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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: Alex Chin - Part 3: The NPCCD & The 52 Plus Joker decks (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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*** ALEX CHIN & SEASONS PLAYING CARDS ***

This article continues my series of reviews on Alex Chin and his brand, Seasons Playing Cards. Established in 2011, Seasons is described as "a global lifestyle brand dedicated to the art of card collecting." Alex runs a one-man design studio called Shung Shung, and considers himself a visual communications professional who specializes in interactive package design. He especially pours out his passion into custom playing cards, and is considered an important contributor to the industry, and an innovator. He's also used his superb digital skills to produce Portfolio52, a free online collection tool, and to build an amazing website for his own brand.

Alex has already won numerous awards for his playing cards, which include several stunning series, such as Seasons, Magna Carta, and Apothecary, each of which contains several high quality and artistic decks. His decks have especially been praised for their attention to detail, their luxurious look, their rich elegance, and the innovations they employ especially in the area of packaging. In my first article I introduced Alex and his Seasons Playing Card company, and looked at the four decks that make up his Seasons series; in my second article I covered the decks that make up his stunning Magna Carta Series. In this third article I'll show Alex's two National Playing Card Collection Day decks, and the deck he produced as the annual 52 Plus Joker deck for 2017.

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*** THE NPCCD SERIES ***

National Playing Card Collection Day (NPCCD)

There's another special project that Alex is involved in which deserves separate mention. National Playing Card Collection Day (NPCCD) was created in 2016 to raise awareness about collecting cards, and Alex produced a special deck to mark the occasion.

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Is this National Playing Card Collection Day really on the calendar?

Yes it is, absolutely! Alex is the person who went through the formal process of applying for it, and was successful, and here's a certificate to prove it!

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Portfolio52

It was timed for October 17th to coincide with the launch of the world's largest online playing card database, Portfolio52. This is a free service that enables collectors to manage their personal card collection - go check it out! Alex is the man behind this project, which he has spearheaded for quite some time, and he has poured lots of his passion into it.

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So what is Portfolio52? It is the world's largest playing card database which focuses on three main elements: 1. collection management; 2. discovering decks; 3. trading. I've used it personally, and find it a terrific resource that I can highly recommend. It's an excellent way to keep way of your personal collection, and also to manage personal lists for trading and wish-lists. It also has ways of incorporating your personal notes.

Alex has built and bankrolled the site himself, and continues to develop it when he has time and opportunity, and he is looking to continue to improve it with addition of more quality content over time. But running a site like this costs money, and that's why the Playing Card Collection Day deck was designed. To mark the occasion of Portfolio52's official launch in 2016, and to help raise funds to support it, in both 2016 and 2017 Alex created a special limited edition deck of playing cards with only 400-500 copies. This would give people opportunity to support this project, while at the same time giving them something in return.

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The 2016 NPCCD Deck

Alex has poured his heart and soul into these playing cards, and so the 2016 NPCCD deck is a real labour of love, and a beautiful piece of work. It represents something about a unique personal accomplishment, but also the creation of an impressive online tool that is free for collectors around the world to benefit from. Purchasing the 2016 NPCCD deck was a great way to support this new project.

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Here we get a look at some of the court cards from the original NPCCD deck. The ornate borders and artwork will look very similar to the Apothecary deck, although this deck was actually created before that one, and evidently sowed the seed for the curiosities that later became Inverno Insights.

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One unique thing about these decks is that the tuck boxes were hand-made, in the sense that Alex personally hand fed them into four different machines, and after they were die-cut, he personally folded, glued, packed, and sealed them. Another difference from his other decks is the card quality. Although they were MPC produced given the small print run, they have the look and feel of the Emerald Finish (JN Finish) produced by Legends Playing Cards, which means they are slightly smoother, and more durable than a typical USPCC produced deck.

The 2017 NPCCD Deck

The 2016 NPCCD deck was definitely a very special and one-of-a-kind deck. But the good news is that it wasn't the last of its kind. Playing Card Collection Day is going to be an annual event, right?

So on October 17th this year, Alex launched the second NPCCD deck in support of Portfolio52. In my opinion this deck was even more glamorous and stunning than its predecessor!

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The luxury of the tuck box looks even more stunning when contrasted with the minimalist colour scheme of the playing cards themselves, which feature an ornate design in a simple black and white on the card backs.

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The stunning tuck boxes showcase what Alex is best at: pushing the boundaries of production, with a gorgeously handcrafted work of beautiful art, and a fitting commemoration of the art of card collecting. It has metallic gold engraving, an individually numbered pearl sleeve, and a cotton linen seal on the front and back.

