ERDNASE

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Postby David Alexander » 02/28/03 12:59 PM

The evidence shows the book was author published. That's what it says in the front of the book. Author published means everything done to produce the book would have been bought and paid for by the author prior to the book appearing in printed form. McKinney was not a publisher. McKinney was a printer and binder. (Even Martin Gardner was confused on this point.)

The illustrations were paid for with a check, which suggests the printing and binding were also paid the same way. This is important if the author/publisher is traveling and needs copies sent here or there as instructions and a check could be mailed to McKinney and the orders fulfilled with minimal fuss. Checks also provided a paper trail for ownership should the need arise, which I believe it did.

My thoughts on this, which Ive previously shared with Dick Hatch, follow:

McKinney was going down the drain, but continued to have the responsibility for Erdnases printing plates and excess stock, material they couldnt legally dispose of. They had no way of contacting Erdnase, so what to do with his property as the business was deteriorating?

Without a shred of supporting evidence, Busby claims that in 1903 William J. Hilliar brokered a deal between M.F. Andrews and Frederick J. Drake, a Chicago publisher, for the rights, plates and unsold stock. However, if the real Erdnase was involved in the deal, as Busby claims, then Drake, like any prudent publisher, would have purchased or had the copyright transferred to his name. That didnt happen, which in and of itself is not a problem as royalties could have been paid by contract, but the actions by Drake subsequent to obtaining the Erdnase material suggest Drake had a less than benign motive, for, once in possession of the plates, he then advertised an edited version of Expert of 204 pages and 45 illustrations by Samuel Robert Erdnase in the United States Catalog: Books in America. Clearly, he did not own or have legal rights to the copyright because he listed the book under another authors name. He would not have done this if he owned the copyrights or had legal entitlement to the material. However, this book never was released. The conclusion one must make is that some how Erdnase learned of Drakes plan and forestalled it.

My conjecture is that the real Erdnase may have contacted McKinney for more books or somehow learned that the company was failing and that his material had been transferred to Drakes care, with Drake continuing to sell Erdnases book.

Erdnase hired a lawyer, to whom he presented the various cancelled checks, copyright forms, original manuscript, etc., easily proving his bona fides as the author and owner of the copyright.

A letter from the lawyer to Drake stops the whole Samuel Robert Erdnase business in its tracks. Drake was in possession of and selling material that wasnt his. This could lead to trouble, but the whole thing is put off as a misunderstandinga favor to McKinneymisrepresentation by Hilliar, whatever, and the matter settled out of court. A lease agreement to use the plates and a royalty contract was signed with Drake paying monies to Erdnase/Andrews, probably through the same Chicago bank account set up to pay for the book.

Drake had dozens of titles and Expert would have been one of many, not worth any legal hassle especially when he was in violation of several state and federal statutes, with no way to win. Settling was the only solution.

Drake reprints the book with the copyright remaining in the name of Erdnase, royalties are paid and life goes on.

Then one day, the royalty checks are returned by the bankaccount closedno forwarding address. It isnt Drakes responsibility to chase authors and pay them royalties, so he just keeps tabs on what he owes and waits to hear from the author. He never does.

The year 1930 rolls around, important because that is the year the copyright comes up for renewal. No one renews it. Drake cant because he doesnt own it or have legal rights to it, otherwise he would have. Erdnase doesnt, because my candidate has, years earlier, dropped any interest he has in the project. It has served his psychological purposes and he has moved on with his lifeand to renew the copyright may risk exposure. There is no benefit for him to resurface.

So, in 1930, the book passes into public domainand, apparently, no one notices or cares because the market is handled by Drake and the production of another edition probably isnt financially viable, should anyone have taken notice of the books now public status.

Drake continues to sell the book until 1937, a period of time when Drake could argue that their author is legally dead seven years being the standard back then. Drake, for whatever reasons, sells the plates to Frost who probably assumed responsibility for paying the author or his heirs back royalties. Certainly it would have been prudent for Drake to have Frost assume liability.

This is, of course, conjecture, but it does explain the facts as we know them without complication.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/01/03 11:12 AM

