How Houdini became the King of Cards

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Gary Brown
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How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Gary Brown » January 28th, 2017, 8:22 am

Anyone know the obscure 19th century performer who invented the back palm and taught it to Houdini and T Nelson Downs? I certainly didn't until the story was unearthed by Tom Ewing, my friend and co-contributor to the throwing card blog Propelled Pasteboards (drawing from a body of research gathered by historian Tom Klem). Fortunately, you can read this amazing story, accompanied by the most vampirical image of a magician I've ever seen here: http://throwingcards.blogspot.com

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Richard Kaufman » January 28th, 2017, 2:37 pm

The back palm was invented by a Frenchman named Harmington. You can find it referenced in Gaultier's magic without apparatus. He was the guy who came in to Otto Maurer's shop in the Bowery and demonstrated the back Palm.


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Curtis Kam
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Curtis Kam » January 28th, 2017, 2:49 pm

Sorry, nope. It was Arno the Frogman.


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Richard Kaufman
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Richard Kaufman » January 28th, 2017, 3:31 pm

Sorry, Curtis, but Vernon propagated that silliness for years. Go read Gaultier: Harmington was doing the Back Palm at the Theatre Robert-Houdin before the frog man.
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Bill Mullins
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Bill Mullins » January 28th, 2017, 3:48 pm

Gaultier doesn't dispute the Mexican story. He simply says "If this is the case, the sleight was in use in France by at least as early a date [as 1887]; for M. Harmington (at the Theatre Robert-Houdin)and M. Emile Isola (at the Theatre des Capucines) used it in the course of their performances." Later he says "the back palm is probably a European invention, and that it was presented for the first time at the Theatre Robert-Houdin by M. Harmington."

He doesn't say that Harmington came to Maurer's shop.

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Richard Kaufman » January 28th, 2017, 11:00 pm

I've got some different things conflated. I didn't mean to write that Harmington came to Maurer's shop. It is possible, however, that the "Mexican" or "Spanish" gambler who supposedly demonstrated this to Maurer could in fact have been someone from France.
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Brad Jeffers
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Brad Jeffers » January 29th, 2017, 2:17 pm

Curtis Kam wrote:Sorry, nope. It was Arno the Frogman.


Ardo the Frog Man invented split fans, not the backpalm ...

"The first time I ever saw Split Fans, which was before I ever met Cardini and probably before Channing Pollack was even born, was shown to me by a fellow named Ardo the Frog man. He was an Australian contortionist who dressed like a frog and acted like a frog all through the act, but his hobby was magic. He did split Fans and I had never seen them before. This was in Chicago in 1919. It's possible that the move originated in Australia, because I knew quite a few very fine card men in New York and none of them had ever seen or even heard about this move."

Dai Vernon ~ December 1969

Leonard Hevia
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Leonard Hevia » January 29th, 2017, 3:49 pm

According the Magicpedia, it may have been Dr. James Elliott:

He is believed to be the inventor of the Back Palm with cards which he taught to T. Nelson Downs. According to Dai Vernon in his Vernon Touch column for Genii 1982 March, Elliott was the first to see the Back Palm performed by a Mexican gambler in Beadles' Magic Ship in New York, then went on to create his version.

In that March 1982 Vernon Touch column, Vernon adds:

He (Elliott) developed this to produce cards one at a time, and the reversal of the cards.

Apparently the back palm still goes back to that Frenchman?

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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Richard Kaufman » January 29th, 2017, 5:52 pm

Okay:
Harmington invented the Back Palm.
Elliott invented the transfer of a card from front palm to back palm and back.
Cardini invented Split Fans (Vernon was full of baloney on that).
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Philippe Billot » January 30th, 2017, 5:33 am

There are some curious facts in this story.

1) The story of the gambler who went to Otto Maurer’s Shop was told in The Magician’s Hand-book (by Selbit) published in 1902.

BUT the same story was in Stanyon’s Magic, Vol. 1, no 5, February 1901, page 37.

How Stanyon knows the story? Is there another source prior?

2) The Back Hand Palm was described in 1897 in New Era Card Tricks by Roterberg who speaks about Elliott and Houdini, fine!

BUT this sleight (or flourish) was also described in 1890 in the third edition of Sleight of Hand under the name
Reverse Card Palm (page 372).
It’s an elarged edition by L. Upcott Gill (London) and it’s in a new chapter: Some Up To Date Tricks.
As I haven’t this edition, if someone can check to see if there is a story for this sleight in the explanation.

Who brings the story (which begins in USA in 1887) to England?

3) I haven’t the Hugard’s translation but here is the french text :

HISTORIQUE. — M. Howard Thurston donne, dans le livre de M. Selbit « The Magician's Hand-book », un historique de l'empalmage arrière et du double empalmage. D'après cet auteur, c'est un petit fabricant d'appareils de physique amusante de New-York, nommé Otto Mauro, qui aurait appris l'empalmage arrière aux artistes américains, et lui-même le tenait d'un espagnol venu de Mexico. Ceci se passait en 1887, mais, en fait, aucun artiste ne l'aurait présenté en Amérique dans une séance publique avant 1895.
S'il en est ainsi, cette passe était pratiquée en France au moins à la même date; M. Harmington, au théâtre Robert Houdin et M. Emile Isola, au théâtre des Capucines, s'en servaient au cours de leurs séances.

When Gaultier refers to “à la même date” (at the same date), it’s 1895, not 1877 but he doesn’t refer to Edwin Sachs which is prior (and England is closer to France than USA). Why?

I have no answer to these questions and no idea if the back palm is born in Europe or in USA or in Mexico.

Thank you for your attention.

P.S. : For the Split Fan, “some people” say (or believe) Judson Cole was the inventor…

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Richard Kaufman » January 30th, 2017, 9:44 am

Vernon told me that Judson Cole invented the One Hand Top Palm, but always stuck to that odd story about Ardo the Frog Man regarding Split Fans.
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Re: How Houdini became the King of Cards

Postby Tom Gilbert » January 30th, 2017, 1:41 pm

Vernon probably just liked the name, it is somewhat catchy.


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