Constable: Playing cards are stars when 'trump' confined to euchre

  • You might not have a deck of cards as intricate or valuable as this deck created by the 52 Plus Joker playing-card collectors group. But the club welcomes the public to bring decks of playing cards for a free appraisal at its 2016 convention Oct. 20-22 in Schaumburg.

    You might not have a deck of cards as intricate or valuable as this deck created by the 52 Plus Joker playing-card collectors group. But the club welcomes the public to bring decks of playing cards for a free appraisal at its 2016 convention Oct. 20-22 in Schaumburg. Courtesy of 52 Plus Joker

 
 
Updated 8/2/2016 5:41 AM

Those of us repulsed by the Republican presidential nominee flinch whenever one of the euchre players at our table "trumps" an ace. But we have a bigger problem than an aversion to the word trump throughout the many euchre games played during my family's annual pilgrimage to Fountain Park Chautauqua in rural Indiana.

Between the humidity and the buttery fingers from snacking on sweet corn, the cards in our euchre game are becoming tough to shuffle. So teammate Brent Howard offers to grab a fresh deck from his stash.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"How many decks do you have?" I ask in amazement, doubtful that my family could piece together one complete euchre deck from the odd assortment of cards littering our junk drawer.

"Oh, at least 600 decks," Brent says. "I collect them."

He is not alone.

"There are thousands of us, my friend, worldwide," says Lee Asher, 40, president of 52 Plus Joker, the playing-card collectors club coming to the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg Oct. 20-22 for the group's Annual Playing Card Collectors Convention. "We're kind of the Comic-Con for playing cards."

While euchre is believed to have led to the addition of the joker to modern decks, to collectors, cards are so much more than finding a decent euchre deck.

"Most every world event that's ever happened since the dawn of time has been documented on a playing card," says Asher, a professional magician from Toronto. "If you can think of something that happened, it's probably on a playing card."

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Some collectors compile "antique" decks from 1930 and earlier. The year 1860 was a boom time for decks made in the United States, Asher says. Some collectors prefer "modern" decks, made after 1996, with foils and creative designs. Others stockpile European packs that are centuries old. In 1983, the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought a pack of hand-painted cards from the 15th Century, believed to be the oldest in existence, for $143,000. But most collectors see playing cards as a hobby, not an investment. Asher prefers "vintage" decks, made between 1931 and 1995.

"It reminds us of when we were kids. It triggers these wonderful memories," says Asher, who, while a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, developed a fondness for decks issued by casinos during the 1960s and '70s.

An old Coca-Cola deck of cards might be worth a few bucks among collectors, but a person who collects all the Coca-Cola playing cards might pay 100 times that price to complete a collection, Asher says.

"You have groups that break off into their own niches," Asher says, advising people to visit playingcardforum.com to learn more. Some build a collection around an artist, a time period, a location or something much more focused. To some collectors, a playing deck with an image of actor Bruce Willis from the movie, "Last Man Standing," one featuring Princess Di or a deck sporting StarKist's Charlie the Tuna might be an essential part of a collection.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

You don't even need to collect a whole deck. The Chicago Playing Cards Collectors club includes members who target a particular card. Often, those are graphically interesting cards such as an ace of spades or a queen of hearts, but some people "spend their life collecting only fours of diamonds," Asher says.

If you don't fancy the current playing-deck options, you can create your own. Texas artist Jackson Robinson is one of many who have used the funding platform kickstarter.com to find investors for one-of-a-kind creations.

"If you are an artist and you want to make a playing card, my advice is to go to Kickstarter," Asher says. "We're seeing just fabulous innovations."

As for all those euchre games that I lost during a relaxing week in Indiana, I would have appreciated playing with a more artistic deck. But what I really wanted were more bowers, aces and, yes, trump.

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