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LEGENDS PLAYING CARDS

Legends Playing Card Company

I'm on a bit of a kick collecting playing cards, and this is proving to be somewhat of an addictive business, especially there are so many stunning decks available. While cruising the internet in search of beautiful playing cards, I kept coming across mention of "Legends Playing Card Company", as a publisher of very high quality playing cards, arguably of a higher standard than those produced by US Playing Card Company. With a bit more research, I discovered that they are based in Asia, and run by an American who is committed to the very highest standards of excellence. The collection of playing cards available from their website features decks that are nothing short of spectacular quality.

So who is behind all of this? Meet Lawrence Sullivan, an American magician who grew up in Asia, and works in Hong Kong:



Lawrence Sullivan: After mastering his first card trick at age 7, Lawrence has enjoyed a successful career over several decades in close-up magic. As testament to his success and credentials, he has performed for Michael Jordan, Snoop Dogg, David Beckham, Rihanna, Jackie Chan, and even President George Bush. That's the kind of list that would look good on any magician's resume! You can see him perform in an MTV Asia video here, and there are also more performance videos here. Called by some "the Magic Man of Hong Kong", he was also featured as the speaker for a TED Talk on the great topic of "The Magic of Connection", which you can check out here.

Legends Playing Cards: So what is the connection between a magician with playing cards, aside from the fact that decks of cards are typically the tools of the trade for many magicians. Well in 2013 Lawrence decided to establish the Legends Playing Card Company. With a lifetime of card handling experience behind him, and equipped with a variety of skills learned from travelling and magic, Lawrence decided to put his multilingual skills and knowledge of product sourcing to work by forming a new company that would raise the bar of the standards of a deck of playing cards. He's a perfectionist, and from my perspective as a consumer and gamer, it's good news that the guy making decks of cards for us is absolutely committed to the standards of perfection! Lawrence started at the beginning, which required immersing himself in the history of playing cards, and studying the development of the manufacturing process. Right from the outset, he was on a mission to print the absolute best rather than the cheapest product, and he wanted to know everything that could affect card quality - humidity, equipment settings, coating, and more.

The #852 deck: When Legends released its "Legends #852" deck of playing cards, it was an instant success. The initial print run of over 10,000 sold out in a matter of days, with collectors, magicians, and poker players all clamouring to get a copy. It featured artwork by Mark Stutzman, well-known for his successful work with David Blaine’s posters and decks of cards, and was produced in collaboration with Bill Kalush, from Expert Playing Card Company. Here's Lawrence's own words about some of the factors that contributed to the success of this deck, and how it came about: "Growing up in Asia allowed me to source the Legends #852 factory in Taiwan and work with them extensively before printing the first Legends #852 run. Later down the road I shared the factory information with Bill Kalush, who started Expert Playing Card Company. Blaine and Stutzman helped with the design / artwork side of the first deck."



Custom decks: From here, Legends went onwards and upwards. The company now branched out to produce a series of custom decks, by combining with other illustrators who would create original artwork for them. The Legends brand has continued to expand, and now produces playing cards for a variety of high end clients who want a quality product. Drawing on the resources and expertise developed from printing their own decks of playing cards, Legends Playing Cards creates quality playing cards for any customer who wants to produce a custom deck of cards. In addition to a range of paper types, options include elegant additions on the tuck boxes, including foil accents, pearlescent or white coated tuck box paper, and foil lamination on the tuck interior. Their range of options also includes hot stamped foil on the card backs, and the company recently achieved a unique first by experimenting with embroidery on the tuck box! I've seen this first hand, and it is certainly very novel and impressive.

Paper types: For their print customers, Legends offers four types of paper/finishes, which it describes as follows:
Diamond Finish - Hard flex, thin paper. Over 5x as long lasting as Bicycle Air-Cushion Finish. Embossed similar to "Air Cushion Finish" with our super smooth 'Diamond Cut' edges.
Classic Finish - Softer and papery feeling, embossed similar to "Air Cushion Finish" with our super smooth 'Diamond Cut' edges.
Elite Finish - Similar to Classic Finish, with a different embossing pattern on the cards, with our super smooth 'Diamond Cut' edges.
Emerald Finish - Hard-medium flex, thin paper, with a slick coating, and a very similar feel to Diamond Finish. Casino-cut edges.
I'll cover some points about the differences in my conclusions, but I will say already now that the handling and quality of the decks featuring their Diamond Finish and their Classic Finish is outstanding.

Accessories: Legends has also been adding luxury playing card accessories to their catalogue. These include luxury card clips, premium card wallets, and portfolios.

