Lee Asher's Card Magic & Playing Card History Timeline by Lee Asher
Review by Michael Close
Last July, at the FISM convention in Quebec, Lee Asher presented a lecture discussing the correlation between the development of playing cards and the advancement of sleight-of-hand techniques using playing cards. In conjunction with that lecture, Lee prepared a lovely, 104-page book, Lee Asher’s Card Magic & Playing Card History Timeline that, as the title implies, melds magic and playing card history into a singular timeline.
As Lee points out in the Preface, “By no means is this list complete, nor am I the first to undertake such research. Instead, it’s a selection of hand-picked citations that take us from ancient Egypt to modern times.”
The book begins in 1991 BCE with Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge. The Egyptians stored texts on a wide variety of subjects in libraries called “Houses of Life.” Many of these texts were attributed to Thoth. Centuries later, the author Jean-Baptiste Alliette (writing under the pseudonym Etteilla) described Tarot cards as pages from the Book of Thoth. A Chinese inventor, Bi Sheng, developed a movable-type printing machine around 1041; three hundred years later, inspired by this machine, Gutenberg would create his own movable-type printing press.
By 1120, playing cards are in use in China; by the 1300s, they had spread across Europe. The first manuscript containing a card trick is written by Luca Pacioli in 1478. The first account of marked cards occurs in a book by Gerolamo Cardano in 1520. Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft is published in 1584. And so it goes.
Over the centuries, the technology of playing card manufacturing improves, allowing magicians to incorporate sleights that would have been difficult or impossible with earlier playing cards. If you want to understand the importance of improved card stock and card finishes, just try doing a second deal, bottom deal, or spread cull with a stack of business cards.
The citations Lee offers are accompanied by beautiful, full-color illustrations, which make for a most enjoyable reading experience.
In addition to the book, purchasers also receive a link to a video of Lee presenting the same lecture he gave at FISM. Lee’s enthusiasm for the subject is obvious; if you are not already a fan of card magic and the history of playing cards, this enthusiasm will probably inspire you to seek out more information.
There is one aspect of this historical timeline not discussed by Lee, and it provides magicians with an extra layer of sneakiness when performing card magic. Until very recently (when card magicians commissioned playing card manufacturers to create custom decks designed for superior manipulation), all the improvements to playing cards were done for the benefit of the general public who played cards (gambling or otherwise). That the cards made techniques easier and more deceptive is a happy side effect. This means we can perform technically advanced magic with a prop that has become a familiar, everyday item. What a great time to be alive and doing magic.
For those who love cards and card magic, Lee Asher’s Card Magic & Playing Card History Timeline is a must-buy. Even if you don’t put yourself in that category, I think you’ll find this journey through the interlaced worlds of manufacturing and conjuring a fascinating one. It may certainly lead you to further exploration. Recommended.
(By the way, at the time of this writing, Lee is offering a 14% discount on the book.)
Available from: www.leeasher.com
Price: 24.99 USD