Friday, October 04, 2002


Psychics are wonderful at coming up with offbeat demonstrations of the paranormal. Not just the methods but also the effects. Consider Achille D’Angelo’s Invisible Hand as described in Milbourne Christopher’s ESP, Seers and Psychics (and later reworked by mentalist Steve Shaw), the concept of spirit raps as set out by the Fox Sisters or even Uri Geller’s bending spoon. There is something special about the way these effects connect with the audience. They go far beyond the fare offered up by many mentalists who believe that a demonstration of paranormal phenomena should involve something resembling a Mental Epic slate or the choice of a playing card.

Here is brand new pseudopsychic effect that is totally impromptu and derives its power from the public’s expectations of what is possible.

After some spiel about the current concerns over mobile phones you ask someone to stand up, switch on their mobile and hold it to their ear. Tell them to stretch out their other arm horizontally. Now, without warning, you press on the outstretched arm and, naturally, you push it down easily until it is by their side.

“Now,” you say, “switch the cell phone off. Hold it to your ear again. Stretch out the other arm. Watch what happens why I try to press down this time.” You do as you promise, except this time you are unable to press the arm down. It appears that somehow the activated cell phone was affecting the subject’s strength. Have them switch the cell phone back on and, amazingly, you can now push their arm down with ease. You have apparently just demonstrated the very real dangers of cell phone technology. Scary.

In fact, all you’ve done is exploited the psychological workings of a pseudo science called kinesiology. The first time you press on the subject’s arm, he isn’t expecting anything. The second time, he is ready and resists more fully. Also, you don’t push down quite so hard though do make a play of pressing down even harder than before. Additionally, your patter is leading the subject in a certain direction. Mentally, he is putting the macabre jigsaw together. He is convincing himself that the activated mobile phone somehow caused his arm to fall. Now that the phone is switched off, he believes he will be able to resist your efforts. And so, he does.

The trick isn’t mine, I found it on James Randi’s website, in the Sept 6th Commentary where reader Michael Roes recounts his visit to an Anthony Robbins seminar. It was there that a guy gave this unusual demonstration in order to sell a device (a bizarre pendant) that could protect the wearer from electro magnetic pollutants. Sure!

It is a great piece of business and deserves to be known by a wider audience. I mentioned the effect to mentalist Marc Paul who has tried it out with great success. He also tells me that Bruce Bernstein published an interesting kinesiology routine in Bascom Jones Magick magazine. It sounds very strong and if subjects react to the kinesiology protocol well it is worth dreaming up other uses for this psychological phenomenon.

You can embellish the phone routine in various ways. Have the subject hold the phone or not hold the phone. Have the phone with batteries or without or even hold the phone or a banana.

The only problem is an ethical one. How do you use such a convincing demonstration without exploiting the subject and leading them to believe that cell phones are dangerous or that there is anything in the concept of kinesiology? One way is to simply tell the truth and explain that the demonstration was purely psychological in nature. Reveal the method, the audience should find that just as entertaining as the effect, and enhance your own reputation as a master of psychological persuasion, a role that is enjoying renewed interest with the public.

Thursday, August 22, 2002


Well, it was in 1933 when this advert was printed in The Linking Ring magazine:

Here it is Magicians, just what you have been looking for. A new type of Magic that is very novel. spectacular, entirely new and different from anything you have ever seen or used. "TAXIDERMY MAGIC", anything from club effects to stage illusions with Mounted Birds and Animals, as used by the inventor, "Raymond the Wizard" in his Taxidermy Magic Show. Add a new box office attraction to your show. Here's a wonderful chance for the enterprising magician. Don't hesitate - act at once. Production limited.

Get Free Literature and particulars at once. Raymond H. Harper, Harper Studios, Monterey, Va.

Sunday, August 18, 2002


Jon Racherbaumer sent out a number of emails to magicians a few months ago asking which magic book they would take to a desert island. It wasn’t something I had ever contemplated. I presume that being marooned is something that weighs more heavily on Jon’s mind than mine. I can see him talking to a basketball called Eddie. Still, entering into the spirit of the request, I sent him my thoughts.

Assuming that someone hasn’t yet written Twenty Tricks with a Raft or The Sorcerer’s Guide to Scavenging, then I suppose I would opt for one of my favourite card books, The Encyclopaedia of Card Tricks by Jean Hugard and John J. Crimmins Jr. This is presuming that I can make myself some playing cards out of palm leaves.

The Encyclopaedia of Card Tricks began its life with one less “a” in its title and far fewer credits. A Dr Wilhelm Von Deusen and Glenn Gravatt compiled the volume in 1936 and created something of a controversy among the card cognoscenti to whom many of the tricks belonged. The book was nothing less than a reprint of every great trick the pair had in their scrapbooks, everything they had read in a magazine, bought from a dealer or purchased as an exclusive manuscript. “Over $1,000 worth of secrets,” boasted the advertising. It was true, but the secrets weren’t Deusen’s or Gravatt’s to dispose of. Annemann described it as “piracy on a grand scale,” suggesting that it should be marked on maps of the South Seas. And he laughed when the book was pirated by another publisher and Gravatt reduced to taking ads out pleading for purchasers to buy the “original” and not the copy.

