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
ALTHOUGH there can be no question as to the utility of marked cards
in the hands of the sharper, it frequently happens that he is unable
to avail himself of the advantages presented by their employment.
It may be, perhaps, that he is so situated as to be compelled to
use genuine cards belonging to someone else; and that the comparatively
scanty and hurried marking supplied by means of poker-ring or shading
box will not provide him with all the information imperatively demanded
by the nature of the game in which he is engaged. He may, perhaps,
be playing in circles where the devices of marking, and the methods
of accomplishing it, are well known. For many reasons the use of
marked cards may be too risky to be ventured upon; or the cards
themselves may not be available at the. moment. Again, the sharp
may not have taken the trouble to master any system of marking;
yet, for all that, he requires a knowledge of his opponent's cards
just as much as his more talented brother of the pen, the brush,
and the needle-point. How then, it may be asked, is he to obtain
this knowledge? Simply very simply. The sharp needs to be hard pressed
indeed, to be driven to the end of his tether.
Marked cards being out of the question, it is possible to obviate
to a great extent the necessity for them by the use of certain little
instruments of precision denominated 'reflectors,' or, more familiarly,
'shiners.' These are not intended to be used for the purpose of
casting reflections upon the assembled company. Far from it. Their
reflections are exclusively such as have no weight with the majority.
They, and their use alike, reflect only upon the sharp himself.
These useful little articles are constructed in many forms, and
are as perfectly adapted to the requirements of the individual as
are the works of Nature herself. Just as man has been evolved in
the course of ages from some primitive speck of structureless protoplasm,
so, in like manner, we find that these convexities of silvered glass
have crystallized out from some primordial drop of innocent liquid,
more or less accidentally spilled upon the surface of a table in
years gone by.
Such, then, was the origin of the reflector. The sharp of long
ago was content to rely upon a small circular drop of wine, or whatever
he happened to be drinking, carefully spilled upon the table immediately
in front of him. Holding the cards over this drop, their faces would
be reflected from its surface, for the information of the sharp
who was dealing them.
The drop of wine is an interesting idea, but
although it's an innocent "gaff" it is probably not very
practical. Another similar type of shiner that Maskelyne doesn't
mention in his book is a cup of black coffee. With the right illumination
it is possible to catch the reflections of (some of the) cards.
Of course: easier said then done.
Times have advanced since then, however, and the sharp has advanced
with the times. We live in an age of luxury. We are no longer satisfied
with the rude appliances which sufficed for the simpler and less
fastidious tastes of our forefathers; and in this respect at least
the sharp is no exception to the general rule. He, too, has become
more fastidious, and more exacting in his requirements, and his
tastes are more expensive. His reflector, therefore, is no longer
a makeshift; it is a well-constructed instrument, both optically
and mechanically, costing him, to purchase, from two and a half
to twenty-five dollars. Not shillings, bear in mind, but dollars.
Think of it! Five pounds for a circular piece of looking-glass,
about three-quarters of an inch in diameter! The fact that such
a price is paid is sufficient to indicate the profitable character
of the investment.
The first record we have of the employment of a specially constructed
appliance of this kind describes a snuff-box bearing in the centre
of the lid a small medallion containing a portrait. The sharp in
taking a pinch of snuff pressed a secret spring, the effect of which
was to substitute for the portrait a convex reflector. The snuff-box
then being laid upon the table the cards were reflected from the
surface of this mirror, giving the sharp a reduced image of each
one as it was dealt. A device of this kind may have passed muster
years ago, but it could never escape detection nowadays. At the
present day card-players would be, unquestionably, 'up to snuff.'
Maskelyne is obviously playing with words and being witty when talking about a snuff-box and being up to snuff. Nowadays
a snuff-box shiner would stand out like a sore thumb in much the same way as a cell-phone shiner would have stood out in Maskelyne's time.
Perhaps this is the reasons why Maskelyne does not mention the use of cell phones, anywhere in his book.