The cards are certainly beautiful, as exemplified by these court cards, which have a truly royal feel against a inky black backdrop. The courts are very stylish, yet the simple colour scheme creates a very sophisticated look and feel.

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As impressive as the cards are, it's really the tuck boxes that will blow you away. In keeping with the fact that this was the second NPCCD, the tuck box is comprised of twos: an inside and outside layer, and a top and bottom. Alex calls this innovative tuck box a "Pluck Tuck", because an exposed thumb tab allows you to pluck the deck open.

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Two editions were created, the Pearl edition shown above, which comes in five different colours, and a Midnight Gold edition, which has hand-gilded gold edges. Both have a limited print run of 500 each.

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The cards themselves are printed by USPCC for quality handling and durability. If you like the look of these decks, then contact Alex to see if any of the 2017 decks are still available, and help support Portfolio52 at the same time. See the official website over here.

And do mark October 17th on your calendar, because National Playing Card Collector Day is an annual event in which you get to celebrate being a collector! Will there be another NPCCD deck next year? The best thing you can do is stay tuned on Alex's social media for news about any further decks. If these first two decks are anything to go by, any follow-ups promise to be something special as well! And if you are a playing card collector, then you definitely need to head to Portfolio52 and check out this great free online database - I highly recommend it!


*** THE 52 PLUS JOKER DECK ***

Alex has been extremely busy lately, with no less than three deck launches in three weeks! In addition to the latest Apothecary decks launched at the start of November, and the NPCCD 2017 deck that was launched on October 17, just a few days earlier on October 12 he launched the fourth annual club deck for 52 Plus Joker, the prestigious American Playing Card Collectors club which has been in operation since 1985. To be selected to produce their annual deck is a great honour, and the deck was released at their annual convention held this year in Erlanger, Kentucky.

Tuck box

The tuck box makes an immediate impression with luxurious and intricate gold foiling on the front.

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But even more intriguing are the other three sides of this deck, which feature Mulberry tree bark. The theme of this deck is the paper making process, and this deliberate look refers to the need to strip bark from trees in order to produce the paper that is the main ingredient of a deck of playing cards. Ivan Choe from kardify.com (a great resource I recommend highly!) has done some great photography here which shows the pulpwood look.

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Cards

The luxurious gold lattice-work design on the front of the tuck box is reprised on the stylish card backs, which were printed with an impressive looking two-colour foil.

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The face cards are completely customized, but have the signature Seasons Playing Cards look that immediately suggests Alex Chin as the designer. The Ace of Spades has a mulberry leaf, while the court cards have a rich green that continues to tell the story of how we get our playing cards from a paper-making process that begins with trees.

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*** CONCLUSIONS ***

What do I think?

Packaging: It's obvious from the moment that you look at one of the packages of these decks that Alex isn't an amateur. There's good reason he's won design awards for his creative packaging, and he knows how to make decks incredibly stylish right from the outset. These decks have all the luxury you can expect: not just the embossing and gold/silver foil accents that we often come to expect of high end decks nowadays, but also a very elegant style, with innovative wrap-around artwork that is stylish and beautiful.

Innovative: Alex likes pushing boundaries, and doing things different. Not only has he really done something special with his wrap-around packaging concept, but he's shown innovation in other ways as well - a colour changing deck, for example, which adds a whole new element to a tactile experience; and the two piece design of the 2017 NPCCD deck. He's a guy who likes to create, and experiment, and that immediately makes his decks very unusual and unique.

Artistic: I appreciate quality artwork, and the artistic designs of these decks are terrific. That begins with the tuck cases, but is especially evident on the card backs and the court cards, which are very stylish and stunning to look at. Everything feels beautifully balanced, and the colour scheme works well to enhance these delightful visual aesthetics.

Elegant: Everything about these decks screams elegance and class. The packaging. The artwork. The colours. The design. Alex really has what it takes to produce an absolutely classy product in every way. Even his website is stunning, and an outstanding example of elegant design!

Luxurious: I own quite a number of decks of playing cards, but these are easily among the most luxurious in my collection. Everything contributes to an experience of complete class and luxury, with refined and beautiful artwork, goil foil accents, and high quality tuck cases.

Thoughtful: I also really appreciate the depth of real thought that lies behind Alex's designs. For example, the Apothecary deck explores the theme of curiosity, and highlights the importance of exploring our curiosity, a sentiment that is largely becoming lost in our digital age, and yet which is an essential element that serves as the engine of achievement. Also the 52 Plus Joker deck explores the paper making process in all aspects of its design. This kind of thoughtful and philosophical underpinning behind Alex's designs gives them extra significance.

