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A Deck Of Beautiful Playing Cards, With A Roundabout Wartime Heritage

Cards that helped WWII anti-aircraft gunners recognize airplane silhouettes from the ground inspire a new deck from Best Made.

A Deck Of Beautiful Playing Cards, With A Roundabout Wartime Heritage

When’s the last time you experienced the tactile thrill of a truly satisfying shuffle? After introducing a line of artisan axes in 2009, NYC-based Best Made has since expanded into a one-stop-shop for pared-down, hands-on goods like first aid kits to field rules to full collections of nautical flags, and now its latest introduction—Famous playing cards. "With every product we design, we strive to hit that perfect note of timelessness, when all the superfluous and extraneous details are stripped away," founder Peter Buchanan-Smith tells Co.Design.

With the company’s strong emphasis on heritage-chic, it’s perhaps not surprising that the muse for the Famous cards was an artifact from the past—a World War II-era airplane spotter deck. Earlier this year Buchanan-Smith came across one of the graphic sets, which helped anti-aircraft gunners memorize the silhouettes of aircraft from the ground and ensure they fired at the bad guys, and not their own. "I love their dual purpose of teaching aid, and entertainment," he says. "I also appreciate the notion that these may have once been standard issue, traded in the barracks for a pack of cigarettes."

New motifs like stripes and lightning bolts were used in lieu of the planes, while the suits and numbers were enlarged for easy readability. And in a bit of modern-day fortuity, that original decades-old deck was manufactured by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) in Erlanger, Kentucky, which produces classic brands like Bicycle, Bee—and now, Best Made. "It’s an honor to add to that tradition," Buchanan-Smith says.