The Case of the Missing 40,000 Jerry Nugget Decks: A Detective Story

Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards

Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards. These playing cards from the Jerry’s Nugget Casino are the stuff of legend. Produced in 1970, and banished to storage for 20 years, these playing cards eventually trickled out of the casino’s gift shop for as little as a buck or two each. But these forgotten relics weren’t going to stay hidden forever, and their star began to rise when their praises were sung by high profile magicians like Lee Asher. Their popularity was further fuelled when they were regularly featured in cardistry videos by the famous Buck twins. Before long, everyone wanted to get their hands on a genuine deck of Jerry’s Nugget decks, given their unique qualities that modern printing methods could never replicate, and their famed handling abilities.

Slowly the price began to rise on the secondary market, and today you can expect to spend around $500 on the secondary market in order to own an unused deck of Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards. Do they really sell for that much? Yes, and here’s proof. About a year ago, around half a dozen decks were listed for sale via the playing card market on Reddit, and sold for $480-$500 each.

On 28 March 2020 Potter & Potter Auctions hosted an auction for Gaming Memorabilia and Playing Cards, and the catalogue included a listing for one dozen sealed decks of original Jerry’s Nugget decks (lot #461). The catalogue for the auction estimated them as worth $2500-$3500.

The price realized turned out to be even higher than that, clocking in at a very respectable $3841.

So what makes these decks so unique? In 2019 a recreated deck was produced as a tribute to the classic Jerry’s Nugget deck, and here’s what the official ad copy says about the originals.

The story of the original Jerry’s Nugget decks is a fascinating one, and there are many interesting side-stories to explore about along the way. You can read the main story about the Jerry’s Nugget decks in my previous article here: The Legendary Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards.

But the full truth still remains somewhat hidden, and there are aspects about the Jerry’s Nugget story that even today we can’t totally be sure about. And with the passage of time, several juicy tidbits of lore have become attached to this famous deck. It’s now been fifty years since their original production, and there are outstanding questions about them that remain unanswered, at least without a definitive amount of certainty. For example, why were they never used in the casino? Were there any other decks produced around this time that had the same card stock and perform exactly the same? Did a Jerry’s Nugget deck with alternative artwork that was produced by Arrco around the same time in fact precede the deck we all know and love?

Unfortunately I’m not in a position to set the record straight on all of these questions. But in this article I invite you to join me in a quest to explore another juicy story that has become part of the Jerry’s Nugget legend. Is it true that the final stock of 40,000 Jerry’s Nugget decks was bought up from the casino by a mysterious overseas buyer? Because this is an oft-repeated part of the story, that you’ll hear whispered rumours about across the landscape of the internet. But this a statement of fact or fiction, and is it truth or myth? It could mean that right now someone is potentially sitting on a small fortune of Jerry’s Nugget decks worth around $500 a piece. If it’s true.

So please put on your Sherlock Holmes trench-coat and deerstalker hat, arm yourself with a good amount of deductive logic and persistence, and join me as we see if we can really get to the bottom of this mystery, and dredge up the truth behind this famed haul of 40,000 decks!

A Secret Stash of 40,000 Decks?

If you are curious – like I am – and do some digging about the story and history of the Jerry’s Nugget decks, it won’t take you long to stumble across mention of the claim that a stash of the final 40,000 decks of Jerry’s Nuggets was bought up in a single swoop, cleaning out the casino’s remaining inventory of these prized decks.

The story about some lucky buyer nabbing a final stash of 40,000 decks is circulated quite widely around the internet. Do a Google search for “40,000 Jerry’s Nugget” and look at how many hits this gets! Some places that sell the decks even include this in their ad copy. For example, here’s the ad copy over at one online retailer, which was selling authentic decks for $525 before they sold out:

Another online retailer says the same. Many reviewers have parroted this information as well, such as this example. So do various sites dedicated to information about playing cards, such as this example.

