The Origins of Wonder
In Professor Henri Garenne's The Art of Modern Conjuring, 1886, p. 43, a trick called “Spelling Bee” appeared. It was less of a magic trick, and more of an amusing demonstration with cards. In it, a packet of thirteen cards were held. The conjurer spelled “A-C-E,” and the Ace showed up on the final letter. “T-W-O” was spelled next, revealing a deuce. This continued for all thirteen values. This basic plot was later updated in a number of ways. The first was to use a seemingly random packet of cards, done by removing a chosen suit in the same order that it came out of a deck after a genuine shuffle. This was introduced by William McGrew in The Magical Bulletin, Vol. 4 No. 3, Mar. 1916, n.p. The next update was to the stack itself, allowing the performer to hand the packet to spectators to try the spell, only to fail; the magician is the only one who can make the spelled-to card appear. Thomas Tyler developed this variant, describing it in The Sphinx, Vol. 19 No. 2, Apr. 1920, p. 45. Frederick Furman later added a magical climax, where instead of finding a King on the final card, it is revealed to have changed into a different card. This appeared in The Sphinx, Vol. 23 No. 3, May 1924, p. 102. The best-known combination of all these ideas is David Williamson's humorous “He Who Spelt It, Dealt It” in Williamson's Wonders, 1989, p. 54.
Bill Kalush suggests that it was Dr. Elliott who, in his “Three-Card Speller,” c. 1900, was the first to use the spelling procedure to find a previously made selection. Kalush's research was first released for the 31 Faces North convention, Aug. 2007, and later revised for inclusion in Gibeciere, Vol. 5 No. 1, Winter 2010, p. 11.
For a history of early published versions of the spelling plot, see Karl Fulves's Latter Day Secrets, No. 10, 2005, p. 433.