much that it would get into this state. We’d be too busy thinking of the next purchase, but I applaud Bicycle, not only for their excellent production quality (this is the best cardstock of any card producers out there) but because of their ability to painstakingly reproduce, to the finest detail, the appeal of filth. I am enjoying playing cards right now for cartomancy but also as a compulsive Patience player (I often play a quick game of Czarina before settling down for the night) and these would be a mysterious presence on the reading table for all card readers. A little threatening perhaps, a little too out of the ordinary, a little too dark for the faint of heart but a truly unforgettable deck for everyone else, and one which I now have two back ups of as I love it so much.