Pondering Erdnase

Discuss general aspects of Genii.

Postby Zambolini » 10/25/11 03:44 PM

I've been giving some thought to the "board" that Erdnase performed on and the illustrations in the book. Several years ago I made a short run of what I called "Close-up Platforms." These were essentially boards upholstered with the wool cloth used to cover pool tables and gambling tables as well. I sized them to fit in a standard brief case. I recently decided to make a few more (I'm not hawking them and only sell them privately). I also thought I would make a few "Erdnase Models" by squaring off the corners and putting a walnut frame around the edges. I recognize that there are manufactured Erdnase tables on the market that are two feet square and apparently based both on recollections of Marshall Smith and tables used to play cards on when railroad travel was in vogue.

So when I finished my version, I went back to look at the illustrations and found, somewhat to my chagrin, that the corner shown in figure 16 is rounded. And since I've also fooled around with making Faro layouts, it occurred to me that these two pieces of information might be related. While some Faro layouts are imprinted on full tables as blackjack, Diane and roulette are, they were often made in a portable form that consisted of a triptych of cloth covered wooden panels. The center panel is rectangular but the two outer panels virtually always have rounded or angled off wood trim at the outer corners and are rectangular at the inner corners where they are hinged to the center panel.

Here is a link to a Faro layout image:
http://www.cowanauctions.com/auctions/i ... emId=70372

So putting all this together, I speculate the following:

A two foot square board is really quite large and it is inconceivable to me that Erdnase would have been walking around the streets of Chicago or anywhere else carrying anything of this size. (A standard briefcase is about 12 x18" in it's outside dimensions.)

The end sections of a Faro Layout board are of a convenient size to practice on. I know this because I have made one, and while it never occurred to me before, it is quite close to the size of my close-up platform which was designed to practice on and which I know is of a convenient size.

The shape of the end section of a Faro layout is consistent with the illustrations in The Expert at the Card Table.

A person using an end section of a Faro table to practice on would have access to one, perhaps a broken one or one no longer suitable for use in a gambling establishment.

A person using a cast off of this type might be short of money.

A person practicing on a board of this type would be duplicating the surface environment he might encounter in a gambling situation.

Erdnase using the end section of a Faro Layout Board seems logical and reasonable.

Erdnase was likely a gambler and not a magician dallying in the gambling world because this practice solution is something a gambler and not a magician would be much more likely to come up with.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/25/11 05:13 PM

interesting find on the folding faro board.
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Gary Plants » 10/25/11 10:57 PM

Great thinking Mike! Very interesting.
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Postby Geno Munari » 10/26/11 01:00 AM

This is interesting and great research but I don't think that Erdnase used a Faro Layout to practice upon. Maybe this will explain my thinking.
In Reno, Nevada the Nevada Club which later became Fitzgeralds, which I hope I am correct on the name, had two or three floors of gambling. The last time I visited this casino was around 1976-77. Here is an historical link: http://oldreno.net/nevadaclub.htm

The slot machines were single coins and the dealers were as old as the brick and mortar. I went down stairs and observed the live 21 games. The place was a real old time place and to save the 21 layouts from getting worn out, they placed a small type of close-up pad on the table, directly in front of the dealer. This pad was put on top of the most used and worn area of the layout, where the dealer acted upon the hand, and also shuffled the deck. I had never seen this before anywhere in Las Vegas.
The pad was about 12-14 inches long and about 8-10 inches wide. It was made of felt with a sponge or cotton backing sewn into a very neat looking shuffling pad.
I was told by an old timer that this was a common thing in many casinos in the area and was brought to the casinos by operators from Chicago and Detroit. n Detroit they played a variation of faro called Stuss. They also played a variation of 21 whereupon up to three players could play a common hand. One player could stand, another hit, then stand, and a third could hit again.

