S.W. ERDNASE PLAYING CARDS
One of the first books on magic that I ever owned was The Expert at the Card Table by S.W. Erdnase. That book inspired me to follow a path of card magic and eventually to produce playing cards. This is our tribute to the legend S.W. Erdnase.
Published in 1902, The Expert at the Card Table has provided the most influential information about use of sleight-of-hand with cards. Yet, as influential as the book, itself, has been to the practice of magic, the author’s name and background are somewhat shrouded in mystery. In short, no one really knows who S.W. Erdnase is, despite more than a century of searching, conjecture and divergent paths.
While the origins of Erdnase remain foggy to this day, the reason for a use of a pseudonym was not. The Comstock laws of 1873 prohibited trade and circulation of “obscene” literature, as well as “articles of immoral use by mail”. Card tricks were considered a form of gambling with gambling, of course, considered highly immoral (and illegal). This not only prevented any potential late-19th century publication of this book; it prohibited any distribution of it once it actually came out.
Another reason for the publication date was because magic and card tricks, during the late 19th century and very early 20th century, were considered hidden practices.
Interestingly enough, while the book continues to influence card sharps and magicians, it hasn’t really been embraced by those who cheat at cards (Johnson, 2001). Poker and sleight-of-hand expert Ron Conley pointed out that very few card thieves he’s run across ever read Erdnase (Johnson, 2001). But Conley, himself, pointed out that many of those who didn’t read it, should have done so (Johnson, 2001).