ERDNASE

Discuss general aspects of Genii.
Jonathan Townsend
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Jonathan Townsend » May 20th, 2011, 8:40 pm

The provenance of a text is crucial to its interpretation.
An argument in support of that position is described here.
The story cited to illustrate and discuss the matter is IMHO well worth the reading as well.

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Don Hendrix
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Don Hendrix » May 20th, 2011, 11:25 pm

I am also very anxious to read the article; however, I kind of feel about Erdnase the same way that I do about Shakespeare. We may never know who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare, but the important thing is that someone did, and that someone was a genius.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Mike Vance » May 20th, 2011, 11:55 pm

Yes, that someone was definitely a unique and gifted individual. Erdnase, that is; not Shakespeare. OK, Shakespeare, too. :)

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Magic Fred » May 21st, 2011, 3:38 am

Mike Vance wrote:Fred,

Didn't mean to take you out of context. Just trying to make a point. No offense intended.

I agree that the book is very important. It should be studied and learned, as should a number of other books.

However, I'm equally captivated by the mystery; I love a good mystery. I don't know that finding out Erdnase's identity will allow us to completely reinterpret his book, but it should allow some additional context for those that love reading the book.


Quite alright, your quote just made it appear that I was being a complete [censored], as opposed to a mildly playful one...

The Shakespeare analogy is a good one too. In terms of what I personally get out of Expert, and where it has taken me, it matters not who penned the words.

I do appreciate though, that those who read the book more for its literary significance than to learn a near perfect system of card artifice, will be much more excited than I at the prospect of learning its provenance.

But I will admit to my own dirty little curiosity...perhaps the mystery can finally be laid to rest. Bated breath though? No. ;)

Good thread.

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Brad Jeffers
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Brad Jeffers » May 23rd, 2011, 1:03 am

Bill Mullins wrote:Bart Whaley tells us (in The Man Who Was Erdnase) that Mickey MacDougall came up with the term "mechanic's grip" in his 1939 book Gamblers Don't Gamble. Historical lexicographers (like those who edit the Oxford English Dictionary) always search for the first printed use of a word or phrase when researching. Gamblers Don't Gamble was published Feb 23 1939. But Life magazine, in their Feb 6 1939 issue, had an article about gambling and included a few pages of MacDougall demonstrating some sleights, and it used the phrase two weeks ahead of MacDougall's book (although it's pretty obvious that they got it from MacDougall). So, Life, not MacDougall, gets credit for the first use in print of the term (unless someone finds an earlier citation).

Bill, I have done a great deal of research into the life and career of Michael MacDougall and found your above post to be of interest (although it seems to be a sort of non sequiter to this thread on Erdnase). Would you consider it incorrect to say that MacDougall coined the term "mechanic's grip"? The Life magazine article is the first time the term appeared in print (in a 1938 American Weekly article, MacDougall refers to it as the "gambler's grip"). There was no writing credit listed in the Life article. I believe that it would have been a collaboration between a staff writer, and MacDougall himself.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Jason England » May 23rd, 2011, 1:19 am

Gentlemen,

I have the Life magazine mentioned as well as the Cosmopolitan issue(s) that are referenced in the Life article.

The article in Life appears to have been indeed written by a staff writer, but there is no concrete evidence that I can find. The Cosmopolitan article is split between the Feb and Mar issues but clearly list MacDougall (as told to J.C. Furnas) as the author. The Cosmopolitan article(s) also state that they are an excerpt from the book Gambler's Don't Gamble, MacDougall's first book.

I've always maintained that MacDougall coined the term "mechanic's grip" and was the first to caution the public to be on the lookout for it. Scarne eventually did the same thing.

The Cosmopolitan article seems to be the actual first publication of the term, as it predates the Life article by a few days.

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Brad Jeffers
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Brad Jeffers » May 23rd, 2011, 3:13 am

Jason, The Cosmopolitan article does predate the Life article by six days, but nowhere in the Cosmopolitan article does it mention the term "mechanic's grip".
I, like you, have always attributed the term to MacDougall. Vernon was of the same opinion, making mention of this in his Revelation videos.
I was just wondering if it is ever correct to say that a magazine coined a phrase. Bill states that "historical lexicographers always search for the first use of a word or phrase when researching" and that the term "mechanic's grip" first appeared in Life magazine. But what does this mean - that the coining of the term should therefore be credited to Life magazine? It would seem to me that the coining of a phrase can only be attributed to a person, and that person, in this case, is clearly Mickey MacDougall.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Marquardt » May 23rd, 2011, 3:22 am

As to the usefulness of the book, I have to say that it is definitely not a good recommendation for a young person attempting to learn sleight of hand. This was one of my first magic books as a kid, and I was very frustrated at trying to learn most of the sleights. My enthusiasm for learning magic was seriously dampened as I believed at the time that a real magician had to master all of these techniques. I have recently re-read the book and find it less daunting, but still "advanced." I am no expert at cards.

