The allure of playing cards as portable entertainment pre-dates movable type and has continued throughout the last 500 years. The appeal of a deck of 52 cards is evident in the contemporary Poker craze and present use as promotional devices. Variations of designs on both sides of the cards fascinates collectors and offers a glimpse of popular culture graphic arts.
The new book Playing Cards by Buzz Poole offers a fascinating look at playing cards specific to America in the 1930s and 1940s. The entirety of the book, as explained in the introduction, was found in an estate auction scrap album by Ira Pearlstein. The variety of graphic design for this specific media is astonishing. Even more astonishing is that this was one anonymous person's collection of otherwise unremarkable playing cards. The author focuses on details of the cards and critiques choices that the unknown designers and artists would never have likely imagined worthy of study. From the standard classic card backs to bizarre garish Deco imagery, there is a visual feast and seemingly endless possibilities for playing cards. Poole has a somewhat lighthearted narrative and genuine affection for his subject. The highlight of the book is the section on Jokers (which is really the only section that the backs are not the focus of attention). While some historical background is included, the primary focus o fthe book is the cards themselves and the sensation that the lucky auction goer might have felt looking at these as a collection.
The book itself hints at being a cross-section of the genre in that it is unusually long and thin (as if chopped from a larger book). The format however is perfect for displaying up to four cards in a line at actual size. The last page makes the reproductions especially realistic as perforated cards that the reader may remove if they so wish.