Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Trilby Deck

In 1913, Donald Holmes published a description of an interesting variant on the Svengali Deck. Holmes's deck could force two cards and yet be shown to have, apparently, the usual variety of faces. The deck consists of three types of cards, incorporating short cards and end strippers. The first type is a mixture of random cards, which are shortened. The second type consists of duplicates of the first force card, with the ends obliquely trimmed to be short on the right. The third type is made up of duplicates of the second force card, ends obliquely trimmed to be short on the left. The three types of cards are arranged in rotational order: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-etc. This arrangement allowed the deck to be riffled to display a seemingly normal variety of cards, but when riffled at one corner, only the first force card can be drawn; and when riffled at the opposite corner, only the second force card is made available. Holmes described this deck under the title of “To Force Two Cards” in Tricks with Prepared Cards, 1913, p. 14. It has no other name and seems not to have attracted much notice.

In late 1948, roughly thirty-five years after Holmes's booklet appeared, Joe Stuthard marketed his Trilby Deck; see Pentagram, Vol. 3, No. 3, Dec. 1948, p. 18. The Trilby Deck, like Holmes's deck, is a modified Svengali Deck, which substitutes End Strippers for long and short cards. The cards with random faces have their ends trimmed obliquely in one direction, and the duplicates of the force card have their ends trimmed in the opposite direction. The Trilby Deck, like the Svengali Deck, forces just one card, not two, making its construction simpler. In fairness, this variant likely occurred to Holmes, who probably chose not mention it, thinking it too obvious a derivation of the Svengali Deck. However, Stuthard perceived an advantage for the deck that seems not to have occurred to Holmes. After forcing one of the duplicate cards, all the duplicates can be stripped from the indifferent cards in the Trilby Deck and switched for a packet of indifferent cards that, when added to the other half of the deck, make it examinable. For a full description of the deck, its handling and uses, see the booklet that came with the deck, Stuthard's Trilby Deck, 1949. The Trilby Deck enjoyed a modest popularity among magicians for a time. Today it has been generally forgotten, although it is occasionally rediscovered.

A further chapter in the development of this type of force deck was added in late 1958, when Douglas Hood marketed his Nippy Ultra-Plus Force Deck; see Abracadabra, Vol. 26, No. 666, Nov. 1, 1958, inside front cover. Hood's Nippy deck adds roughing to the Trilby Deck, which provides several advantages: In addition to being riffled and dribbled to show an assortment of faces, the pack can be casually spread; it can also be more easily overhand shuffled without disrupting the pairs of X cards and force cards; and the end stripping allows one to separate the two cards of a pair easily, rather than battling the roughing, by simply lifting away the top (force) card by its ends at the appropriate corners. (Thanks to David Britland for much help with this entry.)

See also: Svengali Deck.