As far as many people are concerned, this information is more along the lines of “fact” than fiction, and it’s become part of the story that everyone accepts. Little wonder that it is often repeated by collectors in discussion forums about playing cards, and that it has given more than just one person a tinge of envy. Here are some examples:

“Someone is rumored to have bought 40,000 decks and still has most of them.” (1)

“Jerry’s Nugget cards are rare in the sense that the guy who bought the remaining 40,000 of them doesn’t sell them.” (2)

“Here’s the story I heard. Jerry’s Nugget is a casino and it closed down, and there were like 40,000 decks from the casino left, and one magician bought most of them.” (3)

“Unless you need the money it would probably be best to hold on to them because (unless the person who bought out the remaining 40,000 decks from Jerry’s gift shop starts flooding the market) these will only get harder to find and they are much sought after. I would really like to get a deck but will probably have to pass at the $500.00 and up price level…my wife would kill me.” (4)

“That French guy, forgot his name, HE BOUGHT 40,000 DECKS AT ONCE, BASTARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (5)

Who is the mysterious buyer?

So who is the lucky guy with 40,000 decks of precious Jerry’s Nugget decks hidden in his basement or garage? And is the story even true?

Some of the sources for this story seem quite credible. And they also reveal the buyer’s name: French magician Dominique Duvivier. One person quotes Jordan Lapping, apparently among the first cardists to get Jerry’s Nugget decks and use them for flourishing, who explains why the decks are so rare and so costly:

Dominique Duvivier is a French magician who performs and works with his daughter Alexandra, and together they have a high profile in the world of French magic. They are even well known in the circles of international magic, and were featured on the cover of the June 2013 issue of Genii Magazine.

Norwegian magician Allan Hagen has a long-time interest in the Jerry’s Nugget decks, and he also mentions Duvivier’s purchase of 40,000 Jerry’s Nugget decks as apparent fact in something he posted on Reddit in 2015, where he describes his perspective on their rarity and value:

You’ll read similar reports in an article published by Ukrainian cardists Alexander and Nikolay about Jerry’s Nugget decks in June 2017. Two things are common to all these accounts: the number 40,000 for the haul of decks purchased by the mysterious overseas buyer. And now his name: Dominique Duvivier.

I contacted a number of different sources, including people who had personal connections with some of the key players who were closely involved when Jerry’s Nuggets decks first became a fad among magicians and cardists in the late 1990s. One source told me: “Interesting, the name of the European magician – it was a big secret back then. Someone actually told me his name back then, but it was on the proviso that I never publish it. Well, I see it’s out of the bag now.

Was Dominique Duvivier the buyer?

But is there any evidence that Dominique Duvivier was really the mystery buyer whose name had been a carefully kept secret for some time at least? It was time for some more detective work. Google brought me to Duvivier’s personal website.

It didn’t take long to discover that Duvivier does indeed have a real fondness for Jerry’s Nuggets Playing Cards. They are everywhere – in his photos, his videos, and his instagram.

Judging by the many French-language comments on his site, it also becomes apparent that Duvivier is highly respected and appreciated in his home country for his magic. It’s also evident from reading some of the comments that his Jerry’s Nuggets decks are a signature of his performance. Some even consider them to be the equivalent of a Stradivarius that Duvivier uses to perform with as a master magician.

But it was when I checked Duvivier’s youtube channel that I found some real gold: Dominique himself performing with Jerry’s Nugget cards in this clip. In fact, if you check out his other videos there, you’ll find quite a few where he performs magic with Jerry’s Nugget playing cards, like this performance from 2014, this more recent ace cutting routine, and this false shuffle.

Duvivier has even contributed a Jerry’s Nugget themed trick to the magic industry, entitled Jerry’s Nuggets Cards in Bag.

You can watch the promo video for this trick in French or English. His daughter Alexandra Duvivier successfully used it to fool Penn and Teller on their show Fool Us. Here’s the episode, and some unseen footage.

But just because Dominique Duvivier happens to really, really like Jerry’s Nugget playing cards doesn’t prove that he bought out a massive stash of the last 40,000 decks from the casino. So this still begs this question: Did any of this even happen? And is there really someone on this planet with a hoard of 40,000 decks, whether it is Dominique Duvivier or anybody else?

One of my favourite photos on Duvivier’s site is this one here, pictured below. If that’s any indication, surely the legendary haul was starting to seem somewhat plausible. It was time to ask around, and check in with some of the people who were around when the Jerry’s Nugget decks first became the rage.

