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Created: 09/12/2019
Updated: 01/16/2024

Edward Gallaway is S. W. Erdnase

by Chris Wasshuber

The Cardsharp and his Book by Chris Wasshuber To read the full story, the full case of why Edward Gallaway is Erdnase, get my book The Cardsharp and his Book.

I know this will come as a shock to some, particularly those who hold on to the old rumor that it was an Andrews. However, this rumor cannot be substantiated. We have to trace this rumor back from Vernon to Sprong to a Drake son who would have to get it from his father who we don't even know had any direct contact with Erdnase. Yet some believe this like it is an irrefutable fact. It isn't. It simply is a hypothesis and a not particularly good one. If the name Andrews played any role in this mystery then it is much more likely that E.S. Andrews was the author's gambling cover identity, which he used for all his gambling-related dealings. Such fake names were very common among cardsharps. This means he would have introduced himself to the illustrator M.D. Smith and Drake as E.S. Andrews, and thus perhaps the rumor, but it wasn't his real name. The author needed strong anonymity. Simply reversing his real name would not provide that.

For those who are not familiar with the hunt for Erdnase a bit of the background story. In 1902 the book "Artifice Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table" was self-published under the pseudonym S. W. Erdnase. The book is today mostly known under the title given on the cover: Expert at the Card Table (EATCT). It was printed by James McKinney & Co. in Chicago which went bankrupt in 1903 shortly after the book was published, but the book didn't cause the demise. McKinney was a fairly sizable print shop with 32 employees, 9 printing presses, and typical print runs in the thousands of copies. We know this because I found the bankruptcy records in the summer of 2015 where we can find these details. The book was by many measures a success and was kept in print by various publishers until today. Today it is in the public domain and you can find dozens of reprints including an ebook version here on Even though the book was successful and well-known the author was never identified. The content of the book was revolutionary, decades ahead in some of its thinking, with descriptions of sleights so clear and accurate that it was heads and shoulders above anything else that has been published before, and even the best books published after Erdnase on sleight of hand with cards struggle to match the clarity of the prose. But there is not only clear prose to describe the various stratagems and moves, there is also very witty and eloquent language. Erdnase was an exceptional author with a unique voice. This linguistic fingerprint is our best chance to identify him because not a lot of other identifying evidence remains.

In the 1940s Martin Gardner tried to find the author. In his search, he located the illustrator of the book, M. D. Smith, and interviewed him. Unfortunately, Gardner fell already victim to the Andrews rumor and pretty much tried to convince Smith that it was a certain Milton Franklin Andrews (MFA), but there were glaring problems with the MFA theory which Gardner simply ignored. For one MFA was too tall and too young according to Smith's recollections, we also know that from the one letter we have of MFA's writings, it is impossible to conceive that he wrote EATCT. And further, we can't place him in Chicago at the right time. The only thing going for MFA is that he was a crooked gambler. But with all the other points excluding him being Erdnase, it was certainly not him.

Since the 1940s researchers, magicians, and amateur historians have come up with various candidates. The two favorite candidates before I found Gallaway were Edwin Sumner Andrews and W. E. Sanders. Edwin Sumner Andrews lived in Chicago and worked at the railroad. That is as much as we can say about him. Perhaps his strongest point is that he lived in Chicago where the book was printed, but so did about 2 million other folks at that time. W. E. Sanders makes for an equally weak case, because we can't even place him in Chicago, and his writing doesn't sound anything like Erdnase a problem the primary investigators, David Alexander and Richard Kyle, admitted in letters to each other. The points mentioned in his favor are that he played cards and that he wrote down the description of a little common card trick in his notebooks. But in my opinion, this card trick in his notebook is a strong point against Sanders, because Erdnase would have had a lot more on magic and gambling in his notes than just this one simple trick that can be found in almost every beginner book. Additionally, Sanders was also too tall and had dark hair and dark eyes, three things where he does not match the illustrator's recollections. It can hardly be Edwin Sumner Andrews or W. E. Sanders.

With Edward Gallaway, we have several strong facts in his favor. So far the best we could do for any candidate was to place them in Chicago at the right time. That is not bad, but Chicago is a big city. With Edward Gallaway, we can place him right at James McKinney & Co. at the right time because he worked there. We know this from the bankruptcy files. So Gallaway is at the 'crime' scene at the time when it counts. Of course, that does not mean he must be Erdnase, but contact with the printer James McKinney is a necessary condition. If you can't put your candidate in contact with the printer who printed the book then that leaves a huge gap to fill with other overwhelming evidence. In the case of Gallaway, we do not need to do that. As an employee at McKinney, he was in the perfect position to order the book to be printed, or even to run it on the side through the print shop because Gallaway held a senior position in the company and was friends with the owner James McKinney. Both would go into partnership, with Gallaway providing the largest share of startup capital after James McKinney & Co. goes bankrupt.