Despite its dubious antecedents, The Encyclopedia of Card Tricks was not a book to be ignored. It contained hundreds of tricks in its two unwieldy mimeographed volumes. In 1937 Max Holden got permission from the contributors to put out a hardcover edition and handed over the editorial duties to Hugard and Crimmins. Their names gave the pirate tome a legitimacy that it had previously lacked. Still flying under the shadow of the Jolly Roger it was more of a Sir Francis Drake than a Blackbeard. The book became an instant classic, Tom Bowyer describing it in The Linking Ring as, “Truly the most valuable card book ever published.”

The edition I first came across was published in England, hence the extra “a” in “Encyclopaedia,” by Faber & Faber. It was a childhood Christmas present and one of a fabulous range of magic books published by Faber for the general public which included the works of Bill Severn, Bruce Elliott and Hugard and Braue. Taken together they provided a publicly available guide to magic that was unsurpassed until Dover Publications discovered the world of lapsed copyrights, which, ironically, is where the pirate book is presently anchored.

So what’s so marvellous about the Encyclopaedia? And why would I take it to a desert island rather than, say, Maskelyne & Devant’s Our Magic or Dai Vernon’s Book of Magic? The answer lies in the sheer variety of card magic contained within the book’s covers. It’s seminal stuff, from basic key card locations, to mathematical tricks and gaffed cards. On a desert island, the one thing you’ll need is mental stimulation and Gravatt’s book supplies that in abundance. He did a hell of a job in selecting his tricks, each one a different angle on a theme, an innovative spin on a well-worn principle or the very latest in card experimentation circa 1930. There is much here to think about.

A book on sleight of hand, wouldn’t provide half the enjoyment. Besides, sleight of hand is no different from athletics, if you haven’t mastered the move by the time you’re in your twenties, you’re unlikely to master it at a later date. Having made it past forty, I’m content to use the moves I know and keep the brain ticking over with the kind of problems laid out in the Encyclopaedia. Besides which, if your deck is made of palm leaves, you’re going to have trouble doing the second deal.

I can see that you may not be convinced. So let me set out the stall of wonders. First the contributors, an outstanding line up of card magic’s greatest: Vernon, Jordan, Downs, Baker, Annemann, Gray, Farelli, Hull, Daley, Christ, Larsen, Sellers and Grant to name just a few. Each has left their mark on magic and none would doubt the roles they have played in its evolution.

Naturally, one would expect great things of great magicians and that is why the material in the Encyclopaedia is of such fine quality. These creators were working their magic during an extraordinary time, when the great illusion shows were coming to an end and close up card magic was coming into its own. New York in particular was a hive of creative activity and secrets jealously guarded. Vernon’s psychological forces and use of the double back card were known only to the few. Indeed only a half-dozen years earlier he had sold some of his prized secrets in his legendary Twenty Dollar Manuscript. Many of these same tricks made a more public debut in the Encyclopaedia and at half the price. As did Ben Erens’ card spelling routine, a trick that was much discussed among his peers, the mathematics behind the now familiar Clock Trick, methods for getting thought of cards at chosen numbers and finding selections under seemingly impossible conditions. It was cutting edge stuff in its day and all of it found its way into the all-consuming Encyclopaedia, a veritable Hitchhikers Guide to Card Magic.

Its value for me lies in the number of times I have been able to revisit it over the years, each time discovering fresh insights. When I first read the Encyclopaedia as a trick hungry kid, I appreciated the fact that the tricks depended largely on subtlety than sleight of hand. I could actually use routines like Al Baker’s Twin Souls straight from the book. Jordan’s The Unknown Leaper was another favourite and hardly a performance went by without The Magic Breath or the memorably titled Get Thee Behind Me, Satan being demonstrated.

And it was good to have entire chapters devoted to tricks with stripper and svengali decks, both of which were in my repertoire having been purchased at the local novelty shop. I even made up what seemed to me at the time one of the most complex of gaffed decks, Speaking of Pink Elephants, in which thought-of cards changed colour, were spelled to and finally vanished. Making your own tricks is all part of learning magic and the Encyclopaedia provided plenty of material for the amateur craftsman, including Annemann’s Mental Masterpiece, a cunning card release called Magicardo and the little used Mene-Tekel deck which I swear would catch us all off guard if introduced into a card routine. Check out J. F. Orrin’s Pocket Rising Card for a terrific convention trick.

The book doesn’t spend much time tutoring the reader in sleight of hand. The focus is on self-working effects. But when I returned to it years later, with a better understanding of what it meant by “make a double lift” the power of the magic it contained was enhanced. A little well placed sleight of hand made the subtleties even slicker.

As a source of creative inspiration it is unique. You can open the book blindly, put your finger on a page and almost guarantee that the trick you land upon will put the brain into gear and start you thinking. That’s if you are not already amazed at the sophistication of the existing method or presentation and wondering why nobody has thought about using it. Take The Adventures of Diamond Jack, for instance, a story routine with a pre-arranged deck. If you’re tired of the popular Sam the Bellhop routine, you could do worse than give this one a try with its clever word play.