As far as the author goes, I read some 50 years ago that he was a gambler named E. S Andrews (the reverse of S. W. Erdnase), but at least one person has already suggested that name.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Magic Fred » May 23rd, 2011, 6:55 am

LeMarq wrote:As to the usefulness of the book, I have to say that it is definitely not a good recommendation for a young person attempting to learn sleight of hand...


I concur. As would the author.

"...it may enable the skilled in deception to take a post-graduate course in the highest and most artistic branches of his vocation."

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » May 23rd, 2011, 4:54 pm

I was just wondering if it is ever correct to say that a magazine coined a phrase. Bill states that "historical lexicographers always search for the first use of a word or phrase when researching" and that the term "mechanic's grip" first appeared in Life magazine. But what does this mean - that the coining of the term should therefore be credited to Life magazine? It would seem to me that the coining of a phrase can only be attributed to a person, and that person, in this case, is clearly Mickey MacDougall.


At this date, it is impossible to know who "coined" the phrase "mechanic's grip". Did MacDougall do so? Did he pick it up from someone else? There is no way of knowing. All we can know now is that the Life magazine article is the first documented occurrence in print of the term, that has so far been discovered. Someone (MacDougall or someone else) may have used it in print before then. Perhaps we'll find it, and antedate this usage (as the Life article antedates Gamblers Dont Gamble.) Someone (MacDougall or someone else) may have used it verbally before then.

I agree that the Life usage almost certainly came from MacDougall himself. There's no reason to think that the staff writer for the article or the editor for that article came up with it on his own. It's just that we can't know.

It is obvious that MacDougall should get credit for spreading and popularizing the term if it existed before 1939, it was obscure, and Gamblers Don't Gamble pushed it into the mainstream.

That's why I tried to be precise in what I said that the first printed occurrence is important within a particular field (lexicography), and Life currently is that first documented occurence.

It strikes me that there are certain similarities between this, and the provenances of certain sleights and tricks - whoever got something into print first may not have been the originator. (Which is why I made the post in the first place sorry if it seems to some to be a "non sequitur").

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Geno Munari » May 23rd, 2011, 10:10 pm

The mechanics grip is an interesting term derived from the word mechanic, meaning card mechanic. Before Las Vegas and Reno had legal gambling there werent many honest games to be found. Then even after gaming became legal almost every casino had a bust out dealer referred to as a mechanic.

My cousin Frank Schivo, was one of the original owners of the Club Bingo, that eventually became the Sahara Hotel. Right out of high school I moved to Las Vegas and wanted to get in the gaming business. I enrolled in Nevada Southern, which is now called UNLV and got a job at the Sahara as a busboy in the dealers room (break room) and loved every minute of it. I met many dealers and got to know what they drank on their break and had it ready by the time they sat down for a 20 minute break-time.

Bunny Johnson was a cracker-jack bust out 21 dealer who worked in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bunny used to say about Jackson Hole, When the season is short, so is the deck.

Bill Sharp was another great deuce dealer. Bill had an airplane and he would be hired to fly all over the country to get the money for various casino operators. Nate Yovis was another extremely skilled blackjack dealer from Detroit. He could deal a second as good as anyone. In Detroit they had a game called Stuss, a form of blackjack where 1, 2, 3, and even 4 people could play on one hand.

I wanted to learn the business so I listened to everything they talked about and asked questions. Finally, one of the guys agreed to teach me to deal. There werent any gaming schools per se as there are today. You HAD to have a friend teach you. The first thing on their agenda was to teach you to protect the game and be a polished as possible. The term mechanics grip was a key word that Nate used many times. The mechanics grip was used as the main way to hold the cards as you pitched them to a player, and then the cards would retreat into a less exposed grip so that the corners were hidden and the top card could not be seen. Upon paying and taking bets, the cards would be shifted deeper into the base of the 3rd and 4th fingers so the thumb and first fingers could be utilized for the action.