It is very possible that the mat used by Erdnase was very similar to the mat used in the Nevada Club.
Last edited by Geno Munari on 10/26/11 11:47 AM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: At Poster's Request
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Postby Jason England » 10/26/11 05:38 PM

Mike,

I pointed this out to both Steve Forte and Richard Hatch several years ago.

The old faro layouts were typically called "spreads" and the folding type that mentioned is often seen in gambling auction catalogs as "Folding Faro spread."

Steve and I were trying to figure out the range of manufacturing dates to see if we could determine if those spreads were still being made in the late 1890s - early 1900s. No luck. There are gambling catalogs from that period, but none contained what we were looking for.

Richard hatch reminded me that Marshall Smith stated the board Erdnase shuffled on was "about the size of a checkers board." If Smith's recollection is true, that makes it the wrong size and a slightly different shape than the faro spreads.

But I still think it's a viable theory.

Jason
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Postby jerry » 10/26/11 06:14 PM

On a Faro history note, I remember in the 1970's, The Union Plaza Hotel had what they said,(Correctly) was the only remaining Faro game in Las Vegas. It was in/next to the poker room and charged a 5% vig on the bets where there was no percentage for the house. It seemed mostly oldtimers played it who could still remember how to play the game.

Don't know if there were other Faro games elsewhere, maybe in the smaller ranching towns in Nevada.
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Postby Zambolini » 10/27/11 12:37 AM

Well... First I'll stipulate that none of us know what kind of object Erdnase used to practice on and all this is speculation. However, there are certain things that we have all observed that are basically all we have to go on. One is that Marshall Smith apparently referred to the thing Erdnase shuffled on as a "board". I can't find my copy of the Smith interview Richard put out but the Tabman Erdnase table website quotes the following:

"He (Erdnase) had a small board, like a chessboard, with green baize on it, and Smith thinks he remembers a small ridge about half-inch high around edges. Placed it on table. Did the card tricks on it and used it as base for posing the pictures. Board about two feet square..."

This quote is what I believe Jason is also referring to. As I noted before, two feet square may not sound that big but cut a two foot square out of plywood and you'll realize how large and unwieldy it is. Furthermore, a two foot square chess board would be huge and much bigger than any I've ever seen. I have what I consider a large chess chess board and it is 18 inches square. I also have what I consider a standard size checker board and it is 13 1/2 inches square. I'll get back to this but figures 12, 13, and 16 all show a thickness to the performing surface and what I interpret as a wooden frame around the work surface.

All the above lead me to conclude that Erdnase had board, a flat stiff object and not a pad as Geno suggests. The drawings clearly indicate a thickness both vertically and into the plane of the paper of an edge banding and this is not consistent with a pad. Furthermore, Smith says it was a board. Note that a stiff board can be used on a bed, in the lap etc and does not require a stiff surface beneath it. The two versions I made are on my Facebook page.

Back to the size. Let's just look at the square inches for a second. 13 1/2 inches square is 182 sq. in. (for a regular checker board) and 18 inches square is 324 square inches. I estimate the size of a standard Faro layout (or spread as Jason correctly notes) end section as about 11 by 17 (the web image I gave notes the overall board size as 16 1/2 x 40). 11 x 17" is 187 square inches or about the same as a standard checkerboard. So, although 11 x 17 is rectangular rather than square, if Smith recalled it 40 years later as a small board, the size of a chess board, this still works for me as there is no big discrepancy between one wing of a Faro layout (oops -- spread) and a chess or checker board.

Furthermore, Figure 16 shows Erdnase working at the front of the board (the edge nearest the viewer) so he must have been able to reach that point easily assuming the artist drew this accurately and not just as a visual aide. The board could not have been too deep or he wouldn't have been able to do this.

As to the availability of such a board at the turn of the century, I accept that Jason could find no catalogue offering them at that time. Even so, my reproduction H.C. Evans & Co. 1918 - 1919 catalogue has both Faro Spreads and Faro tables for sale and other catalogues from later dates have dealing boxes and other items usually associated with Faro available. My recollection is that the last Faro game in Nevada ceased in 1946, the year I was born.

