Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Theodore DeLand's Got Your Back!

Deland's "Watch the Dice, 6 or 7," on the backs of throwout for J.W. Wilson, Puzzling Pierson and Lightner

As part of our continuing study of throwing cards, we have often stressed the importance of examining a card's back to provide added insight as to it provenance, manufacture, and approximate age. And if you look a enough magicians' cards, it will not be long before you notice one or more with this intriguing design, produced by Theodore DeLand, an eclectic, prolific magic card manufacturer in 1907. It's called "Watch the Dice, 6 or 7," and it's a terrific negative space illusion: Rotate the card 180 degrees and the number of dice in the stack appears to change.

Another unusual aspect of these cards is the manner in which they were created.  Unlike the various cards we've discussed which were sold as blanks, such as the Roterberg Stock Card and the Bamberg Magic Card, or cards that were professionally printed on both sides, to create these backs, DeLand sold printing blocks to allow magicians to create them on their own. I was fortunate enough to be able to add one of these rare printings blocks for the "6 or 7" back to my collection.   That block, seen here with a Puzzling Pierson card back, is in beautiful condition, and I suspect it was never really used.  It bears the emblem of the S.A.M. embedded in the design.

Gary Frank was able to provide me with one of the ad cards that DeLand used to sell these printing blocks.  The "Advertise Yourself" copy was printed on the face of playing cards with printed images of the three backs for which they were available.  Price: three printing blocks for $1!  (I paid much, much more for mine, even when adjusted for inflation.)  One of those three designs, obviously, was the "6 or 7" back.  In addition, I believe a second one was the "Dollar Deck" back, seen below as well as on the reverse of the promotional card used by McDonald Birch.  The third may have been the Daisy Deck back, though we have been unable to locate a throwing card with that particular design.

Jay Hunter was able to turn up something else: The M. Lewis Company, the work of which will be discussed in another post, advertised the DeLand "6 or 7" printing plate in the Sphinx in 1907.  Interestingly, as seen in the ad reproduced here, Lewis sold them for $1 each, offered with or without the S.A.M. emblem engraved in the circles in the design.  Lewis suggests having the corners rounded like a playing card, or square like a business card, and notes that it had a "large supply on hand."

Jay also kindly prepared an array of cards sporting the "6 or 7" back, printed in four different colors, both with and without the S.A.M. emblem as well as with rounded and square corners:

So who was Deland?  Well, according to Magicpedia, "Theodore DeLand (1873-1931) created the phenomenon of packet tricks between 1906 and 1915, during which time he marketed almost 100 tricks using gimmicked cards and decks, many of his own unique creation. DeLand was a clerk at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and died in an insane asylum in Norristown, Pennsylvania."   That snippet hardly captures DeLand's unusual story; for many years, Richard Kaufman has been working on a biography, DeLand: Mystery and Madness, which is expected to be released soon.

And while DeLand did not have a throwing card, many of his decks and effects included signature aces, which are quite interesting.   Several are seen below, which Mr. Kaufman helped me identify.

Ace of Spades from original Deland Dollar Deck
(later printed by S.S. Adams)

Ace of Spades from Deland's "Twister" trick

Ace/Three from a DeLand effect called "Pickitout"


  1. Hi, I am a realy fan of delands artwork, and your blog. Do you by any chance have a larger image of the ace with delands coat of arms. I am so happy if you will post or mail a larger picture to me. Regards H. Dale

  2. Hi,
    I collect AC Gilbert Mysto Magic sets, and Theodore DeLand worked for Mysto Mfg. Co. in 1910. For the last few years I have been looking for information about DeLand card tricks, so this information will be very helpful. I have listed a lot of my findings on Pinterests under "Deland's Magical Cards" for any of you who are interested.
    Thank you,
    Richard Leach