Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Stories Told with a Pack

The idea of using playing cards to represent fifty-two interconnected ideas dates back to the late 17th century. In the anonymous The Genteel House-Keepers Pastime, 1693, p. 11-46, the author teaches readers how to carve various types of meat through the use of playing cards. Each of the fifty-two playing cards are represented by fifty-two types of meat, and the way they are to be carved. For example, the types of meat are divided by the suits in the deck: fowl for diamonds, flesh of beasts for hearts, fish for clubs, and baked meats for spades.

Using such representations to tell a story appeared almost a century later in A Pack of Cards Chang'd Into a Compleat Almanac and Prayer-book, 1763, p. 1-8. In this, the performer equates the four suits with the four seasons, the fifty-two cards with the fifty-two weeks in a year, etc., making connections with the calendar and the Bible. Some versions use the deck in some form of visual illustration. The usual version can be found in Jean Hugard's edition of Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, 1938, p. 374.

Telling a story with a deck of cards is the device used in a short story or article titled “The Queen of Hearts” by Owen Oliver, published in The Royal Magazine, 1902, p. 361. While intended as a literary amusement rather than a performance piece, Owen's story is a link in the progression of the concept.

That concept is developed further and more closely to the modern performance form by Chris Van Bern in “The Talking Pack of Cards” published serially in The Magician Monthly, Vol. 9 No. 12, Nov. 1913, p. 192; Vol. 10 No. 2, Jan. 1914, p. 35; and Vol. 10 No. 3, Feb. 1914, p. 51. Van Bern illustrates a comedic story to the accompaniment of the dealing of cards—complete with puns, a feature of modern presentations that the Owen Oliver story lacks. Van Bern's presentation, though, uses only thirteen cards of the deck.

Close on the heels of Van Bern, H. C. Mole and Percy Naldrett expanded the idea to a full-deck story in “An Original 'Card Drama in Three Acts'” from Moments of Mystery, 1914. The narrative approach was continued by Namreh (Herman Weber) in “The Adventures of Diamond Jack”, 1926, which was originally sold as a $1.00 manuscript, then appeared in Glenn Gravatt's Second Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, 1936, p. 17, and can also be found in the Hugard edition of Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, op. cit., p. 242. Another version, “Moe and Sam”, appeared uncredited in Rufus Steele's The Last Word on Cards, 1952, p. 53. This was the first story to involve a hotel worker named Sam – a clear precursor to Frank Everhart's marketed “Sam, the Bellhop,” 1961.