Sunday, April 16, 2023

Masks and Theatric Jokers

 One of my favorite sections of the collections has jokers with masks, some of which are theatric.  The mask section has recently been divided into this mask theatric section plus the:

-    Archaeological masks
-    Topsy Turvy Masks

 Here's a few images of the masks and theatric jokers. Let's start with the traditional symbols of the theater, the happy and sad masks. Symbol comedy and tragedy.

And two more variations of the masks symbolizing the theater.

Picking up the temperature a little, here's a contemporary pair of masked people:  WOW!

This next one is a special lovely lady joker. It works the mask theme to a new level. Notice her shadow, what does it reveal? Is her inner feline nature being picked up in her shadow? What else is hidden behind her mask and little costume.  Is the smoking lamp next to her suggesting that she controls a genie? Is the genie being controlled. It's confusing how I'm suppose to think about  her.  Should I think of her as a juggler? There is a juggler joker section but it is large and a little impersonal for her.  She's also scantily dressed and could fit in the girlie joker section of the collection. But she is in the mask section partially because this is an elite section and I'm partial to her. More importantly, she is both wearing a mask and juggling masks and has a masked theme which more than earns her a spot in the more complex mask and theatrical section. She's certainly theatrical with her spotlight creating a shadow revealing her inner nature, her daemon, her totem...

This next one is mischievous: the joker is clearly having fun and up to no good.  I imagine we could be good friends.

Here too, a sense of humor creeps out from behind the mask.

We're near the end of the featured solo joker show folks. 

Here's an artsy mask joker. When I showed it in the joker collectors group on Facebook, I learned from the wise Tom Van Berkum:  "This mask joker is from the Japanese ‘Mikimoto’ deck made by Nintendo - Kyoto in 1972."

And here are the ensemble shots of my mask and theater section. BTW, I foresee the possibility of splitting this section further into perhaps a theatrical and other mask section soon.

Arguably, there are three jokers on this page below which should be classified in the archaeological mask section. In R2, C3 and in R3, 1 & 3 also.  But, I think in Row 2,  C1 & C3  are a pair and so I have to keep them together. The C1 does belong in this group so here they stay.  The two in R3 however should probably be moved.  uhg.  I have to move them, rebalance the pages in both sections, rephotograph, and upload.  Maybe not today...

For a special treat, here are some shots of one part of my mask collection. Do NOT be confused by the fact that in my mask collection, there is a jester! I know it's confusing to have masks in a joker collection and a jester in a mask collection.  

There are also the two headed mask jokers which are listed in the two headed section.
Another subsection is the Archaeological masks

This article replaces the 2018 article about jokers and theatrical joker cards. (it did include a  video).
Jesters that might be related to these through the theatric theme include:
  1.  Dancing Jokers; These  are split into 
    1. Dancing jokers with Wands who dance in one of three directions: 
      1.  To the Right
      2.  Straight ahead 
      3.  To the Left
    2. Dancing Jokers with no wands 
  2.  Performers with cards or without cards 
  3. Juggling things 
There are also all the entertainers, musicians, "show girls" (ie erotica), and clowns who are not unrelated to theatrics. To find them, take a look at  the overall joker organizational system?

Archaeological Masks

 The mask section grew large and has this new subsection: the Archaeological Masks. This distinguishes them from modern and late European masks.  Here's a few of my favorites:

The concept of modern theater was largely developed in the Golden Age of Greece. I think the mask below dates from that era.  From reading Teaching History with 100 Objects, I think this might be a statue made of a Greek theatric mask (the originals were not made of clay and didn't last). And I quote:

With its exaggerated, grotesque features, this terracotta model shows the mask worn by the old man character in many comedies of the 300s BC and later. He has a wide grin, furrowed brow and bald head and wears a wreath with ivy leaves and clusters of berries. The masks worn in tragedies were different, with idealised features set in calm, serious, or sometimes pained expressions. 

 This mask is not a toy and he's clearly not fooling around.

And he's not alone in the world. Here's the back showing that there's a mob of these fellows.

This gorgeous mask is from the Beijing Opera.

 And here is the back of the Beijing Opera Joker.

And here are the ensemble photos of joker masks. As usual, I've done my best to assemble coherent groups on a page given the constraints of the page size and materials that I have to work with.

There are also the two headed mask jokers which are listed in the two headed section (which I usually call Topsy Turvy jokers are full duplex).
Another subsection (this one!) is the Archaeological masks
Here is the main current article on masked and theatric jokers.

This article replaces the 2018 article about jokers and theatrical joker cards. (it did include a  video).

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Mechanics of Joker Collecting

 I sometimes see questions about the mechanics or logistics of joker collecting. How do the rest of you handle all this? Here's my system, such as it is.

I keep my jokers in three ring binders mostly in pages made for collecting baseball or Pokeman cards. These album pages can show 9 jokers at a time, front and back. I also have some pages for oversized cards and tiny card.