For anyone interested, here's an original Marshall D. Smith painting you can pick up for just $20,000:
http://showcase.goantiques.com/search/i ... p?id=92899
Personally, I don't think it looks anymore like the work of the artist of Erdnase than the Darlymple cartoons posted earlier. My feeling (as a non-artist) is that the technical illustrations required by the artist could easily have been rendered to his satisfaction by any competent artist. Smith specifically recalled that the author was not interested in "artistic" qualities, just accuracy, leaving little room for artistic expression.
David Alexander, in his excellent post says:
"The evidence shows the book was author published. That's what it says in the front of the book."
True enough, and I agree with it, but it does raise the question of how much of what the mysterious author tells us we should take at face value. For example, on that same title page he tells us his name is "S. W. Erdnase" which we now know not to be true (it was, however, not obvious to readers at the time of publication). He also tells us that the illustration were drawn "from life" while Alexander claims they were traced from photographs. The copyright page claims copyright in Canada and the UK. Not true. The preface claims he wrote the book because he "needs the money". Alexander tells us this is simply irony, and that he was a man of independent means. My understanding is the Alexander's candidate's motive for writing the book was to exact private revenge on the gambling fraternity that had cheated him in his youth, but the author tells us he has "neither greivance against the fraternity nor sympathy for so called 'victims'" (p. 10). I'm sure other examples of such contradictions could be found. In fact, some people feel his statements that he both betrays "no confidences" yet proffers "the sum of our present knowledge" (p. 14) are inherently contradictory. I'm not so sure. My feeling is we should believe the author and other "witnesses" until forced by facts to do otherwise. I see no compelling reason not to believe that "S. W. Erdnase" is a lightly disguised version of his real name, that he was the publisher of his own book (I'm not sure anyone on the forum has challenged this claim, but since we don't know who the author was, it doesn't tell us a great deal about him. He gave his address on the copyright application c/o McKinney who, it turns out, was selling copies of the book, so the thought that McKinney himself might have authored the book is not entirely outrageous...), that the illustrations were drawn from life by M. D. Smith, and that he needed the money. Perhaps this post will be useful it points out that what we don't yet know about the author and his book greatly outweighs what we do know.

We don't know when, where and under what circumstances the book was written. Some believe it to have been written many years before it was finally published. I'm not among those, but it is possible. We don't know when the book was illustrated by Smith (Alexander's pinpointing of the date by comparing weather records with Smith's recollection that he met the author on a bitter cold day is an ingenious approach, but it does assume that Smith met the author shortly before publication, i.e., in the winter of 1901. While that assumption is reasonable and one that I share, it is an assumption. Smith told Gardner he was about 25 when he did the job. He turned 29 in the winter of 1901.). We don't know exactly where they met or how long the illustrating took or how much Smith was paid. We don't know the nature of the author/publisher's relation with McKinney, whom we assume printed the book (a reasonable assumption, but an assumption, nonetheless), so we don't know the terms they worked out. Nor do we know the nature of the relationship between the author and Frederick J. Drake, who began selling first editions at half price in 1903 and printing the book himself in 1905. We don't know how many first editions were printed or how they were distributed. We therefore don't know how well it sold and whether is satisfied the author's need for money or not. We don't know why the price was dropped from $2 to $1 in February 1903, less than a year after the book came of the presses. We don't know why the copyright was not transfered to Drake nor why it was not renewed in 1930. Finally, we don't know who wrote the book. Likely many of these questions will not be answerable until we do.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/01/03 11:31 AM

I'm afraid I must disagree with statements regarding the illustrations in "Expert at the Card Table" made by both my friends David and Richard.
First, the drawings are extremely exacting, and almost perfectly reproduce the anatomy of the hand. These drawings simply could not have been done as quickly as David assumes. Each one looks as if it would have taken a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes. That's a minimum, and frankly I think and underestimate.
Second, Richard states that any competant artist could have done the work. I must strongly dispute this: Even great artists often fail miserably when it comes to the hands. Here, we are not even talking about great art, and it has nothing to do with whether the artist is "reputable" or not. It has to do with someone who understands the anatomy of the hands and how it relates to the objects they hold. The illustrations in Erdnase are among the clearest ever drawn in our field. VERY FEW artists are capable of that.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/01/03 12:41 PM

Richard, thanks for pointing this out.
On the question of whether the illustrations were drawn "from life" or traced from photos, let me throw in the following, for others to correct me on as well:
The final illustration, Fig. 101, shows the face of the Ace of Spades from a Bee brand deck. Thinking that this might help date the illustrations (since the designs change over time), I obtained a photocopy of the Bee design from that period (which turns out to have been stable over that period, so only set a lower bound on the illustrations). The actual design is significantly different from the one shown in the illustration, suggesting to me that this illustration, at least (or that portion of it) was not traced, but rendered free hand...
Fig. 16 (page 47) shows two edges of the square board that Smith recalled the author demonstrated the moves on. The front edge of the deck runs parallel to the front of the board, so a traced photo should show the end of the deck parallel to the side of the board. It does not, again suggesting this was drawn freehand, and rather quickly at that. I asked Steranko to take a close look at the illustrations, to see if he could determine whether they showed evidence of having been traced from photos, rendered by two or more artists, and whether the author's hands were large or small. His conclusions to all three issues were ambiguous. In the case of the size of the hand, some (fig. 79 for example) make the hand appear small while others (fig. 61) make it appear huge. I don't believe these discrepencies could be explained merely by saying that some poses used bridge sized cards and others poker size. It could be explained if they were drawn from life as stated on the titlepage by the author and later recalled by the illustrator. I don't know anything about the history of photography, so hope someone who does might see fit to comment on this, but my naive belief is that it would have been both much more expensive and much more time consuming to pose for the photographs (to get 101 usuable ones would likely have required a fair number of more shots). Many of the poses would be awkward to hold for the cameras of the period (shots from below, above, etc. which required setting up a tripod, etc. etc.) If the author took the time and expense to have the photos taken and (as Alexander contents) was not concerned about turning a profit from the project, why not use them for the book, rather than spending additional time and expense to turn them into illustrations? Lang Neil's photo illustrated book came out later in 1902 at the same price as Erdnase (of course, it was not self-published either!). Any experts on turn of the century photography care to enlighten us?
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Postby Bob Coyne » 03/01/03 02:40 PM

The sleeves in the illustrations seem stylized rather than realistic. For example, many of them have a little curved line with a gap to indicate the connection between the length of the sleeve and the end of the sleeve (hard to explain verbally). Plus, the shirt extended out from the coat sleeve seems more uniform than it would be in real life. So my guess is that Smith either drew the sleeves from life in a quick stylized way, or alternatively, he fabricated them after the fact in the process of finishing/refining the illustrations.

