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52 Plus Joker: A Card Collector’s Club

Cover Clear the Decks newsletter

I’ve just discovered an association for aficionados of antique and collectible playing cards called 52 Plus Joker – The American Playing Card Collector’s Club. (How about a tarot club called 21 Plus Fool?) Their beautifully illustrated quarterly magazine, Clear the Decks has plenty to keep a tarot historian happy. I’m very impressed with the level of scholarship in their articles – this isn’t just a hobbyist magazine.

The club came to my attention when they asked to reprint my blog post about seeing the Visconti-Sforza deck at the Morgan Library (read it here). In the same June 2015 issue there’s a lengthy article on the Ambras Court (Hofamterspiel) deck of @1455 that was reprinted by Piatnik in 1975. This complete playing card deck has four suits representing four different countries. The exquisite, hand-painted images show people engaged in occupations like cook, falconer and chaplain that supported a noble household. It’s a window into the lifestyle when tarot was in its formative period. This deck and other contemporary hand painted playing cards can be seen on this page at

Page of Clear the decks newsletterThe publication is running a series of articles on the Charta Lusora, a deck-book hybrid printed by Jost Amman of Nurenberg in 1588. One of the club members won a beautifully illuminated edition at an auction and has done extensive research). The images are arranged in four suits of inkpads, books, gold beakers and wine glasses. The images are accompanied by Latin and German verses on the same page, but some people think they were supposed to be cut up and used as cards.

I’ve been so narrowly focused on tarot that I’ve forgotten about seeing it in the context of other decks and games at the time of its invention. Club members get access to all the back issues online, so I’m looking forward to sifting through the articles for 15th and 16th century decks.

Learn about this association and join at:


A Florida double-header for card collectors: The Playing Card Association is having its annual conference in Orlando, Florida October 7-10, 2015. Tarot Con sponsored by the Tarosophy Tarot Association is happening in Palm Beach Gardens October 10 and 11.


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