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Deal Me In

Updated: Dec 24, 2022

The Case for Having a Collection (or Two) -------------------------------------------

I grew up collecting things. My mom introduced and encouraged the habit. I had baseball cards, of course, but my primary collection was miniature ceramic mugs. I don’t remember how I started. My guess is I received one as a gift, probably from my wonderfully sweet and generous godparents, and then got the idea to collect them from my mom. Whenever we went anywhere that included a gift shop, I always seemed to find one. I was particular about the art and design, sometimes passing on ones I found ugly or an odd shape, trying to be “funky” or something. I was proud of the ones I chose to own, and they sat on a built-in shelf in my bedroom in one long, single row, like bench players waiting for the

coach to put them in the game.

Aside from some bad habits, I don’t remember collecting anything during high school and college. The interest was renewed, however, in grad school, thanks to a lovely young woman who would become my wife. Dani has several collections, but my favorite is her antique flour sifters. After joining the very small and exclusive club of twenty-something guys who even knew what a flour sifter was, I found it fascinating to learn how many different designs there were. I remember several times while browsing antique stores, I would be so proud to find one and show her. Often the response was: "I already have that one."

At those cluttered, labyrinthian stores we'd see everything from vinyl records to original G.I. Joes to cartoon character glassware I remembered having in my childhood. Knowing I was going to be a writer, I thought it would be cool to collect another item we saw often: typewriters. Cool but cumbersome. Before I got my third one, I realized the venture was not going to be practical in my small, pre-professional apartment. (I could probably restart now though. Hmmm.)

I remember thinking about the people who sold their stuff – sometimes entire collections of things – at these stores. Turns out they were the pioneers of the practice that's so commonplace online today given ebay and all the other selling sites. It's a bit of a wonder that antique stores still exist, but they do. Dani explained how consignment works which came in handy when I eventually started selling my novels at local bookstores.

After typewriters came a few more ideas, then I landed on collecting playing cards. I co-hosted a weekly poker game at that time, and as a result, I had already accumulated several decks. My group devised a way to get a couple more hands in per night by having each player deal from his own deck. When one hand ended, the next dealer was ready to go. Ingenious, I know. That practice meant there were a bunch of decks lying around, and picking up new ones that looked interesting and could possibly bring luck became habit. So I guess I was collecting cards unofficially for a while.

The card collection has stuck with me to this day. I have about 300 decks. I’ve never been obsessive about buying them, pass on plenty, and I would never consider buying a truly rare, expensive deck. I have all kinds, including decks that were used in Vegas casinos. If you think this is a premium item like a game-worn jersey of your favorite sports star, think again. Decks in Vegas rarely last longer than 8 hours. And if they're being used in games like baccarat in which which patrons handle the cards (vs. something like blackjack) decks can be switched out every 30 minutes. So, plenty of inventory for the gift shop. When those decks get retired and sold, they come with official tape across the box which reads some variation of: This Deck of Cards Was Used in Actual Play in This Fabulous Casino. Fun to own, but not rare at all.

These days, I mostly get new decks as birthday and Father’s Day gifts from the wife and kids. Not surprisingly, my twins are collectors, too. As little kids, Sophie collected pens and embroidered handkerchiefs while Max focused on keychains and penguins of any kind. Their current combined effort features shot glasses. (I recently wrote about them turning 21.)

On the rare occasion my card collection comes up in conversation, people often assume I can do card tricks, but I don’t know any. I can do this one thing where I take the card from the bottom of the deck and put it face up on top. Then I take it off the top, flip it around, and put it back on the bottom. Sounds odd and simple, but I do all this using only one hand. It looks pretty impressive.

Coincidentally, as I write this I’m taking an online course taught by David Blaine. Although I’m not at a fan of his freezing, breath-holding, physical feats of strangeness, I do like his card tricks. In the course, Blaine and two colleagues actually tell forbidden secrets of performing magic! I won’t divulge any here (sorry), but I do plan to master a few tricks. Why not? In addition to getting me an autographed deck (pictured), the course teaches both sleight of hand mechanics and the psychology of the performance. Pretty interesting stuff!

Speaking of psychology, I read a bit on the theories of why people collect. A lot of categories and compartmentalizing, but I was able to put myself on the grid. Like any souvenir, my card decks remind me of places I've been and past times in my life. That falls under nostalgia or autobiographical history. I also like art and design so cards are a direct link to that world. I only buy decks with Aesthetic appeal. Other reasons for collecting include: investment, status, competitive spirit, and even the desire to control and bring order to the world. (Getting all the coins or stamps in one place.)

The oddest thing about the psychology discussion is how often it conflates collecting and hoarding. To me, that’s like an article on cooking that ends up discussing junk food obesity. They’re very different and separate things. If you have National Geographic magazines dating back twenty years, that's a collection. But a shoebox with all your credit card statements from that same time period? Sorry, no.

I’m not sure how many of those little ceramic mugs I had. Probably around 50. When my parents passed away and my childhood home was cleaned out and sold, I didn’t take much, and for some reason, the mug collection didn’t make the cut. (The photo above is an online find, but I had that one!) I regret the decision now, mostly because I think my kids would have liked taking them over, and it would have been a nice thing to pass on to them.

* * * * *

Here are 5 fun facts about playing cards you probably didn’t know.

Feel free to use any or all of them to impress people at your next cocktail party.



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