Either way, that seems to me to be an argument against tracing. If he traced the pictures, I'd expect to see less stylized, more varied sleeves. And a similar argument for the hands themselves. I'd expect to see more profile of knuckles, for example, if it was traced (e.g., left hand in fig. 85).

Though I guess he could draw from pictures rather than tracing them which would account better for the reduction/simplification.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/01/03 04:02 PM

As something to look at when considering a "two artist" or "one artist who got better" theory, Steranko pointed out discepencies in the rendition of the fingernails. Some are ovals and others are more realistically squared off. Naturally, one must compare the same fingers on the same hands for this to be relevant. Again, this seems like the kind of discrepency more likely to occur if being drawn from life than traced from photos. Of course, it could also be explained by two different people posing for the illustrations, or one who got a serious manicure between sessions...

For a fascinating example of photos that were turned into illustrations, several incredible photos of Robert-Houdin performing cups and balls, card sleights, etc. are in the fantastic new books by Christian Fechner. Robert-Houdin had these taken and then turned into illustrations for his seminal text, Secrets of Conjuring and Magic. This was in the late 1860s, so perhaps the mysterious Erdnase did the same some 30 odd years later...
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/02/03 10:45 AM

Originally posted by Nathan Becker:

First of all, here is some evidence that I've never seen mentioned before that the number of illustrations is somehow important. In the discussion of the second deal Erdnase says, "He need not bother about acquiring skill at blind shuffling, cutting stocking, or any of the other hundred and one ruses known to the profession." This is certainly a bit of irony.
Nathan is correct is citing the above reference to the term "one hundred and one" in the text as never having been mentioned in print prior to his posting. I had done a text search on a number of key words some months ago, using Chris Wasshuber's eBook version. My search on the word "hundred" turned up one other use of the phrase. In his discussion of ways to present the pre-arranged deck (p. 181) he says: "There are a hundred and one variations..." I think these two examples show the author's fondness for the phrase and strengthen Vernon's contention that the number of illustrations (101) was not accidental.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/02/03 06:42 PM

I had the opportunity of spending a good deal of the day in my car with Earle Oakes, and we discussed the issue of the drawings in Erdnase. His contention is similar to mine: they must have taken a minimum of at least 20 minutes each to draw, if not much longer.
I have several other observations to make:
1) The illustrations almost uniformly depict someone with small chubby hands. Unless someone can find evidence that Smith always drew peoples' hands looking small and chubby, we MUST assume Erdnase's hands were small and chubby. (Note that Vernon had a smaller than average size hand; Steve Freeman has small hands; Howard Schwarzman has small hands: all three men could/can do virtually every sleight in the book.)
2) These illustrations could not have been sketched from life. It seems impossible to me that this degree of anatomical accuracy could have reproduced from quick sketches made from looking at Erdnase's hands. My own experience forces me to assume that they have been traced from photographs.
3) The fact that there are two different "groups" of illustrations does not indicate to me that there are two different artists involved. It more strongly suggests that Smith did the drawings in two different batches, at least six months apart but as long as several years apart. I say this from experience: I illustrated "The Card Classics of Ken Krenzel" over a period of a year. The first batch of drawings differs substantially from the second batch, for which the photographs were taken about six months later. Very simple: my style changed. The style of every artist changes over time, even over just a few months, depending upon what is influencing his or her work. With a book that has as many extremely complex drawings as this ("complex" in the sense that the positions of the fingers and cards are vital), it would not be at all surprising if Smith did it in two batches.
4) The fact that "The Modern Conjuror" was one of the few (though not the only) books to use photographs during that period would suggest not just that it was more expensive to use photographs, but the prevailing opinion (which persists to this day) that illustrations are simply a BETTER way to explain this type of material. Besides, Erdnase may have felt that actual photographs of his hands might betray his identity. Either way, just because photos do not appear in the book is no reason to presume that the illustrations were not drawn from photographs.
5) The points about the sleeves and cuffs and table edges having nothing to do with anything. When making a drawing like this, frequently the edges of the table and the sleeves are not in view, or only partially in view, in the photograph. They can, and frequently are, "made up" by the artist. And you can see the difference in the line work when something has been traced from a photo and when it hasn't--frankly, the fact that the cuffs or sleeves sometimes look spontaneously drawn strengthens, NOT weakens, the arguement that the illustrations were traced from photographs.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/02/03 08:32 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
1) The illustrations almost uniformly depict someone with small chubby hands. Unless someone can find evidence that Smith always drew peoples' hands looking small and chubby, we MUST assume Erdnase's hands were small and chubby.
Smith recalled the author as having small, soft hands (softer than a woman's), consistent with the above. This is important in the identity search, since Milton Franklin Andrews was known to have large hands. And, of course, he was 6' 1.5" in his stocking feet, taller than Smith, who recalled looking down on the author, whom he recalled as being 5'6", perhaps smaller, not taller than 5'7" (Smith himself appears to be about 6' from a photo of him standing beside Paul Rosini and Martin Gardner which can be see in Chuck Romano's Paul Rosini book, HOUSE OF CARDS. Gardner was about 5'7" at that time. In fact, Smith told Gardner he was about the same size as Erdnase when Gardner first interviewed him. Gardner was unable to convince Smith that he might have met Milton Franklin Andrews, due to the height discrepency.)
Erdnase himself refers to the sizes of hands in several places. For example, after describing the difficult one-handed Erdnase shift (p. 101), he says: "We presume that the larger or longer the hand, the easier it will be for a beginner to accomplish this shift, but a very small hand can perform the action when the knack is once acquired." He seems to "know" about small hands, but must "presume" when it comes to large hands, suggesting his own hands are small, though this is open to interpretation. Vernon in REVELATIONS says of Erdnase's description of the classic pass (p. 96): "Erdnase's method for the two-handed shift is the only one in which tip of thumb is held at side of pack and it is decidedly more efficient especially if operator's hand is small." Suggesting again that Erdnase likely had small hands...
Thanks to David Alexander for pointing these passages and their significance out to me.
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Postby Guest » 03/02/03 09:23 PM