In more recent years I’ve begun to understand more fully who the originators were. Many were referred to only by their surnames: Hull, Baker, Vernon, Jordan, Annemann and the rest. When I first read the book, they meant nothing to me but now I can place faces to most of those captions. I know where they lived, what they did, who their friends were. Viewed in this way the Encyclopaedia becomes a time capsule reflecting the mindset and culture of a remarkable era. It is a nostalgic reminder of the history of card craft.

The Encyclopaedia of Card Tricks is still on sale though not everyone feels the same way I do about the book. A comment from one magician on the Amazon book website bemoaned the lack of illustrations. With few pictures, it can appear to be a rather monotonous meal rather than the feast it truly is. But illustrations were largely unnecessary. The Encyclopaedia is a book of grand ideas, notions that can be endlessly twisted and manipulated for the reader’s own ends. Most readers, those who do more than riffle through the pages looking for drawings that will tell all, think highly of it. As Tom Bowyer predicted, it is a classic work, and the reality that more copies gather dust on a shelf than are actually being read doesn’t detract from that.

The last secret that the Encyclopedia had to offer was only revealed to me recently on browsing through some old copies of Genii magazine. In the February 1969 issue Glenn Gravatt confessed that his co-author was entirely fictitious. "I thought so little of the prestige of my own name that I added, with tongue in cheek, a mythical collaborator, 'Dr Wilhelm Von Deusen,' feeling that a distinguished sounding foreign name would lend glamor to the enterprise." However, he didn’t explain what possessed him to compile the best tricks of his peers together and sell them under his own name. He just complained that subsequent editors had got some of the credits wrong!

The greatest of pirate books surely deserves a trip to a desert island. It will fulfil Annemann’s expectations of it if nothing else. And anyway, with over 600 tricks on its 448 pages, you can be sure of one thing. It would make a damn good fire.

Monday, July 22, 2002

I mentioned the Magnetic Cards earlier and today I remembered an impromptu version that was described in The Magic Wand magazine many years ago, October 1925 to be exact. I hasten to add that I didn't read it the first time around. It's reproduced here with permission of Martin Breese, the copyright holder.

Writing of Cosmo, here is a curious card trick which he exploited one day in the MAGIC WAND Office. Taking a borrowed pack he dealt six cards, face downwards, in a row. The remainder of the pack he placed adjacent to the separate cards on the table. With the fingers of the right hand fully extended, he now brought the entire surface of the fingers (not the palm) in contact with the first card in the row, lifted the hand, and the card adhered. Quickly placing this card on the next, he lifted the hand as before; the second card adhered to the first, and so on, until the whole six had been thus raised and the entire stack transferred to the top of the pack. Under the guidance of Cosmo, we tried it - lifted two cards and failed at the third. "Ah," said our hypnotic exponent, in that mysterious manner of his, "you must make up your mind that you are going to do it." We duly "concentrated," and got up to four. This seems to be the rationale of the queer experiment. The hand must be a trifle moist; the problem of the first card is therefore quite simple. When this card is, instantly, applied to the second, the air is excluded from between the two cards to a greater extent than is the case between nether card and the tablecloth. As a result, the moderately good vacuum betwixt numbers one and two overcomes the poor vacuum between the card and tablecloth. The rule holds good throughout, but, as each card is lifted, the stack gets heavier. Clever, and nimble, is the wight who can transfer the whole six cards without mishap.

Clever indeed but four are easy enough. It would make a good prelude to a full Magnetic Cards (or Hypnotised Cards, if you prefer) demonstration. I still haven't worked out a way of accomplishing the Edward Victor effect previously described. Any ideas?

Incidentally the cover of this issue of The Magic Wand features a new illusion, The Whirling Wheel. A girl walks right through a large spinning wheel. It was the creation of Stanley Norton and Stuart Luciene and looks remarkably like those giant fan penetrations that illusionist have recently taken a shine to.

Saturday, July 20, 2002


Back in 1950, George Armstrong published a manuscript called Chandu’s Psychoanalysis. It was advertised as:

Here is an entirely new idea in Mentalism. Several spectators think of various objects. The performer Psycho Analyses them and divines the objects being thought of.

Positively No Force
Any Object Thought Of
No Chance of Failure
Performer is Right Everytime
No Skill Required – Just the Ability to Talk

It sounded like a mentalist’s dream. The manuscript had been long out of print when I read the advert in an old issue of The Magic Wand and it was some time before I eventually found a copy. Sadly, I found the method disappointing. That was more than twenty years ago. I’ve been rereading The Wizard recently, another magazine edited by George Armstrong, and was pleased to find it contained some contributions by Chandu. See Vol 6, No 63, April 1953 and the following issue). To my surprise, I thought them excellent. Chandu in his youth had an insight into mentalism that I didn’t. And just other day I reread his Psychoanalysis manuscript. What a gem it is! What a fool was I.

Chandu’s Psychoanalysis stands the test of time, it’s not difficult to do, the patter may need updating but the core effect of convincingly appearing to divine the thoughts of volunteers under the guise of a pseudo word association game is excellent.

I’m not going to explain it here. You can probably buy a copy for a £1 at your local magic sale. It’s another one of those manuscripts that no one reads. Or worse still, like me, reads it and fails to realise its value.

