History of Pick-a-Card tricks

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Irving Quant » 09/18/08 07:08 PM

I am putting together a script for an effect in regards to pick a card tricks. I was wondering if anyone could guide me towards the history of "pick a card any card" and/or when and by whom was the first trick that involved a spectator picking a card.

I send my prior thank you to all.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/18/08 09:12 PM

The FIRST such trick? You mean like "guess which token I have taken from the ball" from ancient Assyria? The idea likely goes back to a time before writing.

Maybe it was one of the plagues left out of the good book? And to harden the heart of pharaoh ...
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Reason: spell, scry, time fades as your card ...
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Postby Irving Quant » 09/18/08 09:54 PM

Well, I wanted to present a brief history on the "pick a card" theme to my audience. I have been using this presentation for a few months now with a new piece (a pick a card trick, lets leave it at that), and they have had a tremendous response to my made up credit (Hofzinser apparently was the creator of this and performed it in Vienna...its not true, but it does sound fun). I am about to try out a multiple selection routine that I want to add to a 20 minute act I'm working on, so I am thinking of using this presentation. However, I'd rather it be the real historical fact instead of my made up one. Anyone knows anything?
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Postby Spellbinder » 09/18/08 10:02 PM

I don't know where the first "pick a card" trick came from, but I can think of some funny routines to attempt to explain it. For example, have a bunch of papyrus scrolls in a can and ask someone to "Pick a Papyrus." When they unroll it, they see a pictograph of a Pharoah bashing an enemy on the head with a club... "Ah, you have chosen the Pharoah of Clubs." Whereupon you reveal that this was the papyrus you predicted in advance. For a forcing method, you can use the old one-way scroll can force, or the short-long Svengali scrolls, or even rough-smooth scrolls. I don't think stripper scrolls will work except in certain bars.
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Postby Jim Maloney » 09/18/08 10:11 PM

To the best of my knowledge, the first recorded card trick appears in De Viribus Quantitatis by Luca Pacioli, written between 1496 and 1508. You can read some info about the book here.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/19/08 10:03 AM

"History" is written by the winners to serve social ends. We have a history channel and can watch its proffered parade of puzzling ghosts.

Have you written or taught history? Really - that's a serious and honest question. The basic questions I'm posing concern the message you wish to convey and the examples you wish to use to convey that message. Once you have the agenda there are facts, conjectures and outright fictions which can be brought in to suit. There's a story about a conjuror in China who planted a tree in preparation for a performance before the emporer - talk about finding a card in a named place... in a box under the roots of a tree in the backyard :).

Did you know that the Astromomer Hoyle ...
By way of counterexample - Hofzinser's presentations, atleast the ones I've read in in the card conjuring paperback, were not burdened by such as his audience was more refined and not so eager to allude to where one might in public find things best left burried and so he went to more romantic and eternal themes demonstrated in the moment.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time
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Postby Irving Quant » 09/19/08 01:55 PM

Jim, thanks for the info. I had read the article when the discovery was made, but it never crossed my mind in regards to this routine. As a side note, I'd have to say: God bless Bill Kalush :)


Jonathan, to answer your question, yes I have thought history. Thanks for the suggestions, but I am afraid they are not of my style preference.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 09/19/08 02:37 PM

You're not writing a peer-reviewed research paper for a scholarly journal are you?

Because if you are not, the fact that the history you present may or may not be true is largely irrelevant. What matters is, is it a good story?


Meanwhile, the one-way scroll-can force was exposed in Heiroglyphics Monthly, so pick something else.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/19/08 03:26 PM

Hey SB/Pete, how about doing the thing from the Kaps lecture with cards and a coffee mug -> were you have scrolls which you can unroll from one side or the other to show a force glyph? ( as if that were a new idea :rolleyes: ) :)

I suspect card tricks as amusements date back to the props rather than later on when we had more of a written tradition. I mean come on - once you start making packs of cards you'd have to be remarkably shortshighted not to make oneway packs and to explore subtle markings on the backs even if just to amuse customers.
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Postby Irving Quant » 09/19/08 06:52 PM

Pete, I'm not. However, I would rather have a real fact on my show. After all, all I have to do for my story is change the credit and location. However, after noticing that the De viribus quantitatis story has a lot of interesting facts, I might just rewrite this story. We shall see...
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Postby Pete McCabe » 09/19/08 07:59 PM

Irving,

If nothing else, you could write about the story you have, and say how it's just a theory, no one really knows, etc.

But just for argument's sake, why would you rather have a real fact on your show? What will that improve?
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Postby Jim Maloney » 09/19/08 08:31 PM

Roberto Giobbi, [i wrote:Card College, Volume 2[/i], page 415.]Content

Do the research necessary to speak knowledgeably about the topics raised in your presentation. ... You must know something about the theme of the presentation to give your performance lasting credibility. What would you think of someone who gave an important talk on Japan, for example, when you found out that this person had never been there and barely understood Japanese?


If nothing else, I think the sense of confidence you'll have in your material, knowing that you've done the research, will come across in performance. It's one of those intangible things that I think really does make a difference.

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Postby Irving Quant » 09/19/08 09:55 PM

Jim answered that perfectly.

I think that the audience also deserves to be educated in our art. They need to see that it has a long and interesting history in an entertaining way.

But Pete, you are right. In terms of theater and performance, if I can come up with a credible and engaging story about how The Wizard of the North created the "pick a card any card" plot (not true), then in all terms of performance it will be fair game if it were a play in the theater where the audience expects a work of fiction. However, magic steps out of that in a way, at least in my style.

As Jim brilliantly suggested, it is a confidence thing for myself as well. It is for my own growth as a devoted magician to know the true history of my art and pass that along to others. In performance, I know I speak truth and nobody can debate it, hence I feel secure of my words.
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Postby Irving Quant » 09/26/10 04:02 PM

Hey guys! Two years have passed since this and I'm glad to say that the routine that I use this in connection to is working out great.

One question: Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "pick a card any card"?

Thanks!
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