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread, the contributions have been varied and well thought-through/informed. Fascinating stuff.

Thanks.
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Postby Guest » 03/02/03 10:14 PM

I'd like to echo Eric's words. I started by asking on the proper way of studying Erdnase and got a whole lot more. Although the emphasis of this thread has been somewhat diluted, in reading these wonderful responses, I have found them to be inspirational and very interesting to say the least. Thanks everyone and keep 'em coming!

Roberto
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Postby Pete Biro » 03/03/03 11:25 AM

Does ANYONE have proof that Expert at the Card Table was NOT written by Walter B. Gibson? <GRD>
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/03/03 11:53 AM

Originally posted by Pete Biro:
Does ANYONE have proof that Expert at the Card Table was NOT written by Walter B. Gibson? <GRD>
It's very hard to prove a negative! That what gives Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Milton Franklin Andrews such staying power... ;)
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/03/03 12:13 PM

How old was Gibson when Expert came out? Two?
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Postby Guest » 03/03/03 12:20 PM

Erdnase was actually Charlier.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/03/03 12:23 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
How old was Gibson when Expert came out? Two?
Hey, according to the new Fechner biography, Robert-Houdin was baptised several days before he was born (not a typo in Fechner's text, he points it out himself in an endnote), so I wouldn't eliminate Gibson from the growing candidate list on age alone (though you'd think Smith would remember needing to change diapers between sketches!). Actually, Gibson was seven at the time. Probably not quite 5'6", though his hands likely would have been "small and soft". And he was from the East Coast. Oh wait, it was Gibson who told Gardner in 1947 to contact Edgar Pratt, which led to the Milton Franklin Andrews theory. And Gibson, ghost-writing for Radner, who gave the author's true name as "James Andrews". Clever smokescreens to hide his own involvement?
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/03/03 12:45 PM

Originally posted by Hen Kvetch:
Erdnase was actually Charlier.
Ironically, Charlier is the only magician mentioned by name in Erdnase, and his name is misspelled at that: "This is known to conjurers as the "Charlies [sic] pass" and we presume was invented by the famous magician of that name." (p. 128). The move is used in a later trick and spelled properly, so this is just a typo, but could be used both to argue that Erdnase was not an active member of the magic fraternity (the whole legerdemain section has him standing outside it: Why do conjurers always use the pass instead of blind shuffles? He is clearly well read on magic and probably came up with some of his great moves because he was not fraternising with magicians...) and that the book did not have an editor (who would have caught the discrepency) as David Alexander argues persuasively. I also don't think the book had an editor, but I think it not so much due to his need for anonymity, but due to his need for money: he couldn't afford one. This is consistent with the cheap paper and binding, and the cheap hotel in which he met the artist.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/03/03 03:04 PM

Originally posted by Richard Hatch:
...not so much due to his need for anonymity, but due to his need for money: he couldn't afford one. This is consistent with the cheap paper and binding, and the cheap hotel in which he met the artist.
Hi Rich,

I'm trying to read this thread and glean the back story as you and some others collect evidence. The money issue itself begs some questions.

Is E@CT to be interpreted like Nicolo Machavelli's work as intended to regain favor at some court or clique?

Did the author claim to be reformed? If so, why not get a church involved? If the work had a different tone and focus it might be framed as a 'how to save your money from evil people' type work.

If not, then there is money to be taken from the card table and not much motivation to write a compromising book. Even if one had students one might wish to protect the material by coding the text and limiting the illustrations to just what the student might have forgotten from the lessons given.