But I will pass on the following idea, inspired by Chandu’s work.

Let’s call it Rorschach Revelations, purely for the sake of alliteration.

It’s a stage/club/television item. With several volunteers seated in a row on stage, you show a large pack of cards to the audience. “They’re used in psychometric testing,” you say, “to open up the subject’s innermost thoughts, like a word association test in which one image leads unconsciously to another.” The cards are in fact a series of Rorschach blots and while the audience may not have handled them they are familiar with them. You mix them up a little. They’re oversized and so not easy to handle, but you do your best. Then you go up to each volunteer and ask them to take one, “Any one, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to play a game of imagination.” The rest of the cards are placed aside.

“What I want each of you to do is look at your card quickly. Not yet, but when I give the command. Just raise the card, look at it then put it down. And then imagine whatever it brings to mind. Form a picture in your mind. Fill it with colours, even movement if you want. Use your imagination. Is that clear?” The volunteers say that it’s all perfectly clear. You snap your fingers, say “Now, look at your cards!” and they do.

Each volunteer is now thinking of an image that no one else could possibly know. Yet you can pick up a pad and marker pen and draw pictures of what lies only in their imagination.

How’s it done?

Very easily. As in Chandu’s Psychoanalysis, all you need is the ability to talk because the whole thing is a con from start to finish. While you show a set of Rorschach cards to the audience, the volunteers are actually selecting cards that have words written on them. And because the cards are marked on the back, they are selecting words that you already know. But when it comes to revealing those words, you talk as if the volunteers have been looking at inkblots and have been able to create any image from them. That’s the swindle.

Use a pack made up of a few Rorschach blots and the rest are word cards. And just make sure the volunteers never see the faces of the cards when you display them to the audience. Keep your patter ambiguous so that the volunteers and audience can read into it entirely different meanings. When each volunteer has an image in mind, have them drop the cards face down onto the stage, preferably just behind them. That puts them neatly out of the way.

Use your best mentalistic skills to make it appear that you are interpreting images not divining words. The pad lends you the authority of a psychoanalyst and is a good place for making all sorts of scribbles and even a drawing or two. Finish on a high note by asking the last volunteer what she was thinking of. Then turn your pad around to show that you have made a drawing of that very image. If you read the Chandu manuscript, you’ll get a better idea of how the demonstration can be framed to look like a genuine example of psychoanalysis rather than some unbelievable psychic feat.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Have you seen those fountain pens that are so strong they can be stabbed through a tin can and yet still write? Well, bear that in mind as you read the following extract from S. James Weldon’s marvellous book 20 Years A Fakir. It was published in 1899 and contains dozens of scams and swindles that Weldon, a travelling salesman, used to sell his wares. It’s a great read, particularly for anyone looking for pitch lines. Here is Weldon describing the first time he saw his mentor Professor Carter in action, setting up his stall outside someone else’s show:

He was selling pens.

The article was good enough of its kind, and one probably familiar to the reader. It was brass, but looked like gold, and so flexible that it could stand any sort of abuse, except continuous writing, without being harmed in the least.

He had his little folding, three-legged stand, a torch, and a rough piece of board. He would rub the point of the pen up and down and jab it into the rough surface of the board, spread the points apart, put them together again, and then, filling it with ink, write and shade as artistically as you please. All the time he was so maltreating the poor pen he was keeping up a running fire of talk:

“Hey there, everybody! Come right this way. There is plenty of time. The show won’t open for half an hour, and meanwhile I want the chance to do you good. I would like to give away lots of money – fives, tens, twenties, fifties – everything up to a hundred dollar bill. I’m a down-town Eastern Yankee millionaire, and I’ve got more money than I know what to do with. If you’ll lend me your attention for a few moments I’ll make every mother’s son of you rich and happy – in your mind at least.

“Here is a little article known as the automatic, Goldentine pen. It reads, writes and talks in sixty-four different languages, and is one of the handiest little articles you ever gazed on.

“It is small, gentlemen, but one of the toughest little staples that was ever brought into the world to bless mankind.

“In the first place, I will ask some gentleman from the audience to select a pen from the box. Any one in the lot will do. They are all exactly alike, so it makes no difference which one you take. Ah, thank you, sir. Now, I will take this pen, place it in this handsome penholder, and then rub the point up and down on this rough, pine board, in this manner, just as you would a stick. That should be good enough test to convince anyone, but we will not stop at that. I’ll take the little pen and stick it into the board, just as though it was a knife-blade. And not only that. I’ll take the little points of the pen and bend them apart till they have the appearance of just getting over a drunk.

“I know it looks hard to abuse a little thing like this – but like a careful curator, we’ll just place the points back in their original position, like this, stick the little pen in the ink like that, just as though nothing had ever happened to it. There is its work on the paper. You saw it done or you wouldn’t have believed it. Is it not beautiful? The lines are fine enough, and grateful enough, to satisfy the dreams of an artist – ‘fair as the sun, clear as the moon gentlemen, and beautiful as an army with banners.’

“If you want to write cross-eyed, or left handed, it works just the same; and when it comes to German, French, Spanish, Danish, Irish, Scotch, Latin or Choctaw, the employment is identical. If you wish to come up and try before you buy, you are at perfect liberty to do so.

