Now THIS I found quite interesting . . . Part 2: Comments on a pack of cards marked by Charlier

This afternoon, I ran across an online article by Jonathan Allen, entitled “Mark of Integrity,” in Cabinet, Spring 2009.  Although I just read through it quickly, it appears to be a literate and well-researched article.

To me, far and away the most interesting and important part of the article was Jonathan’s description of a pack of cards marked by Charlier and now in the possession of The Magic Circle, in London.  At the moment, I am not going to go into detail about Charlier.  He has been written about in many places, and I imagine that most magicians think of him in connection with his capabilities in sleight-of-hand with playing cards.

Charlier is also well-known for his performances with a prearranged, marked pack of cards.  (The marks were “read” by touch.)  Professor Hoffmann discusses some of Charlier’s methods in detail in More Magic (first published in book form in 1889) and in Tricks With Cards A Complete Manual of Card Conjuring (also first published in 1889). Hoffmann also demonstrates fairly clearly what Charlier and his performances were like, via Hoffmann’s character Ledoyen, in Conjurer Dick (first published in 1885).

Anyway, Jonathan states:

The Magic Circle in London has in its archives a deck marked by Charlier himself, a personal gift to Hoffmann from the Frenchman, who vanished in London in 1882, never to reappear.

As a side note, I’m a little doubtful that it has been established that Charlier was French, and also I think he disappeared at a later time, but obviously the article was not offered to resolve those questions once and for all.

Jonathan also states, in an accompanying footnote:

The paper wrapping in which the deck was delivered to Hoffmann was signed “To Monsieur J A Louis Advocat,” an ironic reference to Hoffmann’s professional status as a lawyer.

(Obviously, Charlier got Hoffmann’s name a bit wrong.  He probably meant A.J. Lewis, but Hoffmann occasionally used the name Louis Hoffmann, and that may have been the main cause of the problem.)

At this point, you are probably thinking, “Well, the article can’t get any better than that!” But it does indeed get better — for the article reproduces rather clear images of four cards from the aforementioned pack.  It is a fascinating portrayal of objects which are, I think it is fair to say, legendary.

The cards shown are Bancks Brothers cards, with a well-known (among playing-card collectors) back-design (of squiggly dotted-lines in a wavy pattern, with a plain white background).  In another post on this blog, I discuss the kinds of playing cards that Hoffmann apparently used (or, at least, recommended) —  basically Bancks Brothers and also De La Rue — smallish designs of those brands, in 32-card piquet packs.

I think that there probably are some other Charlier cards around — where, I do not know. I believe that Bert Pratt had some. And, as I recall, Allan Jamieson stated that Arthur Margery had been in possession of the metal plate which Charlier had used in his card-marking procedures. But until now I’ve never seen any detailed description of the cards, regarding make and design, and I certainly have never seen any illustrations of them before today!

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