Of perhaps more importance is the common photograph on page 161 of the Time-Life book, "The Gamblers," which shows a spread and dates the photo as 1895. I have a reproduction on my wall and it has a handwritten date on it of 1902. Either date puts it at the time of Erdnase and we know (I think) that Faro had been extremely popular through out the west and in gambling establishments throughout the United States for decades prior to 1900, when it was beginning to fade from the scene. So I continue to feel that access to a Faro spread or part of one would have been one of the easiest sources for Mr. Erdnase to obtain something to practice on.

A cornered wooden frame is not that easy to make and takes some skill. It would have to be cut and precisely shaped, or steam bent or turned on a lathe and then cut into quarters. I smacks to me of being fashioned by a professional and or distributed through a business. None of this proves Erdnase used a Faro spread but, if we have to guess, this seems to me the most likely suggestion to come up with. I interpret Jason's post to say he agrees and actually came up with this theory some time ago. So maybe all I've done is beat it to death.

In closing I'll note that Lincoln Fitzgerald was part owner of the Nevada Club in Reno, Nevada for many years. A noted gambler from Detroit (although well respected in Nevada), he was shot and badly wounded in 1949 as he was headed for the club. He was one of many gamblers who had run illegal games in other areas but played by the rules in Nevada, or so they say. The University of Nevada has an oral history program and has published several books on the history of gambling in the Reno-Tahoe area based on the recollections of people who were associated with the casinos. The Nevada club closed in the late 1990's and was demolished.
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Postby Zambolini » 10/27/11 12:42 AM

I think Jerry is correct that casinos tried Faro in later years from time to time but my understanding is they changed the rules substantially and it never regained any popularity. I'm sure many are familiar with the theory that when played honestly, Faro favored the house so slightly that it was not a viable endeavor.
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Postby Roger M. » 10/27/11 10:19 AM

Zambolini wrote:....... My recollection is that the last Faro game in Nevada ceased in 1946, the year I was born.


The Union Plaza spread a Faro game right up to 1975.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 10/27/11 11:56 AM

Jason mentioned above attempting to find a manufacturer/retailer of faro spreads around the time of Erdnase. I looked for mentions of them in newspaper archives from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century, and couldn't find any references to them that were contemporary with Erdnase. This likely is reflective of the fact that faro had faded in popularity as a game by 1902, rather than indicating that spreads were no longer being made or sold.

The results:

6/8/1855: "The police secured in this den five decks of cards, one double-dealing box, one faro-spread and other articles."

8/9/1860: "An examination of the premises resulted in finding a blank book with the names of about twenty-five members written upon its pages; several applications for membership to the "Evening Star Society," signed by well known negroes; a ballot box, a faro spread, several checks, a box of dominoes, three dice, and one or two bills for refreshments."
4/29/1868: "Our acquaintance took a seat near them and was listening intently to their conversation, when two other sporting men entered the room, and took seats near the faro spread."

9/9/1869: "It appears that they were sitting side by side at a faro-spread, both betting white chips on the same cards."

2/20/1881: "The faro spread or cloth lay out, with all the cards in the pack painted or glued on it, on which the betters lay their money, costs from $10 to $16."

12/6/1884: [description of a gambling supply house] "There were faro boxes, faro checks, faro "spreads", keno sets, check-holders, playing cards, dice, great and small, card cases, card-racks, and such like."

7/24/1886: "He took his seat at the faro spread one night, extracted a big roll of bills from a worn, greasy pocket-book; and, tossing them across to the dealer, took chips for the amount $750."