“I have here, also a stock of beautiful silver-nickel penholders, that cost you a quarter the world over, and I couldn’t sell them to you at any less. As a special inducement for your patronage, I’ll make this proposition:

“Every man who buys a box of pens, one dozen in a box, gets two of these elegant holders, free, gratis, without cost or consideration. Who is the first man to pass up a quarter?

“Hurry up, gentlemen, I’ve only got about ten more minutes to talk to you before the show begins.” (The wretch was perhaps postponing the beginning of that show until the outer end of eternity, for there was a suspicion in the crowd that he belonged to it, and that nothing would be done in the hall until he had ceased talking outside.) “If you came to me after that and offered me fifty dollars for a single pen I wouldn’t sell to you. Live and let live is my motto, and I never would do anything to interfere with another man’s business. It is probably the first, last and only time in your lives that you will have the chance to buy the Automatic, Indestructible, Goldentine Pen at any such figures, and if you go to your jeweller he will charge you a dollar and a half or two dollars for an article not half so good. Where are – ah, yes. Here they come, here they come. Don’t crowd so, my friends. I’ll get around to you all by and by.”

Weldon suspected that he first buyers were stooges but the rest of the crowd soon joined in and Prof Carter did a “roaring trade.” So he should, the pens that he sold at twenty-five cents a dozen cost him thirty-five cents a gross! Judging by the advertising in stores and television, I’m not sure much has changed in the intervening century.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Contributions to this blog are welcome. The following is from Peter Duffie:

The Expert at the Card Table by Erdnase, while not the largest of magic related books, is crammed with detail. So much so, that every visit yields new fruit, regardless of how often you may have read the book. One item that caught my attention a few years ago was at the end of the Diagonal Palm Shift explanation. In the final paragraph the author says:

Several cards may be palmed together, when inserted at different points, or from one point, or from top, or bottom. If the top card is to be shifted, it is slipped into the same diagonal position and held in place by the right little finger being curled up on top. The action is the same.

In my previous visits to this book, I had failed to notice the top-card Diagonal Palm Shift. The few people whose attention I drew to this had not seen it either. It's easily written off as an addition thrown in for the sake of completeness - but not all that practical. I admit I find the other variant mentioned above, from the bottom, just that - not practical. At least not for me.

However, a top card DPS is not only practical - it's actually marginally easier than doing it from within the deck. Bear in mind this is all Erdnase - but the following brief expansion may prove useful to anyone who wishes to learn the move.

a) The first point - not entirely clear in the above extract - but surely intended is: you don't start by pushing the card inwards from an outjogged position. The card begins square on top of the deck.

b) If you now begin as if you were about to do Vernon's well-known "Topping the Deck" (Select Secrets) and stop as soon as your left thumb has pushed the top card over diagonally, you will find that you can now carry out the actions of the Erdnase Diagonal Palm Shift. Your left thumb bears down on the angle jogged card and moves it inwards - passing the right thumb. Now complete the steal as per normal.

NOTE: It helps if you give the deck an upwards bend first. A sharp frontal riffle will do this. You don't want the card to bend outwards away fro the left palm!
PENomenon is the ultimate in close up and parlor magic, at least according to the advertisements. It reminded me of a trick in The Boy’s Book of Conjuring, a tome so old that the photos are referred to as plates and the magician in them is dressed in Charles Bertram’s Sunday best. The trick is called The Electrified Pipe:

Balance a clay pipe on the edge of a tumbler in such a manner that it may oscillate freely. The problem now is to make the pipe fall without touching it, blowing upon it, agitating the air, or moving the table.

Take another glass, similar to that which supports the pipe, and rub it rapidly on the sleeve of your coat. The glass will be electrified by the friction and when you have rubbed it well, bring it close to the pipe, but without touching the latter. The pipe will turn after the glass, and follow it till it falls from its support.

The same stunt is described with a stick balanced on a chair back in C. Lang Niel’s The Modern Conjurer (1903). It is called Magnetised Paper because a piece of paper or playing card is rubbed on the coat and then used to make the stick topple from its perch.

The best demonstration I ever saw of this phenomenon was given by Steve Shaw (Banachek). He had a large sheet of Perspex balanced on four glass tumblers, one at each corner. Objects placed on this impromptu table could be made to dance around in the most uncanny manner. I remember a cigar tube rolling and spinning about like it was possessed. It was a recreation of the performance of a Russian psychic called Alla Vinogradova. She worked with a cube-like table built from clear plastic and claimed to have telekinetic powers when matches, foil-wrapped cigars and ping pong balls moved around on top of it. The researchers had figured static electricity was the cause but they claimed that it wasn’t the only answer, since none of them achieved the same spectacular results she had:

“My scientific conclusion on this ability is that the object to be moved lies in an electrostatic field, and the added energy from the telekinetic medium causes electrical activity in the field and triggers movement.”

When Steve demonstrated it for me, he didn’t need to rely on psychic powers. Just a little good weather, since effects depending on static electricity are subject to atmospheric changes. Funnily enough, so were Vinogradova’s demonstrations. Footage of Vinogradova turns up on documentaries about Russian psychics and photographs of her table can be seen in the book The New Soviet Psychic Discoveries (1978).