Competition: In the world of playing cards, there are some big names that publish and produce custom cards. Perhaps the most well-known is US Playing Card Company, which produces the Bicycle brand and several other well-known brands like Bee and Tally Ho. Many people producing large volumes of decks of playing cards choose to go with USCC, simply because it is located in the US and has an established reputation. Of the competition, Legends Playing Cards is arguably one of the front runners. Together with Expert Playing Cards, they use a factory in Taiwan to produce their decks, with a quality that rivals the best that USPCC can offer, and sometimes exceeds it. It's little wonder that in recent years some publishers are choosing to publish with Legends rather than with USPCC.



Quality Playing Cards

So why produce playing cards? Lawrence Sullivan conceived the Legends Playing Card Company as his answer to the frustration experienced with many "premium" brands of playing cards, many of which were poorly cut and sub-par quality. Some of this frustration was a result of his own experience with playing cards as a magician. And so began a mission to create something better than what was currently on the market. So what are some of the elements that Legends believes are essential to a quality deck of playing cards?

Quality design

The first criteria for a quality deck is a good design. The aim of the original #852 deck created by Legends was to be bold, yet filled with detail rather than resorting to minimalism. To accomplish this, it combined a classically ornate look with modern elegance, blending the best of Asian and Western mythology. Talented American artist Mark Stutzman gets credit here for the actual design. In subsequent projects, Lawrence has only wanted to partner with gifted designers and creators who share his commitment to excellence in card design.



Quality details

The commitment to quality is evident in small details of a deck, such as the design of the tuck case (typically with die cut elements, embossing, and foil accents), right down to the perforated stamp seal that is printed with fine detail.



Quality paper

The paper is also important. Lawrence is constantly experimenting with new paper stock and tweaking production, wanting nothing but the highest standards. A wide range of paper stocks is offered, ranging from stiff and durable to soft and flexible, thus making playing cards that are suitable for all types of card handlers, e.g. magicians to poker players to flourishers / cardistry fans.​ I corresponded with Lawrence to find out more information about this, and he is particularly proud of the quality of his paper stock and of his card cutting technique, which he has worked years to perfect. The result is that the edges of Legends' "Diamond Cut" are buffed smoother than a typical Bicycle deck, as shown here with the Bicycle deck on the left and the Legends deck on the right.



When I first heard about this, I found it hard to believe, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that you can instantly feel the difference with Legends deck - when I ran my fingers over a new deck, I could immediately tell that it was super smooth. A family member of mine who is an advanced hobbyist with playing cards, could actually distinguish a Legends deck from a USPCC deck behind his back, simply by the much smoother cut of the cards!

Quality finish

To assist in handling a deck, the finish applied to a deck of cards is critical. Lawrence strives for a consistent formula that creates a coating which enables cards to be easily spread, and yet not so slippery that shuffling becomes difficult. As a result, in my experience they do handle beautifully, and just as you'd expect.



Quality manufacturing

Finally, it's essential to have reliable manufacturers, who share Lawrence's vision for perfection and quality, are willing to learn new techniques, and ensure that high standards are maintained throughout the entire production process. As a result, Legends is not afraid to print cards outside the USA, wanting to source printers based on merit rather than geography. They have partnered with new card factory in Taipei, Taiwan, which had previously established a good reputation through printing high quality cards for Asian casinos.



Beautiful Playing Cards

Legends' boss Lawrence Sullivan also has very definite ideas about what makes an aesthetically beautiful deck of playing cards. In his view, there are two critical factors:

Balance

Balance is very important, and this is especially true of the art on a card back. A card should have visual appeal even from a distance, and should be easily recognizable and memorable in a bold way. This quality has led to the success of big names like Bicycle and Bee, and it's a quality that Legends seeks to emulate in their home grown products.

This is the reason why Lawrence opted for a distinctive diamond shaped theme with his Legends #852 deck, thus creating an immediately recognizable shape.



Details

While have an immediately noticeable balance and boldness, a playing card should also reward a person who is drawn in by these qualities, and exhibits fine detail that emerges upon close examination. Again the Bicycle deck serves as a good model here: it features two dark symmetrical circles as the main design, but close study of the details reveals an angel riding the bicycle.

In the case of his own #852 deck, the back design meets both criteria. Not only is there the strong and easily recognizable diamond shape, but closer examination of Mark Stutzman's intricate illustration will show other details such as dragons, a deer, wild boar, snake, and helmet.




LEGENDS DECKS

So we've met the man and become familiar with his commitment to excellence, and now it's time to check out some of the decks that he has produced! I'm fortunate to own several of Legends own in-house decks of playing cards, as well as several decks they have produced for others. Let's begin by checking out some of the decks that were produced by Legends from the ground up.

Legends #202 Egyptian Edition

I've previously mentioned the #852 deck from Legends, which featured Mark Stutzman as the illustrator. The Legends #202 Egyptian Edition shown here was also illustrated by Mark Stutzman.



The card backs hit all the notes that Lawrence strives for: a bold striking design with a easily recognizable pattern, and yet intricate detail. In this case we have a bordered image with a diamond shaped LS monogram in the center, and lots of detailed artwork representing the ancient Egyptian theme.

