It's In The Cards

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They have been a source of entertainment for centuries and thousands of games have been derived from them. The Saturday Early Show's Collectibles Expert Tony Hyman, author of Trash or Treasure: Guide to Buyers, takes a look at playing cards.

Card playing has been a popular recreation in America since Puritan days. George Washington frequently played cards all day and night, and Ben Franklin wrote his wife from Paris that he'd much rather be at home playing cribbage with her.

Decks from these early days are both rare and valuable. In fact, just about any complete, fine condition deck prior to the 1880s without numbers in the corner is worth from $300 to many thousands of dollars.

Today's collectors of playing cards focus more on the decks printed between 1870 and 1910, a period when a great variety of cards were offered. Most sought after are transformation decks with suit symbols incorporated with the pictures, at $500 and up, and souvenir decks with different pictures on each card, at $50 and up.

A few novelty decks can bring $1,000 or more. One example is the aluminum deck sold at the 1904 World's Fair. A pin-ups deck from 1887, obtained one card at a time from packages of tobacco, is one of the few examples in which a single card is worth money, about $20.

Any complete boxed wide deck of pre-1920 cards with backs advertising products, railroads, airlines and the like are worth from $20 to $75.

Later narrower cards called "bridge decks" rarely sell for more than $5 to $20 a deck. And if any cards or the box is missing, well, getting any value for them just "ain't in the cards."

For more on collectible playing cards, Hyman recommends Bill Sachen. His email address is Hyman also recommends Robert Eisenstadt. He can be reached by email at

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.