Saturday, July 13, 2002

When I first read Roy Walker’s book Card Mysteries, I was amazed at the content. It was released in London in 1933 under the imprint of George Johnson’s Magic Wand publications, the same publisher of Sam Sharpe’s translation of Hofzinser’s Card Conjuring, Neo Magic and the booklets of the always-ingenious Tom Sellers.

What I found so special about Walker’s Card Mysteries was the idiosyncratic way that the effects stood out from their contemporaries. Many of them read, admittedly with 20/20 hindsight, as premonitions of items that cardicians would take up decades later.

For instance, in the trick Good Companions, Walker describes a pass in which the middle card is reversed. It reminds me of the Gombert Pass that was described in The Gen, though in Walker’s case there is no turnover of the pack.

The Phantom Jester contains an application of the traditional pass, which alters the arrangement of face up cards in the deck. In this case one face up card appears to penetrate through another. It brings to mind Roy Walton’s Happy Wanderers (Devil’s Playthings), which in turn was inspired by an effect of Marlo’s in which cards redistributed themselves in a deck.

Walker’s Slow Motion Reverse predates Marlo’s own experiments when it comes to reversing a card as the deck is spread from hand to hand. The book is chock full of such surprises, including an edge-marked deck, a novel Top Change, a Throw Pass, an impossible torn card effect, and a very clever routine in which one packet of cards assembles itself into the same order as a second shuffled packet. Each item is very distinctive and the book is well worth seeking out at magic auctions. Nobody has heard of it, so you’ll pick it up cheaply.

One routine, A Red And Blue Back Series, contains so many interesting effects that I think it is worth reproducing some of the presentation here as a taster of Walker’s work. He devised it as a platform routine with cards, reasoning that the different coloured backs of the cards would be more easily seen than their faces. You’ll have to wade through some dated prose but I promise that if you are interested in card ideas, the gold is there:

Upon the performer’s table is seen a card easel, against which rest two packs of cards, red and blue backed respectively, and the two cases to which the cards belong. An envelope of thick parchment paper, and a small paper knife occupy the table in front of the easel. The conjurer deals ten cards face downwards from the top of each pack, holding the packs so that the backs of the cards may be plainly seen. The sets are picked up, and fanned to further impress the colours upon the minds of the audience. The red-backed set is now placed deliberately on top of the blue, and the whole pile sealed in the envelope. This is eventually slit open with the paper knife, and the cards removed. No change is visible until they are fanned, when the cards are found to be arranged red and blue alternately throughout the fan. The cards should be fanned as neatly as possible to obtain the maximum effect. The cards are then returned to their respective packs, and the second effect proceeded with.

The performer now advances to the audience, and has about a dozen cards in a bunch selected from each pack. The spectator who chooses them is requested to shuffle the colours into one another, and when he has finished mixing them, he is requested to turn the cards face upwards, and endeavour to detect any difference between the red-backed cards and the blue. This he is unable to do, and after he has again shuffled the cards, they are handed to the performer who retreats to the stage, still holding the cards face upwards. He then deals the cards into two heaps against the card easel, and turns them over. All the red cards are in one heap, and all the blue in the other pile.

The performer now replaces these in their respective packs, and proceeds with the second phase of the effect. Six cards are dealt from the bottom of each pack, face upwards upon the table. The two heaps are squared up, turned over, and riffle shuffled by the performer. He then holds them facing the audience, and continues to shuffle. Finally he fans the twelve cards and holding them out requests a gentleman to name any card he sees. This is removed and place face upwards against the card easel, and five other cards are similarly selected and removed. The other six cards are placed aside, and, despite the fact that the audience had a perfectly free choice, the six cards upon the easel are found to be the blue-backed cards.

Walker’s routine continues by having the same card selected from both decks. The red-backed selection is placed in the blue card case. The blue-backed selection is placed in the red-backed deck. Both selections then transpose. The finish looks like a repeat, with odd cards being inserted into the two decks. But instead of the selections changing places, the decks do. One can’t help but see shadows of Oil & Water, Out of this World and Follow the Leader in the routine. I don’t anything at all about Roy Walker, although he did contribute tricks to The Sphinx magazine, but his book certainly deserves a reading.
In his 1920 booklet, Ten New Miscellaneous Tricks, Charles Jordan said: “Rather than write a long Preface, I will merely leave it to the magician in search of novelty as to whether or not the last trick in this collection is worth the price of the entire manuscript.”

The trick was The Book Mystery, an innovative book test which, like much of Jordan’s work, shows that once again he was well ahead of the pack. He saves the real secret until the last paragraph of his description:

A knife and several books or pamphlets are shown to be unprepared. Any one selects one of the books. Then, taking his watch from his pocket, the wizard asks some one to add the minutes to the hours that happen at that moment to be indicated by the dial of the watch. A spectator now takes the knife and inserts it at will into any part of the selected book. Counting down to the number of words indicated by the sum of the watch’s hours and minutes, he notes the word at that number. That word is found written in a previously sealed envelope, or between two slates, or otherwise, as the performer may desire! The book page is not forced!

