Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Changing Spot Card

This perennial dealers’ item, in which the number of spots on each side of a card changes several times, has its roots in the centuries-old card bearing two diamond pips, one at the center, the other at one end. By displaying the card with fingers covering the end pip, the card appears to be an Ace. If the fingers instead cover the blank end, the card seems to be a Three. The ruse appeared in the unpublished Sloane 424, c. 1600s, p. 141 of the Pieper translation. This manuscript was published in Gibecière, Vol. 5 No. 2, Summer 2010, p. 141-172. Conjurors didn't have a monopoly on the concept; card cheats were using the same ploy against the banker in Faro, as detailed in L’Antidote ou le contrepoison des chevaliers d’industrie, 1768, p. 107 of the Pieper translation. This book was translated in Gibecière, Vol. 7 No. 2, Summer 2012, p. 60-175.

In Professor Hoffmann’s Tricks with Cards, 1889, pp. 48-51, he describes a double faced card with diamond pips printed on both sides. The first side as two diamonds arranged as were those on the old Ace/Three card. The other side of the card has eight diamonds, arranged in a way that, with the fingers covering diamonds or a blank area, the card can be displayed as a Five or a Nine. He proceeds to describe a routine by the French magician Eugéne Verbeck. Verbeck forced a Nine of Diamonds, which he then switched for the double-faced pip card. He used this card to create the illusion he was picking off the pips in stages. The double-faced nature of the gimmicked card was kept hidden, and the card was turned over secretly. When Verbeck got down to one pip, he did a Bottom Change for a blank-faced card, which could be left for inspection.

In Der Moderne Kartenkünstler, 1896, p. 134, Friedrich Conradi published a brief description of Verbeck’s trick, but omitted the final change to a blank-faced card. The following year, Conradi’s friend, August Roterberg, drew from Conradi’s description to include “The Vanishing Pips” in his New Era Card Tricks, 1897, p. 260. Roterberg did not mention Verbeck’s name but added back his production of a blank-faced card at the end. (This may have been unintentional reinvention.) Instead of a Bottom Change, Roterberg used a hinged double card that could produce a blank face and a playing-card back at the finish. He did not mention forcing the Nine of Diamonds and switching it for the gimmicked card.

Around 1936, Ireland’s Magic Company marketed a variant of the card used by Verbeck and called it “Changing Spot Card”. The number of spots on the second side of the card was altered to five, which produced a sequence of changes running from six and three to four and one. In addition, the double-faced nature of the card was not hidden. The card was openly turned over, alternately displaying one side, then the other.

Shortly after the appearance of the “Changing Spot Card”, U. F. Grant released his “Improved Changing Spot Card”. He apparently also called this “Deluxe Model Spot Card”, the improvement being that the card was produced in a jumbo size, rather than the normal playing-card size of earlier versions. From this point on, variations and knock-offs began to appear regularly.

In 1948, Merv Taylor released a variant called “Merv Taylor's Spot Card Trick”. This brought back Verbeck's surprise ending, but with an extended climax and a change in method. The card had a flap on each side. After going through the usual sequence, showing six spots, three spots, four spots and one spot, a flap was secretly turned to show the card blank. The second flap was then turned, so that all the spots appeared have gathered on one side of the card.

In 1955, Harry Stanley released a version called “Pop Eye Pips” that added a different kicker. This version appears to have been Ken Brooke's, who worked for Stanley at the time. “Pop Eye Pips” used a larger card with diamond pips that slid on nylon threads, similar in construction of the old mechanical traveling pip cards of the previous century. Brooke also added a “sucker” element. After doing a progression of one and four to three and six, the performer makes an “error” and exposes the method. But in the end, there are really three diamonds on one side and, the real surprise, eight on the other. When Stanley and Brooke split, Brooke took his trick with him and released it under a new name, “Ken's Krazy Kard”.

Near the end of 1955, Louis Tannen marketed “Improved Pop-Eye Pips”, advertising that it “took three years of experimenting to get this perfect model.” The effect closely follows that of Stanley and Brooke's “Pop Eye Pips”, complete with sucker ploy and eight-spot climax, but the threaded diamond pips were replaced by flat, magnetic, black spots decorated with a gold pattern. The card was metal, finished in bright red, and measured either 6“ x 10” or 6½“ x 9½”, according to which ad one read.

John Fabjance released “Confusing Die” c. 1957, which changed the shape of the large “Pop Eye Pips” card to a square, and replaced the diamonds with spots, so that it resembled a flat die. The sucker ploy was kept, as was the older threaded method. This version gave a nice logic to the prop: Even though flat, this die still has six sides. After showing sides one and two, then three and four, the method is exposed, and then the card is shown to have five spots on one side and six on the other. Around 1988, a throwback was marketed under the name of “Dubious Domino”. This took Fabjance’s flat die idea, producing it as a black die with white spots, and eliminated the final surprise of five and six spots.

According to research by Hiroshi Kondo, sometime from 1956 to 1962 Tenyo developed and released the long popular “What's Next?”, which took the magnetic method of Tannen's “Improved Pop-eye Pips”. The metal Tenyo card was enameled white, with dome-shaped black spots. Tenyo's catalogs and advertising were often undated, and items in development were listed alongside items that had been produced, leaving the release dates of some tricks difficult to pin down. “What's Next?” began to appear in the U.S. in 1969, shortly after Tenyo started a concerted effort to export their tricks to western countries. The U.S. manufacturer of “slum” magic, Roydon, quickly issued a knock-off of the trick under the same title. “What's Next?” Tenyo also marketed a magnetic version of Fabjance's “Confusing Die” sometime after releasing “What's Next?”, but discontinued it in 1963. “What's Next?” remained available for roughly fifty years, until Tenyo finally ceased manufacturing it.

In 1981, Martin Gardner contributed a version of the Changing Spot Card, “Five Sided Business Card”, to Karl Fulves's journal, The Chronicles, No. 30, p. 1355. This uses two ungimmicked business cards with red diamonds drawn on them. The simplicity takes the trick back to its roots, but the arrangement of the diamonds and the handling are creative.