Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Svengali Deck

The short-long principle was transferred from blow books to ungimmicked playing cards by the 1600s; see the anonymous Asti Manuscript, c. 1700, p. 73 of the Pieper translation. This manuscript was translated in Gibecière, Vol. 8 No. 1, Winter 2013, p. 29-234. Spot cards were slightly outjogged, leaving face cards slightly injogged, so that, when riffled in one direction, all the cards seen were spot cards; riffled in the other direction, they changed to face cards.

Card cheats used the short-long—or more precisely, narrow-wide—principle in conjunction with a stacked deck, according to the anonymous author (believed to be Ange Goudar) of L’antidote ou le Contrepoison des Chevaliers d’Industrie, ou Joueurs de Profession, 1768, p. 85; see Lori Pieper's English translation in Gibecière, Vol. 12 No. 2, Summer 2012, p. 85. Of course, the purpose was not for a magical change, but for forcing a player to cut to certain disadvantageous cards.

In 1907, Ellsworth Lyman contributed a gimmicked improvement for displaying the deck first as all red, then as all black: The deck used shortened corners rather than jogged cards to make the faces turn all red, then all black; see “A Color Changing Trick” in The Sphinx, Vol. 6 No. 9, Nov. 1907, p. 107.

The next significant step in the evolution of these ideas produced the Svengali Deck, which appeared sixteen months after Lyman's variation on the centuries-old color-changing deck. The main purpose of the Svengali Deck was to force a card, although displaying random cards and then all the same card was another effect it produced. There has been controversy over who invented the Svengali Deck, W. D. LeRoy or Burling Hull. T. A. Waters and Sam Sharpe both credit LeRoy; see Waters's The Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians, 1988, p. 323, and Sharpe's The Magic Circular, Vol. 53 No. 593, Feb. 1959, p. 80. Bart Whaley and Jean Hugard both credit Hull; see Whaley's Who's Who In Magic, 1990, p. 288, and Hugard's Encyclopedia of Card Tricks, 1937, p. 245.

John Booth, in Linking Ring, Vol. 70 No. 7, July 1990, p. 59, wrote, “Among his [Hull's] creations during this period was a deck he called 'Improved Cards Mysterious.' Apparently it passed into the hands of the Boston magic dealer, W. D LeRoy. Seeing its possibilities, LeRoy marketed it in 1909 under the title of 'Svengali Deck,' a name suggested by an employee of his, Herman Hanson, who would later attain fame as a vaudeville magician and Thurston's stage manager…. As a 19-year-old lad, on the ninth of March 1909 the trick deck was recorded in the Office of the Register of Copyrights, Washington, D.C., as 'Improved Cards Mysterious,' Class A. XXc. No. 233032, the 'rights' going to Burling Hull, Brooklyn, New York. He was only 15 when he invented this many-purposed deck.” (Booth erred in crediting Herman Hanson with naming “Svengali Deck”. Hanson claimed to have named the Mene Tekel deck, another gimmicked pack that both Hull and LeRoy marketed; see The Magic Man by Hanson and Zweers, 1974, p. 66.)

The first advertisements for the Hull and LeRoy decks appeared just two months apart: Hull's ran in the March 1909 issue of The Sphinx, Vol. 8 No. 1, p. 15; LeRoy's in the May 1909 issue of Edwards Monthly, Vol. 1 No. 4, front inner cover. The Hull-LeRoy controversy is further complicated by a difference in the construction of the two dealers' decks. Hull's Improved Cards Mysterious used twenty-six duplicate that were trimmed short, a feature that has survived. With the Svengali Wonder Deck, LeRoy trimmed one long edge the duplicates at an angle, which produced one shortened corner Svengali Wonder; a hybrid of a Stripper Deck trim and a corner short.

According to Judge Wethered in The Linking Ring, Vol. 28 No. 1, Mar. 1948, p. 26, Charles Fricke was the first to apply rough-and-smooth to the Svengali deck. He claims that this preceded Ralph Hull's Nu-Idea forcing pack c. 1935, although he provides no dates or citations.

The Svengali Deck used twenty-six duplicate cards for its construction. Many possibilities are also available using a full deck of fifty-two cards, with half of them cut short. One such variant was published by Walter B. Gibson in The Sphinx, Vol. 24 No. 10, Dec. 1925, p. 402.

See also Impromptu Long-Short Deck and Trilby Deck.