Gallaway's linguistic voice sounds just like Erdnase's. Gallaway wrote two books on the Monotype System in the 1910s and several books on print estimating in the 1920s plus several articles. One of his books was "Estimating for Printers" published in 1927. This book has remarkable parallels to EATCT besides sounding like Erdnase. Dr. John Olsson furnished a forensic linguistic report on a comparison of EATCT and "Estimating for Printers" where he concludes it is a "strong possibility" that Gallaway is Erdnase. What is so remarkable here is that a book published 25 years later on a completely different subject is linguistically speaking a lot closer than books published on the same subject of sleight-of-hand with cards, around the same time when EATCT was published. Why would an author who is writing on the subject of print estimating use words and phrases like 'subterfuge', 'hard luck', or 'vanished into thin air'? These are words one would expect to find in a magic book, or a book on gambling, not in a book on print cost estimation. In addition to the match of the linguistic fingerprint "Estimating for Printers" was exactly published like EATCT. It was self-published, copyright registered, and the contact address was given as the place of work. All of these mirror exactly how EATCT was published. And remarkably it also has the price of the book printed on the title page. This is very surprising because very few books have their price printed on the title page. Not only is the voice and how it was published mirror images but also the approach of the author to deliver a very detailed and practical book matches what we see in EATCT.

On top of all of this overwhelming evidence, Jay Marshall found in the 1950s a first edition of EATCT with Edward Gallaway's bookplate pasted in. We know that Erdnase himself was a book guy and exhaustively read the gambling and magic literature of his time. Based on his vocabulary and eloquence he must have read a lot more than gambling and magic books. Gallaway is the same kind of book guy and is equally good with words. He initiated two lending libraries in 1907 to give orphans and seniors access to plenty of reading material. He had a large personal library. Two books we know he had in his library besides EATCT were two volumes of "The History of the Works of the Learned" from 1700 and 1705, which are collections of book reviews of the best works written back then. We also know Gallaway had several other gambling books in his possession. Erdnase and Gallaway are both voracious readers with an appetite for magic and gambling books.

Further, Gallaway performed Punch and Judy and magic while he traveled with small circuses during the 1890s. In 1924 he gave a performance titled "The Magic Wand" at the R.R. Donnelley employee show.

Thus we have a person who performed magic, owned a copy of EATCT, wrote like Erdnase, matched the illustrator's physical description, and was at the right time at the place EATCT was printed. There is not a single fact known about Gallaway that would exclude him from being Erdnase. No other candidate writes like Erdnase and is free of any discrepancies. We therefore have to conclude Edward Gallaway is S. W. Erdnase.

Edward Gallaway was born July 1st, 1868 in Delphos OH to an Irish mother Sarah Brown, and a Scottish father William Gallaway. He was baptized at St. John's Church as Peter Edward but dropped Peter later on and went exclusively by Edward Gallaway. He attended school until middle school and then found full-time employment at the Delphos Herald where he learned the printer's art. For a while, he worked as a traveling compositor crisscrossing the US by train. He started a short-lived newspaper in Fort Payne, Alabama, entitled "Payne Weekly People". After that, he had a most surprising couple of years at the circus where he was the orator attracting the attention of people in front of the tent and performed Punch and Judy and Magic. He later went back to his printing profession and moved to Chicago where he worked at various companies, and was involved in various unsuccessful startups. He eventually worked for James McKinney where he decided to write and print EATCT. He continued to work at various companies in the print industry in Chicago. He specialized in composing, particularly using the Monotype for which he wrote two books and print estimating. He became an instructor of print estimating at the Lakeside Press owned by R. R. Donnelley. In the mid-1920s he founded a school for print estimating and wrote books and course material for it. He died May 10th, 1930 in Chicago.

There is a lot more I could say about Gallaway and about the many parallels and similarities we can draw with Erdnase. I continue to discover new information about him. Every new piece we find cements him more firmly as being Erdnase. To this date, I have not found one piece of evidence that would exclude Gallaway from being Erdnase. Study the details and the evidence in my book The Cardsharp and his Book.


Gregg Webb (12/12/2023)

I'm convinced. Gregg Webb p.s. I read the whole book.