Ken Klosterman’s Coolest Decks

Highlights from our tour of the Salon de Magie.

During our tour of Ken Klosterman’s Salon de Magie, we saw a staggering amount of historic decks in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few decks we managed to get on camera, and all about their history. Thanks to 52 Plus Joker for helping us identify these nifty decks!


The United States Playing Card Company, Cincinnati, OH

On special commission, The United States Playing Card Company produced several hundred NASA decks on fireproof paper so astronauts could play cards in zero-gravity environments with something that couldn’t catch fire. You gotta play something during downtime on long space missions, right? Development of fireproof paper for playing cards began in the 1960s, but the series was discontinued after the Apollo 1 fire caused a re-evaluation of the high-pressure oxygen atmosphere in spacecraft cabins.

Eclipse Transformation Deck

F.H. Lowerre, NY, 1876.

This deck was the original transformation deck printed in the United States. A transformation deck is one that incorporates the pips (the diamonds, spades, clubs, and hearts) into an artistic design. For example, the three of hearts may feature the same three heart shapes, but with artistic additions to look like swimming fish.

In the Eclipse Transformation Deck, the comical court cards are framed in gold and the crowns of the Kings and Queens are also gold. Gold accents appear throughout the deck, making it striking as well as unusual. It’s also the first transformation deck to include Jokers.

Moulin Rouge, Watusi dans Frenesie

Producer Unknown

This deck was a promotional deck for the Moulin Rouge, the famous French Cancan theater. We can’t imagine patrons would be too interested playing cards during a visit, but what would we know? Anything goes in the Gilded Age, apparently.

No. 57 Gem Pinochle Playing Cards

New York Consolidated Card Company, Long Island City, N.Y

This deck is slightly smaller in width and length than a regular deck. As the advertisements claimed, the smaller size meant the deck fit more comfortably in the hand. The brand ran from about 1895-1925, and was available in either smooth or cambric finish. Cambric® card finishes meant that, unlike the dimpled Air-Cushion™ finish, the cards had a woven finish. Cambric® card fabric is a lightweight cloth made from cotton, and the finish on the cards mimicked the look of the fabric.

Steamboat No.999 Playing Cards

Russell & Morgan Co., Cincinnati, OH

Russell, Morgan & Co (predecessors of The United States Playing Card Company) in Cincinnati printed these cards from 1883 to 1885, drawing inspiration from the majestic steamboats along the Ohio River. This was the least expensive deck Russell & Morgan Co. offered, with only two colors on the court cards to keep the printing costs to a minimum.

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