The court cards are fairly standard, but rather than the garish yellow of a typical Bicycle deck, have an appropriately lush gold look.



Probably my favourite card in this deck is the Ace of Spades. Just check out the absolutely gorgeous artwork here, which features a coiled serpent inside - just beautiful! For the Joker, we have a dragon, which often makes an appearance in the Legends decks, and in keeping with the Egyptian theme is shown here perched atop a pyramid.



The tuck box is just stunning, with 3D embossing and gold foil accents - again all totally in keeping with the theme of ancient Egyptian luxury! But that's not all that the tuck box offers - it also has a cool diamond shaped "window" at the back (which cleverly reveals the monogram on the card-backs). And what's more, it has gold foil on the interior! That's crazy - just look at the pictures below to see how stunning this is!

I tell you, these guys at Legends know how to pull out all the stops when it comes to class and elegance! In making this deck, Legends aimed to create "the best packaging design ever seen on a deck of cards" - and certainly it's among the best I've ever seen.



The Legends #202 Egyptian Edition deck comes in three different colours: black, blue, and red. The colour choices are Egyptian in origin: the gold and black combination corresponds to the sun and land, the silver and blue combination represents the moon and heavens, and the red on white combination corresponds to the Pschent double crown worn by Egyptian rulers, which combines the Red Deshret Crown of Lower Egypt and the White Hedjet Crown of Upper Egypt.



While remaining true to the design of a classic and elegant playing card, this deck hits every note right. I think the ad copy is quite correct when it says this deck would be "be right at home in Tutankhamun’s royal chambers." It's a luxurious and classy deck fit for a king, and I'm very grateful to have it in my collection.



Legends #098 Persian Edition

The Legends #98 Persian Edition continues the Legends' exploration of ancient myths and legends, this time travelling to ancient Persia.



The artwork was done by Alison Lee, and features Persian floral and animal motifs.



Once again Legends raises the bar with innovative tuck boxes - on this occasion using actual thread stitched into the box! As far as is known, this is a first ever for a deck of playing cards, it needs to be seen to be believed!



But there's more to marvel at about this deck. To create the effect of a traditional style, all the artwork was hand-carved! I'll let the artist Alison Lee explain:

"The hand-carved and printed designs for this deck were inspired by my fascination with Middle Eastern history, and incorporate motifs from the Persian Empire and remains from its ancient capital Persepolis, including the double-headed stone griffin, Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian God and creator of the universe, and Nowruz, the Persian New Year, represented by a lion devouring a bull to signify a changing of the seasons. The designs were carved by hand into linoleum panels, and printed with a press using oil-based ink for a water-resistant finish. It combines my love of history and printmaking."



With all these things coming together to make this deck a reality, it's not surprising that it is one of the more expensive items in the Legends catalogue, at around $17 a deck.

Legends Digital Petroglyphs

The Legends Digital Petroglyphs deck is another in-house deck produced by Legends.



It comes in two colours, described as Candy Apple Red and Aubergine Purple - a nod to the playful character of the deck.



The real attraction is the playful artwork, which has been created by Stacey Jay Kelly of Squiddle Ink Illustration.



The tuck boxes are embossed, and made from what the Legends describes as "a pearlescent herring bone wood grain paper stock".



The card backs feature custom artwork, and so do all the faces of this whimsical deck. For example, if you study the center pip of this Ace carefully, you'll notice that it's actually made up of tiny images of all four suits in different colours! Very cool, and a fine example of attention to detail, which rewards the observant viewer.




CLASSY DECKS

In addition to their in-house decks, there's a large range of decks that Legends Playing Cards has produced for outside designers and creators.

LUXX Greille Playing Cards

The LUXX Greille Playing Cards is part of the LUXX premium line of playing cards, and comes in either blue/silver or black/copper. This is one of the most classy decks I've seen so far from Legends, and it's not hard to see why, just by looking at the shiny tuck box!



Only 1000 of each were produced, and the seals are individually numbered.



The card faces are mostly in the traditional style, with slight adjustments to the font used for the numbers. However this deck does have custom aces, custom jokers, and custom court-cards.



But the chief thing that stands out with this deck is the hot stamped shiny foil on the card backs. If ever a deck is going to dazzle you with its brilliance as soon as you take it out of the tuck case, it is this one!



The attractive tuck case is nearly all foil, and this (along with the embossing) makes it immediately eye-catching. Like the card backs, it features a repeating grid pattern that was designed by Rick Davidson, with geometry that helps to emphasize the shimmering foil. Depending on how the light falls, the way this looks can change dramatically.



Unsurprisingly, this premium deck is one of the more pricey in the Legends catalogue, and a two deck set will cost you around $30.



Don Quixote - Volume One

The Don Quixote - Volume One deck of playing cards was designed and custom-illustrated by Nam Tibon, from design studio Cellar Window.

