Sunday, July 16, 2023

French Museum of Playing Cards

 I just saw the best playing card museum that I have ever seen anywhere! Also, I've now made my first ever visit to a playing card museum. I visited the Musée Français de la Carte à Jouer in the Paris suburb of Mairie d’Issy on July 12th, 2023. 

The museum is beautiful. The exhibits have first rate designs showing enormous amounts of research, curating, and extravagant investments. Super impressive.

I had emailed ahead of time saying that I would visit and the front desk figured out who I was and greeted me nicely. 

Two thirds (by floors) of the museum is the permanent playing card and ephemera collection: This is where I focused. The rest was a temporary display about the popular card games of the last quarter century such as Pokémon and Magic the Gathering.

I learned that in France, the card designs were historically  regional. I should have expected that since France has such strong regional traditions. For instance,  last week I was staying near Toulouse in southern France and asked for a nicoise salad,  the answer was: “No, we don’t serve that here”. That's a different part of southern France 

So of course, the different regions in France developed different versions of playing cards. The images on the face cards are different. And I think some regions had three face cards, others had four: a chevalier (knight) to the valet, dame, and roi. Here are snaps of the museum's display about regions and some regional examples:

There was tons on the history of playing cards and many variations. Just one example: The wooden tile cards were particularly cool.

Among the hundreds of card ephemera, one of my favorites was this piece which reminds of the modern card game of Michigan Rummy

The bulk of the collection were displays of decks from different eras in history, different regions of France (and the world), decks which were mainstream, decks that were artsy, decks for advertising, and decks that celebrated some theme or event. 

Another display that particularly caught my eye was this costume from a ballet performed in London in 1919 designed around four playing cards. Very special. I think gambling and luck seem like rich themes for ballets: I would have liked to know the story.

They had a display of 20th century jokers.

Here’s the jokers from the display that I considered most special (usually meaning I didn’t have them in my collection). 

They also had displays of notable modern cards including these jokers. Here's the few that caught my eye (again, it's the one that I don't have... yet) followed by the explanations (in some cases)

They had a good number of fine paintings which featured people playing cards.

Here's a closeup of the jokers.

There was also tons of displays on printing technics and technology but I'll put that in a separate post since this is getting long and at some point, I need to dig in and understand the various generations of printing technology for cards.

I started to put together a listing of the playing card museums in the world but I think it's better to just point to the International Playing Card Society's  (IPCS) listing of museums since it seems to have a comprehensive list.  Does anyone know of any museums not only those lists or have a review of the museums.

The VR walk through on the museum's website provided this view of their displays. These displays showed the decks front and back. There were also wall posters which could be electronically moved around to see other decks. There was a lot on the tarot deck and games which is something for me to go back to study. I didn't see anything specifically about the history of the joker but I might have missed it. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the Musée Français de la Carte à Jouer  (It's a ~100 yards from a metro so easy-peasy to get there from Paris) and intend to visit next time I'm through Paris. They hold events for their local community, for magicians, and for other poles of interest. I didn't see anything that specifically targets playing card (or joker) collectors so that's something to think about. I don't know if they are active in IPCS or any of the card groups or social media. - Tons of videos

And of course, there's a gift shop. Many books but I'm traveling and they were in French and were heavy so I thought I should do without. And they have some decks of cards. One of the great things about serious sellers of cards (like them!) is that they have an open display deck for each type so I can see what I'm buying before I ante up. Important for those of us that are primarily interested in the jokers.  Bravo!

I restrained myself and only bought six decks.  I've opened one so far (I'm traveling and am waiting until I get home). But the one that I opened: Fantastico!   

The deck I opened is a limited edition playing card deck by a Dutch artist named Pim Leefsma.  I have deck #108 out of a total of 250. It's signed by Pim.  Here's ten cards from the deck.

I'm still studying the artwork and might have more to say later beyond the fact that I really like it. I did notice that the faces of the cards are all two headed except for the jokers.  It's also a recent product, published in 2020.  

Notice that the credits cite Joop as a copyright holder. The story is that Joop approached Pim with the idea of doing a deck of cards with his artwork.  Joop did the prepress work and published it on his birthday as a sort of present to himself.  

Overall, this deck reinforces my frequent observation that it's just amazing how much great art is available on playing cards. Amazing.

Here's the six decks that I bought.

What articles should you read next? Perhaps:
My early Congress Playing Card Jokers