Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Mene Tekel Deck

Reinhard Müller has traced an early form of this deck to Friedrich Wilhelm Conradi, who describes it in a Card at Any Number trick, “Mundus Vult Decipi,” in Der Moderne Kartenkünstler, 1896, p. 77. The deck was made up of pairs of ordinary duplicates; they were not cut long and short.

Burling Hull later developed a very similar idea and marketed it as “The Devil's Pass” in 1908; see The Sphinx, Vol. 6 No. 12, Feb. 1908, p. 150. Three months later, Hull advertised the "Improved Devil's Pass" in The Sphinx, Vol. 7 No. 3, May 1908, p. 34. Hull's instruction sheet for the latter, and a section on The Devil's Pass in his 1911 booklet, Sealed Mysteries (see p. 22), make clear that the improvement was the addition of one-way backs to distinguish which card of a duplicate pair had been removed by a spectator. No short cards were used. In Sealed Mysteries, Hull explains that short and long cards were used in his original method. In a biographical piece on Hull in The Sphinx, Vol. 9 No. 9, Nov. 1910, p. 187, it is stated that he sold the “Improved Devil's Pass” on a limited basis of twenty-eight decks, from 1904 to 1906. If this is true, it is puzzling why he later chose to sell “The Devil's Pass” first, with its more costly manufacturing costs, in 1908, before selling the improved version. Was he clearing out old stock or was it just the original method that he sold as a teenager?

The long-and-short card version of the deck has also been attributed to Boston dealer, W. D. LeRoy. There seems some evidence that LeRoy marketed the deck sometime in 1909, although the first advertisement for it seems to be in Magic: The Magazine of Wonder, Vol. 2, No. 6, Sep. 1910, p. 27. Herman Hanson claimed to have come up with the name “Mene Tekel Deck” for LeRoy; see The Magic Man by Hanson and Zweers, 1974, p. 66. LeRoy's release of the Mene Tekel Deck trailed Hull's releases by no less than a year, and probably by several years, leaving the invention of the deck at Hull's doorstep, with a debt surely owed to Conradi.

Other notable variants of the deck include Eugene Gloye's idea of only using a bank of Mene Tekel cards in the center of an otherwise normal deck, mentioned by Nathan Kranzo in M-U-M, Vol. 100 No. 10, Mar. 2011, p. 80, and two attempts to create Menel Tekel packs out of a normal deck of cards, one by C. A. George Newmann in The New Jinx, Vol. 3 No. 30, Oct. 1964, p. 126, and the other by North Bigbee in The New Jinx, Vol. 3 No. 32, Dec. 1964, p. 134.