Sharps and Flats: The Secrets of Cheating
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foreword to the online edition


I. introductory

II. common sharpers and their tricks

III. marked cards and the manner of their employment

IV. reflectors

V. holdouts

VI. manipulation

VII. collusion and conspiracy

VIII. the game of faro

IX. prepared cards

X. dice

XI. high ball poker

XII. roulette and allied games

XIII. sporting houses

XIV. sharps and flats










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The Vest Holdout

The vest holdout described below appears to have some similarities with the Kepplinger Holdout. The biggest similarity is the mechanism that consists of a jaw that is stitched to the inside of the clothing and serves the purpose to open the seam, as the card goes in and out of the holdout. It is unclear if Kepplinger invented this improvement or if he simply took an existing idea from a mechanism for a vest machine, and adopted it to work with the seam of a sleeve cuff, or if he had invented this idea and it was later used by whoever developed the vest machine. Whatever the case may be, in the original book, the description of the vest holdout machine precedes the description of the Kepplinger machine.

We now come to the subject of coat and vest machines, among which are to be found some of the finest examples of mechanical genius as applied to the art of cheating.

The earliest vest machine was a clumsy utensil covering nearly the whole of the wearer's chest. It was called not inaptly by the gambling fraternity of the time the 'Breast-plate.'

Like all other ideas, however, which contain the germ of a great principle, this conception has been improved upon, until it has developed into an invention worthy of the noble end which it is intended to fulfill.

In its latest and most improved form, as widely used at the present day, it is illustrated in fig. 29.

As a thorough acquaintance with the construction and working of this machine will be of great assistance to us in arriving at an understanding of those which follow, we will go into it somewhat exhaustively with the aid of the lettering in the illustration.

Referring then to fig 29, a is a slide which is free to move in the direction of the length of the base-plate A It is held in position and guided by means of fittings which pass through the slot cut in the base-plate. This slide is composed of two thin plates of metal between which the cards are held as shown, and is protected by the cover c, which is removable, and which is hinged when in use to lugs provided for the purpose upon the base-plate. The ends of base-plate and cover farthest from the hinge-joint are each pierced with a row of small holes. These are to facilitate the sewing of the apparatus to the divided edges of a seam.

Vest Holdout: poker cheating

FIG. 29

Attached to the upper surface of the slide will be seen thin strips of metal, bent into somewhat of the form of a bow. In practice these are covered with cloth, to prevent the noise they would otherwise make in rubbing against the cover. As the slide moves forward into the position it occupies in the figure these projecting strips, pressing against the cover, tend to thrust base-plate and cover apart. This action separates the edges of the seam to which those parts of the apparatus are respectively sewn, and provides an aperture for the entrance or the exit of the slide, together with the cards it is holding out. As the slide returns to the other end of the base-plate, the cloth- covered strips fall within the curvature of the cover, thus allowing the edges of the seam to come together; and when the slide is right home, the central projecting strip passes beyond the hinge-joint, thus tending to press the free ends of base-plate and cover into intimate contact. The opening which has been fabricated in the seam is thus securely closed, and nothing amiss can be seen.

The to-and-fro movement of the slide is effected in the following manner. Attached at one end to the base-plate is a flexible tube d, consisting simply of a helix of wire closely coiled. Through this tube passes a cord e, one end of which is led around pulleys below the base-plate, and attached to the slide in such a manner that, when the cord is pulled, the slide is drawn into the position shown. To the other end of the cord is fastened a hook for the purpose of attaching it to the 'tab' or loop at the back of the operator's boot. It may be here mentioned that the cord used in this and all similar machines is a very good quality of fishing-line. The slide is constantly drawn towards its normal position within the machine by the piece of elastic f. The band g with the buckle attached is intended to support the machine within the coat or vest.

The foregoing description necessarily partakes of the nature of Patent Office literature, hut it is hoped that the reader will be enabled to digest it, and thereby form some idea of this interesting invention.

Although it is both a coat and vest machine, this apparatus is more convenient to use when fastened inside the coat, as the front edges of that garment are readier to hand than those of the waistcoat. The edge of the right breast is unpicked, and the machine is sewn into the gap. The flexible tube is passed down the left trouser-leg, inside which the hook hangs at the end of the cord ready for attachment to the boot.

When the operator is seated at the table, he seizes a favorable opportunity of hooking the cord to the loop of his boot, and all is ready. Having obtained possession of the cards he wishes to hold out, he holds them flat in his hand, against his breast. Then, by merely stretching his leg, the cord is pulled, the seam of the coat opens (the aperture being covered, however, by his arm) and out comes the end of the slide. The cards are quietly inserted into the slide; the leg is drawn up, and -- hey, presto! the cards have disappeared. When they are again required, another movement of the leg will bring them into the operator's hand.

One can readily see how useful a device of this kind would be in a game of the 'Nap' order. Having abstracted a good hand from the pack (five cards 'never would be missed ') it could be retained in the holdout as long as might be necessary. Upon finding oneself possessed of a bad hand, the concealed cards could be brought out, and the others hidden until it came to one's turn to deal, and then they could be just thrown out on to the pack.

The price of this little piece of apparatus is $25.00, and, doubtless, it is worth the odd five, being well made and finished up to look pretty. In fact, it is quite a mantel-board ornament, as most of these things are. Evidently, the sharp, whilst possessing the crafty and thieving instincts of the magpie, has also the magpie's predilection for things which are bright and attractive. Therefore his implements are made resplendent with nickel and similar precious metals. Although electroplating or something of the kind is necessary to prevent rust and corrosion, one would be inclined to think that articles which are intended to escape observation would be better adapted to their end if they were protected by some method just a trifle less obtrusive in its brilliancy. However, that is not our business. If the buyers are satisfied, what cause have we to complain?

The 'Kepplinger' vest or coat machine, which is referred to in the Catalogue (p. 293), is exactly the same thing as that just described, with the addition of Kepplinger's method of pulling the string, which will be described further on.

The 'Arm Pressure' vest machine, mentioned in the same Catalogue, is a modification of the old 'Jacob's Ladder' sleeve holdout, to which we shall have occasion to revert presently. In an earlier edition of the Catalogue the arm-pressure machine is thus eulogized:

'New Vest Machine. Guaranteed to be the best Vest Machine made. This machine weighs about three ounces, and is used half-way down the vest, where it comes natural to hold your hands and cards. The work is done with one hand and the lower part of the same arm. You press against a small lever with the arm (an easy pressure of three-quarters of an inch throws out the cards back of a few others held in your left hand), and you can reach over to your checks or do anything else with your right hand while working the Hold-Out. The motions are all natural and do not cause suspicion. The machine is held in place by a web belt; you don't have to sew anything fast, but when you get ready to play you can put on the machine and when through can remove it in half a minute. There are no plates, and no strings to pull on, and no springs that are liable to break or get out of order. This machine is worth fifty of the old style Vest Plates for practical use, and you will say the same after seeing one.'

The statement guaranteeing this to be the best vest machine ever made has been expunged of late, as will be noticed in the reproduction of the Catalogue upon page 294. In reality it is not nearly so efficient as the Kepplinger, all statements and opinions to the contrary notwithstanding. Its construction will be readily understood from the description of the 'Jacob's Ladder' which follows next in order.

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