foreword to the online edition
II. common sharpers and their tricks
III. marked cards and the manner
of their employment
VII. collusion and conspiracy
VIII. the game of faro
IX. prepared cards
XI. high ball poker
XII. roulette and allied games
XIII. sporting houses
XIV. sharps and flats
SHARPS AND FLATS
The Kepplinger Holdout
Kepplinger was a professional gambler; that is what he was. In
other words, he was a sharp and of the sharpest.
As to the date at which this bright particular Star of the West
first dawned upon the horizon of 'Tom Tiddler's Ground' deponent
sayeth not. Neither have we any substantial record of the facts
connected with the conception and elaboration of that great idea
with which his name is associated. Of its introduction into the
field of practical utility, however, and its subsequent revelation
to the fraternity to whom its existence was of the utmost consequence,
the details are available, and therefore may be revealed. The event
occurred in this wise, as follows, that is to say:
In the year of grace 1888, Kepplinger, the inventor, gambler and
cheat, was resident and pursuing his daily avocations in the city
known colloquially as 'Frisco.'
Now it is a singular feature of human nature that, whatever a man's
calling may be, however arduous or exacting, he becomes in course
of time so much a creature of habit that he is never really happy
apart from it. One may suppose that it is the consciousness of ability
to do certain things, and to do them well, which accounts for this
At any rate, the fact remains. We are all alike in this respect
especially some of us. The barrister at leisure will prefer to sit
in Court and watch another conducting a case; the actor with an
evening to spare will go and see someone else act; the omnibus-driver
with a day off will perch himself upon a friend's vehicle, and ride
to and fro; and the sharp will infallibly spend his leisure moments
in gambling. When there are no dupes to be plundered, no 'pigeons'
who have a feather left to fly with, the 'rooks' will congregate
in some sequestered spot, and enjoy a quiet game all to themselves.
And they play fairly? Yes if they are obliged to do so; not otherwise.
They will cheat each other if they can. Honor amongst thieves! Nonsense.
In 1888, then, Kepplinger's relaxation for some months consisted
of a 'hard game' with players who were all professional sharps like
himself. The circle was composed entirely of men who thought they
'knew the ropes' as well as he did. In that, however, they were
considerably in error. He was acquainted with a trick worth any
two which they could have mentioned. However much the fortunes of
the others might vary, Kepplinger never sustained a loss. On the
contrary, he! always won. The hands he held were enough to turn
any gambler green with envy, and yet, no one could detect him in
cheating. His companions were, of course, all perfectly familiar
with the appliances of their craft. Holdouts in a game of that description
would have been, one would think, useless encumbrances. The players
were all too well acquainted with the signs and tokens accompanying
such devices, and Kepplinger gave no sign of the employment of anything
of the kind. He sat like a statue at the table, he kept his cards
right away from him, he did not move a muscle as far as could be
seen; his opponents could look up his sleeve almost to the elbow,
and yet he won.
This being the condition of affairs, it was one which could not
by any stretch of courtesy be considered satisfactory to anyone
but Kepplinger himself. Having borne with the untoward circumstances
as long as their curiosity and cupidity would allow them, his associates
at length resolved upon concerted action. Arranging their plan of
attack, they arrived once again at the rendezvous, and commenced
the game as usual. Then, suddenly and without a moment's warning,
Kepplinger was seized, gagged, and held hard and fast.
Then the investigation commenced. The great master-cheat was searched,
and upon him was discovered tie most ingenious holdout ever devised.
What did the conspirators do then? Did they 'lay into him' with
cudgels, or 'get the drop' on him with 'six-shooters'? Did they,
for instance, hand him over to the Police? No! ten thousand times
no! They did none of those things, nor had they ever any intention
of doing anything of the kind. Being only human- and sharps they
did what they considered would serve their own interests best. A
compact was entered into, whereby Kepplinger agreed to make a similar
instrument to the one he was wearing for each of his captors, and
once again the temporary and short-lived discord gave place to harmony
Had Kepplinger been content to use less frequently the enormous
advantage he possessed, and to have exercised more discretion in
winning, appearing to lose sometimes, his device might have been
It was thus, then, that the secret leaked out, and probably without
the occurrence of this 'little rift within the lute' -- or should
it be loot? -- the reader might not have had this opportunity of
inspecting the details of the 'Kepplinger' or 'San Francisco' holdout.
This form of sleeve machine will be easily understood by the reader
who has followed the description of the j coat and vest holdout
already given upon referring to; fig. 32 upon the opposite page,
the illustration being a diagrammatic representation of the various
parts of the; apparatus.
It is evident that we are here brought into contact with a greater
complexity of strings, wheels, joints, tubes, pulleys, and working
parts generally than it has hitherto been our lot to encounter.
There is, however, nothing which is superfluous among all these
things. Every detail of the apparatus is absolutely necessary to
secure its efficiency. The holdout itself, a, is similar in construction
to the coat and vest machine, except that it is longer, and that
the slide b has a greater range of movement.
The machine is worn with a special shirt, having a double sleeve
and a false cuff. This latter is to obviate the necessity of having
'a clean boiled shirt,' and the consequent trouble of fixing the
machine to it, more frequently than is absolutely necessary.
