Art: In the Cards

"I am sorry," Samuel Johnson once rumbled, "I have not learned to play at cards. It is very useful in life; it generates kindness, and consolidates society." Presumably he was thinking of picquet or bezique, rather than an all-night killer session at seven-card stud, but Johnson's point has been true for centuries. Yet no player today could guess, from his impersonal deck with its stiff, bright kings, queens and jacks, mass-produced and slippery for fast dealing, how complicated the ancestry of the modern playing card was—or how various and fine in craftsmanship. Discovering...

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