Friday, September 15, 2017

R.W. Hull: Crooksville, The Tuned Deck and the Essential Nature of Being

R.W. Hull Green Ace Playing Card - this is actually
the back design of a full deck of cards.
The most amazing benefit of working on this blog comes from the astonishing things you learn while developing the history of a small piece of cardstock.  The human elements make these historical detours so very interesting. Today's subject, Ralph W. Hull, is a case in point. Printed in green ink, this throwing card sports a groovy elf conjuring up a profusion of cards.  And while it appears to be the face of an ace of spades, the green side is actually a back design of an entire deck of cards.  The reverse of this marvelous specimen features a handsome Ace of Spades by the Russell Playing Card Company. Gary and Tom both found another, printed in red, with a playing card back, seen below.  In the red deck, it seems that the ace of spades design is a single card from a deck, rather than the back design.

Delving into Hull's history, I found a rich biographical record: Ask Alexander produced nearly 1,000 references in magic books and periodicals, and the Internet revealed still more.  There is far too much material for a detailed biography, so a few highlights will have to do:

Face of green Hull throwing card
Ralph W. Hull (July 5, 1883 – May 20, 1943) was born near Crooksville, Ohio, of which he became a lifelong resident.  His father acquired a ceramics company in Zanesville, Ohio (home of Grover George), which business he moved to Crooksville under the aegis of the A.E. Hull Pottery Company.  Hull's family operated the company for most of the 20th Century, and Ralph ran the company for some time.

Related imageHull Pottery was a well-known producer of high-quality ceramics of every variety.  Those interested in the history of this company can check out the Hull Pottery Association website, which caters to collectors of its products.

Touring the country during his 20s, Ralph developed an original magic act which he performed as a headliner in Chautauqua & Lyceum, as well as in Coney Island.  He was a prolific magic writer who penned a number of books, including Eye-Openers (1932), Modernism in Pasteboard (1934), Smart Magic (1935) and Fifteen Minutes With A Rope (1937).

Hull frequently partnered with magic dealer John Snyder in creating new effects.

But it was as a magical inventor that Hull made his greatest mark.  His prodigious skill prompted William F. Baker (who wrote often under the pseudonym "Old Timer") to observe in the Linking Ring in 1936 that Hull "leads all others in new, ingenious card magic."  Hull released countless commercial effects,  One report suggests that he released 50 commercial card effects in 1934 alone, all of which were well reviewed.

Sporting a Filigree Pattern Back from Russell's Blue Ribbon Deck
Most notable among Hull's arsenal of effects are those using the rough-and-smooth principle. While he did not invent the concept underlying rough-and-smooth (that honor goes to Hofzinser), Hull unquestionably perfected the technique. He produced numerous rough-and-smooth decks, including  the Mirage Deck, the Pop-eyed Popper Deck and Cosmic Ray Cards.  Harlan Tarbell described Hull's Nudist Deck (which combined Svengali and rough-and-smooth principles) as "the greatest card trick of this generation."

Without question, though Hull's piece de resistance was the Tuned Deck, about which John Northern Hilliard wrote in Greater Magic:

Ralph W. Hull's the Complete "FOR many years Mr. Ralph Hull, the famous card wizard of Crooksville, Ohio, has completely bewildered not only the general public, but also amateur conjurers, card connoisseurs and professional magicians with the series of card feats which he is pleased to call "The Tuned Deck." So great has been the interest aroused by Mr. Hull's masterly performance of his card creation that he has finally consented to reveal its secrets in my book. I am proud to be able to present to my readers the correct and only explanation of the trick in Mr. Hull's own words."
The explanation provided by Hull, which takes up some dozen pages of Greater Magic, (followed by a two-page cheat sheet for performers) essentially consists of six different methods of card location, which methods are continually varied so as to utterly perplex the spectator.  Hull's diabolical method rotation allows for multiple repetitions of the trick that enhance its mystification -- each method establishes the the prior method was not that used to achieve the effect.   I will not tip the methods here, as, to quote Hull, he placed it in Greater Magic to ensure that his "most cherished trick [will] fall only into such hands as should have it."
Ralph W. Hull

That the tale of the Tuned Deck can be found at the core of an academic debate about the fundamental nature of consciousness among neuroscientists is just another unexpected turn in the twisted tale about the Man from Crooksville.  I unearthed this gem from a learned treatise entitled The Three-pound Enigma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock Its Mysteries,  which describes the work of Dr. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist.  In exploring the nature of consciousness, essentially the question of whether we can truly understand and describe self-awareness, Dennett invokes the story of R.W. Hull's use of the Tuned Deck to flummox other magicians by repeating the trick multiple times but changing the method each time.  From this, Dennett concludes that "consciousness is a bag of tricks."

