How I Wish You Were Here

I’ve already gone on at length about how playing cards can have multiple functions, so I don’t have much need to repeat myself here. But of all the kinds of decks I’ve seen with functions so diverse as flash cards, recipe cards, even as a canvas for collaborative art, this particular article’s honestly been a long time coming: post cards. Not post cards in the sense that you can scrawl a message on them and mail them to your relatives from far-off lands, but post cards in the sense that they represent places that you might have been, often bearing lovely little photographs with wistful captions to remind you of their significance.

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Mayday, Mayday! Dutch angle coming in hot on our twelve-o’clock!

The reason why this article’s taken me so long to cover is because, honestly, the individual decks I’m covering are not that great or interesting on their own. But I’ve got a collection of them now, so it’s time I get this out of the way.

Firstly, from the state of California, a pack of cards depicting “The Crookedest Street in San Francisco” – the famous Lombard Street (view it on Google Street View here). The photo used on the card back probably hails from the 1990s, and exudes the bright and colorful nature of SF itself. The photo itself is fine, as photos go. But it’s the photo’s orientation that’s unusual…or at least, unusual for a deck of cards. Landscape-oriented photos are fine for a post card, but a deck of playing cards tends to be portrait-oriented so they’ll fit better in a hand. On top of this, the cards’ faces are no different from any other deck…outside of the material being a bit sticky, making cards difficult to separate from each other. That could be the material, but that could also easily be the age of the cards – they’ve probably been in this case since the early 90s, until I rescued it from a Goodwill for a dollar. (For what it’s worth, it is at least a complete deck with jokers.)

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Left to right: Portland, The Crookedest Street in San Francisco, Oregon Lighthouses.

Up next is a pair of decks I bought brand new, hailing from my native state of Oregon. There are more decks in this collection, but I only bought these two because I’d hoped they were interesting. One deck depicts Portland, and the other calls itself “Oregon Lighthouses” – that’s a bit of a misnomer, I suppose, but I’ll get into why in a moment. Unlike the Lombard Street cards, which came in a plastic case, these come in typical cardboard boxes printed with the card back design right on front, and some supplemental photos on all other sides.

That’s the disappointing part – like the Lombard Streets, you’ve already seen the only photos that you’ll see in the deck itself. So in the case of the Oregon Lighthouses deck, it can only really be called that because the back contains more than one of them. I’d half-expected there to be a lighthouse on each card, but the designers at Oregon-native Smith-Western, Inc. evidently didn’t consider that. The faces of the cards are just regular, ordinary card faces. At least the Ace of Spades has a unique design, but the experience of the card is just right there on the box. You don’t even need to take the cards out of the pack. Some complaints of construction quality also apply – the material isn’t as sticky as the Lombards, but there is a problem with the edges of the cards being too sharp, making shuffling a slightly painful process if performed incorrectly. Then again, these decks cost less than $4 each – that’s cheaper than even the “regular” Bicycle designs.

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The 2010 Shanghai Expo set in its cardboard shelf package.

The last set, and the only hope to redeem this concept in my collection, is a four pack set of cards from the 2010 Shanghai Expo. These were sold as a four-pack of decks, with each deck being themed around a specific aspect of the Expo: Shanghai in the Former Days, The Previous Expos, Today’s Shanghai, and The Pavilions of Expo 2010 Shanghai. While the boxes are significantly lower quality than the others, the cards are a much different story, at least design-wise. The Shanghai cards actually have unique faces, each one bearing a photo with an appropriate caption in both English and Chinese (of which variant, I can’t be certain). The decks all even include jokers, albeit the same set of two per deck (one of the expo mascot, and one that essentially acts as a business card), making for a grand total of 208 unique photographs in the entire set.

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The back is pretty boring, but the faces all have neat (landscape) photos of the expo pavilions. (Wait, are these photos, or CG renders?)
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What happened here? Bad glue?

Unfortunately, where even the Shanghai cards fall short is the same place all the others do: build quality. These cards feel pretty flimsy, bearing the same sharp edges as the Oregon decks, and this time even the boxes suffer this shoddiness. They’re difficult to open or close without breaking; one actually came unglued in the process. Perhaps I should have left these decks in their shelf-packaging, but I’m not the sort of person who buys things to leave them sealed.

Ultimately, the realm of post cards leaves much to be desired. There’s a lot of room to do a superior set, but perhaps the problem is that there isn’t enough demand to warrant it. Compared to a deck intended to promote a product, these decks would have to be available year-round, not just given away at a one-day event like a business card.

I’m not entirely sure I understand the business sense in producing such low-quality decks. Then again, perhaps that’s why I’m not a businessman.

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These vintage photos of Shanghai from the turn of the 20th century are rather nice, though.



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