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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: Transformation Decks (Part 2) - Late 20th Century (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

EndersGame
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*** TRANSFORMATION DECKS ***

A transformation deck is a unique deck of playing cards where the pips have been incorporated into a larger artistic image. Decks where the pips aren't in the expected position/colours are sometimes referred to as semi-transformation decks. The practice may well have originated from a parlour game or social pastime, in which cards containing the pips were embellished using pen and ink to create miniature scenes.

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Transformation decks have a long history, and in this review series I'm covering some of the beautiful transformation decks of playing cards that have been created over the years, grouped according the three main phases that transformation playing cards have been prominent.
1. 19th century: The first examples of transformation playing cards appeared in the early 1800s. An estimated 70 different decks of transformation playing cards were produced in this century, with some of the best ones appearing in the late 1800s.
2. Late 20th century: Having enjoyed a wave of popularity in the 19th century, by the 1900s the trend in transformation cards largely vanished. Towards the end of the 20th century, however, transformation decks saw a brief resurgence with some notable examples including the Key to the Kingdom deck, the Art for the Earth deck, and the Under the Sea deck.
3. Modern era: The custom playing card industry exploded in 2012 with the advent of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms, and this made it easier for graphic designers to bring their creations to the marketplace. As a result a number of beautiful transformation decks have appeared over the last five years.

This article is by no means an exhaustive or complete list of all transformation decks that have appeared, but is intended to showcase some of the lovely playing cards of this type that have been created over the years.

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*** LATE 20TH CENTURY ***

After fading into obscurity for most of the 1900s, there was some resurgence of interest at the every end of the 20th century in the 1990s and early 2000s. This period saw the creation of a few landmark transformation decks, including some of those featured here.

Evident in some of the transformation decks from this era is a greater flexibility used in the placement and style of the pips. This semi-transformation style gave opportunities for more creativity and variety.

Circus (1989) by Frank Robert Schick

Frank Robert Schick created this transformation deck in 1989 using a circus theme, including clowns and musicians.

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The pips have been transformed into humorous animals and other circus act figures.

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This charming deck was made by Carta Mundi in Belgium.

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Only 1000 copies were made in a limited edition.

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Art for the Earth (1990)

The Art for the Earth deck is a very well known transformation deck.

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It was published around 1990 by Andrew Jones Art for Friends of the Earth.

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All the cards of this deck are by different artists.

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Just as with Schick's Circus deck, this was produced by Carta Mundi.

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Key to the Kingdom (1992) by Tony Meeuwissen

Tony Meeuwissen's Key to the Kingdom deck was published by Pavilion Books Ltd in 1992.

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This transformation deck features illustrations that are inspired by traditional nursery rhymes and poetry.

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Strictly speaking it is a semi-transformation deck because the pips are not in their conventional positions.

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This stunning deck deck was commissioned by London's V&A Museum of Childhood, hence the nursery rhyme theme.

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It won the WH Smith Literary Award for best illustration and The Designers and Art Directory Association of London gold award.

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The cards were sold with a book containing each poem and a picture of the corresponding card on the opposite page.

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Additionally, the deck was constructed as a puzzle contest laid out in the form of an original poem.

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The poem gave clues to pick certain cards, which then could be decrypted into a secret message (solution here). The prize of $10,000 and a golden key was won by Susan Kavanagh of Essex.

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EPCS 10th Anniversary (1993) by Karl Gerich

The English Playing Card Society's 1Oth Anniversary Transformation pack was designed and produced by Karl Gerich.

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It also took English nursery rhymes as its theme.

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To ensure that it was an authentic transformation deck, Gerich retained the traditional position for all the pips, and ingeniously incorporated these into the artwork.

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This deck is an absolute masterpiece of creativity!

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Teddy Bear (1994) by Peter Wood

The Teddy Bear deck is a custom deck created by Peter Wood.

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This transformation deck was inspired in part by the teddy-bear collection of Peter's wife.

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All the numeral cards show teddy bears in unexpected or unusual situations, interacting with the pips.

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It was published by Andrew Jones Art in 1994, the same publisher that had earlier produced the Art for the Earth deck.

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As with its predecessor, these playing cards were also manufactured by Carta Mundi.

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Teddies enjoy themselves both at the beach and in the snow!

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There is an excellent variety among the images included.

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The attention to detail is beautiful!

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2000 Pips (1999) by Peter Wood

Like the Teddy Bear deck, the 2000 Pips deck of playing cards was created by Peter Wood, and was limited to just 1000 copies.