For the next round of play the cards would be pushed back into the mechanics grip and fanned at the rear with the right finger (for a right handed dealer) and then pitched again.

The Life article says, Beware dealer who holds cards thus. The fact of the matter is that every dealer holds the cards this way in a hand held blackjack game or poker game. The writer of this story just did not understand the operations of hand held dealing.

The article then shows dealing from the bottom and the first finger of the left hand is curled under the deck. A good bottom dealer doesnt hold the deck as Life portrays.

Bill you are right. Life Magazine may have used the term first in print, but the writer nor Life had no idea of right or wrong procedure in my opinion.

There are many more terms that the mechanics used that never appeared in print until John Scarne started writing about gambling.
For instance the toppit was basically a device called a sub. That is a tail of a shirt turned up into a catch-all and pinned to the belt line. The operator would simply pull in his gut and chips could be deposited into the secret device. (Scarne did not write about this item.)

There were many skilled mechanics that never were arrested and basically invisible as to what they really did. They roamed the country and dealt to get the money.

I doubt that Nate ever heard of Mickey MacDougall and am sure that he was a skilled dealer long before Mickey ever surfaced. However Mickey was great at getting PR, which is what he was all about.

Jimmy Grippo commented to me about MacDougall several times after we were playing with gambling moves. Jimmy seemed to think he blew his own horn a little too loud and was not capable of doing the moves he wrote about. Scarne felt the same.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Jason England » May 24th, 2011, 4:31 pm

Brad,

You're right about the term not appearing the in Cosmopolitan article. I was remembering the photos of the second and bottom deals that appear in the 2nd part of that article (the March issue).

Thanks for the correction.

Jason

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bob Farmer » May 25th, 2011, 6:23 am

Geno:

Great notes--keep going! There's a Genii column there.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Roger M. » May 25th, 2011, 10:19 am

Geno, that's some of the most interesting stuff I've read in a long while.

Excellent picture of a time long past......and I'd like to read a lot more.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Matthew Field » May 25th, 2011, 12:09 pm

Many thanks for this, Geno. Most enjoyable.

Matt Field

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » June 6th, 2011, 3:15 pm

Stratton and Millikan

From 2006 until 2008, the Wikipedia entry for Erdnase contained the following:
Research for an upcoming documentary has uncovered correspondence between noted physicists and authors Stanley [sic] Wesley Stratton and Robert Andrews Millikan on the subject of conjuring and crooked gambling. In 1896 Stratton suggested a textbook on the subject. Further evidence suggests that Millikan and Stratton hired Professor Hoffman to write the book based (partly) on notes they provided.
[Note: the mans name is Samuel Wesley Stratton I presume Stanley is a typo.]

Richard Hatch recently alluded to this theory in his presentation at the most recent MCA meeting in Chicago, and Steve Bryant also brought it up (in a second hand fashion, referring to Hatchs talk) in his most recent Little Egypt Gazette posting.

For various reasons, I always assumed this addition to the Erdnase entry was a hoax, or possibly even the work of a troll. Before the theory gains any more traction, Id like to discuss those reasons.

1. The addition was originally made on April 1, 2006. April Fools day is a traditional day for pulling pranks. It was made from IP address 86.132.171.39, which is currently assigned to British Telecom (I dont know how to research to whom it was assigned 5 years ago).

2. Ive made detailed searches through Ask Alexander, and I cant find any reference in any magic literature referring to Stratton or Millikan in a conjuring context. The only way either of them comes up is that some of the Long Beach Mystics went to Millikan High School in Long Beach, and several magic shows have been held there.

3. Ive read a great deal of biographical material on both men, and found nothing to indicate that either was the least bit interested in gambling, magic, cards, or anything else related to the Erdnase book. Both men were public figures (Millikan was awarded a Nobel prize; Stratton ran the National Bureau of Standards, and later, MIT), with biographical articles published about them. Millikan wrote an autobiography. Both were mentioned prominently and often in national newspapers. The Tech, the student newspaper of MIT, is online and has extensive coverage of Stratton both when he took office and when he died. Both had obituaries circulated when they died. Both have archival material, including personal papers and correspondence, deposited in various research libraries.