For readers who might be thinking that there's enough material here to write a book, well, there is one. Captain Treyor H. Hall, a frequent correspondent of Hull's who never got to meet him, authored The Testament of Ralph W. Hull.  In it, Hall observes:

"Magic can ill-afford the loss of Ralph Hull. In this tribute 1 have tried to indicate the very considerable extent of that loss, and to measure the debt of gratitude which we owe to one who has helped to make possible the recent enormous technical advance in the science of magic, and especially the magic of cards."

When I recently encountered and purchased Hull's throwing card, a fine, amusing specimen, I knew nothing of the magical genius it purported to promote. The card just seemed funny and attractive. Hull's story proved even more engaging.   And to quote my friend and co-blogger Tom Ewing, "Who wouldn't want to have come from Crooksville?" .

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Man Known as Ace -- and Other Names

Continuing to work through the treasures from the Swedish Magic Archives and, as promised in the post about Öberg's Playing Cards, I turned my attention to this wonderful piece, featuring another nice Öberg back.   Unfortunately, the card portrays an Illusionisten (Swedish for magician) identified only as "Ace."  As any magic historian can tell you, trying to search the word "ace" in a magic literature is a fool's errand.   So, I turned to Christer Nilsson, curator of the collection for more information.

Christer advised that "Ace" was a Swedish magician born in 1929. His given name was apparently Bengt Nilsson (no relation to Christer, but the two were friends) and, in addition to being known as "Ace," he began performing as "Big Ben," then "Lester" and eventually employed the incongruous moniker "Ken Miller." Christer describes Ace as "a great manipulator" who performed, beginning around 1970 as "The Millionaire and his Funny Money," and spent a year in 1974 performing in Asia, including Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong-kong, Singapore, Djakarta and Thailand.  Ace sold some effects to Tannen's and Davenports and published routines in several magic magazines.  The April 1972 issue of Magigram featured a routine called "Everything Happens for Ken Miller," with photos by Lewis Ganson.

A posting on Christer's website reveals that Bengt Nilsson died on August 27, 2009 in Stockholm.

Thanks to Christer for the chance to feature this interesting piece and performer!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Earl Lockman – “Locks Don’t Lock Lockman”

Earl Albert Lockman was born on June 12, 1893 in Chicago, Illinois. He got a taste of the entertainment world at an early age. His father was employed to pull Buffalo Bill’s Circus

Beyond Compars

Scaling Card for Carl Compars Herrmann
Carl Compars Herrmann (1816–1887) was the older brother (by 27 years!) of Alexander Herrmann, and one of fifteen children of Samuel Herrmann, a physician and amateur magician.  By the age of 30, Compars was widely recognized as Europe's premier stage conjurer.

To get there, however, he pulled a few fast ones.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Frederick Eugene Powell: Dean of American Magicians

I have been fascinated with Dean Powell since I first lectured on him at a 1986 meeting of the Magic Collectors’ Association. At that time I produced some cursory lecture notes that hardly did him justice as the Dean of American Magicians, a position bestowed upon him by both the National Conjurors’ Association and the Society of American Magicians. I have just completed a comprehensive biography of Powell scheduled for publication in 2018. For purposes of this posting, I will touch briefly on his career and in particular, the scaling cards he used throughout his lifetime.

Powell was born in Philadelphia on March 1, 1856. When he was just a child his father took him to see Signor Blitz, Robert Heller and other magicians of the period. His early interest in magic was sparked by a series of magic tricks published in a general circulation children’s magazine called “Our Young Folks.”

Over the course of his lifetime he performed magic

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dean Carnegie, The Magic Detective & Steampunk Illusionist

In the past, I have written about my friend Dean Carnegie, known professionally as The Magic Detective, based upon his fascinating and popular blog of the same name, as well as "Carnegie, Artist of Mystery," and "The Steampunk Illusionist," his stage monikers.   Dean has proven to be most helpful in supporting our efforts on this blog as well as assisting me develop some magic effects.  A few months ago, he shared this fine card featuring Dean along with his charming and thoughtful stage assistant Denise.

Dean's website provides the following biography, capturing only some of his many accomplishments:

"Dean Carnegie is a professional magical entertainer, artist(painter), author and historian. His various interests in art, literature, and history all seem to find their way into his programs. As a professional magician, Dean travels all over the U.S. and abroad demonstrating and sharing his magic. He is the creator/producer of several different shows including Carnegie-Artist of Mystery and The Steampunk Illusionist. He also develops custom presentations for corporate events and shopping malls.
"As an artist, his work generally involves the theme of magic. His paintings of magicians have been featured on the covers of magazines, on TV and in books. Carnegie’s artwork is done primarily in acrylics. Some examples of his artwork can be seen at
"Dean is the author of two books on escapology for magicians and is finishing up his first children’s book. He has a book on the famous magician Harry Houdini in the works. The Magic Detective which is all about the history of magic.
Finally, he is the creator and writer for the very popular blog
When not writing, painting or performing, Dean Carnegie is usually developing new material for his shows. Being an avid magic history fan, he constantly delves through 100+ year old books to find old world magic and then figures out how to make those old effects new again. In some cases, like with his Steampunk Illusionist Show, those old effects are presented just the way there were a century ago. Old mysteries for new audiences is a perfect combination."

