A jam jar, a pint of beer and a cow are among the quirky illustrations in a set of unique playing cards devised by two friends to showcase the local landmarks and hidden gems of a Buckinghamshire town.

Emma Sweet, who lives just outside of Marlow in Knowl Hill, had the idea to create a pack of cards recognising the range of independent businesses, landmarks and organisations in the town after first trialling the project in Henley – where she works – last year.

The Henley card packs were so popular that Emma, alongside her friend, Marlow Bottom-based illustrator Nicola Metcalfe, decided to launch a fully-fledged business, Ace Cards, with the goal of highlighting both the evident and hidden gems of their favourite towns.

After being in the works since early this year, Emma and Nicola unveiled the new playing cards – ranging from the newly-opened Everyman Cinema at the top of Marlow High Street to the independent Jam Theatre group, based on West Street – at an early preview evening held ahead of the town’s Christmas light display on Thursday, November 23.

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The exhibit, held at the locally-owned Hayden Gallery, founded on the principle of showcasing predominantly local talent, put the detail and idiosyncrasy of Nicola’s illustrations front and centre – ranging from the delightful (a cow eyeing up a block of cheese for the Marlow Cheese Co.) to the creative (a deer surrounded by an arch of forest miscellanea, birds and insects for Marlow Common).

Emma said it had been important to her to have the designs framed and shown in all their glory not only to give Nicola the artistic kudos she deserves but also to give businesses and residents a chance to display the artworks in their own homes. 

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As of today (November 25), each framed design – complete with Nicola’s signature – is available for purchase from Hayden Gallery, with those that have already been snapped up by their sponsor businesses no longer available to view. The logo for the Marlow pack, a view of the bridge and All Saints Church from across the River Thames is also up for silent auction, with the money raised going to Longridge Activity Centre, keeping it a thoroughly local operation.

Emma said creating the pack had expanded her awareness of the range of businesses and organisations in the town, praising the “really great mix” of chain, independent and both better and lesser-known cards in the deck.

“Tom Kerridge has sponsored four cards – I think it’s so great that you’ve got the Jam Theatre card next to Tom’s businesses, which are world famous. He’s a really good draw and then tourists, and anyone else who’s interested, can find out about all the other amazing businesses we have in the area.  

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“What’s lovely about the packs is that they’re just pure fun – there’s no negative side to it. The businesses that have ended up in the deck aren’t even conclusive – my list was really long and that’s amazing for a town of around 14,000 people.”

As to where Ace Cards might be heading next with their whimsical renderings of another town’s best bits, Emma already has a plan up her sleeve – “I think I’m going to do Windsor next. It’s lovely but it is a lot bigger than Henley and Marlow. It might be the test of what’s too big. After that… Oxford and maybe Richmond. I’m always thinking ahead!”

Framed prints of the Marlow playing cards pack are available to view at The Hayden Gallery, Number 23-25 on the High Street, on Sunday, November 26 between 11am and 4pm.

Packs will be available for purchase online at acemarlow.co.uk from Monday, November 27.