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
Rough and Smooth Cards
There are numerous ways in which playing cards
can be treated, to produce what is called "rough and smooth"
work. From Maskelyne's own words, "Either something is done
to the cards to make them slip, or they are prepared with something
to keep them from slipping," we can conclude that he was not
even too sure what was done to the cards to make certain cards slip
and/or prevent from slipping against each other. In any case, the
exact procedures of what may have been done to the cards may be
irrelevant, especially due to the fact that the old recipes may
not even work on modern playing cards. What is important to understand,
from a historic perspective, is merely the fact that rough and smooth
work had been attempted in many ways, in the past, which just re-emphasizes
the point that gambling was always a crooked business.
Trimming is not the only method of preparing cards for cheating
purposes; there are others of much greater delicacy and refinement.
Witness the following, which is culled from the circular issued
by one of the 'Sporting Houses':
'To smart poker players.
- I have invented a process by which a man is sure of winning
if he can introduce his own cards. The cards are not trimmed or
marked in any way, shape or manner. They can be handled and shuffled
by all at the board, and without looking at a card you can, by
making two or three shuffles or ripping them in, oblige the dealer
to give three of a kind to any one playing, or the same advantage
can be taken on your own deal. This is a big thing for any game.
In euchre you can hold the joker every time or the cards most
wanted in any game. The process is hard to detect, as the cards
look perfectly natural, and it is something card players are not
looking for. Other dealers have been selling sanded cards, or
cheap cards, with spermacetia rubbed on, and calling them professional
playing or magnetic cards. I don't want you to class my cards
with that kind of trash. I use a liquid preparation put on with
rollers on all cards made; this dries on the cards and does not
show, and will last as long as the cards do. The object is to
make certain cards not prepared slip off easier than others in
shuffling. You can part or break the deck to an ace or king, and
easily "put up three," no matter where they lay in the deck. This
advantage works fine single-handed, or when the left-hand man
shuffles and offers the cards to be cut. These cards are ten times
better than readers or strippers, and they get the money faster.
Price, $2,00 per pack by mail; $20,00 per dozen packs. If you
order a dozen I will furnish cards like you use.'
The gentle modesty and unassuming candor of the above effusion,
its honest rectitude and perfect self-abnegation, render it a very
pearl of literature. It is a pity that such a jewel should be left
to hide itself away, and waste its glories upon the unappreciative
few, whilst thousands might be gladdened by the sight of it and
proceed on their way invigorated and refreshed. Let us bring it
into the light and treasure it as it deserves.
As the talented author above quoted suggests, there are several
methods of achieving the object set forth, and causing the cards
to slip at any desired place, apart from the much vaunted 'liquid
preparation put on with rollers' the secret of which one would think
that he alone possessed. We will just glance at them all, by way
of improving our minds and learning all that is to be learnt.
The earliest method of preparing a pack of cards in this way certainly
had the merit of extreme simplicity, in that it consisted of nothing
more than putting the pack, for some time previous to its use, in
a damp place. This system had the further advantage that it was
not even necessary to open the wrapper in which the cards came from
the maker. When the cards had absorbed a certain amount of moisture,
it was found that the low cards would slip much more easily than
the court cards. The reason for this was, that the glaze used in
'bringing up the colors' of the inks used in printing contained
a large proportion of hygroscopic or gummy matter, which softened
more or less upon becoming moist. The court cards, having a much
greater part of their faces covered with the glaze than the others,
were more inclined to cling to the next card, in consequence. Therefore
the task of distinguishing them was by no means severe.
Not satisfied with this somewhat uncertain method, however, the
sharps set to work to improve upon it. The next departure was in
the direction of making the smooth cards smoother, and the rough
ones more tenacious. The upshot of this was that those cards which
were required to slip were lightly rubbed over with soap, and those
which had to cling were treated with a faint application of rosin.
This principle has been the basis of all the 'new and improved'
systems that have been put before the sharping public ever since.
Either something is done to the cards to make them slip, or they
are prepared with something to keep them from slipping.
When the unglazed 'steam-boat' cards were much in use the 'spermacetia'
system, referred to in the paragraph quoted a little while ago,
was a very pretty thing indeed, and worked well. The cards which
it was necessary to distinguish from the others were prepared by
rubbing their backs well with hard spermaceti wax. They were then
vigorously scoured with some soft material, until they had acquired
a brilliant polish. Cards treated in this manner, when returned
again to the pack, would be readily separable from the others. By
pressing rather heavily upon the top of the pack, and directing
the pressure slightly to one side, it would be found that the pack
divided at one of the prepared cards. That is to say, the cards
above the prepared one would cling together and slide off, leaving
the doctored one at the top of the remainder.
With glazed cards, if they are required to slip, the backs are
rubbed with a piece of waxed tissue paper, thus giving them an extra
polish; but the better plan is to slightly roughen the backs of
all the others. They may be 'sanded,' as in the case of those used
for the sand-tell faro-box. This simply
means that the backs are rubbed with sand-paper. In reality, it
is fine emery paper that is used; any sand-paper would be too coarse,
and produce scratches.
There still remains to be considered the method of causing the
cards to cling, by the application of that marvelous master-stroke
of inventive genius, the 'liquid preparation,' as advertised. It
may be hoped that the reader will not feel disappointed on learning
what it is. The wonderful compound is nothing more or less than
very thin white hard varnish. That is all. It may be applied 'with
rollers,' or otherwise, just as the person applying it may prefer.
The fact of certain cards being treated with this varnish renders
them somewhat 'tacky,' and inclined to stick together; not sufficiently,
however, to render the effect noticeable to anyone who is not looking
for it. But, by manipulating the pack as before directed in the
case of the waxed cards, the slipping will occur at those cards
whose backs have not been varnished. The instructions sent out with
the cards mentioned in the advertisement will be found reprinted
at p. 304; therefore,
since it would be presumptuous to think of adding anything to advice
emanating from the great authority himself, we may leave him to
describe the use of his own wares.
Having thus said all that is necessary to give the reader sufficient
information for his guidance in any case of sharping with which
he may be brought into contact, we may bring this chapter to a close;
and, in so doing, conclude all that has to be said upon the subject
of cheating at cards. We have been compelled to dwell somewhat at
length upon matters which are associated with cards and card-games
only, because so large a proportion of the sharping which goes on
in the world is cardsharping. Almost everyone plays cards, and so
many play for money. Therefore, the sharp naturally selects that
field which affords him the widest scope and the most frequent opportunities
for the exercise of his calling. Card-sharping has been reduced
to a science. It is no longer a haphazard affair, involving merely
primitive manipulations, but
it has developed into a profession in which there is as much to
learn as in most of the everyday occupations of ordinary mortals.
With this chapter, then, we take a fond farewell of cards, for the present; and having said 'adieu,' we will turn our attention to other