Card Table Artifice

The Expert at the Card Table is the seminal text, literally the “bible” for those interested in card table artifice aka cheating. I’ve been obsessed with this book for forty years. Recently, I have embarked on a new journey, a musical one, but one still inspired by this book.

You can see the results of this effort on June 13 and 14, 2014 in Toronto, or get a sneak peek about what we have been up to by visiting my guest blog series, written for Magicana (




Transgressive Magic


I know it’s been well over a year since my last blog post but believe you me, it’s been a very busy time.

Recently I have been working on an exciting project on one of my passions, Erdnase and The Expert at the Card Table. Magicana is producing with the Luminato Festival, Card Table Artifice. What is that? Hard to sum up in a few words but I think I managed in this video clip. It involves the collaboration of several artist, including composer Gavin Bryars and we are thrilled to have the opportunity of presenting the World Premier on June 13 and 14 in Toronto.

Also, you will hear me talk about Bullet Catch presented by Scottish performer, Rob Drummond, which is also part of our Luminato offering this year which I have called Transgressive Magic. More on all of this soon.

In the meantime, have a look at Magicana’s website, join Magicana’s eList for news.


It’s Amazing

I find it amazing.

I find it amazing how my interest in magic crosses into so many fields – performing, speaking, writing, consulting, publishing – and now, fonts.  Yes, fonts.

In 2007-2008, I had the privilege of working with Mike Caveney and Michael Albright on Revelation, Dai Vernon’s magnum opus on The Expert At The Card Table.

Publishing any book is gratifying. This one, however, was particularly so. It combined superb commentary (Vernon), exquisite design (Albright), and artful bookmaking (Caveney) in a form that is both a joy to read and a pleasure to hold.

I am pleased to report that another by-product of that project has now just come to market: a font designed by Andrew Leman as an homage to Dai Vernon.

In addition to being the most influential magician of the 20th century, Vernon was a skilled draftsman and artist. His handwriting, particularly as expressed in the 1920s and 1930s, was unique.

Albright wanted to incorporate Vernon’s styling in some of the headers in Revelation. His search led him to Andrew Leman who, by sheer coincidence, had been developing a font with similar attributes. Andrew was completely unaware of Vernon and his work.

Albright brought me into the equation, and I sent Andrew samples of Vernon’s handwriting as expressed in his private notebooks and letters so that he could refine his own work and incorporate some of Vernon’s calligraphic flourishes into it. I was also able to arrange for Andrew to meet Dr. Gene Matsuura.

Dr. Matsuura provided Andrew with additional samples of Vernon’s handwriting from his own collection. Fittingly, in June 2008 Andrew scanned Vernon’s original notebooks in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, in downtown Los Angeles.

It is one thing to inventory the design of letters; it is another have them dovetail together. Andrew did a superb job. He comments, “Fonts, like movies and radio plays and all other creative endeavors, are never finished, just released.”

You can check out his release here.

I’m sure that Vernon would find it equally amazing.

Setting the stage

While the New Year reminds us of what occurred during the past twelve months, it also gives us a chance to look ahead.

2010 promises to be a busy and exciting year with many projects on the go.

As the Artistic Director of Magicana, we have added additional responsibilities to our portfolio: we are now the stewards of the Magic Collectors’ Association and their publication, Magicol, a quarterly magazine that focuses on the history of magic and the apparatus and ephemera associated with it. Our first issue will be sent to members in February. Membership in the MCA is one of the best bargains in magic. If you are interested in the history of magic, you should really join now!

We will also be programming the 41st annual MCA Conference held near Chicago. Scheduled from May 13th to 15th, the conference will feature a broad range of speakers, performers and dealers, and be the perfect opportunity for those with kindred interests to share information and build new friendships. We will be releasing information on the conference shortly on Magicana’s website.

Although I also have several books in various states of completion – the business biography of Canadian media mogul Allan Slaight, the life and magic of Paul Fox, and the second volume of the Dai Vernon biography – several other books are scheduled for release in 2010.

I took my M.O., so to speak, from Walter Gibson, the creator of “The Shadow”. Gibson was one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century, writing scores of books and articles under a sundry of names. Apparently, Gibson had a typewriter in virtually every room in his house, and a different story set in each carriage. He’d wander into a room, read where he had left off and then, if the muse struck him, continue on with that particular story. Yes, there was multi-tasking prior to Microsoft.

Titles in our 2010 queue include a book of finger-flinging one-handed cuts by Dr. George E. Casaubon (Msgr. Vincent Foy). Nick Sacco and I finally convinced Msgr. Foy – a pioneer in this area and now age 94 – to release a manuscript of his favorite cuts. Photographer Ron Van Sommeron took photos of Msgr’s hands – or rather, hand – performing each cut!

Also, with the success of How Gamblers Win, Magicana will reprint another rare title: A Grand Exposé. Published originally in 1860, there are reputedly less than 12 known remaining copies of the first edition of this book. It is a marvelous work and one that should be in the hands of serious aficionados of card table artifice.

Speaking of card table artifice, 2010 should also see the publication of the first volume of three centered on The Expert at the Card Table. Although not my original intention, I’m sure that it will raise a few eyebrows and some controversy.  It’s been a longtime coming. I completed the first draft of it almost ten years ago. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.

With any luck we might be able to squeeze in another publication or two.

The big news, however, is still to come. If you love magic, just plan on spending some time in Toronto this summer.

Playing By Ear

“Your work is not at a level where I can offer criticism.”

Albert Goshman made the comment to a young Irish magician as the young man was driving Goshman to the airport. The two had appeared on the same bill at an Irish convention and the young man was seeking advice from the master as to how he could improve his act.

When word spread of Goshman’s response, many magicians were taken aback by the curt nature of his comment. “How arrogant,” they chimed.

For those who take their work seriously, however, and have achieved some measure of success, it is difficult to dispense advice because they understand how challenging it is to perform magic.

Great magicians must fashion words like a playwright, possess the digital dexterity of a concert pianist, move with the grace of a dancer, harness the quick wit of an improvisational comedian, tap the emotional depth of an actor and present the bravura of an opera singer. Not many can. It takes years of training and development.

Second, there are few – if any – academies or formal training grounds for magicians. Even the books that purport to be “courses,” have no pedagogical underpinnings. Most are just collections of tricks assembled because they can be advertised as being “easy to master.” They do both the subject and their audience a disservice.

Now, more than ever, most interested in magic play by ear:  they see a trick on television or on the Internet and they mimic it. The result is they have ‘moves’ but little technique. Without technique, however, there is little one can criticize. So, until there is a more formal program that provides a technical grounding in all aspects of performing magic, the craft will stumble on. Perhaps the best advice one can give in the interim are the words Dai Vernon scrawled on Ed Marlo’s annotations of his annotations of The Expert at the Card Table: “Keep striving, Ed.”