A Throwing Card . . . What's That?

Grover George propels some pasteboards
For more than a century, magicians have dazzled audiences by throwing playing cards with remarkable power, speed and precision.   Some conjurers propelled cards to showcase their extraordinary skill and dexterity, bouncing cards against the rear wall of the theater, sailing them into the balcony or landing them in the laps of specific spectators.   Others scaled cards to convince spectators that the cards used in tricks were unprepared.   The popularity of these demonstrations made them a staple of stage magic.

Capitalizing on the popularity of card scaling, magicians commissioned custom printed playing cards -- called throwing cards, throwouts, scaling cards and souvenir cards -- which, like business cards, feature drawings, photographs and slogans of the performers who tossed them.  It proved an inexpensive and sensational method to advertise magic shows. 

Every throwing card has a story to tell. Some are printed on heavy throwing card stock, indicating that they were more likely to have been distributed via propulsion, while others may have been handed out or sold as part of a souvenir deck. Many contained good luck symbols, providing fortunate spectators incentive to hold onto these items.  Others feature whispering imps and other magic arcana to help build the magician's image. All provide some biographical details about the performer -- ranging from a stage name to telephone numbers and rates.  The choice of which details to include provides insight into the magician's career.

And it wasn't just about the performer. Many throwing cards feature cross-promotions, hawking everything from tires to a mechanical cure for insomnia. Cross-promotions, which helped magicians offset production costs, make these items even more interesting to collectors. The most popular and logical cosponsors of throwing cards were playing card manufacturers who welcomed the chance to have potential customers fight over free samples of their wares. 

Throwout cards are fascinating bits of magic history. As they careened across the footlights into the hands of eager fans, these pieces of pasteboard provide literal snapshots of a moment of magic.   Across the decades, magicians threw tens of thousands of throwouts. Some of these cards -- a least metaphorically -- landed here.

On these pages, expect find throwouts from some of the great magicians of magic's golden age -- such as Harry Houdini, T. Nelson Downs and Howard Thurston, alongside those of modern masters, like Ricky Jay and Jeff McBride, who brought card scaling into the 21st century.  Additionally, many of these items relate to magicians who are relative unknowns -- and in some cases, a throwing card may be the only record of a performer's career (or planned career).  Sharing information about these performers is a major purpose of  this site, so we're eager to hear from you.  (You can "Contact Us" with the form at the bottom of each page.)

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