Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My review of the Alchemy II card deck

Something very cool arrived in the mail recently: The Alchemy II deck of playing cards from the Bicycle card company. I had no idea that these and other artistic Bicycle decks even existed until Dex clued me in. He directed me to the Alchemy II deck and right away I knew it was something I liked. I headed over to ebay to see if it was available and it turned out multiple people were selling the cards.

If you search for "Bicycle Alchemy II playing cards" on ebay, you'll find quite a few decks for sale. They're also available on Amazon. I'm not pointing you towards a specific seller because the prices seem to change by the day. I paid a little over $4.00 with free shipping, which was a phenomenal deal. I hope you can find as good a deal as I did! Searching ebay for "Bicycle cards" in general will give you lots of cool results.

I really recommend buying this deck if you're a collector or just like playing cards. You get a lot of artwork for your buck! All the face cards are printed with characters in a fantasy illustration style and even the numbered cards have some great design elements. Here's the box the cards come in:

At first you will probably see the skull and then notice that it is composed of a beautiful woman holding a rose in her hands. I love skull art with hidden images like this. The back of every card has this same design.

Here are the Aces:

I love the Ace of Hearts and Ace of Spades. By the way, I hope you are clicking on these images to enlarge them. There is a lot of detail hidden in these designs!

The Kings:

The King of Clubs has this sort of Jack the Ripper thing going on and is one of my favorite cards in the deck. The King of Spades is pretty slick too. That one has a Steampunk skeleton vibe.

The Queens are all beautiful:

Those are some of the best cards in the deck. I'd say the deck has an overall fantasy art/sexy woman/biker skeleton theme happening. Some people have described it as "retro tattoo art".

The Jacks:

How cool is that Jack of Diamonds? She's kind of a Ren Faire, raven woman.

Some of the most striking art comes on the Jokers and the Extra card:

The extra might be my favorite card in the deck. She's like a Voodoo Priestess:

Here are some of my other favorites close-up. The wonderfully detailed Steampunk/Circus woman who is on a gear covered bicycle contraption. Fitting for the "Bicycle" brand of cards.

The "Bare Knuckle Betty" Joker is a bit of a Betty Page tribute in Rockabilly form. I like the heart shaped brass knuckles in the background.

The mysterious woman with the skeleton tattoo. You'll see the skeletal hand again on one of my favorite numbered cards. I really like the art deco background on this card.

The Queen of Clubs looks like it was influenced by Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. There are some changes with the wicked looking sea creatures. She's more like a siren.

A close-up of that Steampunk skeleton I liked so much.

A cute little fairy that reminds me of Brian Froud's illustrations:

A closer look at the foggy scene with the Jack the Ripper type character. This one sets a mood.

Even the numbered cards in the deck offer a lot of layers and details.

There's that skeletal hand again:

As you can see, there's a lot going on in these designs. Before buying the deck, I watched a few video reviews of the cards on YouTube. People were talking in great detail about how the cards handle and what they thought of the designs. I guessed some of the reviewers to be magicians or professional poker players. I suggest watching video reviews of playing cards before buying them, because you'll get a good idea of the product. Here are a few of those videos that give another perspective:

This reviewer seemed to have some of the same favorites as I did. He shows some cards that aren't pictured in this post. The next review shows every card in the deck. This is one seriously thorough review and I had to smile at a few of the comments he made.

So, now you have a really good idea of what's going on in the Alchemy II deck. I'm still trying to decide what to do with mine. I'll probably just use it as a regular playing card deck. Hopefully the images won't be too much of a distraction. I had considered using it as a Tarot deck, since I have interpreted playing cards before. I decided not to because of all the skulls and scary images. I'd probably somehow convince myself that the future was going to be scary if I used this deck for that! It's neat as a collectable anyway. Just think how many little pieces of art come packed in this deck!


  1. A friend gave me a pack of Alchemy Bicycle cards that were her son's. They're wrapped in cellophane and I still haven't opened them - trying to preserve them, I guess. My box looks different though - it's a skull in an upside down spade. And it shows eight cards on the back that are different from your deck. I guess it might be the Alchemy I set, although it doesn't say so on the box. But I think it would be nice to have both sets, so I'm going to check out eBay and see what I can find! :o)

  2. Insomniac's Attic ~ Oh, I say open those cards up! You might as well enjoy them. Yes, you have the Alchemy I deck. I've been chatting with Dex about the comparisons between the decks. I'm curious about that one. So far I haven't seen too much of it. Mine doesn't say it's the second one on the box either. Good luck with ebay! I saw some great deals on there tonight. If you end up buying the cards, let me know what you think!

