What is a “normal” deck of playing cards? What do “normal playing cards” look, feel, sound, smell and taste like? Is there a standard deck? How thick should a single card be? What material should the cards be made of? What does it sound like to flick the edge of one card? When do cards look like they have been marked or gimmicked in some way? Should the back design be simple and elegant or weird and mysterious?
These questions probably never cross the mind of the average person, yet they plague the mind of the magician and card cheat. When you spend as much time with a deck of cards as I do, these questions are at the forefront of your mind. The majority of magic I perform uses an un-gimmicked “normal” pack of playing cards. (i.e. I bought them at Walmart, a gas station or preferably Costco for the bulk discount) I have worked hard to hone my sleight of hand skills to create mysterious “card miracles” for my audiences without the aid of a special “magic store” deck. If my audience doubts for one moment the validity of my cards, suddenly it is the cards, not sleight of hand, that gets the credit.
When I lived in the USA, I vowed to only used Bicycle 808’s. Produced by the United States Playing Card Company, or the USPC, this deck of “Poker” cards is trusted all over the USA. The deck of cards, traditional printed with a red or blue rider back with an air cushion finish and weighing .12 kg, were first introduced by Russell, Morgan & Company (Later named Bicycle) in 1885. They were the 8th line of cards printed, thus being the 808’s. (Some of the other originals were the “Tigers” 101 series, “Army” 202 series, and “Navy” 303 series.)
(Original look to the 808 series with the Russell, Morgan & Company Ace of Spades)
Though the USPC makes several other types of cards, including but not limited to Bee, Hoyle, Aviator, Maverick & Tally-Ho, Bicycle 808’s are their flagship of their lines of playing cards. If you see a professional magician in the USA, the majority of them are using with 808’s, mostly because people trust the “look” of them. This is also why a version of the 808’s were specially designed for the World Poker Tour. Often when touring in the USA I will even mention during my show that I purchased my cards (808’s) at either Walmart or in bulk at Costco.
Then everything changed! I moved to France. I quickly noticed that every magician I hung out with in Paris seemed to have a different type of cards. A few had my treasured 808’s, yet it was no longer the majority. When I asked what is the “normal brand” of cards in France, the French magicians said there is no such thing. In fact, “normal” French face or royal cards do not have a [K]ing, [Q]ueen and [J]ack. Instead they have a [R]oi (french word for king) [D]ame (french word for lady, not queen) and [V]alet (french word for servant or valet, thus being the jack).
(Random souviner deck, with french R, D & V)
They went on to say that the typical French person views Bicycle 808’s as being “Magician Cards” for they are pretty expensive, so only true professional poker players or magicians spend the money on them.
Which brings me again to my question: What is a “normal” deck of playing cards?? Company’s such as Theory 11, Ellusionist and Dan & Dave seem to come out with a new deck every month. Some are weird, some are simple, each boast of their new abilities. So does it matter? Should I just pick a deck I like and go with it? Should I stick with my 808’s? Please weigh in on this in the comment section below and help me.
I’m also posting some pictures of some of the random decks in my office:
The Ace of Spades is often the signature card in a deck.
Back designs can range from 2 naked angels on bicycles (808’s)
to a picture from a famous landmark or country.
“Magic Castle” cards from their gift shop.
The “Ultimate Deck” by Dan and Dave.
Cards I would never play with or use for magic, but are amazing peices of art.
I love the cards from Spain that my friends just gave me that do not have “normal” suits, but rather suits now mostly thought of as Tarot suits (though they do not have any supernatural psychic powers and actually were just the original suits of cards).