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Once again, this is another example of an outstanding transformation deck which demonstrates real creativity.

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All the pips are cleverly transformed into a vibrantly colourful picture which is unique to each different card.

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Peter Wood's love of the natural world is clearly evident, especially insects, flowers and garden objects, fruits and animals.

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The artwork is almost scientific in its observation, and the careful observer will be rewarded with small and charming details.

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Lovers of plants, animals, and nature will especially appreciate it.

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Under the Sea (2005)

The Under the Sea deck of playing cards was published in 2005 to raise money for the Marine Stewardship Council, an environmental charity which promotes sustainable fishing practices.

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Once again this is another fine example of a beautiful transformation deck, in which the pips are incorporated into the artwork.

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54 contemporary artists and illustrators were commissioned to create images for the deck, each one donating artwork.

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With this deck, the transformations do retain the traditional positions of the pips on the cards (apart from the jokers and court cards).

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The variety of styles of illustration and design results in a set of cards that is very eclectic in style, but remains visually enchanting.

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All the images relate to the "Under the Sea" theme in some way.

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It's a charming and yet beautiful deck!

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*** CONCLUSIONS ***

What do I think?

Creative: The beauty of transformation decks lies in the creativity and ingenuity required to make them. The requirement to incorporate pips into a larger design is a huge restraint that artists have to work with. Being able to do this in a way that is imaginative and original is a real challenge. As is evident from the many examples, there are some wonderful works of art that have emerged as a result.

Collectable: Obviously many of the older transformation decks are not readily available. Many of these are collector's items, and fetch high prices. Even the beautiful decks from the late 20th century are not readily available anymore, and many of these are also prized items for those fortunate enough to own them.

Playable: While the prime appeal of these decks lies in their artistic merit, there are also some that have been produced, particularly in the modern era, that are just as functional as they are beautiful. This is particularly true of the decks created by Emmanuel Jose and Ben Jones. These designers have very deliberately tried to create decks that can still be played at the card table, and even though their decks show great creativity and imagination, they are very readily usable for playing a traditional card game.

Creatable: Are you an artist or designer that has some good ideas for transformation playing cards? As the last five years have made clear, the custom playing card market is alive and well. In the modern era of crowdfunding, anyone with a truly good idea and talent has the potential to be successful, if they're willing to put in the work to do the design, marketing, and fulfilment, or to partner with an existing publisher that can help with this. While competition in this marketplace remains tight, successes like the transformation decks created by Emmanuel Jose and Ben Jones show that creative and beautiful transformation decks will almost certainly find buyers and the support needed to make them become a reality.

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Where do you get them?

While the vast majority of these decks are not readily available, the good news is that if you would like to add some transformation decks to your collection, there are certainly some places where you can get some of these, although your choices are mostly limited to those of the modern era, with the Murphy's Varnish deck being a notable (and beautiful) exception. Some crowdfunded decks were only available via the Kickstarters that produced them, but fortunately there are some that have made it to retailers or can be purchased directly from the publishers, and can also be found on sites like Amazon and eBay.
- Murphy Varnish deck (1883): available from Home Run Games in a beautiful restored edition (link). Cost: $13-$21
- Ultimate deck (2012): available from publisher Art of Play (link). Cost: $25
- Odd Bods deck (2012): available from Rare Playing Cards (link). Cost: $15
- Pipmen deck (2016): available from publisher Elephant Cards (link) and Amazon (link). Cost: $12
- Pipmen World deck (2017): available from publisher Elephant Cards (link) and Amazon (link). Cost: $14

Recommendation: While I enjoy all kinds of custom playing cards, I especially have a soft spot for transformation cards. The examples above show something of the creativity and ingenuity this genre requires. With the new possibilities for publishing playing cards that crowdfunding has opened up in the last half a dozen years, here's hoping that we'll see many more beautiful designs emerge in years to come.

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Credits: I have benefited from many sources in the making of this article, but I'd particularly like to acknowledge World of Playing Cards and BoardGameGeek user Geni Palladin.
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BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame - click here to see all my pictorial reviews: => Magic Reviews <==> Playing Card Reviews <==> Board Game Reviews <==
Rik Gazelle
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Another fascinating post, thanks. I much prefer the older 19th century cards. I think it's probably because the imagery is much less familiar. Thanks for taking the time to compile and post, much appreciated.
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