The information contained in this book is the very basis of modern card conjuring. When first published in 1902, its effect was little short of revolutionary. Magicians who had been dependent upon the old-fashioned "pass" and "palm" were initiated into the mysteries of new and more subtle versions of these sleights, and introduced to a series of "shuffles" which enabled them to obtain, with perfectly natural moves, many effects that had previously required greater skill in the execution of standard sleights than most card conjurers ever attained.
It was not so much a matter of the new methods being easier to master than those which had long been common property though in a few instances this was actually the case - but rather that, for some purposes at least, they were far more deceptive. The author made available to the legitimate performer of card tricks many new sleights that had been used profitably by professional gamblers at the card-table, where stakes are often high, eyes are watchful, and half-measures lead to exposure and ruin. So important were these contributions that, within a couple of decades, the name "Erdnase" came to mean to the well-posted card conjurer as much as "Blackstone" had long meant to the lawyer. The situation remains virtually unchanged today; for it is a commonplace among card experts that no one can properly claim to know card magic unless he has studied The Expert at the Card Table.
In the original edition, the book was divided into two parts, one dealing with card-table artifice and the other with legerdemain. Both parts are reproduced without change in the present, enlarged edition. Most of the material that was new to magicians when the book was published is in the first part, to which the author devoted 112 pages of text with 64 illustrations. This section consists of a pretty stiff course in "blind shuffles," "blind riffles and cuts," "blind cuts," "bottom dealing," "second dealing," "stock shuffling," "cull shuffling," "palming," "shifting" (that is, making the pass), and other sleights employed by card players who do not believe in depending upon chance to bring them fortune. The explanations of shuffling, palming, and shifting that are given here have proved very useful to card conjures.
In the second section of the book (81 pages, 36 illustrations) are sleights (some old, but many new) which were specifically and exclusively designed for card magic. There are, for example, five shifts (or methods of making the pass), including a beautifully devised "diagonal palm shift" which, if perfectly executed, enables the performer to replace a chosen card unmistakably in the pack, merely square the cards, and yet extract the selected card and palm it in the left hand, instantaneously and without fumbling. There are, also, a blind shuffle for securing a selected card; explanations of card-forcing and card palming (with an inadequate description of the "back palm"); four methods of "changing" and eight of "transforming" cards; five ways of "blind shuffling" while retaining the whole pack in its original order; four devices for discovering a card that has merely been thought of; and several other sleights. Finally, the author explains seventeen card tricks, which have little of novelty about them and are, we feel, described with undue brevity. We should note, however, the unusually good patter that is provided for The Cards Up the Sleeve and three or four other tricks. It is vastly superior to the patter, found in most of the current "patter books."
What we have said thus far relates to the contents of the original book, to which has been added, in the present edition, a small section of critical comments by the late Professor Hoffmann. These criticisms, which cover slightly more than a dozen pages in all, were written by this noted author some thirty-five years ago. It is evident that Professor Hoffmann thought highly of the contributions Mr. Erdnase had made to the technique of card conjuring; but his observant eye detected several errors in that writer's explanations, and his thorough knowledge of the subject enabled him to offer suggestions for the improvement of certain sleights. These comments were originally published in The Magic Wand, and have had but limited circulation. No doubt Professor Hoffmann's host of admirers will welcome what will be, for many of them, their first opportunity to read these essays.
It is likely, too, that card conjurers in general will welcome a really good edition of this standard work. Except for a few cloth-bound copies that were distributed in the year of publication, and a small edition in cloth covers that came out in 1905, The Expert at the Card Table has been obtainable only in cheap, paper-covered form. The present edition has a larger page than the old (one inch greater in each dimension), and has 218 in place of 205 pages; it is printed on antique-finish paper of substantial weight; it is thread-sewn in small sections (not wire-stapled through the whole book), and consequently opens flat; and it is bound in blue cloth of good quality, and gold-stamped from special dies on both front cover and "spine." The printing was done by the offset process from an early copy of the first edition, and thus avoids many defects (such as broken type-faces) which have marred recent printings of the book. The comments of Professor Hoffmann were set up in type which matches as nearly as possible the type used in the body of the book, and a new title page, preface, and table of contents have replaced the old. The result (as the present reviewer says in the preface) is as good an edition of this famous book as could be published "within the limitations of wartime book-making."
This book was rated one of the ten basic books for a working library of conjuring by H. Adrian Smith, historian, collector and owner of the largest private magic library in his time. Other books in this top 10 list are: