A Brief History of the Diminishing Cards

by Professor Spellbinder

The origin of the Diminishing Cards begins, as far as we know, with Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin’s performance using a standard deck of playing cards and fanning to produce the illusion of diminishing (1868). An excerpt describing this, written by Jean Hugard (1935), is included.

Charles Bertram began the practice of using different sizes of cards to perform his version, as described in 1903 in The Modern Conjuror by C. Lang Neil (excerpt included), who also notes that commercial sets of diminishing cards are also beginning to appear in magic shops of the day.

David Devant also describes a sleight of hand version using successively smaller packs of cards in his Lessons in Conjuring (1922 – excerpt included).

The practice of using gimmicked cards in which the smaller cards were kept in pockets on the backs of the larger cards was invented by Martin Chapender, and it was this version that made its way into the magic stores at the turn of the century. An excerpt from Robertson Keene’s More Novel Notions (1905) is included to explain this version.

In 1922, Ed Massey came up with a more compact mechanical version, an excerpt of which is included, as well as a template for making one of your own. Based on Ed Massey’s idea, Steve Duschek developed a simpler version (c. 1980), and working from both of those “giants” of magic, I humbly add my own version which starts with a jumbo pack of cards (2010). Templates for printing your own cards for my Jumbo version are also included.

Most of the authors, myself included, recommend that you use this effect as a follow-up to a Cards Across effect as a way of explaining how the cards are able to pass up your sleeves, or jump from one place to another without your being able to see them.

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