It was created as a homage to the 400th anniversary of the death of Spanish novelist Miguel Cervantes, author of the famous novel Don Quixote, the full title being "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha". The first part of a two volume set of decks, it illustrates the characters of the novel and gives a glimpse of their lives, with the first deck corresponding to characters that the Hidalgo Don Quixote meets during his travels as a knight errant through Spain in the first volume of the novel.



The tuck box features a gold/copper style foil, with the back of the box being particularly stunning and impressive. This is one of the nicest boxes I've seen, and I especially love the effect of the matt black used on the front, with the foil lettering, which creates a very elegant and stylish look.



The card backs features Sancho and the Don, while all the card faces in the deck are black, with beige coloured illustrations. The use of just two colours, just beige and black, results in a very elegant and artistic feel.



Each court card represents a central character from the book. In making the artwork, the designers researched books and old etchings of the characters. One of the Jokers contains a complete list of characters in the court cards of the deck:

Spades: Don Quixote, Dulcinea Del Toboso, Sancho Panza
Diamonds: Don Fernando, Dorotea, Anselmo
Clubs: Ruy Perez De Viedma, Zoraida, Don Luis
Hearts: Cardenio, Luscinda, Lothario
Joker: Marcela

The level of detail is fitting, given the enduring reputation of a novel that has stood the test of time. Here's some detail from Dorotea, the Queen of Diamonds, a mountain woman who was deceived by Don Fernando.



There are also custom court cards, Aces, Jokers, and a custom pip layout.



The Dom deck pictured above is white with black cards (which weren't printed quite as consistently as I'd like in a black deck), while a matching Hidalgo deck that was a stretch goal has a reversed colour scheme of black tuck box and white cards.



It is also worth mentioning that a Kickstarter for the Volume Two deck recently achieved funding.


COLORFUL DECKS

Rome: Antony & Caesar Playing Cards

The Rome: Antony deck and the Rome Caesar deck is a pair of decks from Randy Butterfield and Midnight Cards. In over five years of designing cards, he's wanted to tackle the theme of Ancient Rome for some time, and this is the result after nearly a year of hard work.

The tuck boxes are red (Caesar deck) and blue (Antony deck), and have gold foil accents, Caesar's deck featuring an imperial Eagle, and Antony's featuring a majestic Lion. The reverse side has a laurel wreath and the SPQR designation. As an added luxurious touch, some of the decks were provided with limited edition "toga sleeves". While I haven't included a photo that pictures these, I do own a toga sleeved deck, and I can say it looks very stylish and original, and of course it's a lovely thematic touch for these decks!



Both tuck boxes have Latin text on the very top. Caesar's says ALEA IACTA EST and VENI VIDI VICI ("The die is cast" and "I came, I saw, I conquered"), while Antony's says TARUM ET CLAMA DIMIT CANIBUS QUATIT ("Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war".) I love it when designers add small details like this!



These two decks focus on a very specific part of Rome's history, namely the First and Second Triumvirates. The First Triumvirate ended when Julius Caesar defeated Pompey the Great and became Dictator, before being assassinated by members of the Senate. The Second Triumvirate ended when Octavian defeated Mark Antony & Cleopatra, and eventually became the first Emperor of Rome under the new title Augustus.

The card backs have artwork that depicts the death of Julius Caesar and the death of Marc Antony respectively.



The court cards depict a dozen of the most influential men and women from the end of the Roman republic, including Cicero, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Marcus Brutus, Servilia Caepionis, Julius Caesar, Cassius, Octavia Minor, Pompey the Great, Marcus Agrippa, Livia Drusilla and Augustus. The rich and vibrant colours are a deliberate choice, because they are the kinds of colours associated with ancient Rome.

But the attention to detail doesn't end there. The Court cards all have a facial likeness referenced from actual ancient statues! The character's name is also to be found in tiny print somewhere on the card. Just, wow!



The orientation of the pips on the number cards is designed to be a set-up reminiscent of opposing soldiers. Each card's Roman numeral equivalent is subtly added somewhere on the map, as is the text of the number and suit.



The Aces each contain the suit pip wrapped in a laurel wreath. LEG XIII refers to Julius Caesar's 13th Twin Legion, which was one of his key legions in the Gaul and Civil Wars, and with which he famously crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC.



It's hard to imagine more that could be done to make a deck look absolutely perfect in every way!



I gave away one of these decks as a gift to someone who collects custom playing cards, and he regards it as one of the top two or three decks of custom playing cards that he owns, in part because of the luxurious all-round look, the beautiful card backs (which lend themselves particularly well to cardistry), the stylish tuck boxes, and the look of quality and elegance.

Bowl-a-rama deck

The Bowl-a-rama Playing Cards is another clever deck by Randy Butterfield. Produced under his label Midnight Cards, it combines two unlikely allies: playing cards and 10-pin bowling.