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Series: Unlike many creators of custom playing cards, the different editions and versions Alex offers aren't merely different colours of the same thing, but genuinely represent a well thought out series that shows a consistent style. The Seasons series is a particularly good example of this, with a theme that returns and is worked out through several different decks that are individual and unique, and yet clearly linked.

Quality: From the decks I've seen from Seasons, the quality of the cards themselves is excellent, and they handle well. Seasons states that "Our Aristocrat stock and New Magic Finish give a guaranteed performance and handling over other standard decks". They give great performance, as you'd expect from decks produced by US Playing Card Company. It has slightly thinner cards than the Casino Bee stock used by USPCC, but the Bicycle stock used has the performance coating used in the higher end decks, making it even better quality than a standard Bicycle rider-back deck.

Outstanding: With the large number of custom playing cards constantly appearing on the market, you really need to do something different to stand out from the rest of the pack. But Alex of Seasons Playing Cards has achieved exactly that. These are truly outstanding pieces of work!

Expertise: You only need to visit the Seasons website to see that Alex really knows what he is doing. He is a skilled graphic designer, and whether he applies his talents to designing a website or a deck of playing cards, the result of his passion and expertise is clearly evident.

Portfolio52: As a creator of playing cards, Alex knows all too well the need for collectors to manage their collection, and his own passion for this has led to the creation of the Portfolio52.com database, the world's largest database for card collectors. It's an outstanding resource - and free to use. If you collect playing cards, then you absolutely can't afford to miss this wonderful tool. And do look out for the National Playing Card Collecting Day decks that have been launched on his website and portfolio52.com on October 17th each year!

Future projects: Alex is by no means done with designing playing cards, but is continuing to build his brand. The last couple of months are a good indication of how much of a contribution he is making to the custom playing card industry. The Apothecary series is currently being completed with the launch of its two follow-up decks (Seronda Sentiments and Verana Virtues) in November. In October the next National Playing Card Collection Day deck was launched in support of Portfolio. Alex also had the honour of being the designer of this year's 52 Plus Joker deck. Clearly the future is bright for this creative and talented designer, and if you're a collector of playing cards, you should definitely keep a close eye on his work, and follow what he creates next!

Where to get them? Some of the decks featured in this review series are now sold out, and you'll have to head to the secondary market to try to acquire them. But many of the decks are still available directly from Alex at his Seasons website here. Some of the National Playing Card Collection Day decks are still available at the official website here. And to get notified of the upcoming Apothecary Kickstarter when it launches in early November, stay tuned to Alex's social media here.

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Recommendation

It's not hard to tell that I've very impressed with the calibre of Alex Chin's work, especially his creativity and ability to explore new territory in the world of custom playing cards. Certainly his decks of playing cards are superbly artistic and beautiful - but such praise can apply to a lot of custom playing cards in the current market. What makes him stand out above the pack, however, is his willingness to innovate in areas such as interactive packaging, and his superb skills in graphic design, with precise and perfect attention to the details that matter. It's these skills and expertise that enable him to take things to the next level when it comes to adding the small touches of luxury that make all the difference, such as exquisite gold embossing and gilding. It's hard to imagine his playing cards being any better than what they are, because it's evident that Alex has carefully given consideration to every last detail.

Alex's expertise and familiarity with the digital world also means that the images and design of his web site is absolutely second-to-none. Alex has also drawn on these abilities to give back to the playing card community with the creation of Portfolio52, an excellent free database for card collectors, and for that alone he deserves our applause and support.

If you like what you see, then consider heading to his website and seeing what he has on offer. The playing card industry needs important contributors like Alex, and he needs every encouragement to continue the fine contributions he has already made, with the hope that the future will continue to bring more good things from Alex Chin and Seasons Playing Cards.

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Want to learn more?
Seasons Playing Cards: www.seasonsplayingcards.com
National Card Collection Day: www.nationalcardcollectionday.com
Portfolio52: www.portfolio52.com

Follow Seasons Playing Cards on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

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Here are direct links for the decks featured in this review:
- Seasons series: Verana deck, Inverno deck, Primavera deck, Seronda deck (Summer, Winter, Spring, Fall)
- Magna Carta series: Rebels deck, Royals deck (White, Black)
- Apothecary series: Inverno Insights deck, Primavera Ponderings deck (Winter, Spring)
- NPCCD 2016: National Playing Card Collection Day 2016 deck (Green, Pink)
- NPCCD 2017: National Playing Card Collection Day 2017 deck
- Kickstarter: Stay in touch with Alex's social media for news about the launch of his latest Apothecary decks in early November.

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