Lenny and Merlin

It was 1980 and I had rented a railroad apartment for two months in Greenwich Village to attempt to do business in New York City. I was a collectables dealer from London and Paris and had introductions to some of America's top collectors who lived in and around New York. I was also bringing collectables from Europe to exhibit and sell at Madison Square Gardens.

I was introduced to Lenny Schnier by America's top playing card collector Gene Hockman who invited me to his New Jersey home to stay the night and see his vast and important American playing card collection which also included tarot packs. I was already involved in the world of magic and illusion, a step away from tarot and cartomancy and had playing card clients in London and Paris. 

Gene collaborated with the professional poker player Lenny Schnier and thus I was invited to his apartment where he lived with his partner the delightful Merlin Stone. I got on well socially with both of them but as Lenny was my client, I never got to know Merlin. She was pensive kind and charming. How could I know that she was a pioneer in her written Feminist work and author of a ground breaking book?  I just recall she said she was an artist and sculptor. If only I had known but then my contact was with the  adorable eccentric Lenny, not with Merlin. 

His whole life was playing poker professionally. I had had a close friend in London, Maurice Sumray the artist, who was also a professional poker player playing mainly at Crockfords but not at Lenny's level. When it came to paying his tax Maurice would go to the tax office and hand over his little black book with his winnings which were tax free. He just told the officer to work it out for his tax returns. They could never refuse!!!

I remember the large posters Lenny published of enlarged French Monte Carlo gambling postcards. He gave me some samples with roulette wheels, devils and playing cards hoping I would interest playing card and conjuring collectors back in London and Paris. 

His apartment was like a gaming museum. Slot machines and showcases with card related objects like ashtrays with playing cards on. Posters on the walls so there was no space left. He had a large collection, bien sur, of rare playing cards and gambling accessories. There was hardly room to sit down let alone swing a cat. In fact I only recall the lounge-cum-showroom and a sofa because I took lots of photos and Lenny took one of me sitting on the sofa wearing a 1978 burgundy embroidered midi Afghan wedding dress. 

One night he took me an illegal joint just like in the film noir movies from the 40s. We went into what looked like an abandoned building, went up in a rickety noisy lift and arrived before an iron security door. Lenny knocked on the door making a resounding metal sound in what was the rhythm of a code. The window slid open so that the bouncer could see who had arrived, then with a nod and a wink, we entered into the smokey den of iniquity. Lenny did not get involved with the cards that night, he went just to show me the underbelly of New York. Slimy looking gangster style men nodded to him as he was obviously a regular. I recall Lenny wore a hat and looked like a gangster himself!

I made two trips to New York, 1980 and 1982 and I was not to return to see my old colleagues and ex-clients until 30 years later. I completely forgot about Lenny although somehow I knew Merlin had died. I would love to know what happened to his collection after he wrote his book on gambling collectables. Somehow I don't think he took them with him when he left New York for good to retire to Daytona Beach and devote the rest of his life keeping the memory of his Goddess Merlin alive by creating a foundation. 

My most interesting collectables clients were from America and like Lenny, I think of them fondly.

Written in the Spot Hotel, Old Rhodes Town on 21/4/17.


Gambling collectibles - A sure winner by Leonard Schneir
Wikipedia - Merlin Stone
Merlin Stone remembered - Amazon
Merlin Stone - When God was a woman - Amazon
Gene Hochman  - American Encyclopaedia of American playing cards