Several editions of the Bowl-a-rama deck were produced, the two main ones being Red (entitled "Bowling the Midnight Oil" ) and Black (entitled "Four Butterfields of the Apocalypse" ). To my knowledge, only around 1000 of each were produced. The artwork uses the cool retro vibe of the '50s and '60s, including a Bowl-a-rama logo inspired by bowling alley signs.



The Numbers Cards emulate the look of an overhead view of a Bowling Pins setup, with the pips arranged in different scoring leaves. This makes them extremely unique and thematic!



The court cards for the Bowl-A-Rama Decks are characters dressed up in their favorite Bowling attire.





Each Number Card has a unique Team Name towards the top. In the world of bowling, players often come up with creative and clever team names, and many humorous ones are featured in this deck. Most of the team names Randy chose are found in actual Bowling Alleys around the world, while about a quarter of them are names he made up or somehow reference his personal life. Randy grew up bowling in leagues with his three brothers, and it is this personal experience that he brought to the designing table with this deck.



Both the Rome decks and the Bowl-a-rama decks were designed by Randy Butterfield, and in the future I will be posting a separate feature article that introduces Randy and his company Midnight Cards, and an overview of all the wonderful decks he has created.


CREATIVE DECKS

There's also other decks that are a little less out of the ordinary, and have more of a typical look, making them ideal for performing magic, or for using at the card table. These decks are all creative in their own way, while still are very functional and usable.

Aquila deck

Legends also produced the Aquila Playing Cards deck, which was a collaboration between Kardify Projects and "Three of Clubs" from Indonesia, with artwork by Indonesian graphic artist Ade Suryana. Aquila means eagle, and the deck artwork especially features the Garuda, a large eagle like statue often seen in Bali, Indonesia.

This deck is inspired by Balinese mythology, and is designed to be exotic, elegant, and beautiful. This is evident already from the tuck box pictured below, which has beautiful embossed lettering, and rich copper foil accents. Especially the design on the back of the tuck box looks vibrant and stunning when placed in the light - far more attractive than the photo below can capture. People I've shown this deck to have been quite blown away by the quality of the tuck box alone.



The card-backs have intricate borders, and detailed patterns that are adapted from the design of popular Balinese textiles, with the aces inspired by the Balinese wooden statue of Garuda.



The face cards have beautiful and subtle background patterns, in keeping with the style of the rest of the deck, while at the same time being very clear to read, and in line with standard cards, making this a very functional deck.



Each of the court cards is unique. Despite this, they aren't too busy or distracting, and the use of minimal colours and a more minimalist interpretation of the classic figures helps strengthen the overall classy feel.



One thing I really appreciate about the court cards is how the black suits are more clearly distinguished from the red suits than in a traditional deck, by the overall colour scheme.



This is a beautiful deck that will appeal to the collector, and to anyone who has an interest in Asian culture and artwork.



Magicians will love this deck because of the hidden marking system it contains (it's both ingenious and very clear - just take the deck "to the movies" to discover it), and the addition of a "reveal" built into one of the jokers. A magician I know has had great fun using this hidden reveal to create some real "wow" moments.

Jones Playing Cards

It is possible to keep up with the Jones after all, with the help of a deck of Jones Playing Cards, which was another project printed by Legends. It was produced in 2016, and designed by Brett A. Jones.



Two different types of deck were produced:
- The Standard Colour deck is like a traditional "red and black" deck, but uses the whole color spectrum throughout the entire deck.
- The Standard Ghost deck creates a very different feel by using only red, black, grey and white colours.



Both are available in red-back and blue-back versions, as seen with the Standard Colour deck below.





The designer Brett A. Jones previously published his "White Knuckle Playing Cards" in 2010. He has been working on the design for his "Jones Playing Cards" for 8-10 years!



Brett's aim was to retain the overall familiar feel and ease of a standard deck, but improve the functionality. In his words: "The design plan from the very beginning was to recreate the genre of standard English playing cards to be not only much better aesthetically than what has come before but also much improved functionally with the use of subtle colour coding, much more lifelike courts and painstakingly considered composition, proportions and detail on every single card in the deck."



The detail of these court cards is beautiful, and I love how they have much more character and colour than the corresponding cards in a traditional deck.



Memento Playing Cards

This deck of Memento Playing Cards was illustrated by Valerio Aversa. While a white deck is also available, what I'm showing you in the pictures below is the Dark/Night deck that I have.

The tuck box is truly exquisite, with elegant accents of silver foil that immediately exude class on the jet black background, which also features finely embossed details. This is truly what elegance should look like in a tuck box! I also like what is written on the sides of the tuck box - on one side it says "Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but playing a poor hand well", while the other side says "Trust everyone but cut the cards."



The Memento deck was inspired by the history of playing card design. The word "memento" refers to a keepsake or object kept as a reminder of an event or person or place.



