This old distribution puzzle, in which two items of one type and five or another are picked up and set down by alternating hands, so that they mysteriously separate, the two in one hand, the five in the other, can be found in M. Ducoeurjoly's Trois Heures d'Amusement, ou Le nouveau Comus, 1801, p. 83. In this iteration, there are five thieves and two gendarmes. Later versions frequently told of five sheep and two wolves or robbers.
Magicians have built on this puzzle, adding further deceptive elements. Two of the most notable are:
1. “The Farmer's Daughter” by “Shaman” in The Phoenix, No. 7, Apr. 1942, p. 25; later included by Bruce Elliott in Magic as a Hobby, 1948, p. 6, where Walter B. Gibson credited. In this trick, colored blocks (two of which are gaffed) and two hats are employed.
2. “Thieves and Sheep” by Milt Kort and Stewart James in J. B. Bobo's Modern Coin Magic, 1952, p. 208, which uses nickels and pennies.