  3. Beautiful cards! I love the Ace of Hearts, the Steampunk Skeleton, and Jack the Ripper best of all. I recently did a post on a Day of the Dead, 'Calaveras', card deck by artist, Chris Ovdiyenko. Bicycle will be producing those cards too. It's part of a Kickstarter crowdfunding project... the first time Bicycle has been involved with that, apparently.

    1. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Oh? I must have missed your post about the Calaveras deck. I just took a look and watched his Kickstarter video. I'm surprised at how involved Kickstarter is in a lot of projects, especially this one. I'd assumed that the artists made a licensing deal with Bicycle. I'm surprised that he had to raise the printing money himself. It's a good looking deck, so I'm glad he had a lot of backers. Looks like he went above and beyond with the money he raised!

      You saw the woman before you saw the skull? That's interesting! Our minds all work differently with what we see first. Some people have trouble ever seeing part of that kind of image. The photo I took of that box was pretty close up, so that probably helped you to see the woman. If you look from far away, the pieces blend into the skull image more. Although, once I saw the woman it was hard not to see her.

    2. I know! I've seen quite a few Kickstarter projects that have barely raised any money at all, but he has tripled his goal! It's a fantastic achievement, although he's producing something beautiful, tangible and also affordable. In this kind of world economy, I think it would be a lot harder to ask people to part with their cash towards a small, independent short film, or something like that.

      Now I'm seeing the skull more. :) Do you remember the "spinning girl" test? I just looked it up again then:

      I saw her spinning clockwise, which means I'm essentially right-brained, but if I concentrate really hard I can get her to switch directions. It's so weird.

    3. What do you think happens to the extra Kickstarter money that was raised? Do you think it goes to the artist? I'd only heard of people using Kickstarter for music, so this was new to me.

      I can only see the dancer turning clockwise! Even when I try to see her turning counter-clockwise, I can't. It's hard to believe that clockwise isn't what people normally see. Or maybe that does make sense in a way...

    4. In this Kickstarter case, you get back exactly what you put in... in other words, the money you pay gets you X number of card packs + shipping costs, so you can't lose. It's like pre-ordering basically. With something like an indie film, you might just get a "reward" for donating money, like getting your name in the film credits. Some people don't even offer rewards, apparently. They're just asking you to donate.

      It doesn't surprise me that you see her turning clockwise. I'd be pretty surprised to find you weren't right-brained. :) I couldn't get her to turn counter-clockwise today, but I've managed to do it in the past. I've got to super-concentrate and I end up getting a headache. Haha. That's what happens when you fight your true nature. ;)

    5. Oh, OK. Well, in that case I can see why people would be more likely to support the cards than some other projects. This artist had all sorts of different reward levels on his page.

      Yeah, it would be weird if I had left brained results. Not that I don't have some left brained parts to my personality, but I did identify a lot more with the right brained description. I think you have a point about fighting your true nature. That could be enough to give anyone a stress headache!

  4. PS. Interestingly, I saw the woman first, on the card box. I didn't see the skull until you mentioned it. I love skull illusions too! :)

  5. Replies
    1. Mantan ~ Hmm... You sound pretty familiar with Voodoo priestesses. Is this the voice of experience?

  6. The King and Four of clubs are my favorite! That's a whole lot of great artwork for a cheap price - definitely a collector's item!

  7. Matt ~ I love the King of Clubs! That one is definitely my favorite King in the deck. It reminds me of all those old shows and movies we've both been watching. The guy in the second video said it reminded him of Sherlock Holmes as well as Jack the Ripper, probably because of that fog and mystery. I like the whole setting with the iron lamp holders and the old buildings.

    Yes, I caught a really great deal on this one! Finding out about this deck opened my eyes to how many decorative decks of playing cards are out there. I've been watching lots of YouTube video reviews about collectable decks. If you search for "Bicycle cards" on YouTube you'll see a big selection!

  8. I saw two good motion pictures recently, The Black Room w/ Boris Karloff and Gaslight. They're a treasure trove of gas lamps, murdering, dungeons, and top hats :) From the fog of Victorian London to the tyrant infested, monster ridden badlands of Eastern Europe!

    1. Matt ~ Gaslight was being advertised nonstop for a while on my local PBS station! I saw that a very young Angela Lansbury is in that. In a lot of ways her face still looks the same. I don't know about The Black Room, but I should see that as a fan of Boris Karloff movies. Speaking of Boris, I'm looking forward to your upcoming Thriller blog post!

      You've given those movies quite the descriptive recommendation! It sounds like they have a lot of components I'd be interested in.