In this case the deck is intended to help us remember and reminisce about the roots of card design. This is done in two ways:

Firstly, there's the historical figures traditionally portrayed in playing cards. As the Legends ad copy says, "The standard court cards of today trace their design roots back to the 16th century. The individuals portrayed on each card are figures of historical significance, heroines and heroes from antiquity, biblical sources and latter European history such as Charlemagne and Julius Caesar. "

Secondly, there's the symbolic meaning of each suit. The historical characters were selected to feature on the suits in line with what theme they fit with: Spades = Death, Hearts = Love, Clubs = Knowledge, Diamonds = Ambition.



As an example, the King of Spades depicts the Biblical king David with a harp and a sword, and this conveys his different roles as a warrior, musician, and poet. The Queen of Diamonds depicts Rachel, as she is called on the French deck, possibly as a reference to the Biblical figure, and seen here holding a flower. Jacob's wife Rachel was a shepherdess, and so a lamb is often found in works of art depicting her, as is also the case on the card seen here. Note also how the character names are also mentioned on the cards.



The stories of some of the cards is fascinating. For example, I learned that the Jack of Hearts is called "La Hire", and while of uncertain origin, he is typically depicted with a moustache, holding a leaf in the right hand, and an axe behind his head. As the creators of the deck explain: "The origin of the leaf is unclear, it’s argued that it was a mistake by an artist around 1800 misinterpreting a truncheon. However, in literature passages talk about people covering La Hire ‘with leaves and flowers’. The meaning of his nickname is said to be ‘the wrath of God’ and his reputation at the time was for being a notorious bandit and pillager to the extent where mothers would threaten naughty children with ‘La Hire will get you’. The grapes represent the coat of arms of the house Vignolles." Isn't that interesting?!

The Aces also have secrets to reveal; usually in tiny print, with the Ace of Hearts below reading "We love life, not because we are used to living, but because we are used to loving."



One noteworthy detail on the number cards is that the numbers are placed on all four corners. This is unusual with American produced cards, but is common in some parts of Europe, and greatly assists left-handed players in being able to read the cards while fanning naturally. Notice also how the arrangement of the pips has been distributed geometrically rather than using the standard configuration.




CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

For most people, the benchmark of quality is a deck produced by US Playing Card Company. However Lawrence Sullivan of Legends Playing Cards is convinced that the outcome of the process he uses to produce his decks is a quality that is of a standard even higher than US Playing Card Company produced decks. You'll find that reviews of the Legends cards bear this out, and are consistently very positive. I know someone who is very experienced with playing cards, and who uses them constantly for card magic and cardistry. Until now he has almost exclusively used USPCC Bicycle cards, so I was very curious to get his impressions on the Legends decks. He gave them a good work out and was very impressed, and the positive observations that follow have the benefit of his input and expertise on the subject.

Finish types: The word "finish" is often used and meant in different ways. Technically it does not refer to the coating that is applied to a card at the end of the printing process, but rather to the texture of the card's surface, which can be either smooth or embossed (i.e. dimpled, to create an "air cushion" that makes the cards slide optimally). When embossed, this can be done to different depths and with different patterns. Legends offers four different "finishes", which are really different combinations of paper stock and embossing. Their paper stock comes pre-embossed from overseas suppliers, and the main differences between their "finishes" has to do with the type of paper and embossing used. Some of these finishes are identical to the ones offered by Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC), despite different names given to them, because these two companies do collaborate at times, and often use the same factory in Taiwan:
Diamond Finish (=EPCC's Master finish) - This is the thinnest paper stock, but is very hardy and durable. The embossing is similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish". It is the thinnest and least-embossed, and this makes it feel somewhat oily/plastic-like, but it is also the stiffest and longest lasting finish.
Classic Finish (=EPCC's Classic finish) - This is a thicker paper stock, which has more of a matte look, feels softer and more papery, and is not as stiff as the Diamond finish. The embossing is also similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish". Of all four finishes, this has an overall feel that is closest to a Bicycle type deck.
Elite Finish (=EPCC's Damask finish) - This uses a similar paper stock to the Classic Finish, but uses a different and deeper embossing pattern on the cards, making them feel even softer yet. It's not as commonly used yet, but reviews I've seen about it have been positive.
Emerald Finish - This is made from thin paper stock with minimal embossing, and a slick coating, giving it a similar feel to the Diamond Finish. The stiffness falls somewhere between the stiffer Diamond Finish and the softer Classic Finish. Unlike the other three finishes, this is produced in a factory in China rather than Taiwan, and normally has standard Casino-cut edges rather than the superior Diamond Cut used for the other three finishes (although I was just informed that Legends now has the ability to use their superior cutting process for the Emerald Finish as well).
Of these four, the two finishes that are the most commonly used are the Diamond Finish and the Classic Finish. Personally I have a slight preference for the latter (and many publishers I've talked to who have produced custom decks opt for the same, saying that especially magicians and card handlers prefer the Classic), but that might change over time. They are both good quality, but just have quite a different feel.

