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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Card Trimmer

The most modern appliance of this kind, however, will be found quoted in one of the catalogues under the name of 'trimming-shears.' These shears are not necessarily cheating-tools; they are largely used to trim the edges of faro-cards, which will not pass through the dealing-box if they are damaged. The shears for cleaning up cards in a genuine manner, however, are only required to cut them rectangularly. In the case of those used for swindling they must cut at any desired angle.

The apparatus that Maskelyne calls "trimming-shears" is more commonly known as a "card trimmer". Card trimmers are very common amongst collectors of crooked gambling paraphernalia and they are most often perceived as accessories to make stripper decks, or more precisely, "belly strippers". However, the work that these trimmers put on the cards is usually quite heavy and stripper decks that were made on these machines are not likely to pass close inspection. There are other ways of making stripper decks, that involve the use of other types of accessories.

Although card trimmers are usually associated with stripper decks the apparatus was extensively used to make a type of marked cards called "trims". These are cards that have been trimmed is such way that certain values of cards fall into groups. The trim work is usually put on playing cards that bear white borders. Basically, the work consists of trimming the cards in such way that some cards have the white borders wider (or narrower) along one edge, as opposed to another, and other cards are trimmed so that the cards end up smaller, but still centered.

One feature of the apparatus that may have lead to the widely accepted theory that card trimmers were designed to make belly strippers is the fact that these machines are equipped with a guide that can hold the card slanted at an angle, in relation to the blade, as it is being trimmed. Some collectors may have logically concluded that this feature can be used to put the bellies on the cards. However, if we read Sharps and Flats (that's a good example why one should read old books that may appear outdated) we can logically conclude that card trimmers were probably initially designed just as tools to restore the edges of faro cards that would no longer pass through the box. The slanted guide that enables the cards to be cut at an angle appears to be a feature that had been added to those machines at some later date. However, there is still one important detail to take into consideration that makes it unclear as to the exact purpose why the slanted guide may have been added.

As we've already established, this apparatus is better suited to produce trims than strippers. If we take this fact into consideration it is quite possible that the slanted guide was initially intended for the making of a variety of trims, and not necessarily strippers.

Some trims are produced in such way that the white borders appear tapered (i.e. wider at one edge and narrower at the other side). Such tapered edges would produce trims, i.e. marked cards, that would appear to have the back designs printed slightly at an angle. For example, high cards could have a slight clockwise rotation of the back design, low cards a counter clockwise rotation and neutral cards centered.

Using a card trimmer to make a stripper deck is kind of like using a pair of pliers to tighten a bolt -- yes, it can be done, but a wrench is still a much more effective tool for the job. Card trimmers are really not the ideal tool for making stripper decks. And due to the fact that these machines are perfect for making trims, it is quite possible that they were designed primarily for that purpose, at least when crooked gamblers first used them for cheating purposes.

There are other possible uses for the machine, such as making short cards or leaving one card longer, while trimming the rest (as Maskelyne describes, below) all of which are better gaffs than most of the belly strippers made on these machines.

These shears consist of an oblong block of wood, into which a steel bar is sunk along one edge, carrying a bracket which supports the cutting-blade, working on a pivot at one end (fig. 46). The edge of the steel bar and the blade which works in close contact with it form respectively the lower and upper halves of the shears. Upon the upper surface of the wooden block two guide plates are fixed, by means of thumb-screws. These plates are adjustable to any angle within certain limits, and are for the purpose of holding the cards in position whilst being cut. The guide-plates being set at the necessary angle, the card about to be cut is pressed against them with the left hand, whilst the right brings down the knife, and cuts off one edge. Fig. 46 shows a card in the act of being cut. Each card being held against the guides while cutting, uniformity of the whole is secured. When one side of each card has had a shaving taken off, if it is desired to trim the opposite side as well, the guides are adjusted to give the required width, and a second cut is taken.

Card Trimmer: stripper decks

FIG. 46

Shears of this kind, of course, will not cut the sides of the cards concave; but a very good substitute for convex sides may be made by taking two cuts on each side, at a very slight angle one to the other, taking more off the corners than in the centre. There is no need to impress upon the reader that the defective form of the card is not made sufficiently pronounced to be noticeable. The two cuts do not meet in the middle to form a point; the apex of the angle, so to speak, is cut off, leaving the central portion of the side flat, and square with the ends of the card.


Square-cornered playing-cards of course will show no signs of having been trimmed in this way; but those with round corners are bound to do so, however slight a shaving may have been removed from the side. In trimming these for cheating, therefore, the sharp has to employ, in addition to the shears, what is called a 'round-corner cutter.' This is an instrument which restores the circular form of the corners, which otherwise would show the point at which the shears cut through them. It is simply a sort of punch, which cuts the corners, one at a time, into their original shape, and gives them their proper curve.

The "round-corner cutter," as Maskelyne calls it, is more commonly known as a "corner rounder".

So much, then, for the tools. We have next to consider the various forms given to the cards, and the uses to which they are put when thus prepared.

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