More puzzled than usual

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Postby Guest » 03/03/03 03:15 PM

The publisher of the Erdnase facsimile I'm distributing asked me to post his theory here concerning the illustrations in Erdnase. BTW, because the illustrations are so clear in this facsimile, the point he makes is more easily seen.

His theory is basically this: there were at least 3 artists illustrating Erdnase. Possibly Erdnase (to save money) or Smith (to save time) had a colleague or student do some of the work. The publisher cites 3 illustrations for his theory: On page 29, Fig. 1, the hands look anatomically correct and professionally rendered. On page 132, Fig. 68, the hands look awkward & amateurishly rendered (compare especially how the base of the fingers meet the hand). Finally, on the facing page (p. 133, Fig. 69), the hands & cuffs seem quite different again. Also, a heart can clearly be seen drawn on the back of the lower hand! This apparently is a device that students use to get the proportions & shape of the hand correct. It is the only illustration in the whole book that has this heart shape visible.

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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/03/03 03:25 PM

Originally posted by Michael Canick:
Finally, on the facing page (p. 133, Fig. 69), the hands & cuffs seem quite different again. Also, a heart can clearly be seen drawn on the back of the lower hand! This apparently is a device that students use to get the proportions & shape of the hand correct. It is the only illustration in the whole book that has this heart shape visible.
Gazzo seems to think the heart shape (which is edited out of some later reprints) is a significant clue to the author's identity. He also thinks the fact that it occurs in Fig. 69 might be of importance. I don't know how to interpret any of this. Gazzo also thinks that the final words of the book "no hocus pocus" are important. He first suggested to me the idea of using the Bee Ace design to try to date the book, but as noted earlier, it only put a lower bound of 1892 (when Bee brand was introduced, I believe, working from memory here) on that particular illustration. He thinks the book could have been written decades before being published and that the relative popularity of the games mentioned could also be used to date it...
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Postby Guest » 03/04/03 01:46 AM

The really great thing about this thread is that I'm READING Erdnase again. Believe it or not, there are many among us who haven't even read it! As Darwin Ortiz mentioned, "The work of art is always more important than the artist" (I'm quoting by memory, but its a good point.) It would be nice to see a discussion on the book itself, but really, what else could be said, other than: READ IT! It is a wonderful experience.
Anyway, can't John Edward find out who he was? Ha ha.
Seriously, if I was in a position to do so, I would gladly see to it that Richard Hatch and David Alexander receive a grant to continue their research. We're getting close and clsoer it seems. Remember years ago (in The Phoenix?), it was mentioned triumphantly "They mystery of Erdnase has been solved!" If they only knew...
And if Erdnase himself only knew the lasting influence he'd have!
Go forth now and read the book, if you haven't done so, you'll thank me.
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Postby Charlie Chang » 03/04/03 03:24 AM

I just caught up on this thread and have just spent an hour going through it. Wow. I hope someone is recording a lot of this - it's one of the best Internet threads I have ever seen on a magic site.

I am not qualified to offer a theory on Erdnase's identity. I happen to subscribe to Richard Hatch's excellent candidate but have been fascinated by all the potential Erdnase suspects put forward by David Alexander and Mr Hatch. I think we are very fortunate to have two passionate historians researching this mystery from different perspectives.

I have a theory that may answer a lot of questions about the drawings in Erdnase.

First of all, I think it would be important to learn the details of obtaining 101 photographs in the late 19th century. I assume it would be extremely expensive and quite difficult in itself. Not like buying a roll of film and dropping it at the one hour photo booth.

Assuming that obtaining 101 photographs would not prove to be prohibitive we should also consider the idea of someone going to such an expense only to have the photographs converted into drawings. At this stage in the life span of photography such an idea might seem extremely fanciful if not downright stupid.

Experts in the history of photography might be able to clarify this.

Now, if I was Mr Smith and I was required to draw from life, I find it quite unlikely that I would sit with my subject and complete each illustration in front of him.

It would be much smarter to perform quick sketches, outlining the position and size of the hands and cards. Such sketches can be completed in a matter of SECONDS.

Before you dismiss this, consider that such preliminary sketches were an accepted tool of the pre-photography artist.

Now look at the drawings in Erdnase. These are not real hands. Yes, they may accurately reflect the size and shape of the subject BUT these hands are fanciful - they are drawn, in my opinion, from the illustrator's mind.

I think Smith sat with Erdnase and made dozens of quick sketches. Then, later, he used those sketches to create the illustrations, applying his understanding of the human hand to the positions shown in his initial drawings.

He could then return them to his employer by mail.

While I do not have Richard or Earl Oaks' experience, I have illustrated several small books and studied anatomy and life drawing at the Glasgow School Of Art.

I think that both Richard and Earl are approaching the problem from their position as excellent draughtsmen.

I believe Smith approached the task as an artist.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/04/03 07:43 AM

Originally posted by R P Wilson:
It would be much smarter to perform quick sketches, outlining the position and size of the hands and cards. Such sketches can be completed in a matter of SECONDS.

Before you dismiss this, consider that such preliminary sketches were an accepted tool of the pre-photography artist....