Card quality: Even though the card-stock of the Legends' decks is slightly thinner than standard Bicycle stock, they have a very strong paper that doesn't seem to be any less durable than other decks. This is especially true of the Diamond Finish cards. While they feel thinner and more snappy than most most playing cards, they are also incredibly durable. There's an immediate sense that they can handle a lot of wear and tear, to the point that they almost seem to be made out of plastic. Perhaps that's the reason why some designers prefer the Classic Finish over the Diamond Finish, because the Classic Finish is slightly thicker, and has an overall feel that more closer approximates the feel of typical Bicycle deck from USPCC, while still handling better than a standard Bicycle deck. With both finishes, there's an initial stiffness that ensures that the deck actually improves in its handling as it is broken in. The cards and hold their shape well, and have a beautiful snap, especially noticeable when springing, which is far more satisfying and smooth with this deck than a Bicycle deck! While they have a real spring to them, at the same time the cards still fan beautifully and spread very evenly. That's because the card surface is embossed with tiny dimples to ensure just the right level of friction, and the finish ensures good handling for shuffling and fanning. The cards are less slippery than usual, ensuring that they don't slide over each other too much during shuffling, and they also packet well for cardistry. In other words, the handling is superb all round. In terms of durability, I even read one report from someone who placed a Legends card and a USPCC card under running tap water for 5 seconds, with no damage resulting to the Legends card, unlike the USPCC produced card. The card-stock of all the Legends cards is also brighter/whiter than USPCC's Bicycle stock, and thus has a cleaner look. I could find no fault with either the Diamond or Classic finish. I can't really comment on the Elite or Emerald finish, since I don't really have enough experience with those.

Card cut: As for the cut of the cards, it's precisely what Lawrence Sullivan has aimed for with all the finishes: beautiful clean edges that are second to none, and a consistent border which can be thinner than usual due to the precision printing process. The fact that they have smoother edges than Bicycle cards is immediately noticeable when taking them out the box the first time. We were very impressed with this step up in quality, when compared with a regular Bicycle deck. The card expert I consulted observed that even though the Classic finish felt more akin to a Bicycle deck from USPCC than the Diamond finish did, the Legends decks performed better than the USPCC decks because of the much smoother cut, which made maneuvers like a perfect faro far easier and smooth. Legends decks are all given a "traditional cut" (face to back) rather than the "modern cut" (back to face) used by USPCC, and that also makes the Legends decks better for doing a weave/faro shuffle straight out of the box, without needing to be worn in first - card experts prefer the traditional cut for this reason.

Card printing: The precision printing used by Legends allows them to use narrower borders than normal, which gives a greater range of options for designers, and also can produce a classier look. While a web press is preferred by USPCC for the sake of efficiency and speed when doing higher-volume print runs of many thousands, Legends only uses a sheet-fed press (which USPCC also uses for smaller print runs), which gives greater precision in printing and cutting. As best as I can tell in the decks I own, the printing registration is consistently crisp and bold. The only issue I noticed with printing was with a deck that had all black cards (Don Quixote Vol 1), and seemed to have some white marks and spots on every card, which detracted somewhat from the overall look once you noticed it. However, to be fair, some of the pictures I've seen of this deck online suggest that this might even be part of the design, in which case it's not at all a flaw in the printing process. Aside from this deck, the printing on all the other decks I have was crisp, clear, colorful, and more than satisfactory.

Tuck-box quality: In the end, what really makes a deck of cards are the playing cards themselves, but Mr Sullivan clearly isn't satisfied with that, but extends the same level of loving attention to detail and commitment to quality when it comes to the tuck box. This is especially true of the in-house designs from Legends, which Lawrence sees as an opportunity to really push the limits of playing card production and packaging. These deck boxes feature some very innovative designs (the die-cut window in the Legends #202 Egyptian Edition being a fine example), and when combined with embossing, and gold/silver foil accents, they look absolutely terrific. Legends was apparently the first to do 3D foil on tuck-boxes (e.g. Legends #202 Egyptian Edition, with embossing around the Legends logo creating an even more luxurious effect), and certainly the first to try embroidery on tuck-boxes (e.g. Legends #98 Persian Edition). The tuck box flaps are over-sized and typically feature fine details and artwork, with metallic foil accents and embossing that really highlight aspects of the artwork. A quality and custom seal typically completes a polished package. The end result is typically an amazing tuck box that is highly attractive, looks great on the shelf, and creates an immediately positive impression from the moment you first hold an unopened deck in your hand. That's not to say that every tuck box is like this, because obviously not every customer wants a more costly top shelf product. But Legends is certainly capable of providing that, and many of their decks certainly look as good as one could ever expect. Judging from some of the decks I've reviewed above, Lawrence evidently also enjoys trying new processes, and is more than willing to try his hand at extending the range of available options beyond the usual, and to experiment with new and innovative ideas.

