The effect of causing two black Aces to magically transpose with two red Aces came about in stages. The first step forward from the established two-card transposition was an anonymous contribution to Floyd Thayer's The Magical Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 11, Nov. 1917, n.p., where two kings and two queens are used for the transposition. In it, however, only two of the four cards change places. The performer takes a king and a queen, leaving the other king and queen on the table, but after a magical moment, it is revealed that the performer is holding both kings. The queens are found on the table. While this is still just a two-card transposition at heart, it foreshadows having two pairs of cards transpose.
Later, Willie Johnson described the effect of the black Aces transposing with the red Aces within a larger, multi-phased routine. His “The Changing Aces” appeared in The Sphinx, Vol. 24 No. 3, May 1925, p. 96. Johnson's approach was less direct than later handlings. The Aces started in an alternating order: red, black, red, black. After the magical moment, they had transposed to black, red, black, red.
Eugene Parshall added clarity to the transposition by separating the two pairs of cards (in this case, the red tens from the black tens). The method was more involved, however, utilizing two duplicates and two handkerchiefs to effect the change. This can be found as “Easy Transposition” in The Sphinx, Vol. 27 No. 12, Feb. 1929, p. 571.
In 1933, R. W. Hull published a transposition of the red and black Aces, combined with an additional effect of one of the pairs of Aces sandwiching the Jack of Spades, which was previously lost in the deck; see “Diamond Thieves and Blackmailers” in Hull's More Eye-Openers, 1933, p. 5. The transposition was accomplished by a Double Lift and a Glide to switch the red and black Aces.
Another four years pass, upon which H. Adrian Smith publishes the “The 'Four' Ace Trick” in The Sphinx, Vol. 36 No. 2, Apr. 1937, p. 41. This is the transposition effect commonly performed today, without a supplementary sandwich effect. Smith used two Double Lifts for the switches.
In 1948, Harlan Tarbell credited Milbourne Christopher with what is Hull's method, again shorn of the extra sandwich effect; see “Christopher's Red and Black Aces,” in the Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 5, 1948, p. 129.
The common title for the effect was due to the popularization of “The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley” in The Dai Vernon Book of Magic, 1957, p. 210. Daley is said to have done this trick at least as far back as the early 1950s. However, as the other citations in this entry establish, Daley was late to the table regarding the effect.