Phantoms at the Card Table

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.
Richard Hatch
Posts: 1879
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Providence, Utah

Re: Phantoms at the Card Table

Postby Richard Hatch » June 23rd, 2003, 7:05 am

I also consider "Robert Frederick Foster" a "person of interest" in the Erdnase identity mystery and have managed to find out quite a bit about him since Jerry first suggested him to me as a possible ghostwriter/editor of the book. His 1897 COMPLETE HOYLE has sections on cheating after many of the card games described. Jerry and Peter Kane (and now David) find these passsages "echo" the voice of Erdnase, which led them to their theory. I find them less compelling myself, when seen in context. But here are some intriguing things about Foster: He was small in stature (as described by the illustrator, Marshall D. Smith), close to the age remembered by the illustrator, born in Scotland (leaving open a possible relationship with artist Louis Dalrymple, whose paternal line was Scottish, also as recalled by the illustrator), his published books show a small gap in this time period suggesting he might have been able to squeeze in this job, he later became a member of the Society of American Magicians, he wrote a novel (Cab 44) in which one of the characters is a billiard and card playing Englishman named Milton Fletcher (Milton Franklin Andrews, who also played pool, sometimes pretended to be English using the name "Milton Franklin"), and one of his books (Circle Word Puzzles) mentions a book in which the author's true name was anagramatically hidden in the text! As intriguing as these things are, I currently believe them to be purely coincidental. I believe it is premature to conjecture a ghostwriter for the book at this point (that theory grew out of the perceived inability of Milton Franklin Andrews to have written such a polished text. But if Milton Franklin Andrews wasn't the book's author, the need for a ghostwriter is less compelling. David Alexander has argued that the book did not have an editor/ghostwriter based on his close reading of the text, see his GENII article in the January 2000 issue). I have purchased many of Foster's books, among them a novel, a book on theology, and many books on card play, and I do not find much that sounds in context like Erdnase to me. Perhaps most damning is the fact that Erdnase says that Faro is almost always played honestly as the percentage in favor of the house is satisfactory to them, whereas Foster plainly states that Faro is virtually never played honestly by the house, as the percentage in their favor is not sufficient. Ironically, Darwin Ortiz in his excellent ANNOTATED ERDNASE quotes Foster on this very point (though he is quoting from a later, post-Erdnase edition of Foster's HOYLE, which shows his conviction on this point is unchanged). The only book mentioned by name by Erdnase is Hoyle, but I cannot find the passage cited in Foster's Hoyle, which would be strange if he was doing the writing...
I would love to find Foster's application to the SAM. Who sponsored him and how does he characterize his background? That might clarify his involvement with the book, if any.
I have a duplicate copy of Foster's COMPLETE HOYLE from 1897 that I plan to offer on eBay soon (there is currently a link to H & R Magic Books eBay sales in the marketplace section of this forum).

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