Range of decks: If you want to check out some of the Legends decks, you can certainly head to their online catalogue of playing cards and put in an order. I definitely can recommend the decks that were produced in-house as part of the Legend brand, such as the already mentioned Legends #202 Egyptian Edition. These look familiar enough so as not to arouse too much attention at the gaming table, and yet they have memorable, striking, and detailed artwork on the card backs, plus a gorgeous tuck case. These qualities make them ideal for use at the poker table or for traditional games like Cribbage, or for use by magicians. But certainly there is a range of other more luxurious and customized decks available on the site as well which Legends has produced in collaboration with and for others. Of the ones I've tried, I'd especially recommend taking a look at the LUXX Greille for an example of sheer class, the Memento deck for an original and fresh take on classic cards, and the Bowl-a-rama deck for a more playful, fun and creative option.

Custom decks: Legends obviously provides an important service in producing cards for clients, such as designers who are funding a project with a Kickstarter project, and then looking for a company like Legends to provide fulfilment of a minimum order of 1000 decks. But Legends Playing Cards is very selective with the projects they agree to take on, and they won't print every deck requested, since they only want to produce quality, and give each project the time and attention it deserves. Not being a designer or a creator of playing cards, I personally haven't produced a custom deck from Legends, so I can't comment on their services in producing custom decks from personal experience. But judging from the Kickstarters I've seen, many clients are repeat customers, and express a great level of satisfaction with the service and quality they received from Legends, so that evidence adds up to a positive re commendation on this point as well.



Recommendation

So is Legends Playing Cards something for you? Legends might not be going the way of the majority by opting to use a factory in Taiwan, but it seems obvious that their choice isn't coming at the cost of quality, and they've found a way to produce playing cards that are at the very least the equal of those coming out of US factories. Certainly if you're looking for a quality publisher for a card game or custom deck of playing cards in larger quantities, they have the experience and expertise to meet your needs. Clearly the head honcho of Legends Playing Cards, Lawrence Sullivan, has been weaving a spell of magic, and his transition from magician to producer of playing cards has been very successful.

But even if you're just a gamer or card collector like me, it's well worth a look to check out their website, and see if they have a deck of playing cards that is just right for you. Most pages for their products have a gallery of images, so you can check out what you're getting. Hmmm, now that I think about it, their Cultura deck looks absolutely amazing, and the Tenebre Zucca deck also seems terrific. And as for the look of the Knowledge deck - it makes me drool. I think I already see some more decks I need... !

Want to learn more?
Official website: http://legendsplayingcards.com
Online catalogue: https://legendsplayingcards.com/collections/playing-cards


BoardGameGeek reviewer

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Thanks for the detailed photos as always. In this case I appreciate them even more since they show much more detail than the official product pages.

As an Indonesian expat I'm immediately drawn to the Garuda on the Aquila deck. Ender, you're gonna turn me into a playing card deck collector with all these great reviews shake
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Alfred Das
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As always, excellent and insightful overview.

To me, Legendary Quality has always been the best decks of Carta Mundi (Cartamundi). I still use the decks I acquired in the late 70's for solitaire play. The cards have highly fibrous paper with a hard lacquer finish.

(btw, my favourite decorative deck is the following...
http://www.wopc.co.uk/belgium/brussels-euro-joker-club )
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Alex Singh
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How many cards to Legends deck tend to have. It's huge plus for me when it has 56+ cards.

Thanks for leading me down this rabbit hole
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singhalex wrote:
How many cards to Legends deck tend to have. It's huge plus for me when it has 56+ cards.

The decks I have are mostly 54 card decks, which includes two jokers.

If you're looking to produce a custom deck with 56 or more cards, you'd have to ask the company, which you can do on their Contact page here.

If you're looking to buy an already produced deck with 56 or more cards, I'm sure they could also tell you which of the decks in their current catalogue meet that criteria.
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singhalex wrote:
How many cards to Legends deck tend to have. It's huge plus for me when it has 56+ cards

Alex, I just want to follow up with a bit more information on this for you, which I have just come across. Here you can download a complimentary issue of CARD CULTURE, the digital magazine about playing cards and the people who enjoy them (produced by the esteemed "52 Plus Joker Club"): CardCulture-Special-Issue-2015.pdf

This particular issue has a lengthy feature article by Don Boyer entitled "What's In An Expert Card? Plenty!" (p.14ff), which gives an extensive overview of the manufacture and quality of decks by Expert Playing Card Company, which uses the same factory in Taiwan as Legends Playing Card Company, and often collaborates with them. The article says that EPCC offer customers many options and features for custom decks, including the following, which I expect would likely be true for Legends as well:

"Extra cards - while the standard EPCC deck sheet has 54 cards, customers can choose as many extra cards as they desire for their designs, as well as getting a custom tuck box large enough to hold them all."
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Above and beyond. Thank you, sir!
 
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