Daley's Last Trick

By Dominic Twose - Wednesday, March 3, 2021


The book The Magic of Dai Vernon records an effect now universally known as "The Last Trick of Dr Jacob Daley". In essence, two Aces are placed on a table, two held in the hand. With a magical gesture, they swap places. While known under this title, it has long been acknowledged that Daley did not invent the plot (see, for example, See A “Four” Ace Trick; The Sphinx April 1937). It is a very popular plot; Denis Behr’s Conjuring Archive lists 148 handlings. L&L issued a DVD devoted to different handlings.

There is a romantic tale associated with it; that this was the last trick Dr Daley performed before he died. However, contrary to the common misperception, it was not the last trick Daley performed. Even the Vernon book does not claim that it was – saying only that Daley ‘perfected it during the last weeks of his life.’

The New Phoenix #302 (March 1954, published a few weeks after Daley’s death) is devoted to Daley, and includes a detailed account of his last show, at the Art Directors’ Club in New York, a short distance from his apartment. He performed just two tricks, his own Cavorting Aces and his handling of Vernon’s Travelers, both from Stars of Magic.

There are a couple of points worth highlighting from this performance. The first was that Daley was funny. This is something not commonly known. He got laughs right from the beginning of the act. ‘In this pack of cards are four aces… only four aces… you must believe me.’ Afterwards, Abril Lamarque (a Cuban-born graphic designer, illustrator, art director and magician) said to him, ‘You got some very good laughs.’ Daley was dead within seconds. So Daley’s last trick was his handling of The Travelers. The Last Trick of Dr Jacob Daley was neither Daley’s effect, nor his last trick.

The second point is this. During his performance of The Travelers, after the first two Aces had passed to the pockets, Daley paused to ask, ‘Which card shall we pass next?’ Someone called for the Ace of Diamonds. Daley mistakenly passed the Ace of Clubs – which fortunately was taken as a joke. But the key aspect is this - in Daley’s handling, after the first two Aces had flown, he gave the audience the choice of which to pass next. It may seem a small point, but it is an angle that adds to the strength of the effect. Daley’s handling of the trick is not recorded, so we don’t know how he managed the choice element. Nonetheless, since with most handlings you are several steps ahead, it may not be a difficult element to include. The Conjuring Archive lists 139 entries for The Travelers. Which do you do? Can you add this subtlety into your routine?


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