Artistic ephemera

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The beautiful playing cards above are from the Ultimate Deck by Dan and Dave.  If I had $25 to spare, I would totally buy one.  If I had $50 to spare, I would totally buy two, and give the other to a magician friend of mine. If you have $25 to spare and you like what you see above (and who wouldn’t?) you can buy your very own here!

When I was a freshman at Yale I worked at the Beinecke Rare Book Library.  My tasks often brought me into the depths of the basement stacks where many of the collections resided.  (Those stacks, massive rooms packed with shelves, kept cool and dark, were eerie at best, terrifying at worst.  One of the unsettling things was that the materials on the shelves were good at absorbing sound, so you wouldn’t know there was someone else on the floor until they were almost upon you.) In addition to books, there were also ephemera, things that are not meant to endure, that are used and then discarded.  Magazines fit into this category, as do posters and, apropos of this post, playing cards.  I was privileged to take a close look at some centuries-old decks that were quite beautiful, if more simple than the cards in the Ultimate Deck above.  I can’t help but wonder how many of these decks were made so that this one survived.  Everyday play, particularly in a time without TV or internet, can wear a deck down, and using cards for other things, like magic, wears them down even faster.  When he’s performing card tricks, my magician friend  can go through three decks a week.  Thank goodness for mass produced playing cards!

That any of these things outlive their expected lifespan says interesting things about our desire to preserve what we find beautiful.  “Hoarding” might be an extreme case of this, but I think that all of us have things that we just can’t part with, even if they are old or broken or otherwise of no use to us.  I know that my own collection is full of ephemera: posters from plays I worked on in college, photocopied course packets from grad school, years and years worth of birthday cards.  All things essentially made to be used and then discarded.  But I can’t.  I may never, ever look at them again other than those times when I’m packing or unpacking on either sides of a move, but I just can’t bring myself to throw them away.

If I bought the deck above, I probably wouldn’t actually use them, or at least not as they were intended.  If I wanted to play poker, I’d pull out the good ol’ Bicycles.  But that says something too, doesn’t it?  When we so want to keep something pristine that we don’t even let it serve it’s intended purpose, its telos?  We can easily think of collectors, meticulously enshrouding comic books in plastic, never opening the packaging of some prized action figure.  But comics are meant to be read, and toys are meant to be played with.  When we wrap life in plastic, it suffocates.

So maybe I would play with those beautiful cards.

Just very, very carefully.

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