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Conjuring Arts Playing Cards

Historic skulls adorn a custom card set from the elusive center for magic

by James Thorne in Design on 07 September 2012

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We visited Bill Kalush last year and learned about the Conjuring Arts Research Center—his hidden library of rare texts and artifacts related to the history of magic. The center is also a community hub for the occult, publishing the biannual scholarly journal Gibecière and running the Hocus Pocus magic program for children in hospitals. As it happens, they also make playing cards. Through a special relationship with The US Playing Card Co., Kalush makes and sells custom decks as well as sheets of uncut playing cards.

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The most recent addition to the line of custom cards is a Jolly Roger design modeled after a single century-old card that Kalush came across by chance. The art was then appropriated to produce four decks in black and blood red, with options for cushioned or ivory finishing. Kalush also turned out a limited edition of 700 decks that are housed in an embossed black tuck case and feature backs printed in a hybrid of red and black. The formidable black decks aren't for sale, but will be gifted to customers who purchase a brick of 12 packs of another style.

Kalush, an adherent of sleight-of-hand, also built into the design a few subversive bits. The barcode on one style deck, for instance, turns out to be an inscription that reads: "Your card is the ace of spades." Also, the faces of king cards have been altered to resemble various magicians—a list that includes David Blaine, Dan Buck and Dave Buck (twin brothers who share the king of clubs), Guy Hollingworth and Kalush himself. While Kalush wouldn't give up all the details, he assured us that references to conjuring are peppered throughout.

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The Conjuring Arts Research Center also sells uncut card sheets for decoration. The Jolly Roger sheet set won't be sold publicly since Kalush's own business cards were printed in the corner of the set (his calling card, it turns out, is the king of hearts). An efficient use of the extra tile, Kalush's business card was inspired by David Blaine, who had the idea to use an approximation of Kalush's face on an earlier card set. Single decks can be purchased with domestic (US) shipping for $9 from the online store. Also available in the store are past custom decks and issues of Gibecière, with playing card-themed wrapping paper coming Fall 2012.

Tour the center and find out more about Kalush in our video.

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