I think Smith sat with Erdnase and made dozens of quick sketches. Then, later, he used those sketches to create the illustrations, applying his understanding of the human hand to the positions shown in his initial drawings.
In fact, this is EXACTLY the process described by Smith when interviewed by Martin Gardner in December 1946, some 45 years after the fact. He told Gardner he made sketches which the author approved. He then left the hotel room in which they met to return to his studio to ink them in. He did not recall tracing them from photographs, which I think he would have remembered. He was trained at the Chicago Art institute and doing extensive illustrating at this time (he later gave up this line of work in favor or oil painting, which paid him better). He recalled that his work at the time was for "cheap magazines", indicating that he likely did not command a high price for his services, consistent with the book's author having a profit motive (i.e., "needing the money"). What is strange about his recollection is that he was both surprised by the large number of illustrations (he'd have guessed he did 20-30 not 101) and that he did not recognize them. He claimed he did recognize the handwriting beneath them, i.e., "Fig. 1", "Fig. 2" etc. I find that very strange. Apparently Vernon was so disappointed with the artist's recollection (when interviewed in May 1947 at the SAM convention in Chicago some months after Gardner found him) that he expressed some doubt as to whether Smith had actually illustrated the book at all...
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Postby Charlie Chang » 03/04/03 08:13 AM

This method for producing the illustrations could feasibly explain many things.

If Smith were working from sketches the quality of each drawing is bound to vary. Lets say he did five drawings in each session. It is entirely likely that the quality of the drawings will not be constant. This could also be explained by the quality of his preliminary sketches.

There is is also no way to determine the order in which he did the drawings. He may have started with illustration 69 - then 25 then 101 and so on.

It is also possible that the illustrations were not numbered by Smith at all. As an illustrator, I think it best to mark an illustration at the lower left corner of the paper. The drawing can then be labelled later when the book is being laid out. I seriously doubt that the illustrations were numbered by Smith the way they are in the book. This ma be the work of McKinney or even Erdnase himself.

As to Smith's surprise that he did so many drawings - I think we can consider this as a minor issue. How many times have you mis-remembered an event or even a period from your past? This was no-doubt a novel job for Smith but by no means the highlight of his career. Why should he recall every detail 45 years later?

Maybe he was surprised that he had done so many drawings. This does not mean he did not do them.
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Postby Bob Coyne » 03/04/03 08:43 AM

I think the point relayed by Michael Canick, that there might have been multiple artists is plausible. Looking through them, a few groups jump out (to my eye). Specifically, I think figures 84, 85, 86, 87, and especially 88 seem of inferior quality. And 92, 93, 94, 97 also. Others look very well drawn with correct proportions.

Multiple artists would fit with Smith's recollection that there were many more than he remembered. It would also fit with Erdnase needing money. Perhaps he could only afford to have a limited number professionally illustrated (by Smith). For others he found less competent (and cheaper) help.
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Postby diagonalpalmshift » 03/04/03 04:40 PM

I know very little about drawing, and, honestly, when I looked at the illustrations I thought they were all better than I could do, and therefore thought all of them were good. However, maybe Mr. Erdnase only had Mr. Smith do the drawings he could not do himself because they were too difficult, or he wanted them to be very accurate. Perhaps he had worked on them prior to meeting or hiring Smith. Are the more difficult drawings consistently the better ones?

Also, I think Erdnase would have mentioned if he had additional artists work on the book, unless he put Mr. Smith's name in the book for purposes other than giving credit. Further, in the book he seems like a man who wanted to at least appear modest, since, after he named the S.W.E. Shift, he kind of downplays the use of his name in the title. This, in my mind, makes it possible that he might have worked on some of the illustrations himself without mentioning it. What would the price difference be if you had all the drawings done or just the ones that have been perceived as not as exceptional?

Regards,

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Postby Pete McCabe » 03/04/03 05:03 PM

Sorry if I missed this in this long and wonderful thread, but do some of our resident experts have any thoughts on the significance of the name of the S.W.E. Shift?

I'm thinking, for example, that if S.W. Erdnase were really E.S. Andrews, he might have chosen a different title that would reflect his real name better.

Just a thought. Thanks to everyone for posting the results of their labor here for all to share.

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Postby Bob Coyne » 03/04/03 08:49 PM

Pete McCabe asks: Sorry if I missed this in this long and wonderful thread, but do some of our resident experts have any thoughts on the significance of the name of the S.W.E. Shift?
David Alexander's fascinating and tantalizing theory (printed in Genii or Magic a couple years ago) is that S.W. Erdnase is really an anagram of real person named W.E. Sanders. Regarding the S.W.E. shift, "W.E.S." (Sander's initials) is what you get when you perform a shift on "S.W.E" (Erdnase's initials). The "S" packet gets shifted from the top (beginning) to the bottom (end).