Performed as indicated, this feat may be accomplished at any one of but twenty-four different periods of the day, for the sum of the hours and minutes on the watch dial must always be a set number, say 14. The trick must be timed so the watch will be looked at at the proper moment, i.e., at one of these times: 1.13; 2.12; 3.11; 4.10, etc.

If preferred, any other method of forcing the number may be employed. The magician must provide himself with a book, on every page of which the fourteenth word is the same, say; “magician.” Then, of course, it is immaterial at which page the knife is thrust in, that word being written beforehand, and disposed of as desired, the book itself naturally being forced.

“But,” the magician may inquire, “where am I to obtain such a book?”

For reply, have you read this booklet through without discovering its secret? If so, examine it, and your question will be answered. Illustration pictures and trick titles not counting, this is the necessary booklet. The exact presentation is left to your own ingenuity.

A glance through the booklet shows that the 14th word on each page, including the Preface, was “magician.” Jordan enthusiasts will recognise the watch number business as that used in his card effect The Hour Glass Card Trick, which you will find in The Encyclopedia of Card Tricks as well as Karl Fulves’ collection, Charles Jordan’s Best Card Tricks.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

The publication of Stewart James’ long awaited solution to 52 Faces North in The Penumbra magazine has reinvigorated interest in this problem and Paul Curry’s Open Prediction. I’ve had a number of stabs at this, most of them prompted by Karl Fulves’ booklet on the topic. Here’s one from the notebooks circa 1979. Apologies if anyone got there first.

You need a double-faced Joker. Joker on one side, King of Spades on the other. Trim it to make it into a short card. Take the real KS from the deck and replace with the short double-facer, Joker side up.

Begin by spreading through the deck and pushing out the Joker. With a felt-tipped pen openly write King of Spades across the face of the Joker. As this is being done have a spectator shuffle the deck. Show the prediction. Then ask the spectator to put the deck face down behind their back. They may cut it again if they wish.

Hand them the Joker face up (be careful not to expose the reverse side) and ask them to slide it face up into the middle of the face down deck. Then they bring the deck foward, face down.

Tell them to deal cards, one at a time, face up onto the table. Stop them when they come to the face up Joker. Remind them of your prediction, which is scrawled across the face of the Joker. The Joker is dealt face up onto the tabled pile.

"You placed the Joker next to this card, let's leave it face down for the moment." Have the next card dealt face down on top of the Joker. They deal right through the rest of the deck turning each card face up as you say, "Stop when you get to the King of Spades." They don't find it. Remind them of the one card they left face down.

Take the deck, square it, turn it face down and riffle spread it across the table. This is the spread used in conjunction with a Svengali deck. Because the KS is a short card it is revealed face up in the middle of the spread. It also hides the real reversed card.

To clean up, just turn the pack over and remove the Joker and put it in your pocket. Turn the reversed card over without revealing its face. Virtually self-working, shuffled deck and for the most part the spectator does all the handling. I've seen worse!
Nelson Downs described this in The Art of Magic (1909). It’s a fascinating idea. Imagine a totally impromptu poker deal with a brand new unopened borrowed deck. You shuffle the cards and deal out seven hands of poker. Everyone gets a full house, except you, you get a winning straight flush.

There’s a little more to it than that (isn’t there always?) but it’s great idea all the same. Here’s the working as described in The Art of Magic. All you need is a deck that is in new deck order: Each suit separated, Ace to King from the bottom upwards.

The performer removes the pack from the wrapper, calling attention to the fact that the cards are fresh from the manufacturer. He throws away the joker and gives the pack a false shuffle, using whatever method he is most adept at. If versed in fancy blind cuts he may indulge in a series of manipulations of this kind; but for the purpose of the trick it is sufficient to give the cards a false shuffle. Then allow the spectators to cut the cards. They may cut as many times as they wish without destroying the order of the cards, as the halves simply revolve around each other. This is, in fact the strongest feature of the trick; for most persons believe that the conventional cut completely disarranges any prearranged order of the pack.

Now deal the cards out to six persons, giving the top card to No. 1; the second to No. 2; the third card to No. 3; the fourth card to No. 4; the fifth card to No. 5; and the sixth card to No. 6. Begin the round again, dealing the seventh card to No. 1, and so on to No. 6. As soon as the twelfth card is dealt, shift the next card (the thirteenth) to the bottom of the deck, and continue dealing two more rounds. As soon as the twenty-fourth card is dealt, shift the twenty-fifth card to the bottom of the pack, and then deal around once more, handing one card to each player. Now deal five cards from the top of the pack for your own hand. Ask the spectators to turn over their hands, and each one will be astonished to find that he holds a full house. The performer then turns over his own hand, exhibiting a straight flush.

CAUTION – If the order of the pack is Ace, two, three, four etc., up to king, the performer must take note of the bottom card of the deck after the cut; for should the bottom card be a jack, the trick will not come out as described. Another cut will obviate this difficulty.

Downs suggested that the trick is best performed standing if the shifts are to be covered. Not a problem in his day, especially after his retirement from the stage, when a stand up performance at the Elks was a typical gig. He would deal the cards onto the spectators’ hands, which gave him enough cover to make the pass.