Stratton and Millikan definitely knew each other. They co-wrote A College Course of Laboratory Experiments in General Physics Chicago: The Univ of Chicago Press, 1898 LINK . They were both members of the Physics Department of the Univ of Chicago in the late 1890s, and served on the National Research Council together during WWI. They moved in many of the same circles and had many friends in common.

I can find no evidence or record of correspondence with Hoffman from either man.

Both men had many prominent friends (a Whos Who of American science in the first few decades of the 20th century) who wrote prolifically about them and corresponded with them. None of their friends seems to have mentioned that either of them played cards, or performed magic, or gambled, or practiced sleight of hand.

These men left large paper trails, and there is no mention of anything like what you would expect the author of Expert at the Card Table to have done left in their wakes.

4. Both men were very busy developing their careers in physics during the 1890s, the time youd expect them to be playing cards if they were (singly or collaboratively) Erdnase. A grad student in physics may have time to play an occasional game of cards, but not to develop the body of work that Expert represents.

5. The documentary mentioned above seems to have gone nowhere. At the time the Stratton/Millikan theory was revealed, I couldnt find anything else about the documentary, and havent been able to do so since.

The only evidence supporting the idea that either Stratton or Millikan had anything to do with Erdnase is an anonymous, unsupported Wikipedia entry, and that entry is not at all consistent with what we know about the men, or can be otherwise documented.

I think Stratton and Millikan should be ignored as author candidates from here on out.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 6th, 2011, 3:29 pm

think Stratton and Millikan should be ignored as author candidates from here on out.

Barring any correspondence from/to Angelo Lewis I'd also drop that line of inquiry as a prank with the mention of 'Hoffmann'.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Hatch » June 6th, 2011, 5:30 pm

I agree with Bill that the posting was likely a prank/hoax. My interest in it was only rekindled the night before my presentation at the MCA weekend in Chicago this past May, due to speculation concerning the upcoming article about Erdnase in the September GENII. So I took another look to see what I could find out about the Stratton/Millikan theory. The best I could do on short notice (a few hours late at night at the hotel!) to develop it was to note that Millikan's middle name was Andrews (his mother's maiden name, I believe), his first name was Robert, Stratton's first name was Samuel (not Stanley, as rendered in the original Wikipedia posting) and in 1904 Drake had issued a catalog attributing the book to "Samuel Robert Erdnase", which has never been satisfactorily explained (the Library of Congress listed that as the author's name for several decades as a result). As Bill noted, both were active in Chicago at the time the book would have been in preparation (though I believe Stratton went to Washington in 1901 to head up the Bureau of Standards) and Millikan was there when it was published. The closest thing I could find in their co-authored 1898 textbook to Erdnase was a reference to overcoming friction. I think it incredibly unlikely that a Nobel Prize winning Physicist (Millkan was the first to measure the charge on an electron) and a future President of MIT would have written such a book. Fantasizing about the possibility though did lead to one ironic thought: Martin Gardner as a teenager had ambitions of attending Caltech in order to study physics there, one of the main attractions being the presence there of Robert Millikan. He might have ended up studying with Erdnase! Instead, he went to the University of Chicago and studied Philosophy.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Geno Munari » June 7th, 2011, 8:07 am

To Bill,

I appreciate you never ending work to find out the true facts about a topic. If you had not looked into this it may have gone unnoticed. Who knows how long it would have taken to have someone question this statement. I know this may sound like a stretch, but eventually there are many people who will believe this is the truth. As it was, it was generated three more times.

There are good and bad researchers. There are good and bad collectors. You are one great researcher.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » June 17th, 2011, 12:37 am

From an ad in the current (July 2011) issue of Genii --
http://erdnaseum.com/

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » June 20th, 2011, 11:26 am

One of the variant editions of The Expert at the Card Table is Card Secrets Exposed, a reprint sold by KC Card Co. and others. See HERE for an ad for what may be that book.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » July 1st, 2011, 9:22 pm

When Magic Makers release the Wesley James Erdnase videos, the package included a copy of the book. Was it a new printing/edition, or just a copy of a stock edition (Dover, for example)?

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Hatch » July 2nd, 2011, 2:49 am

Bill Mullins wrote:When Magic Makers release the Wesley James Erdnase videos, the package included a copy of the book. Was it a new printing/edition, or just a copy of a stock edition (Dover, for example)?

They issued their own reprint. You can see the cover of their edition in this photo:
http://www.marketmagicshop.com/cart/ind ... ductId=680

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » July 8th, 2011, 7:26 pm

Thanks, Richard. Anybody got one of these they want to get rid of?