5/28/1893: "In the second story of the building were private rooms, in one of the larger of which was a faro spread, where cards were drawn for large stakes by men who did not wish to be seen playing in public." [referring to Sacramento in the early 1850s]

My impression (and I can't prove it) is that a faro spread was as likely as not to be only the cloth, and did not necessarily include the board to which it was affixed.
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Postby Roger M. » 10/27/11 12:46 PM

http://www.scribd.com/doc/32397958/Bat- ... -Faro-Game

Note the second line of the second "sub heading" in this article related to the well known arrest (for running a crooked Faro game) of Bat Masterson in NYC in 1902.
It's interesting to note the specific reference to a "faro board".

As Masterson had traveled from "the West" to NYC, it perhaps seems likely that he traveled with the Faro layout cloth, and perhaps attached it to a (wooden) board he'd acquired in NYC.
........either that, or he had one of the folding layouts referenced above.

And for a chuckle, note that one of the other chaps Bat Masterson got arrested with for spreading his crooked Faro game was a certain "Mr.E. Sanders".
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Postby Roger M. » 10/27/11 01:22 PM

Late Edit:
One might also wonder if, by 1902 much of the Faro equipment being sold "as new" might have been being manufactured in relatively small numbers by individuals rather than businesses.

A craftsman of note might make you a gaffed dealing box and the accessories (including a nicely painted folding board) in a one-stop-shop scenario.

Much like real gaffed dice-makers today, these guys would, by design, not have catalogs and shun all publicity (making it extremely difficult, if not impossible to track down hard "Faro facts" from 1902 in 2011.......sort of like EATCT itself).
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Postby Jason England » 10/27/11 05:42 PM

MIke,

I do indeed agree with you that a faro spread is a likely candidate for what Erdnase was shuffling upon.

When I looked through the old catalogs, it was primarily to see if it would have been a mere matter for Erdnase to walk to the nearest gambling supply house to procure a faro spread. Obviously he could have had a portion of an old spread from just about anywhere. But, if it could be shown that they were still easy to come by in 1902, that would have made the case that much stronger.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to do that, and Bill Mullins' research seems to back up what I already suspected. New faro spreads were not all that common in the early 1900s. Still, Erdnase could have been toting his around for 25 years for all we know.

I think it's a good theory.

Jason

PS: As an aside, I've always had my doubts about the "faro has too low of a house edge to make casinos happy" line of reasoning.

Blackjack played properly, craps played carefully, and baccarat (played any way you want) all have very small house edges. They've all lasted for decades.

I suspect that Faro's demise is related more to the pace of the game than it's actual house advantage. A casino's hourly win is determined by the average bet x hours played x hands per hour x house advantage. Even if house advantage and average bets are similar across multiple games, it makes sense to only offer those games that have the higher number of hands dealt per hour.

Faro loses due to speed, not house edge. Just my opinion.
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Postby Zambolini » 10/27/11 07:45 PM

Jason:

I agree with all your points. As you all probably know, you can play Faro here at your own pace:

http://www.gleeson.us/faro/

Mike
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Postby Geno Munari » 10/27/11 08:43 PM

Looking at the illustrations in the book and from what Erdnase said about practicing, "The only proper way to practice is to be seated in the usual manner at a card table with a looking glass opposite...", I really wonder if he used a "close-up mat". I did not see one illustration that indicated he was working on a mat unless I missed something very obvious, which is indeed possible.

The only time I percieve a layer of a mat is when the POV is from Erdnase', and this layer is very possibly the table edge or a bevel.

In figure 6 for instance, Smith shows the POV as if Erdnase was sitting, as his arms are under the table edge. In figure 7, you see part of the jacket disappear behind the table edge.

In figure 8 and 9 you see some inconsistency in the lines or edges of the table or possible there was a a table cover. Yet in figure 9 it looks perfect. Figure 16 is interesting and shows a beveled corner of a typical Victorian style table.

Figure 64 is really strange, as it has a vertical line crossing a horizontal line. Perhaps this is a mistake?

