Here are a couple of relevant paragraphs on this topic, taken from my R2-D2
The precise origins of billet tears are lost in the fog of time, though they almost certainly came from the medium/spiritualist community. Charles Foster likely invented billet work (during his sances in the 1860s1880s), though there is no indication that he ever toreor even burnedone. His pupil/assistant, Bert Reese (who did burn billets in his later years, when failing memory and eyesight led him to abandon his earlier sophisticated techniques), probably knew about the classical centre tear by at least the turn of the century; there is nothing definitive, however, to suggest that he personally used the technique (preferring the full-billet umbrella move, a sleight-of-hand technique later modified by Al Baker to open a torn centre).
Documented knowledge of the centre tear passed to the mystery entertainment community in 1928, when Sid Lorraine acquired it from an American student (J. T. Garrus, who claimed to have obtained it from Dr. Leland Wyman of Boston, a magician who in turn learned of it from mediums); there is also the possibility that Reese himself (who lived in New York City, and died in 1926) may have introduced it to New Yorks inner circle via Arthur Findley, Dai Vernon, and/or Baker. We do know that it was put into print in 1929 by Joseph Ovette, and again in 1932 by Thayer. And when Annemann published it in The Jinx #6 (March 1935), the dam burst, with the centre tear becoming a standard toolkit component of mentalists and magicians everywhere.