Also, this 1905 ad from Stanyon's Magic HERE uses an illustration of the book that isn't consistent with any edition I've ever seen (different font for the title, and a King of Clubs instead of the King of Hearts as usually seen). I wonder if it represents an edition that isn't well known, or if Stanyon used a little artistic license in the ad.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Hatch » July 9th, 2011, 2:06 am

Bill, pretty sure that Stanyon got that cut from Roterberg's catalog ad copy (don't have it handy to double check). I am not aware of any edition with the King of Clubs cover as shown, particularly from that early date (there are later paperback editions with no suit). My guess is that the artist changed the red heart to a black club since the ad would run in black and white (and a black heart would not look as good). Roterberg is presumed to have gotten his first edition copies from Atlas Trick and Novelty Co (Emil Sorensen, aka E. S. Burns) whose company and inventory he purchased. Of course, this copy appears to be a paperback, which would have been a Drake at that time so Stanyon could have been getting those directly from Drake, or perhaps also from Roterberg, who had close relations with Drake (as they reprinted one of his books).

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Hatch » July 23rd, 2011, 12:09 pm

This site was updated recently, offering an additional clue:
http://www.erdnaseum.com/

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Leonard Hevia » July 23rd, 2011, 6:47 pm

Erdnase was hiding in the bushes?

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby A1exM » July 23rd, 2011, 7:08 pm

Leonard,
Not just any bushes, the ones near Silver Springs!

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Leonard Hevia » July 23rd, 2011, 7:50 pm

I moved here in 1984. Never had a chance.

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 23rd, 2011, 7:55 pm

Silver Spring (singular) is in Maryland.
Silver Springs (plural) is in Florida.
I am sure that there are other communities with similar titles.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby A1exM » July 23rd, 2011, 8:01 pm

And similar bushes perhaps?

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Rick Ruhl » July 25th, 2011, 8:17 pm

we will all know in a couple of weeks

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby SwanJr » July 28th, 2011, 5:43 pm

I'm surprised Genii's announcement that it was going to expose Erdnase's identity hasn't led to a bit more fun speculation on this site. I have no smoking gun, but have decided to take a stab at identifying Erdnase to see if can stir things up a bit.

Compare these two passages:

There is no branch of conjuring that so fully repays the amateur for his labor and study as slight-of-hand with cards. The artist is always sure of a comprehensive and appreciative audience. There is no amusement or pastime in the civilized world so prevalent as card games, and almost everybody loves a good trick. But the special advantage in this respect is that the really clever card-handler can dispense with the endless devices and preparations that encumber the performer in other branches.

And:

Among the various branches of the conjurer's art none will better repay the labor of the student, whether artist or amateur, than the magic of cards. It has the especial advantage of being, in a great measure, independent of time and place. The materials for half its mysteries are procurable at five minutes notice in every home circle, and even in the case of those tricks for which specially prepared cards, etc., are requisite the necessary appliances cost little and are easily portabletwo virtues not too common in magical apparatus.

The first excerpt is from Erdnase, the second from William Hilliar's Modern Magician's Handbook. Again, look at these two excerpts. First the Erdnase from his introduction:

A colored attendant of a "club-room," overhearing a discussion about running up two hands at poker ventured the following interpolation: "Don't trouble bout no two han's, Boss. Get yo' own han'. De suckah, he'll get a han' all right, suah!"

Next, from a column in the Sphinx by Hilliar:

Across the street an old colored woman
stood beside her lunch stand. "Yes-sum. Dar air no use
talkin," she said to a passerby. "I feel mighty queer
tonight. I dun know dat spooks is 'roun yere. Yas-sum, I got
a feelin' dat the debble is prowling aroun."

The Hilliar column ran in the September 1902 edition of The Sphinx in which Hilliar first mentions The Expert at the Card Table. Could this be a subtle hint at his own authorship?

Hilliar was the first editor of the Sphinx. He was also a prolific magic writer, ghostwriter and plagiarist. He was a good enough magician to substitute for Thurston on one of his Chicago shows. He was in Chicago at the right time.

The scenario in which he would be Erdnase would run something like this. He sells the idea for a book about cheating at gambling to Drake. However because of the Comstock Law in effect at the time - I spoke about the Comstock Law at the last Magicana Conference, and the talk is to be published in a future edition of Magicol - both publisher and author needed to remain anonymous and used Erdnase as a double pseudonym to cover both of them.

