Columbia card collection features more than 6,300 decks

October 13th, 2008 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General
Photo courtesy Columbia University Libraries

Photo courtesy Columbia University Libraries

So, how many decks of playing cards do you have in your collection? Do you have the standards, such as a Ghost deck, 1800s and Shadow Masters? Or do you chase down the elusive Jerry’s Nuggets, Brown Wynns or 1st ed. Black Ghost decks? Chances are, you don’t have more than 6,300 decks.

Those who mourn the closure of the U.S. Playing Card Company’s playing card museum can travel further east to get their fix. Researchers at Columbia University have finished cataloging a collection of more than 6,300 decks of playing cards. The Field Collection, at the Columbia University Library, features a little bit of everything: Transformation decks, tarot decks, marketing and advertising decks… you name it. Pictured above is a deck with John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera,” first performed in London on January 29, 1728. Each card contains words and music for the songs in the opera.

The collection is every bit as eclectic as the man who donated them to the university: Albert Field, a graduate of the university who died in 2003. Field was best known for being the archivist of legendary artist Salvador Dali. In addition to his voracious appetite for cards, Field was an avid hiker, magician and lover of mysteries.

The collection comes in handy as a historical study, say librarians at the university. The historical figures, whether famous for sports, politics or culture, can deliver a subtext not found in other writings, and give researchers a glimpse at how a figure was regarded by society.


  1. So does the collection include any ellusionist decks?