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 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why one should read old books that may appear outdated) we can logically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
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
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