Of course this theory loses the anagram in the name. Still it will be remembered that when Jeff Busby ran a computer analysis of Erdnase's writing he found a very close identification with Hilliar's style. Perhaps the computer was on to something. Hilliar had the knowledge; he had the experience as a writer; he has the rather amoral sensibility, and he was in the right place at the right time.

--Hurt McDermott

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Jonathan Townsend » July 28th, 2011, 6:16 pm

Maybe he was writing across the street from a place that had Andrews in the name and saw its reflection. IMHO the name is wild goose chase bait. Today one might use the word snipes in such a pseudonym ;)

Anyway, I for one am keeping an open mind and eager to read what's offered in the September issue.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Hatch » July 28th, 2011, 7:53 pm

SwanJr wrote:I'm surprised Genii's announcement that it was going to expose Erdnase's identity hasn't led to a bit more fun speculation on this site. I have no smoking gun, but have decided to take a stab at identifying Erdnase to see if can stir things up a bit.

Compare these two passages:

There is no branch of conjuring that so fully repays the amateur for his labor and study as slight-of-hand with cards. The artist is always sure of a comprehensive and appreciative audience. There is no amusement or pastime in the civilized world so prevalent as card games, and almost everybody loves a good trick. But the special advantage in this respect is that the really clever card-handler can dispense with the endless devices and preparations that encumber the performer in other branches.

And:

Among the various branches of the conjurer's art none will better repay the labor of the student, whether artist or amateur, than the magic of cards. It has the especial advantage of being, in a great measure, independent of time and place. The materials for half its mysteries are procurable at five minutes notice in every home circle, and even in the case of those tricks for which specially prepared cards, etc., are requisite the necessary appliances cost little and are easily portabletwo virtues not too common in magical apparatus.

The first excerpt is from Erdnase, the second from William Hilliar's Modern Magician's Handbook. Again, look at these two excerpts. First the Erdnase from his introduction:

A colored attendant of a "club-room," overhearing a discussion about running up two hands at poker ventured the following interpolation: "Don't trouble bout no two han's, Boss. Get yo' own han'. De suckah, he'll get a han' all right, suah!"

Next, from a column in the Sphinx by Hilliar:

Across the street an old colored woman
stood beside her lunch stand. "Yes-sum. Dar air no use
talkin," she said to a passerby. "I feel mighty queer
tonight. I dun know dat spooks is 'roun yere. Yas-sum, I got
a feelin' dat the debble is prowling aroun."

The Hilliar column ran in the September 1902 edition of The Sphinx in which Hilliar first mentions The Expert at the Card Table. Could this be a subtle hint at his own authorship?

Hilliar was the first editor of the Sphinx. He was also a prolific magic writer, ghostwriter and plagiarist. He was a good enough magician to substitute for Thurston on one of his Chicago shows. He was in Chicago at the right time.

The scenario in which he would be Erdnase would run something like this. He sells the idea for a book about cheating at gambling to Drake. However because of the Comstock Law in effect at the time - I spoke about the Comstock Law at the last Magicana Conference, and the talk is to be published in a future edition of Magicol - both publisher and author needed to remain anonymous and used Erdnase as a double pseudonym to cover both of them.

Of course this theory loses the anagram in the name. Still it will be remembered that when Jeff Busby ran a computer analysis of Erdnase's writing he found a very close identification with Hilliar's style. Perhaps the computer was on to something. Hilliar had the knowledge; he had the experience as a writer; he has the rather amoral sensibility, and he was in the right place at the right time.