Of the sources I consulted, few could be considered more reliable than Lee Asher. For many people Lee is synonymous with the Jerry’s Nugget phenomenon. He also had close connections with the events of the time, and was instrumental in bringing the Jerry’s Nuggets into the limelight in the first place, by singing their paises. He was kind enough to respond when I contacted him for comment about Duvivier’s alleged haul of 40,000 Jerry’s Nugget decks, and Lee bluntly told me the following:

This is misinformation. There weren’t 40k decks left in 1999. We don’t even know if Jerry’s even printed 40k decks.

Really? Apparently Lee Asher knew Duvivier personally, and he was the very person who first told Duvivier that the casino even had the cards for sale. He also visited his home and shop in Paris many times throughout this period of time. In Lee’s words:

Without a doubt, I NEVER saw 40k of ANY deck there. That’s basically nine pallets worth. The house, their magic shop and night club weren’t big enough to house these decks. It also seems Duvivier isn’t the last one to buy the remaining decks. Jerry’s Nugget Casino believes they sold the last case of cards to someone in Japan in 1999.

Well, it seems that the story had to be put to rest. Was this entire story perhaps just a magnificent urban legend after all? And if it was, where does the number of 40,000 decks come from, and how did this story get so much traction that it spread all around the internet, and is accepted unquestionably by so many people? My task had just become a bit harder, but I wasn’t going to give up yet. It was time to try to track down where the many websites that quoted this story got the figure of 40,000 from in the first place.

 

Where does the figure of 40,000 come from?

With some more digging, the oldest article I could find on the subject was by a card collector who has a collection of fine articles on his site, White Knuckle Cards. This particular article dates back to 2009, and is one of the earliest references to the legendary stash of 40,000 decks that I could find. In this particular article our collector writes:

That seems to be the first time the figure of 40,000 pops up, pre-dating all the more recent mentions of it. And it’s not hard to figure out how it spread from there. On 6 August 2015, someone called “Doctor Papa Jones” added these details to Wikipedia’s article on Jerry’s Nuggets, evidently relying on the White Knuckle Cards article. As a result the Wikipedia article now read as follows:

So now this “fact” is on Wikipedia and has some real “credibility”. In fact, the number 40,000 stays up on Wikipedia for the next five years unchallenged! And that allows it to spread around the internet and go wild. Because where does everyone go when they’re looking for reliable, authoritative, and trustworthy information about something? Wikipedia!

Depite the mention of the magical stash of 40,000 decks, Duvivier’s name remained out of the spotlight for a further four years. It was simply a mysterious “private collector” who had purchased the big haul. But in 2019, someone connected the dots to Duvivier, and so the Wikipedia article was changed to read as follows:

So how did that happen? Well the supporting reference that Doctor Papa Jones included in his 2015 edit was a link to an article by Dan and Dave Buck, dating back to 7 Dec 2011. This article is also no longer available, but can be tracked down with the help of the Internet Archive here. It doesn’t give the figure of 40,000 but does drop Duvivier’s name, when it says:

So the evidence seems to suggest this development: Apparently relying on the White Knuckle Cards article from 2009 as a source, the number 40,000 first embedded itself in the WIkipedia article on Jerry’s Nugget Playing Cards in 2015. Slowly the story grew, until somebody finally connected the dots that were hidden in plain sight elsewhere on the internet, and as a result Duvivier’s name gets added four years later. Now things are set up for a great story: Mr Duvivier is sitting on a massive stash of 40,000 Jerry’s Nuggets in France.

The story gained even more traction as a result of the revived interest in Jerry’s Nuggets that inevitably happened when a tribute deck was printed in 2019. It was inevitable that many would rely on Wikipedia as a source, and so the details even ended up being quoted in ad copy for the reprinted decks. What had previously just been a matter of quiet rumour or speculation, was now considered as fact. Oh, the joy of Wikipedia – it has certainly helped promote quite the legend here!

And it doesn’t take a genius to see that if this is true, Duvivier could be sitting on a small fortune. At $500 each, 14,000 decks would be worth around $7 million. Naturally a market flooded with them would drop their value. But even if the going price dropped to $100 a piece, that would still value his holdings at over $1 million. Even if he just sold the occasional decks at $500 a pop, this windfall could generate a nice little secondary income. That is, if the legend is true, a fact yet to be proven….

Credit: The Case of the Missing 40,000 Jerry Nugget Decks: A Detective Story

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