The Spirit Dealer - An Unpublished Vernon Trick

By Dominic Twose - Tuesday, August 30, 2022

In Further Lost Inner Secrets, there is an interesting chapter which takes Max Holden’s descriptions of Vernon’s work from his "Trouping Around in Magic" column in The Sphinx and reconstructs his likely methods. Several entries were overlooked. Here is one. The effect is clearly strong. You might enjoy thinking about possible solutions. And my solution might pique your interest.

‘Dave Vernon gave an hour and a half show the other night at a home on Park Avenue and his show, you might say, was in his vest pocket. Two packs of cards, three silks, a few coins, four small rubber balls and a small pad of paper.

Sixteen people comprised the audience and Dave had to work right among them with the audience all around and there is no chance of forcing a card here, as among the "Upper Ten." It is strange how much they know about magic, and they do not want the ordinary magician, but the very best in the business, and they are willing to pay.

Probably the biggest hit was where a pack was handed him and he was asked to do a trick with that pack. Spreading the pack on the table he asked to be taken out of the room and in the meantime someone selected a card from the pack spread out on the table and retained it.

Returning to the room Dave shuffled the pack and removed two cards from the pack and laid out on the table which denoted the suit and denomination of the selected card. Seemingly the trick was finished when a gentleman spoke up and said: "What about my card; I also took a card." Dave now turned over the two top cards of the pack and said: "I expected you would say that, and here you will find the suit and denomination of your card." A real effect of magic and where they thought they had put one over on the magician.’

"Trouping Around in Magic", The Sphinx March 1929


What a powerful effect, and one typical of Vernon at that period. A card taken from a borrowed deck while he is out of the room, yet he identifies it.

If just one card had been chosen, Vernon might have been card counting. However, that a second card was secretly taken precludes that. I suggest that he was using a version of Jordan’s The Spirit Mathematician (published 1920), where the cards are shuffled by the spectator, and the performer and spectator each put half the pack in their pockets. Secretly, the magician has four cards already in his pocket. They are the (say) Ace of Spades, the Two of Hearts, the Four of Clubs and the Eight of Diamonds, which can be used to represent any card, by removing two, three or four of them. Also see Findley’s (actually Finley’s) The Secret Mathematician, where the same principle is used.

I’d suggest Vernon got the Ace and the Two to the top, and Four and Eight to the bottom of the deck, so, once the card was named, he was prepared to show he had the right cards, through a second deal, a bottom deal, a Greek bottom, or a regular deal. It is a great solution to challenge conditions. Of course, it might be he has to show two, three or four cards; but it is at least possible that on that night he needed to show only two.

Why did he have them keep their selections rather than return them to the deck? For two reasons. If the selections were in the deck, why not just find them? With the cards not there, it gives justification for showing cards that indicate the selection. But also, clearly they were a challenging crowd, and Vernon wanted to avoid the situation where they lied about their selection.

Note; an extremely practical—and easy—Greek bottom, perfect for this effect, is as follows: To prepare; hold the deck from above with the right hand. The bottom card rests on the left fingers. In a squaring action, the right hand moves the deck to the right. The left hand keeps the bottom card in place, so it is sidejogged momentarily. The right hand now moves the deck back to the left. The left fingertips contact the card second from face and hold it in place. This results in the second from bottom card being sidejogged to the right. The right hand continues to move to the right, spreading the cards a little, which hides the jogged card. It is now a simple matter to Greek deal the sidejogged card, or to do a bottom deal. This is a minor variant of Martin Nash’s handling, which is related to LePaul’s Simplified Bottom Deal. It is also worth checking out Ackerman’s Minus One Bottom Deal from Magic Mafia Effects. A more sophisticated handling can be found in The Magic of Fred Robinson.

Of course, it is possible Vernon was using a different technique. Holden states Vernon put his cards on the table before the selection was announced, which is not possible with my solution. He knew the center deal, so maybe this was part of his method, although, as outlined above, it didn’t need to be. But even if so, the above represents a strong, practical, impromptu effect, although one that will require some practice.

Vernon did appreciate the Finley concept, and explored how it might be used in other ways. See The Computer in "The Vernon Touch", Genii, November 1986, where he uses it in conjunction with the ‘plunger’ principle; also Name a Card Location, in Genii, December 2001, p. 56.

In The Magic of Charlies Earle Miller, under the title ‘Variation of Stanyon’s Limit Card’ Miller speculates that Vernon used a one-way deck, with every other card reversed, in a stack. However, that goes against the premise of the borrowed deck. Additionally, it doesn’t explain why Vernon took out matching cards—he could have just named the selections.

Even if I’m wrong in my speculation, this does make for a fine impromptu mindreading card trick, for those adept at false dealing.

N.B. ‘The Upper Ten’ is a 19th-century phrase referring to wealthiest 10,000 residents of New York City.

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