--Hurt McDermott


Hurt, the quotation on card magic which you attribute to Hilliar was actually plagiarized by Hilliar from Professor Hoffmann's MODERN MAGIC, p. 11 (the introductory remarks to Chapter II). It would not be surprising that Hoffmann's writing style might have influenced Erdnase, who admits to studying works on conjuring. I personally find it extremely unlikely that Hilliar had anything to do with the writing or publishing of Erdnase. The circumstantial case in his favor is as follows: He was in Chicago at the time (working for both Frederick J. Drake and for the Vernelos, as editor of The Sphinx), he had knowledge of copyright law, he had experience as a ghostwriter, he obviously had knowledge of magic and literary experience as an editor. Conspiring against his active involvement are the following points: He arrived in Chicago rather late in 1901 (I believe in December) and was busy starting the Sphinx, passing books onto Drake for publication and cobbling together the Magicians Handbook for them, not to mention performing. The first issue of the Sphinx came out in March 1902, at almost exactly the same time that Erdnase was submitted for copyright. Yet it is not mentioned in the Sphinx until the September issue you cited, a full six months later. The mention is a cursory two line notice: "A recent book on gambling tricks has been published by S. W. Erdnase under the title "The Expert at the Card Table." It contains a chapter on ledgerdemain [sic]." This hardly sounds like an editorial endorsement by an interested and informed party. He doesn't give the correct title, he doesn't tell where it can be had, he doesn't even give any details or opinion of the content. That was Hilliar's last issue as editor. It was not until two months later, in the November issue, that the first ad for it appears. In contrast, the first issue of the Sphinx has a full page back cover ad from Hilliar's other employer, Frederick J. Drake, advertising their line of books. Most significantly, Hilliar did not die until 1936 (a suicide) and was active in the magic community that entire time, writing a gossip column on magicians' activities for the Billboard for much of it. In one of his Billboard columns he mentions meeting a fellow at Felsman's in Chicago and being reminded that he had translated Robert-Houdin's Cardsharping book. He said he'd forgotten having done so. Perhaps not surprising (as Houdini pointed out to him in correspondence!) since his only work on that book was bringing it to the attention of Drake and adding his name on the title page as translator! My point here is simply that he had a habit of taking credit where none was deserved, so why would he not brag about having written what by then was widely regarded as a masterpiece of the conjuring literature? I simply cannot imagine that he would not have told the world about his involvement with the book during that entire period, had there been any.

The Busby/Whaley computer analysis of the text was way ahead of its time, but crude by today's standards. It found that the confession/alibi letters of Milton Franklin Andrews were a close match to the text of Erdnase, and it found that the writings of Hilliar were also a close match for Erdnase. Logically, one could then argue that the letters of MFA might have been ghost written by Hilliar, an absurdity.

I believe Steve Burton years ago compared Hilliar's description of the glide (or slide?) to the one in Erdnase and found them completely at variance (though he found that of Edwin Sachs, note the initials!, to be very close to Erdnase).

I am convinced the book was written by an American (he gives that as his nationality on the copyright application and the style implies it, and the illustrator recalled him as such), Hilliar was an Englishman. Busby argues that he edited the book for MFA, but that presupposed that the book was written by someone unable to write well himself. I don't think we have evidence to support that claim yet and find the ghostwriter/editor supposition an unnecessary complication at this point.

SwanJr
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby SwanJr » July 29th, 2011, 4:49 pm

Richard,

Thanks for the clarification on the plagiarism from Prof. Hoffman. I admit Hilliar is a dark horse. If the time for trying to identify Erdnase on one's own might not be drawing to a close, I would have undoubtedly waited for more evidence. R. F. Foster and Roterberg tempt me as well, which is funny, because you would point out that not one of them is an American, though Roterberg may have considered himself one.

Still, I'll stick with Hilliar provisionally. I also just want to clarify that I'm not suggesting Hilliar as an editor but as the sole author.

--Hurt McDermott
Last edited by SwanJr on July 29th, 2011, 4:54 pm, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: typo

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 29th, 2011, 4:54 pm

We're sending the September issue to the printer on Monday, I hope to have the digital version online on August 10th. On that day subscribers can read the story.
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John M. Dale
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby John M. Dale » July 29th, 2011, 10:50 pm

Let the games begin!!!!

JMD

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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Bill Mullins » July 29th, 2011, 11:45 pm

Richard Hatch wrote:The Busby/Whaley computer analysis of the text was way ahead of its time, but crude by today's standards. It found that the confession/alibi letters of Milton Franklin Andrews were a close match to the text of Erdnase,


Any "analysis" that finds similarity in the letters of MFA to the text of Erdnase is suspect from the get-go. The style (if you can call it that) of the unsophisticated letters pales in comparison to the erudition of the text. More than the differences in appearance in MFA as compared to Erdnase (as described by Marshall Smith), more than the youth of MFA compared to the wisdom-of-age from the text, this dissimilarity is the biggest hurdle to jump in saying that MFA wrote "Expert".

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: ERDNASE

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 30th, 2011, 12:52 am

I didn't think that anyone still believed that Milton Franklin Andrews wrote Expert.
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