Before reading, please keep in mind that this report is for somebody who knows nothing on the subject of card magic, I sure do hope the sources I used were correct. Do not copy this, this report took a few days to write. Also it has been edited by me, the trick section was removed due to the exposure rule (all it talked about was Svengali and marked cards). Thank you for your cooperation.
“Pick a card, any card.” You most likely have heard these famous five words before. Some of the most famous magicians use that sentence in many of their acts. The phrase comes from a type of magic 600 years old, card magic. Cards and their magic didn’t happen like abracadabra. At first it was merely a way to cheat in games, now it has revolutionized magic, as we know it.
The beginning of all we know about cards begins in Central Asia in the eighth through tenth century. The Chinese had created paper dominoes they could shuffle and deal. In 1200 A.D., cards started to appear in Italy, most likely from oriental travelers coming from the Orient. As the popularity gained, cards spread around to France, Spain, and Germany. In France, the four suits emerged and while games with the cards started to catch on, so did the cheats that led to today’s tricks. Cheating at first was simply tucking cards in your belt behind your back. Earliest records point the first cheats in Paris in 1408 A.D. However as it progressed more sleight of hand cheats were invented and led to the first known magicians. A book that was never published by Jasone de Ferara, and co-authored by none other then Leonardo da Vinci himself, describes a trick with cards. At first, magicians preformed their tricks in small booths on the stage until a man named Dalmau changed the performing style. Some time in the 16th century a man by the name of Cardanus wrote about the magician Dalmau who preformed for the emperor. After the event other magicians followed his style and performing on a stage soon grew popular. The history of magic is as diverse as the tricks themselves. Tricks and cards have progressed through the hundred of years leaving a tangled web for us to decipher.
Dalmau is a very famous magician, but there is one other famous magician from the golden age of magic worth knowing. You probably know what he looks like, though you may have never heard of his name. For example if you ask a child to draw a picture of a magician, they will usually draw a man in a black coat with a white shirt underneath and black pants. Alexander Herrmann, or more commonly known, Herrmann the Great created this devilish appearance. Born in 1843, Herrmann grew up in a magic loving family. His father loved magic as a hobby and his brother was a professional magician. After his brother died he took up magic and soon was considered his successor. Another contribution was popularizing card throwing. Where the magician takes a card a throws it, the card then bounces off the walls of ceiling of the theater. Alexander was accurate enough to have the card land in a chosen audience member’s lap. He is also known for having his wife perform in his acts, she would do high-energy dances that soon gained her much fame. His wife even had her own show after Alexander’s death in 1896, and is know as the first female magician. The golden age of magic (1830-1925) held some of the some fascination card manipulators of all time. Herrmann the Great is a role model to many magicians today through his looks and works.
The cards that perform the tricks are very complex. A whole tarot deck consists of 78 cards. The tarot is divided into two decks, the Major Arcana, 26 cards, which represents all experience, redemption, joy, discover, development, and suffering. The Minor Arcana is our modern deck that holds 52 cards that represents the everyday life. Divination was definitely in mind while creating the decks, for example, the four suits represent the four seasons, and the 52 cards are equal to the 52 weeks in a year. The 13 values represent the 13 lunar cycles and if you add up the values of all the cards aces being ones and jacks being 11, queens 12, kings 13, you end up with 364 which is the same amount of days in a year. People who believe in real magic, like voodoo, have put meanings on all of the cards. The jack is instability, king is practical expression, queen represents emotional express, aces are beginning, twos are alliances, and threes represent creation and practical skills. The four is a symbol of consolidation, five symbolizes struggles, six holds meaning to progress, and sevens are wisdom, destiny and fate. Material success is represented by eights, consequences by nines and completions by tens. The kings, queens and jacks represent no human officially. Poor printing has changed the cards over the time. If you look at a King of Hearts you will realize he is the only king without a mustache, and his axe has gradually changed into the sword we see he carries today. The King of Spades and the King of Clubs bother lost their right hands when paint from around bled out their hands. The Jack of Spades lost his spear and gained an object that is unrecognizable, he also gained a mustache from what used to be a cheek line. Another jack, the Jack of Clubs had is arrow change into a different shape and gained a small feather in his hat. That feather also came up in the Jack of Hearts, this Jack lost his hand and sword in the fine detail if his sleeve, so instead he holds a feather. The fine detail may look the same of the royal cards but many differences in results of bad printing and the supernatural reasons for why cards are different, all make card magic the most unique magic around.
While the United States loves the cards and their fine detail and changes, but many countries hate them. When David Blaine, a street performer, traveled to Haiti he attempted to do a simple card trick, when he found their card they all ran away screaming, “this is evil, this is evil.” Many parts of the world think magic is very real, so simple tricks look like black magic. In Scotland the Nine of Diamonds is considered unlucky enough to be called “The Curse of Scotland.” Two of the main reasons for this are the military history of the card. The order for the Massacre of Glencoe was signed on the back of this card, and the depositions for the Fatal Field of Flodden were drawn on the back of the card. Some of the other things people do with cards are play games, study the society of the period with the cards, study how they are made collect them, and predict the future. Historians gather cards and carefully study the ink and design of the card to tell what the society was like at the time. Collectors collect old decks and cards and usually study how they were made. Cards will always be the most recognizable magic prop in history, no matter if you think of evil, games, the future or magic, cards will always be recognizable to the whole world for now and the generations to come.
The future of cards is very promising, as old curses have little meaning now the ideas for new illusions and slight of hands are growing faster then cards can be thrown. New technology is being made all the time, some paints for quick changing cards, new ideas for mirrors, such as distractions, rarely used cameras that can project false scenes. A new type of card magician has emerged too. Purists will only use deck that hasn’t been tampered with at all. Where as other magicians use shortened cards and trick decks. Divination with cards is still popular and always will be. The layout will probably stay the same now that we have computers and printers to make our cards.
To sum up, cards have changed through the ages and will continue to be slightly altered now, in our new time. From the famous magicians then and today who still startle us with their baffling creations. The amazing miracles they produce from simple ideas. Card magic will always be the most recognizable and known magic around the world.
Blaine, David. Mysterious Stranger. New York: Random House Inc, 2002.
“Ace of Spades.” [Online Image]. 7 April 2005. <http://images.google.com>.
“Card Trick History.” [Online]. 1 March 2005.
Eldin, Peter. Magic. New York: Kingfisher, 1997.
“FAQ’s.” [Online]. 8-11 March 2005.
Schmittberuer, Wayne. “Playing Cards.” World Book Encyclopedia. 2003.
“The Structure of the Deck.” [Online.] 7 March 2005.
Woog, Adam. Magicians and Illusionists. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc, 1953.
Last edited by rudedog on Thu Jun 30, 2005 6:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.