David also points out that Erdnase means "Earth nose" in German. Sanders was a mining engineer. Maybe a coincidence, or maybe a clever pseudonym that functions both as an anagram and a description. Anyway, it's been a while since I read it, but there were various other things that would link Sanders and Erdnase, but nothing conclusive I think. Apparently there are also diaries of Sanders in existence, but I don't know if anything in them supports the theory or not.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 03/04/03 11:27 PM

Thanks Bob, and by extension, David. And everybody else on this thread. This is just another of those things that would have been utterly impossible just 11 years ago, before the World Wide Web was invented.
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Postby Todd Karr » 03/04/03 11:39 PM

Hi, everyone

First of all, stay tuned for Martin Breese's upcoming CD-ROM release of the entire file of The Magic Wand. The very first issue (1910) begins a series by Professor Hoffmann analyzing moves in Erdnase (the Fleming/Gambler's Book CLub edition has this material, too).

Richard Hatch and I have been discussing Erdnase in-depth recently and he suggested I share a few thoughts. I do NOT want to get into an endless debate and quibble about details...I'm just sharing some ideas.

I also do think it's important to check out as many avenues as possible, so Richard and everyone else should continue their leads and see what turns up.

One of my first comments to Richard, whose historical wisdom I greatly respect, was that my background is in investigative journalism and in historical research (plus 12 years as a full-time magician). A few rules I follow: 1. Use common sense and get the facts correct. 2. Without proof, theories are just speculation. 3. People's memories are not facts (just look how people inaccurately recall your magic feats to their friends).

The artwork: Erdnase most likely made many of the changes himself to Smith's artwork, altering some and perhaps composing others by tracing Smith's drawings and making necessary changes when he saw Smith got certain details wrong. Erdnase probably didn't have the money to have Smith redo them: he states up front he was publishing the book for the money and Smith said he met the guy in a cheap hotel room. If he did hire a second artist, it does look like the work of an amateur as pointed out.

Copyright notices: It looks like Erdnase inserted the notices mainly where he had room to do so. It appears that the layout was typeset, after which a paranoid Erdnase decided to insert copyright notices under the artwork, perhaps thinking the drawings weren't covered by the copyright at the beginning of the book. (This makes me think this man did not know much about the law.)

Erdnase's character: I would say this was a very bright fellow, a good, detailed writer. I believe he used a pseudonym because he feared retribution by crooked gamblers. (This was probably a rough time to mess with the livelihood of card sharps. Look how peeved the magic community was with the Masked Magician and multiply exponentially.) I think this paranoia is reflected in the overkill with the book's copyrights.

Magician or gambler: The book feels like it was written by a magician. I believe this person was an incredibly skillful and knowledgeable gambler but I think his knowledge of magic is just too great for a non-magician. Secondly, I feel that the text is TOO careful to point out shortcomings of "those conjurers"...it really feels to me like the author was taking great pains to pose as a gambler. His prose also feels like someone trying hard to give the impression of being erudite but amusing.

Publishing: I checked the first ad in The Sphinx, 1902 (as Richard Hatch points out below, it's mainly the text from the book's forward, ending with the author saying he's in it for the money...not a great way to lure buyers). My feeling is that sales were awful for the first few months, so he decided to sell some other way (as Richard indicates, through Vernelo, then Atlas).

Residence: I don't think it's easy to pinpoint anything about where this man lived. These were not the pioneer days of horse-pulled wagons. Look at the traveling schedules of performers in those days (Germain did 45 shows in 45 cities in 46 days): people were mobile and New York to Chicago trips were not impossible. The fact that he met Smith in a hotel room was probably not just for privacy, but because he was in fact from out of town.

The pseudonym: Erdnase was clever, but I don't think the name was too far from whatever name he started with. Andrew or Andrews was probably part of it. (I keep wondering about E.S. Burns, who owned Atlas...that E.S. is spooky.)

Smith's memory: I think it's not a good idea to put too much weight on Smith's recollections. This is very flimsy proof, and without an exact record of his conversations with Erdnase, I feel one must be very careful chasing leads or making assumptions based mainly on what Smith said.

Where to look: I would check anyone in magic who was a card expert at that time, as well as anything written about gambling. The only smoking gun I think we will find at this point are more writings by this person, who was an excellent writer and probably wrote more somewhere. A careful comparison of texts with the same phrasing and words would be a very convincing development.

Now, who's going to help me find out who Elbiquet was? If you read his book Supplementary Magic, you'll see that his presentational theories had a huge influence on Al Baker. (And he is probably not Louis Branson, who had a totally different writing style and an opposite outlook on magic, and was much, much less insightful.)
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Postby Bill Palmer » 03/04/03 11:54 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
mrmagik, don't waste your time with all of the oddball passes in the book. I have never seen a single person do an invisible SWE Shift or Open Shift. Never.
I have the advantage of Mr. Kaufman, then, for I have actually SEEN Harry Riser do an invisible SWE shift. It was a long time ago. I saw him do it about a half dozen times. I didn't believe he had actually done anything.
Bill Palmer, MIMC
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/05/03 12:36 AM

Originally posted by Todd Karr:
Publishing: I checked the first ad in The Sphinx, 1902, and the author did not write very good copy, not focusing on the work's value to magicians, trying to be very florally about its contents, and then concluding by saying he's in it for the money...not a great way to lure buyers. My feeling is that sales were awful for the first few months, so he decided to sell through dealers, first Vernelo, then Atlas.
The first advertisement in THE SPHINX was in the November 1902 issue. It was simply the preface to the book, minus his statement about "needing the money". I agree that the advertisement was not a good one, but would blame that on the Vernelos, who were doing advertising, not the author of the book they were selling.
I read the evidence very differently than Todd, but perhaps that is what makes the book a classic: we each see what we want to see in it!
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Postby Todd Karr » 03/05/03 12:42 AM

The November 1902 ad ends with:

"But whatever the result may be, if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author."
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/05/03 02:19 AM

The original last sentence of his preface to the book is:

"But it will not make the innocent vicious, or transform the pastime player into a professional; or make the fool wise, or curtail the annual crop of suckers; but whatever the result may be, if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author, as he needs the money."

