Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Svengali Deck

The short-long principle was transferred from blow books to 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 made either longer or shorter than face cards, so that, riffled in one direction, the cards were all spot cards; riffled in the other direction, they changed to face cards.

In 1907, Ellsworth Lyman contributed modest improvement, in which the deck used shortened corners rather than short 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 gaffed decks, the Svengali Deck, occurred two years after the appearance of Lyman's variation on the ancient color-changing deck. 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.”

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. This variant was published by Walter B. Gibson in The Sphinx, Vol. 24 No. 10, Dec. 1925, p. 402.

See also Impromptu Long-Short Deck.

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