Bulwell dad Charles opens up about his ace hobby - collecting cards found on the street to collecting cards
IT'S reckoned that playing cards were invented in ancient China as early as the 9th century.
By the 11th century, they could be found throughout the Asian continent, and during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) characters from popular novels such as the Water Margin were widely featured on the faces of playing cards.
It was the late 14th century before the first playing cards came to Europe, but it's thought that no examples of printed cards from before 1423 survive.
Charles Towlson, 60, of Bulwell village, admits to having started many rather offbeat collections in the past, but his collection of playing cards found on the street – or other unexpected places – has presented him with the ultimate challenge.
Choose from 100's of Carpets, Vinyl & Laminate Floors. Get 50% Off any range. Just mention This is Nottingham when you call for your free measure and sample service.
Terms: Voucher can not be used with any other offer or promotion. Ends this Thursday. Do not miss out. This offer will not be repeated.
Contact: 0115 8969583
Valid until: Thursday, May 23 2013
"I call my collection 'Blowin' In The Wind'. It captivates the imagination and challenges its apparent appearance of being just a collection of playing cards picked up at random – in truth, it defies logic," he says.
Since starting his collection in 1988 with the aim of completing a full pack by the turn of the millennium, he has amassed 114 cards.
"It started when I noticed a playing card face-down on Brooklyn Road, in Bulwell, and stopped to pick it up, predicting it to be a seven of spades before turning it over. It was! And other than feeling rather chuffed with myself, I popped the card into my top pocket and went on my way.
"Some months later, I was strolling through Soho, in London, when I came across another playing card – another seven of spades – and that too went into my pocket and reminded me of the first one, which I hadn't even looked at since the day I picked it up.
"Then, in the spring of 1989, things got a little strange, when back in Nottingham I found a third playing card – yet another seven of spades! My imagination had been sparked and I was a collector.
"Initially, I kept the cards in a notebook, making notes of where and when I found them, and the cards just kept on coming – some 'finds' being totally inexplicable, like the day at Kimberley tip when I found two nine of hearts just feet away from each other, one discoloured and rather tatty and the other in perfect condition.
"Then there was the solitary three of hearts I found on the deck of the Isle of Wight to Southampton ferry in April 1990 and the ace of hearts I picked up in Berkeley Square, London.
"I found another ace of hearts in August 1990, advertising Ace Taxis, when, believe it or not, I was thinking about ringing for a taxi!"
Among his other finds have been two king of diamonds, which were both discovered on Henrietta Street, in Bulwell – the first in 1994 and the next two years later.
His worst year resulted in just two cards found – while his best was 17.
"The best finds are totally inexplicable, such as the three cards I found in May, June and July 1997, the eight, nine and ten of hearts, all in successive order, followed by another three cards all found that month, and again in successive order, the ace, two and three of spades. Every card from a different pack."
He's intrigued by each card's untold story – such as who dropped it and why.
"The cards are full of character and mystery. Different sizes, shapes and condition, some on their reverse sides advertising such diverse things as 'The Readers Digest Prize Draw', 'Manchester Airport', 'PG Tips', 'SeaFrance', and 'Coronation Street."
Charles knows of other people with a quest to complete a full pack of cards at random.
"I have a friend who started his collection, 'Lost and Found', shortly after me and, during the quarter of a century of his 'finds', he has yet to pick up a single seven of spades."
After 12 years of collecting, on the eve of the millennium Charles and wife Renata spread out all the cards on the living room floor to see if he had a complete pack of 52.
But sadly, it wasn't to be: "I was seven cards short – the five of spades, nine of clubs and the ace, five, eight, ten and jack of diamonds."
He had found 30 hearts, 27 spades, 26 clubs, 21 diamonds and nine jokers, plus one card without identity.
Charles hopes one day to display his unusual collection but, in the meantime, he has been nurturing a fellow collector – his 11-year-old son, Zak. They're looking forward to seeing if he can complete a full pack.
"He was six years old when he found his first card at Malmo Airport, Sweden, and between us since then we have found cards in Poland, Turkey, Spain and Malta as well as from across the UK."
He adds: "Zak found a fantastic card in his school playground, just a slither and enough to identify it as a king of diamonds – absolutely wonderful!"
Charles believes the amount of cards they can find has been affected by a number of factors, such as the dwindling number of pubs – where the game of cards is longer a tradition – online gambling and more recycling.
"All these things have made collecting cards off the street much harder, but ironically have also made a 'find' even more enjoyable than it was before," he adds.
"One thing is for sure though. Once you have started collecting, you will never be able to stop!"
And so the quest goes on for the Towlsons, with young Zak – to use the title of his own project – Chasing The Pack.