Published in 1902, The Expert at the Card Table has provided the most influential information about use of sleight-of-hand with cards. Yet, as influential as the book, itself, has been to the practice of magic, the author’s name and background are somewhat shrouded in mystery. In short, no one really knows who S.W. Erdnase is, despite more than a century of searching, conjecture and divergent paths.
While the origins of Erdnase remain foggy to this day, the reason for a use of a pseudonym was not. For one thing, the Comstock laws of 1873 prohibited trade and circulation of “obscene” literature, as well as “articles of immoral use by mail”. Card tricks were considered a form of gambling with gambling, of course, considered highly immoral (and illegal). This not only prevented any potential late-19th century publication of this book; it prohibited any distribution of it once it actually came out.
Another reason for the publication date was because magic and card tricks, during the late 19th century and very early 20th century, were considered hidden practices. However, after the magic magazine, “The Sphinx” came out, the art of magic took off. Magicians began forming official groups, which brought magic from the dark to the light.
Interestingly enough, while the book continues to influence card sharps and magicians, it hasn’t really been embraced by those who cheat at cards (Johnson, 2001). Poker and sleight-of-hand expert Ron Conley pointed out that very few card thieves he’s run across ever read Erdnase (Johnson, 2001). But Conley, himself, pointed out that many of those who didn’t read it, should have done so (Johnson, 2001).
A few decks have been produced with the Erdnase theme; however, none have been designed with such intricate detail as these. In additional to the stylish artwork, S.W. Erdnase is made for card men and women. They are printed by The United States Playing Card Company on crushed Casino Bee Stock and traditionally cut. They have an air-cushioned finished for exceptional handling and play.