How many binders do I have? Good Question: I have a little more than two dozen albums in use right now. Maybe 26. They are not a uniform size nor color. Some are overstuffed, some aren't yet full.

There's a third shelf not pictured.

Here's a picture of two other shelves. The top shelf on the left has  decks that I've already taken the joker out of but where I think the deck is special and I want to keep it.  The bottom shelf on the right has a number of decks that I have not yet opened. There is of course lots of clutter of decks that I want to give away. Jokers and other cards that aren't in their final resting place. Boxes of joker that are either extra extras or jokers that I have not yet started sorting. 

One of those boxes, for instance, has nothing but Scatterman jokers (Cartamundi jokers or Sowers). Why? I seem to have accumulated a lot and it's such a massive project to see of the hundreds in that box are different than the 150 or so different Scatterman jokers that I've already organized in an album.

The albums look like this

Inside most albums, there is a simple organizational note to myself. For example, this  Artsy Album features my "artsy" jokers which includes subcategories of formal classic art, modern / digital art, mermaids, digital / mystical jokers, and skulls (just the head) which is a new subcategory of mystical.  I find that if I don't write a note to myself to explain the organization of each album, I get confused and make  mistakes.  (NOTE, these notes only cover the categories physically in this album. There are other "artisy" subcategories which are in other albums and so they ere not listed there. Specifically: flowers and fruits, card themed jokers, masks, and statues and sculptures)

This next photo shows how the pages of the Art Joker Album works. It also gives a hint of what my desk looks like when I'm sorting jokers which is a lot of the time.

Here's another view of what a table looks like when I'm organizing.

Here's a little insight into how the categories emerge. There are categories which are big, such as animals. Inside the animal section, I try to organize each page coherently so there would be dogs on one page, maybe cats on another. As the collection grows, there might lots of pages of cats so I make that into a section but the subcategories keep emerging.  For instance, the cats section now has subsections such as wild cats.  So each nugget of a concept emerges first on on page or set of pages. I also try to make each page look coherent and aesthetic. For instance, here's a page from the performers section, subsection of performers with cards. Notice how on the jokers on the sides how I try to get the jokers facing into the center of the page.   And how I try to find a certain symmetry on the page.

Here's a view of another shelf where I store my most valuable decks. In the these old decks, I keep the joker with the original deck and put a photocopy of the original in the albums. Here's an article about buying old decks and how in these cases, I keep them together. I'm sure Jason will the thrilled to see his book, Paper Empires,  prominently displayed there.

My go-to most important reference work for understanding American jokers is of course Hochman, as expanded and recreated by Lord and Lady, Tom and Judy Dawson.  It is pictured below. It is also available online both as a PDF and a Kindle book. This online version is slightly updated, perhaps only photography.   I have created a list of the reference works, websites, groups, organizations, and other resources that help me with my joker collection.  Suggestions welcome.  

Boxes for storing and protecting cards. 
 I started with random boxes, shifted to show boxes and USPS boxes and an am now adding boxes for protection and display.
Carat boxes for display or protecting individual decks - Hard clear expensive shells. I bought a 12 deck one from Here's Carat Case Creations that catalogs the difference sizes and where they can be bought. 
Clear foldable cheap boxes - These come in many shapes and sizes. I bought my first set from  Pictures and more details to follow. The challenges is that I want to store and protect   decks of playing cards that  can be narrow or wide. Sometimes just the deck. Sometimes the deck and a cardboard box. Sometimes a larger leather case. Once I get this all figured out I'll put up some pictures and guides on sizes. Right now I'm using 2 /34 x 5/8 x 3 3/4 which is larger than a simple deck needs, too wide and too tall.  I just measured by decks and boxes to see what I need. I'll try to place this order with

Sizes In Centimeters                                    wide        tall        deep            need
Old leather wide boxes (Congress 606)        7               9.3        2.3                40
Narrow leather boxes                                   6.3 .2?        9.9        2.3                20
cardboard box modern wide                        6.6                9.2        1.8
wide deck                                                    6.3 .2?        8.7 .8?    1.8                20
narrow deck                                                5.6 .7?        8.7 .8?       1.8            20
Old leather wide boxes - in inches            2 3/4            3 3/4            15/16                

Display cases.

My real focus as a joker collector is an attempt to build and publish a taxonomy or organization of jokers so that a person, with a normal or weak memory (like me), can quickly see where a joker belongs in the collection based on the image in the joker.  Here's a description of my progress on this quest to organize the world's jokers.

Extra Jokers for Trading. I generally put the extras in the same pockets as the original until it gets too fat with maybe 5-10 different extras. I've tried setting up duplicates on separate pages since I believed that it would make trading easier but so far, it hasn't really helped.

Lastly, I also display some of jokers in artistic wall displays. For example:

Sometimes people ask how many different jokers I have collected.  The last time I counted, Jan 1 2021, I had about 7.5K different jokers. I believe that I have about 9K jokers at this point. Once I get to about 10K, I might switch and start focusing only on a few types of jokers such as old American ones.  

Any questions? Email me:  john  at