The Beauty of an Ace of Spades
From Daniel Radcliffe to Motorhead
My current favourite ace of spades, I think, is the Monarch. The pack as a whole is pretty gorgeous: you hesitate to use the phrase ‘simple, beautiful, classic' (because that's how Spinal Tap's manager described the cover of ‘Smell the Glove'), but they're certainly the words that spring to mind. Oh, and ‘elegant' as well, to add another cliché.
The Monarch deck comes in various colours - the one in the pic is purple, the same colour as the deck being sprayed into the air by Daniel Radcliffe in a publicity shot for the film Now You See Me. I love the way the ace picks out the gold from the box.
The most famous ace of spades, of course, is the one from the most famous deck of cards - the Bicycle. The United States Playing Card Company chose the ‘angel riding a bike' design in 1885 because at that time the mode of transport was the latest craze. The deck is still the first choice for magicians and card players alike. During the Vietnam War the company printed whole crates of just the ace of spades, because US soldiers liked to leave the card scattered around after battles. This was based on the belief that the Vietnamese saw it as unlucky. Even though this belief was mistaken, the fact that the US soldiers thought it would intimidate the enemy helped their own morale. In Full Metal Jacket the Americans wear the ace of spades in their helmets. I've seen one Vietnam War expert question this (the flash of white wouldn't help your camouflage in the jungle), though he confirms that the scattering around certainly happened.
I've also got a soft spot for the Tally Ho ace of spades. It's a lovely thought that, 196 years after Andrew Dougherty was born in Northern Ireland, and 189 years after he and his family moved to America, the man who did so much to revolutionise card design is still commemorated. It was Dougherty who introduced rounded corners, indices and double-ended court cards.
The ace of spades is always a deck's ‘shop window', the place where the manufacturer's name appears, and where they used to print the amount of tax paid on the deck (until the tax was abolised in 1960). It's a common response to ‘name any card' (at least by men - if women have a favourite it's usually the queen of hearts). ‘Really?' I respond. ‘You're going route one?' It's a nice way of injecting self-doubt, of harmlessly teasing a spectator. And it is, of course, the go-to choice for Motorhead fans, despite the fact that in 2009 Lemmy admitted he was so bored with the song that for the last two years he'd been singing ‘the eight of spades' instead. ‘And nobody's noticed. Not even the rest of the band.'