Ever wonder what kind of playing cards Professor Hoffmann used?

Note:  An earlier version of this post was published by me on September 23, 2010, on a different blog.

Professor Hoffmann (Angelo J. Lewis, 1839-1919) was one of the principal writers of card-game rule booklets (all of which were originally published by Goodall). Hoffmann was also a writer on magic.

Ever wonder what kinds of playing cards Professor Hoffmann used in his magic (or recommended to others)?  Here is what he says in Modern Magic, on pages 11 and 12:

The Cards.–The adept in sleight-of-hand should accustom himself to the use of every description of cards, as frequently none but the ordinary full-sized playing cards may be available. Where, however, the choice is open to him, he should use in the actual performance of tricks, cards of a smaller and thinner make. The common French cards answer the purpose very well. Among cards of English make, some of the best for the purpose are the small cards of the French pattern made by De La Rue & Co. for use in France, and those known as the “Tankerville” cards, made by Bancks Brothers, of Glasshouse Street, which are thin, well-made, and of small size, but of the English pattern. In any case, it is well to use only the piquet pack of thirty-two cards (the twos, threes, fours, fives, and sixes being removed), the complete whist pack being inconveniently bulky for sleight-of-hand purposes.

Michael H. Goodall discusses Bancks Brothers in his 2002 book Minor British Playing Card Makers of the Nineteenth Century, Volume 5 (Hall & Bancks, Bancks Brothers, Joseph Reynolds & Sons, and Joseph Reynolds & Company).  He says: “Bancks Brothers were the fourth largest British cardmaker throughout the 1840’s and 1850’s [. . .].”  He notes that they moved to 12 Glasshouse Street W. in 1863.

Mike lists what appears to be about a dozen different types of court cards for various periods.  And they do vary in size. For instance, one card, for the approximate period of 1860 to 1880, is described as “Square corners, turned, no indices, double-ended, 51 x 80 mm.”  Another (circa 1820 to circa 1870) is described as “Square corners, unturned, no indices, single-ended, 55 x 84 mm.”

The term “turned” might need a little explanation.  In short, it has to do with placement of pips.  Essentially it meant turning some of the courts (like flipping the design, I suppose), so that the all of the “corner pips” were in the (usually) upper-left corner (and lower right corner on double-ended cards).  Otherwise, generally on earlier cards, some of the court-card pips were in the left upper-corner, and some in the right upper-corner. Such cards are considered “unturned.”  On today’s cards, it isn’t an issue, because there are normally indices on all of the cards.

Mike gives the approximate dates of operation of Bancks Brothers as 1866 to 1889, but shows that the firm’s roots reached back to about 1715!

In More Magic, pages 10 and 11, Hoffmann says, in speaking of the Charlier pass:

In description, this succession of movements may sound complicated; but in actual practice it is performed instantaneously. I myself, though by no means claiming exceptional dexterity, have made it with a piquet pack of “Tankerville” cards (size 3½ inches by 2¼ inches) fifty times in a minute; and I have little doubt that anyone practising specially for speed might attain a very much higher record. With full-sized cards, though not more difficult, the movement becomes necessarily slower, as the two packets describe segments of larger circles, but even with these it is easy to reach forty-five times a minute. A backward or forward sweep of the arm will assist in covering the movement, which, even at the speed I have named, would still be visible without such cover.

There Hoffmann mentions “Tankerville” without mentioning Bancks Brothers.

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