Were it not for the shifts, this would be an almost self-working trick. All you have to do is get rid of two cards during the deal. It wouldn’t be too difficult to work in a line about the other players suddenly becoming suspicious and asking you to “burn a card.” So you openly take the top card off the deck, turn it over and place it on the bottom. This happens twice during the routine and obviates the need for the pass. Another observation is that at the end of the trick you practically have four-of-a-kind together, three at the bottom and one at the top of the deck. Must be useful for something.

The trick wasn’t original with Downs. He said it was a favourite of Adrian Plate. Tom Boyer published his version, Klondike Poker, in 1926 in The Linking Ring (Vol IV, No. 1). He dealt seven hands, dealing a bottom card on the 14th and 28th cards. This gave everyone a full house. The performer than draws four cards to win with a straight flush. Ross Bertram resurrected it, publishing it under his own name as Exhibition Poker Deal, in The Linking Ring (July 1930). Leslie Guest spotted that it was a variation of the Downs trick and added some notes of his own, including a story about throwing the unlucky thirteenth card away and the fact that the trick will not work if certain cards are showing on the bottom of the deck. Downs referred only to the Jack, but in fact there are more cards to look out for than that.

In August of 1942 The Linking Ring magazine presented yet another version, Klondyke Poker, this time by W. C. Fownes Jr and E. F. W. Salisbury. They credited Tom Bowyer with the notion of dealing out seven hands and added that if the card on the bottom of the deck is a Nine to King, you won’t get the straight flush. They also incorporated a Colour Monte style patter story about gambling Dan McGrew who bet everything he had against all the players at the table. An open bottom deal was made to accompany the story of McGrew’s cheating. He is spotted and the other players demand he draw a new hand. He does, the straight flush of course, and still manages to win. It’s a great trick, one step away from a self-working miracle.
In the 1920s Eddie McGuire wrote to T. Nelson Downs asking if he could buy some of his card secrets. Downs agreed to sell, and for an initial fee of $50, a considerable sum at that time, began a correspondence which extended over a decade and included many effects. The following was among them.

Thirty two cards handed to you and you openly deal them into two face down heaps, one card at a time to a heap, and step away. No palming. No extra cards. Two parties advance and pocket the heaps, and at your command two cards pass from one party's pocket and join those in the pocket of the other man. Simple and beautiful in effect.

There is a subtle variation in the dealing, which, when properly executed is indetectable if you patter and do not count as you deal. The first eight cards are dealt singly, one to each heap. Left thumb keeps the packet you are dealing from very slightly fanned. As you appear to deal the ninth card, you will find it very easy to deal two cards as one. The hand is in motion, and the fact is never suspected. Deposit the two on first heap, and without hesitating, right hand returns to pack and this time deals a single card onto second heap. then two together on first heap, and single card onto second. Then deal six singly, three to each heap. Then two to first heap, one to second. Two again to first heap and a single card to second. Continue to deal remainder of cards singly.

If you do not count as you deal, it is never observed that you do not make 32 separate dealing motions, and your patter keeps company from counting. First heap contains 18 cards, and second, 14. They will say each contains 16, when you inquire of them. The trick is done before they realize you've begun, hence it is difficult to detect.

The original description actually omitted one of the double deals. I've added that to clarify matters. It's one of the earliest uses of the double deal I have come across in a magic effect.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

I found this in a carbon copy of a letter of Dudley Whitnall's. It is dated 21st December, 1973, and was addressed to Peter Warlock. In it Whitnal recalled a very interesting effect performed by Edward Victor.

Whitnall was a magician who lived in Heswall in Cheshire. He was a member of the Mahatma Magic Circle in Liverpool and a keen cardman who believed the performer should work hard for his effects. He favoured heavy sleight of hand over gimmicks. I came across the letter in a book that came from Whitnall's collection. I've never seen the effect described and it presents quite a problem.

I believe that you are interested in research into the past. Many years ago, the late Edward Victor was playing one of the Liverpool Halls and paid a visit to a meeting of the local Mahatma Society. Upon being asked to show something, he borrowed a pack of cards from a member and demonstrated his Magnetic Cards Effect, as explained in More Magic of the Hands. He then brought his other hand across against the face of the cards and removed the hand to which they were adhering. They still adhered to this other hand. Nobody present had the slightest idea how he did it, and I wonder whether he ever showed it anywhere.

Best performance of the Magnetic Cards effect that I have seen was given by the French magician Socrate in a lecture for the Mahatma more than twenty years ago. He explained that the cards stuck to the hand because of some kind of static electricity. Which kind of makes sense to the audience although the more cards he stuck to the hand the more impossible it seemed. He finished by having a member of the audience touch his arm. As soon as she did, it was as if the static that held the cards had been discharged and they suddenly fell to the table. Beautiful touch.

NOTES:  At last the mystery of Edward Victor's Magnetized Cards is available. You will find the solution in Stan Allen's Magic magazine for February 2010. It's a clever idea and only one of a number of tricks extracted from the newly published The Davenport Story, Volume Two: The Lost Legends. It includes an unpublished book by Edward Victor entitled My Magic Hands. The book is available from Davenports, London.