Friday, February 24, 2017

Cardini's Birthday: His Fanning Card and Mystic Craig


Today marks the birthday of the legendary Cardini (b. Richard Pitchford, 1895-1973), who was known for his superlative manipulation act, which showcased his unparalleled skills with cigarettes, billiard balls and card fanning and production. Though he progressed through several varieties of cards, he ultimately settled on the type pictured here.  This card bears Cardini's trademark back, which has a fascinating history, as related in John Fisher's terrific biography Cardini: The Suave Deceiver:

"For his fanning sequences, Cardini originally used a brand called "Park Avenue," which was obtainable from Woolworth's, until he was introduced to a card with an even more attractive back design on general sale in Walgreen.s drug stores.
Dai Vernon credited Harry Drielinger as being the one who first brought this design to Dick's attention, while Cardini aficionado Doug Edwards has given the honours to Chicagoan Chic Schoke. Trademarked as "Peau Doux" cards, the brand name was derived from the name of Mrs.Walgreen's dog Po Do, thus accounting for the canine likeness that appears on the Ace of Spades and the Joker. It translates from the French as "smooth skin," although whether the dog ever lived up to this quality we shall never know. The cards came in two versions. On one, the stunning Art Deco design depicted a series of five concentric arcs in black, red, white, gold, and black, reading from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right-hand corner of the card. The other bore the revised colouring of red, black, white, silver, and red. Both carried the same image of the winged horse Pegasus, silhouetted in gold on the first, silver on the second, emerging from the gold or silver arc. As soon as he saw these cards, Cardini realised their potential for display fans and colour changing effects. He wasted no time in entering into a transaction with the Walgreen Company. The details of Cardini's arrangement with Walgreen's have become the stuff of legend and conjecture. Throughout his life,he told a growing circle of friends and enthusiasts, including Bobby Bernard and Eddie Dawes, of how he bought up the complete stock of the cards, extracting from the company an assurance they would not manufacture any further packs. Cardini even went so far as to tell Bobby that he also purchased the printing plates, which he then smashed, further to protect his exclusivity ....The price for the privilege mentioned to Dawes was "about $3000."
This particular example, notwithstanding the scrapbook damage, represents another true treasure obtained from the collection of Ray Goulet. Because, as reflected on the face of the card, this pasteboard has a very interesting story to tell.   It reads, in relevant part "One of Cardini's Cards from the 350th  Anniv. of SAM Meeting & Show, McAlpin Hotel, N.Y.  Mystic Craig 1936." This inscription refers to the 350th meeting of the New York Parent Assembly of the S.A.M., which was held on December 3, 1935, at which Cardini performed.   All did not go as hoped or expected.  

"Cardini did eleven minutes," Ted Annemann wrote in The Jinx for January 1936,  "the latter three being taken up with a travesty on a cute rubber band trick and the bland remark that those present could find out about it by reading Popular Mechanics. In short, Mr. Cardini gracefully crammed it down everyone's throat that exposing was his business rather than that of the society."   This dust-up emanated from several how-to articles on magic tricks Cardini had released in 1935, as well as the filing of formal charges of exposure by the Parent Assembly against Tarbell for a dime-store magic booklet.  "To me, the sarcastic by-play by Mr. Cardini was sadly out of place before such a gathering," Annemann concluded.   "It ruined a magnificent manipulative presentation."

I've long wanted to obtain an original Cardini fanning card.  But to get one that not only was used by him during a performance, but on an evening as colorful as the card's back design, well, that's really something.

That Mystic Craig took the time and effort to preserve this tiny piece of magic history should prove unsurprising, as he would, years later, devote his energies to documenting a broad swath of conjuring. 

William "Mystic Craig" Vagell (1900-1987) left school at age 13 to become a semi-professional magician. He worked in carnivals, sideshows, a medicine show and in Chautauqua.  Experienced in pitch acts, he became a demonstrator for Max Holden and later sold P&L Magic Sets at Saks Fifth Avenue during the Christmas season. During World War II, he went with the USO to the Southwest Pacific, England and in France.

After the war, he ran a model railroad shop.  But, by any measure, his greatest contribution to the art came sometime thereafter, when he acquired a high-end sound film set up, and traveled the world shooting 16mm color footage of magicians.  The groundbreaking film library he built was donated to the Magic Castle.

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