The Vernelo ad in the Sphinx is just his preface, minus the last phrase. I don't think the author intended his preface to be used as a stand-alone ad for the book, as the Vernelos used it. He would probably have used something along the lines of his titlepage summary of the contents which may be viewed as his ad for the book:

"Embracing the whole calendar of slights [sic] that are employed by the gambler and conjurer, describing with detail and illustration every known expedient, manoevre and strategem [sic] of the expert card handler, with over one hundred drawings from life by M. D. Smith. Price $2.00"

I also happen to think the preface is a truly fine piece of writing.
And I think the author "needed the money"!
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Postby Nathan » 03/06/03 12:16 AM

Since the discussion has somewhat turned to the writing style in the book, here are some comments I have. Has anyone else considering these before?

The only blatant grammatically incorrect sentence I've found is in the Cull Shuffling section: "Lightning don't strike in the same place often..." This sentence sounds so out of place that everytime I read it I wonder if Erdnase really wrote it.

I have heard about people comparing writing samples from diaries of suspected authors in a search for a match. Has anyone looked into the phrase "quick as a flash." It seems that Erdnase likes to use it to the point where it is almost overused. It may just be a common expression of the period, but given the elegance of Erdnase's style I find it somewhat hard to believe that he would succumb to overuse of a catch-phrase of the day. Perhaps it could be a clue to his hometown (or region) dialect?
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/06/03 03:13 AM

I had hoped to get Shakespearean scholar Don Foster interested in the Erdnase problem. He's the fellow who unmasked Joe Klein as the anonymous author of PRIMARY COLORS. I sent him an email several years ago, never heard back. Then I read his terrific book, AUTHOR UNKNOWN: IN SEARCH OF ANONYMOUS and learned he gets hundreds of such requests each week... I had also falsely assumed (as many do) that he had some kind of computer program to compare styles and you could just dump in two samples and check for a match. But that is not what he does. I do recommend his book as it is highly entertaining and parallels the Erdnase identity search in many ways. Foster's reputation suffered a slight setback recently as his early reputation was based on convincing scholars that an obscure 16th century funeral elegy by "W.S." was a previously unattributed work of William Shakespeare. Recent scholarhip has shown someone else wrote it...

Bart Whaley when researching THE MAN WHO WAS ERDNASE took some kind of style matching software and compared the "style" of Erdnase to that of Milton Franklin Andrews' confession/alibi letters and found a "match". He also compared the style of Erdnase to that of William Hilliar, their candidate as Milton's ghostwriter, and also found a match. To my way of thinking, that shows Hilliar could have "ghosted" the confession/alibi letters, which is patently ridiculous, and so the excercise proves nothing. In fairness to Whaley, this was done when such programs were light years removed from what they would be today. So he deserves credit for having made the attempt.
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Postby Jeff Eline » 03/06/03 11:36 AM

I have nothing to add to this conversation, except to say that it is fascinating! Thank you!
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Postby Guest » 03/06/03 03:46 PM

Regarding Nathan Becker's observation of an obviously ungrammatical phrase in Erdnase, I feel that this might have been an intentionally used colloquialism.

Regarding Dick Hatch's discussion of style-matching computer software, my understanding is that these programs are quite sophisticated. They look for grammatical patterns (e.g., how often does an author use adverbs? Where in a sentence do adverbs tend to occur? How many words apart (in range) are the adverb from the verb? Etc.) and compare these patterns in two or more writing samples.

Many years ago, I had a professor who used such a program to confirm his suspicion that Hemingway wrote one of his books earlier in his career than he claimed.

Is there someone on the Genii Forum who has access to such a program?

Michael Canick
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Postby Guest » 03/07/03 10:42 PM

Hi Michael Canick,
Are you suppling dealers with this edition of Erdnase? Just curious. And do you accept Paypal? It sounds like a nice thing to own, even for a minimalist like me.
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Postby Guest » 03/08/03 09:22 AM

Hi John (and any other interested party):

My agreement with the publisher prohibits me from selling discounted copies to dealers (although they may buy as many as they want for retail <g>) or from offering discounts to anyone. Sorry.

We accept any type of payment (except shells) including major credit cards & PayPal, which can be sent to my e-mail addy below.

The price again is $52 + $5 P&H for domestic orders. For multiple copies & international orders, please contact me privately. In fact, I think it would be respectiful to this topic discussion if any commercial inquiries be directed to me privately at my contact info below. You can find out more info on the book at our site or on the Genii Collector's Forum.

Best,
Michael

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