Just my thoughts.
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Postby jerry » 10/28/11 01:44 AM

I believe one of Scarne's books, ("On Cards" or "Complete Guide") said there is a point in a Faro game, where the bet is 50/50 with no percentage for anyone..that point/card in the game has a name, and that is when the Union Plaza charged it's 5% vig.

I agree with Jason in that while it may have been played faster before, the game at the Plaza was slow and not easily understood, it seemed to onlookers like a museum piece, while a few stone faced older men sat around betting if the next card would be in or out of the box, etc. It did not seem exciting or generating the drop the other games could.

Those "small" percentages is all it takes, I've seen players comment they couldn't understand how a 1.414% on the front line, could knock out their bank roll.
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Postby Jason England » 10/28/11 03:01 AM

Since this issue was brought up, I decided to have another look through some old catalogs.

I found an ad for a "fold-up" faro board (with the cloth) on it in the H.C. Evans catalog of 1909. H.C. Evans was based in Chicago on Clark Street at the time.

Not sure how I missed this before, although it is a small ad.

Anyway, for what it's worth, this clinches the fact that Erdnase had easy access to one of these fold-up spreads.

Jason
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Postby Zambolini » 10/29/11 01:18 AM

Jason:

I recently saw a picture of a layout once owned by a friend of yours. Maybe I just never noticed this before but in this particular case the folding end sections were of noticeably different dimensions. This makes one of the ends less rectangular and more square or chessboardish.

Mike
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Postby Richard Evans » 11/01/11 08:47 AM

The suggestion that Erdase used a Faro board in the illustrations is an attractive one. Whether this was covered in green baize is less certain: some of the figures suggest that the surface of the board was polished rather than covered in cloth. This may have provided a practice surface more onsistent with Erdnase's usual gaming environment. I believe that Gazzo first made this observation. Of course, the board could have had different surfaces on each side!
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Postby Jason England » 11/07/11 01:40 PM

Richard,

Although admittedly I've not seen them all, I can't remember ever seeing a faro spread that didn't have green baize or a similar cloth on one side. The cards where players placed their bets were usually hand painted onto that cloth.

Jason
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Postby Bill Evans » 11/09/11 05:50 PM

Jason:

I have a K.C. CARD CO. BLUE BOOK which appears to be probably from the 1940s and I was looking through it and found what is referred to as a "dice board" roughly 18" x 22" that was described as having a rubber base covered with green baize cloth with a raised wooden rim. There is a picture of the board with the raised rim. It was advertised as being "super quiet".

Does your HC Evans 1909 catalog reference these? I don't have any earlier catalogs to check.
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Postby Edward Pungot » 11/14/11 11:03 AM

[img:left]http://www.tabmantables.com/tbmimages/traintable.jpg[/img] ERDNASE TYPE TRAIN TABLE

Table size is approximately 23" x 23"

"Here's Gardner's notes on what Marshall Smith, the artist, told him about it in 1946: 'He (Erdnase) had a small board, like a chessboard, with green baize on it, and Smith thinks he remembers a small ridge about half-inch high around edges. Placed it on table. Did the card tricks on it and used it as base for posing the pictures. Board about two feet square...'

So here's what I've done. First I've covered both sides with 100% wool, 21 oz green Mali cloth with one side padded with a quarter inch professional blackjack or volara table padding. The sides are solid mahogany, cherry, or walnut, hand rubbed to an exquisite finish rivaling the finest in magicians' and gamblers' wood and clothwork. So you can use both sides of Tabman's Erdnase Train Table. The corners are rounded for an authentic look as pictured (check the illustrations in Expert At The Card Table). These type tables were popular in the old days a century ago to rest on the knees of two or more passengers facing each other riding in the coach cars of a train on long trips so they could play cards (or maybe do some card tricks or closeup magic!!!) Sides feature a 1/4" lip to keep balls, etc from rolling off for doing Cups and Balls."

The Late Tabman
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