It will be seen that the free ends of the base-plate and cover,
instead of being pierced with holes, as in the vest machine, are
serrated, forming a termination of sharp points (p). These are for
the purpose of facilitating the adaptation of the machine to the
operator's shirt-sleeve, which is accomplished in the following
manner. In the wristband of the inner sleeve a series of little
slits is cut with a penknife, and through these slits the points
upon the base-plate are thrust. The base-plate itself is then sewn
to the sleeve with a few stitches, one or two holes being made in
the plate to allow this to be done readily. Thus the points are
prevented from being accidentally withdrawn from the slits, and
the whole apparatus is firmly secured to the sleeve. In the lower
edge of the false cuff slits are cut in a similar manner, and into
these the points of the cover are pushed. The cuff is held securely
to the cover by means of little strings, which are tied to holes
provided for the purpose in the sides of the cover. These arrangements
having been made, the shirt, with the machine attached, is ready
to be worn. The operator having put it on, takes a shirt stud with
rather a long stem, and links the inner sleeve round his wrist.
Then he fastens the false cuff to the inner sleeve by buttoning
the two lower stud-holes over the stud already at his wrist. Thus,
the inner sleeve and the cuff are held in close contact by the base-plate
and cover of the machine. Finally, he fastens the outer sleeve over
the whole, by buttoning it over the long stud which already holds
the inner sleeve and the cuff. Thus, the machine is concealed between
the two sleeves. If one were able to look inside the operator's
cuff whilst the machine is in action, it would appear as though
the wristband and cuff came apart, and the cards were protruded
through the opening. The points, then, are the means whereby the
double sleeve is held open while the machine is in operation, and
closed when it is at rest.
From the holdout, the cord which works the slide is led to the
elbow-joint, where it passes around a pulley (c). This joint, like
all the others through which the cord has to pass, is what is known
as 'universal'; that is to say, it allows of movement in any direction.
From the elbow to the shoulder the cord passes through an adjustable
tube (d). The telescopic arrangement of the tube is to adapt it
to the various lengths of arm in different operators. At the shoulder-joint
(e) is another universal pulley-wheel, which is fastened up to the
shoulder by a band of webbing or any other convenient means. At
this point begins the flexible tube of coiled wire, which enables
the cord to adapt itself to every movement of the wearer, and yet
to work without much friction (f). The flexible tube terminates
at the knee in a third pulley (g) attached to the leg by a garter
of webbing. The cord (h) now passes through an opening in the seam
of the trouser-leg and across to the opposite knee, where through
a similar opening projects a hook (i), over which the loop at the
end of the cord is placed.
It must not be imagined that the sharp walks about with his knees
tethered together with a piece of string, and a hook sticking out
from one leg; or even that he would be at ease with the knowledge
of having a seam on each side unpicked for a distance of two inches
or so. That would be what he might call 'a bit too thick.' No; when
the sharp sits down to the table, nothing of any such a nature is
visible. Nor when he rises from the game should we be able to discover
anything wrong with his apparel. He is much too knowing for that.
The arrangement he adopts is the following:
At each knee of the trousers, where the seams are split open, the
gap thus produced is rendered secure again, and free from observation,
by means of the little spring- clip shown in fig. 33. This contrivance
is sewn into the seam, being perforated to facilitate that operation.
When closed, it keeps the edges of the opening so well together
that one could never suspect the seam of having been tampered with.
When it is required to open the gap, the ends of the clip are pressed
with the finger and thumb (B, fig 33). This instantly produces a
lozenge-shaped opening in the seam, and allows of the connection
between the knees being made.
FIG. 33 -- Seam clips, A and B
When the sharp sits down to play, then, he first presses open these
clips; next, he draws out the cord, which has hitherto lain concealed
within the trouser-leg, and brings into position the hook, which,
turning upon a pivot, has until now rested flat against his leg: lastly,
he passes the loop at the end of the cord over the hook, and all is
in readiness. These operations require far less time to accomplish
than to describe.
The sharp being thus harnessed for the fray, it becomes apparent
that by slightly spreading the knees, the string is tightened, and
by this means the slide within the body of the holdout is thrust
out, through the cuff, into his hand. The cards which he desires
to hold out being slightly bent, so as to adapt themselves to the
curve of the cuff, and placed in the slide, the knees are brought
together, and the cards are drawn up into the machine.
At the conclusion of the game the cord is unhooked, and tucked
back through the seam; the hook is turned round, so that it lies
flat; and finally the apertures' are closed by pressing the sides
of the clips together.
There is one point in connection with the practical working of
the machine which it may be as well to mention. The pulley g at
the end of the flexible tube is not fixed to the knee permanently,
or the sharp would be unable to stand up straight, with the tube
only of the requisite length; and if it were made long enough to
reach from knee to shoulder whilst he was in a standing position,
there would be a good deal too much slack when he came to sit down.
This pulley, therefore, is detachable from the band of webbing,
and is fixed to it when required by means of a socket into which
it fits with a spring-catch.
Such then, is the Kepplinger holdout; and the selling-price of the apparatus complete is $100.00. If there were any inventor's rights in
connection with this class of machinery, doubtless the amount charged would be very much higher. Governments as a rule, however, do not recognize
any rights whatever as appertaining to devices for use in the unjust appropriation of other people's goods or money at least, not when such
devices are employed by an individual. In the case of devices which form part of the machinery of government, the Official Conscience is,
perhaps, less open to the charge of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. What is sauce for the (individual) goose is not sauce for the (collective)
gander. However, two wrongs would not make a right, and perhaps all is for the best.