The Origins of Wonder
Henri Decremps, in Testament de Jérôme Sharp, 1786, p. 163, included the roots of the search for psychologically probable mental card choices in “Deviner la pensée d'autrui par un ancien moyen nouvellament perfectionné”, a version of “Mutus, Dedit, Nomen, Cocis” wherein one pair of cards in a layout, consisting of court cards, being easier to remember, was more likely to be thought of by one or more of the participants. (Also see Jean Hugard's English translation in Gibecière, Vol. 12 no. 1, Winter 2017, p. 169.)
In Problems in Mystery for Practical Magicians, 1909, p. 45, Max Sterling offered “Production of Any Card Called For,” using eight cards as most likely to be named. His list: AC, KC, AD, KD, AS, JS, AH, QH.
There is anecdotal evidence that, by the time Dai Vernon was an adolescent, he was exploring named cards (e.g., his first meeting with Cliff Green). When he moved to New York in the 1910s, he established himself in large measure by having cards named rather than physically taken. But he did not publish on the subject until much later.
In the November 1927 issue of The Linking Ring, Vol. 7 No. 3, p. 696, Ray Vaughn contributed “A Possible Impossibility”, which uses a setup of five cards deemed reliably likely mental choices: AS, 10D, 2S, KH, 7S.
In 1932, Ralph W. Hull released Name-O-Card (which Dai Vernon insisted was based on his work). Hull’s trick covered outs all 53 cards, but his ten strongest contingents were reserved for the ten he said were most often named: JC, KH, 2S, AS, AD, 2H, JS, 2D, 3H, Joker.
In the October 1936 issue of Genii, Vol. 1 No. 2, p. 13, there is a lengthy article credited to Larsen & Wright (although T. Page Wright had been dead for six years) entitled “Mental Effects with Cards”. The authors touch upon the idea of certain cards being more frequently named than others.
In the July 1946 issue of Hugard’s Magic Monthly, Vol. 4 No. 2, p. 237, in the “Roundabout” column, Fred Braue gives a list of those cards Trenis Jones felt were most frequently named. In his January 1949 column (Vol. 6 No. 8, p. 501), Braue requested that readers to ask twenty lay friends to name cards, and then to send in their results. Many lists ensued, published in later issues.
In the April 1953 issue of The Gen, Vol. 8 No. 2, p. 374, Will Dexter’s “Mental Survey” series devotes that month’s entry to “Forcing the Issue,” which includes cards likely to be named.
Such lists pop up periodically thereafter, despite the fact, as Max Maven has observed, that such lists are seldom generally helpful, since the personality of the performer can influence the cards their spectators will choose.