Usually when asked about the birth of our art, most cardists would say Show Off by Brian Tudor was the first “flourish-only” product on the market. This wasn’t the case, as we are about to see. But most importantly, we are going to try to revisit the old-school scene, and when I say old-school, I really mean it. Let’s talk about the origins of one-handed cuts, Sybil-like two-handed cuts, and let’s learn a bit about some of the very old-timers of cardistry 🙂
One-handed cuts go back a long way, since they were originally designed as one-handed passes… knowing that, I wouldn’t really want to use them as examples of old-school cardistry. However, I found a very interesting sentence in an old publication by Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin [“Les secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie”, 1868 (later translated into english, “Secrets of Conjuring and Magic”, 1878)], on the topic of one-handed passes, which describes them exactly as flourishes.
“The one-handed pass is rarely used in card tricks, and serves generally no other purpose than showcasing finger dexterity. […] There are a lot of ways to execute a one-handed cut, I chose 3 of the most used and best ones, and disregarded the rest”.
So let’s take a sneak peak at the cardistry scene of the 1860’s, what were the most used and best one handed cuts at the time.
You’ll recognize a thumb cut, albeit with a slightly different way of clipping the bottom packet. Robert-Houdin mentions this cut is “described in all magic treatises, and done by a lot of magicians”.
This is basically a classic pass but done with only one hand, clipping the corner of the bottom packet in the thumb crotch…
The old-timers among you might recognize Dr. Casaubon’s (aka Msgr. Vincent Foy) “Pincer grip cut” as taught in Jerry Cestkowski’s Encyclopedia, 2002 (or in “Bertram on Sleight of Hand”, 1983).
(off-topic note: Robert-Houdin’s book also describes the card spring, with another interesting closing remark “magicians familiar with this move can spring the cards over a distance of 40-50cm. However a little trick can vastly improve the perceived distance : it is to move the arms, during the action, along a circular trajectory”)
It seems the Charlier cut wasn’t around yet at the time — the earliest publication I found of it was in Edwin Sachs’ “Sleight of Hand”, 1877. Sachs mentions “there are various single-handed passes, […] the neatest, and in every way most effective is the following :”
Sachs then also describes the thumb cut and pincer grip cut found in Robert-Houdin’s publication.
Note that the name Charlier cut wasn’t used, as none of these one handed cuts were named in Sachs’ book. Thus, I have no idea if it was already published elsewhere at the time.
I couldn’t find many traces of progressive evolution towards multiple-packets one-handed cuts, but most of us know that famous Houdini poster from 1895, “King of Cards”, featuring complex one handed cuts in both hands. As for video performances, the oldest I could find would be Fred Kaps killing it in 19581.
From Sybil back to Kalush’s Cut
The sybil cut is usually credited to Chris Kenner. It was published in 1992, in a book titled “Totally Out of Control”, under the name “The Five Faces of Sybil”.
No credits were mentioned (apart from Kalush’s Cut elsewhere in the publication), which eventually led many people to believe it was entirely original. Truth is, very similar cuts were already around at the time.
From the mouth of Richard Kaufman, Kenner’s publisher, we know that Kenner’s inspiration came from “Ultimate Illogical Cut” by Troy Hooser. Kaufman indicated in a forum post2
“Troy Hooser came up with a much more complex cut which was the inspiration for Kenner’s “Sybil.” Due to a mishap, my fault as much as Kenner’s, Hooser’s name went missing from the text in “Out of Control.””
The Ultimate Illogical Cut was first published in Dan Harlan’s “The Minotaur” journal, issue 2 No. 4, 1990 (Troy mentions in the text that he came up with that cut in 1987).
You can see Troy performing his cut in the following video, 12 years later, with an added triangle display (excerpt from “Total Destruction vol2”, copyright 2002, Bob Kohler Magic, all rights reserved).
As evidenced by its name, the cut is based on Gianni Mattiolo’s “Illogical Shuffle”, published in “Apocalypse vol 8” in 1985.
While no old video performance of Gianni Mattiolo could be found, Jay Sankey did teach a “false cut” variation of the move in one of his early video publications (“Sankey-Tized vol. 1” copyright 1995, Meir Yedid Magic, all rights reserved).
In the following video excerpt from 2012 (interview done by “Masters of Magic” italian youtube channel3), Gianni Mattiolo himself talks a bit about his Illogical Shuffle variations over the years, and mentions Kalush’s cut (he states in the original publication that he came up with the Z grip independently).
Cardistry as its own artform
All of the flourishes presented so far were taken straight from magic publications, and thus there is a common objection to it being “cardistry” in the modern sense of the term, as these flourishes were always done by magicians as an accent to their magic, Brian Tudor’s Show Off is the first ever cardistry release as it contained no magic.
I’d like to show you the opening sequence of an old VHS (From “Brad Burt’s Magic Video #2 – Card Flourishes” Copyright 1990 Brad’s video, all rights reserved).
This video was solely dedicated to card flourishes (13 were taught, over 1 hour in length), no magic, and it was released 10 years before “Show Off Vol1”. This is the oldest I could find so far 🙂
On the topic of people focusing on card manipulations, I have 2 gems from the past to share with you. The first one would be this private home video featuring Jeff Edmonds performing for friends in 1992. At some point (around the 6:42 mark) Jeff performs a combo very similar to Andrei Jikh’s famous “Card Blast” sequence, and there’s also a good padiddle at 9:15 so I think we can all agree that this is an actual cardistry performance even by modern standards.
This video might remind you a lot of Jerry Cestkowski’s performances, and for a good reason : Jeff is a long time friend of Jerry; he’s mentioned numerous time in the Encyclopedia. They go back to high-school.
The other gem was also mentioned in the Encyclopedia, where Jerry wrote
Fast Russian guy. Someone showed me part of a Michael Ammar tape where Ammar travels to Russia. There was this Mr. Popov doing a bunch of flourishes really, really, really fast. Even in slow motion the flourishes this guy did were done really, really fast. I watched this snippet of video at least fifty times, and gleaned a couple of ideas.
I managed to track down this footage and here is the infamous performance (from “Magic of Moscow”, copyright 1990 A1-MultiMedia, all rights reserved). If you pay close attention (left hand at 00:20 and 00:54 for example), you’ll notice Popov’s index cuts are done with a similar grip to the Talon/Demon Claw, with respectively thumb/index and middle/pinky clipping packets lengthwise.
It is remarkable to note that in the 80/90’s cardistry grew quite a lot in Russia, both near Moscow (Alexander Popov also had TV appearances, performing flourishes only4), and St Petersburg, independently, where Oleg Stepanov coined the term “sleiting” to describe flourishes as a separate thing from card magic (before the whole XCM/Cardistry debate :)).
Before parting ways, I’d like to address special thanks to Oleg Stepanov who helped me a lot with this “time travel” experiment, locating sources and helping me with the language barrier (I tried to learn Russian, I even installed CS:GO on my computer… but it wasn’t enough 🙁 ).
This is it for today! I hope you enjoyed this old footage as much as I did when I first saw it 🙂
Stay tuned for exclusive interviews with Oleg Stepanov and Alexander Popov in the near future.
In the meantime, you can always subscribe to the Card Flourishes History YouTube channel, where I might sporadically add new videos as I do further research.