His enchanting promotional piece is sized and styled like a Victorian-era cabinet card, finely suited to his persona.  The reverse features a charming optical illusion.  And though it's printed on fairly thin, photo paper stock, Dean advises that, on suitable occasions, he employs this piece as a throwout card, aerially distributing it to eager spectators.

Many thanks to Dean for sharing this fine collectible.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Keystone State Federation of I.B.M. Rings

The benefit of having a large, representative accumulation of magic memorabilia is that it provides you the opportunity to excavate your collection and uncover hidden gems. One such is the subject of this blog, a spread of lovely playing cards that chronicle an important organization that began small and spread across the eastern seaboard.

The spread of ten cards above are held together with

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ben Franklin IV – An Extraordinary Card Thrower! by Jay Hunter

[Jay Hunter, whose generosity knows no bounds, has drafted this wonderful post for us, along with some additional specimens from his collection.  Thanks, Jay! -Judge Brown]

Benjamin  Franklin IV was a high school principal in Point Pleasant,  West Virginia.  He was born on December 27, 1913 in Point Pleasant.  Besides his day job, for many years he was active as a semi-professional  magician. I found many references to him on the “Ask Alexander” search engine.  Many of these references alluded to the claim the he indeed was a descendant of “THE” Ben Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

About our Pinterest Page

Because Blogger does not offer a gallery function -- a feature which would display all of the wonderful images on these pages in one spot -- I have been maintaining a parallel Pinterest page which captures many of the cards we feature in various posts, along with a few other throwing card featured around the web.  It looks like this:

As you can see from this excerpt, the Pinterest page displays scores of the cards you'll find on Propelled Pasteboards in one location.  Clicking on the images will generally bring the viewer to the associated post on this site.   There are currently 180 "pins" on the page, and more are added regularly.  So if you're interested in seeing the best magicians' throwing card collection anywhere on the web, please visit the Magicians' Throwing Cards Pinterest Page, sponsored by your friends at Propelled Pasteboards.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Holding Even More Good Bicycle Cards

Elsewhere, we have written about the United States Playing Card Company's promotional campaign for Bicycle cards, often employing the catch phrase "When You Play with Bicycle, You Hold Good Cards."  The campaign proved a boon for vaudeville-era magicians seeking free or subsidized promotion for their acts, and more indirectly, to modern-day collectors of these pasteboards.  Well, our good friend Jay Hunter, inspired by this historical effort, assembled this stunning array of such cards, representing a broad assembly of Bicycle card backs.

And, another buddy, Lee Asher, offered his considerable knowledge to identify the backs designs. According to Lee, they are as follows:

ROW 1 (Left to Right) - Lotus Back, Racer Back, Cyclist No. 2 Back

ROW 2 (Left to Right) - All Wheel Back, Acorn Back, Cupid Back

ROW 3 (Left to Right) - Sprocket No. 2 Back, Wheel No. 2 Back, New Fan Back.

Additionally, Lee advises, several of the backs are uncommon specimens, in particular the Cyclist No. 2 and the Sprocket No. 2.

Of course, the fronts are equally engaging, if not as colorful, depicting advertisements from nine different magicians, none of which have yet been covered here at Propelled Pasteboards.  You can see the faces below.  While the individual performers may be worthy of further comment (by way of example, I have assembled several other pieces and some information about De Jeu, Max Terhune and Professor Lindhorst), several of these are little-known performers about whom no information may exist other than that depicted on these fine collectibles.

However, these images are worthy of further examination.   The assemblage tells us a little more about the Bicycle promotional campaign, not only by the backs depicted, but also the ad copy on the faces.  Most of them bear some variation of the "hold good cards" theme.  Yet take a look at the detailed description on the Harry Kane card, which is very different than that usually encountered on these pieces.  Moreover, the Bicycle promotional text runs vertically along the side of the Hiestand card, while the normal positioning of this text is usually horizontally along the top of the card.  Finally, the Max Terhune card features a more specific endorsement relating to his use of Steamboat and Bicycle cards, along with the standard text.  Each of these differences are likely clues to the date the cards were printed, and may provide further insights.

Many thanks to Jay for sharing this wonderful assortment with us.

And before leaving the world of Bicycle throwing cards, here's an image of the 1905 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents in which USPCC first registered the "hold good cards" slogan, along with some others: