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When playing cards first appeared in Europe around 1370 AD, only the wealthiest members of society could hope to afford them. They were hand-painted, leafed with gold, and printed on hand-made paper. How times have changed!

An Endless Variety

These days, playing cards are available from hundreds of sources and usually cost no more than a few dollars. As entertainment items go, they are certainly one of the most versatile and economic options. There are literally thousands of games one can play with nothing more than a standard deck. There are games for tough cowboys and for small children, for casual players and serious gamblers. There are games meant for large numbers of people and games meant to be played by one person alone.

With playing cards figuring so prominently into our lives, it's no wonder that when it comes to purchasing them, the options are nearly limitless. From a casino-authorized, regulation deck made from 100 percent PVC plastic to a pack with photos of kittens on the back, there's a deck to suit the needs of virtually anyone.

People who love a good joke will delight in giant, or jumbo, cards, which can be as large as a standard sheet of paper. Novelty decks featuring images of race cars, swimsuit models, pets, and any number of other subjects can be easily found at many gift stores, both local and online. For collectors, there is a lively market surrounding antique playing cards, which are often beautiful objects of art in and of themselves.

Customized Playing Cards

In addition to the large number of patterns, colors, and styles now available, recent internet and printer technologies have made it possible to create your own custom designs. Anyone with a scanner or a digital camera can now put their own photographs on the back of a deck with only a few clicks of a mouse. Many online photo developers offer this service, which usually costs around $20 per deck, and discounted prices are often available.

Playing cards have been given as gifts for many centuries, and the tradition is still as strong as ever. For the serious gamer, there are authentic casino cards packaged in keepsake boxes. For the kids, there are decks featuring the likenesses of favorite childhood characters, such as Barbie, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and GI Joe.

Playing Cards as Souvenirs

Customized cards are becoming very popular as party favors for any number of events, from weddings to anniversaries to bar mitzvahs. Typically, event planners will order a design featuring a photo of the people being celebrated, with the date of the occasion printed underneath. Corporate event planners are finding that playing cards printed with company logos make excellent favors for business retreats. Unlike t-shirts or tote bags emblazoned with a company logo, a deck of playing cards never goes out of fashion.

Many establishments, such as hotels, restaurants, and historical attractions, also offer custom-designed decks of cards in their gift shops. Not only do they make good souvenirs for their customers, but they also provide the business with a unique opportunity for advertising. It's an investment that is likely to pay off--you never know, after all, who your customers might play poker with.

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