Signature Piece

Effect: The performer offers to demonstrate a new method of check forgery used by swindlers. To protect the members of his audience, he demonstrates this with playing cards rather than bank checks. Someone chooses a card from a red-backed pack and signs the face of the selection. The signed card is replaced face-up in the face-down deck, after which the deck is fanned and placed on the table, with the face-up selection clearly visible.

A second deck is now brought into play, one with blue backs. This deck represents the swindler's fraudulent checkbook. The performer quickly finds the unsigned blue-backed duplicate to the spectator's signed selection and reverses it in the middle of its deck. The blue deck is fanned and placed beside the first pack.

The performer makes a mysterious gesture over the two packs, then asks the spectator to slip her card from the first deck. When she does, eveiyone sees that her signature is no longer on the face of the card. She is then asked to slide the duplicate card from the second deck, and she finds her signature on its face. This swindler has gone the forger one better: he hasn't duplicated the victim's signature; he has stolen it right off her check and placed it onto his own. Both decks can be examined, as they contain nothing that explains this magical transfer.

Method: Mr. Elmsley devised this entertaining and novel effect in the late 1950s, making it the earliest example I've encountered of a magical migration of a signature on playing cards. The earliest example of the translocation of a spectator's mark or initials may well be the ancient potsherd or sugar cube trick, in which the initials appear mysteriously on the spectator's hand. The adaptation of this premise to playing cards, however, is more recent.

The plot of making two initialed cards transpose has been around awhile. It is the effect of Edward Victor's 1937 trick, "Sign, Please!" (ref. The Magic of the Hands, pp. 27-29). In "Sign, Please!", a spectator initials one card, which is then caused to transpose with another. In Theodore Annemann's "Insto-transpo" (ref. The Incorporated Strange Secrets, pp. 3-4) both transposing cards are marked, one with a spectator's initials, the other with the performer's. But in these early signed transpositions, the effect was clearly that of the cards changing places, while the initials remained with the card or cards on which they were originally written.

The brilliant Paul Curry took signed transpositions in an unexpected direction with his trick "Period of Darkness" (ref. The Phoenix, No. 86, June 15, 1945, pp. 348-349). Here the performer signs one side of a slate, and a spectator signs the opposite side. The slate is placed flat on a table and held there by two spectators while the lights are briefly extinguished. When the lights are restored, the two names on the slate have changed places. In Mr. Curry's presentation, the audience is led to believe that the slate has been turned over in some impossible manner. However, in this trick the transposition of two signatures was an alternative presentation that lay waiting to be recognized.

In the February 1947 issue of Pentagram (Vol, 1, No. 5, pp. 3132) Peter Warlock adapted Annemann's card transposition to slates, and in doing so, gave the effect an unusual twist. In "Insto Transpo Slates" the performer and a spectator each take a slate and draw a geometrical symbol of their choice. Each then initials the opposite side of his slate. After this precaution is completed, the performer causes the designs to transpose on the slates while the signatures remain stationary: the spectator's Initialed slate now carries the performer's design, and the performer's slate bears the spectator's design. It was a short step from the Curry and Warlock effects to the idea of making two signatures transpose. Edward Mario seems to have been the first to take that step, and in doing so returned the plot to playing cards (ref. The Hierophant, No. 3, 1970, pp. 113-116). Shortly after this others, such as Peter Kane, Wesley James and Peter Samelson, began experimenting with the manipulation of a spectator's signature on cards, developing new effects and variations; and the experimentation continues to the present day.

Mr. Elmsley's "Signature Piece" stands alone during this early development, as the only effect in which a spectator's signature is caused to move without the added complication of the performer's signature. The Elmsley presentational premise, involving swindlers and forgery, commands attention from an audience and assures that the effect is clear. You will require two decks with contrasting backs. For descriptive purposes we will call one red-backed, the other blue-backed.

A simple setup is necessary. Remove one spot card from the blue pack, say the ten of spades, and place it at the face of the red pack.

Locate the red-backed duplicate to this card and reverse it third or fourth from the face of the red pack. Carry this prepared pack in your pocket and perform several tricks with the fifty-one card blue-backed deck. When ready to present "Signature Piece", set the blue-backed pack face-up before you on the table and remove the red-backed pack from your pocket as you introduce the demonstration of a cunning swindle used by modern bunco artists to forge checks. Explain that you will use playing cards in place of bank checks to protect the person who is to help in the demonstration. The blue-backed cards that you have been using will be substituted for the swindler's checkbook; the red-backed deck will replace the victim's checkbook. Choose a good-natured victim to assist you.

"I'm going to shuffle the pack like this." Perform a Hindu shuffle, beginning it by stripping out the center section of the face-down red pack, then shuffling it off in the usual fashion onto the united top and bottom packets in your left hand. In this manner the bottom stock is reserved.

"Anytime while I'm shuffling, please say stop." Time this request to coincide with the finish of the shuffle. Immediately begin a second Hindu shuffle, this time pulling the first group of cards from the top alone, in the conventional fashion. Stop when the spectator commands, and turn the right hand over, exposing the face of the unshuffled packet. This is, of course, the standard Hindu shuffle force, and the ten of spades (the original bottom card of the pack) is thus displayed. With your left thumb and forefinger, draw the ten off the face of the right hand's packet and lay the card face-up on the table. Take care that you do not expose the blue back of this card,

"This, then, will be the check you sign—a ten dollar- check." The amount of the check is derived from the value of the force card. "Will you please sign your name across the face of your check." As you say this, turn your right hand palm-down and slip its face-down packet under the left hand's cards. Then, with your freed right hand, give the spectator a pen suitable for writing on playing cards.

When the signature is complete, put away the pen, then pick up the signed selection and lay it face-up on the face-down deck, outjogged for roughly an inch. Next, with the palm-down right hand, grip the lower half of the pack at its rear corners and draw this portion inward, stripping it from beneath the top half. Place the bottom portion square onto the top half, sandwiching the outjogged selection between them.

You now apparently push the face-up selection flush and immediately fan the pack: but actually you execute the center-card rear palm (see Volume I, pp. 130-133), stealing the signed selection from the deck as you fan it. Yet everything looks as it should. The faceup selection is seen in the center of the fan. though this card is actually the unsigned red-backed duplicate, substituting for the stolen card.

Turn your left hand palm-down to expose the underside of the fan, with the red back of the reversed card showing among the faces of the cards. As attention is momentarily focused on the fan, adjust the right hand's stolen card from master palm to rear palm. Then turn the left hand palm-up again and set the fanned deck neatly on the table, with the selection still visible. "We'll keep your signed check safe in your checkbook, so that everyone can keep an eye on it."

With your right hand, pick up the face-up blue pack from the table and set it, still face-up, into left-hand dealing position. "This second deck is the swindler's checkbook." Bring the right hand over the pack and, using the right fingertips, riffle the outer ends of the cards. In this action, tilt the outer end of the deck upward slightly, angling the face of the pack just beyond the audience's line of sight, and at the same time add the rear palmed selection to the face of the pack. Follow through by executing the tap replacement taught in Volume I (pp. 129-130). The angle of the deck and the position of the right hand successfully hide the face of the selection during these actions.

"It is easy to keep straight from yours, because he has blue-backed checks." After tapping the deck square on the table, replace it, face-down, into left-hand dealing position and perform a casual Hindu shuffle, shuffling off about half the pack and tossing the balance on top. This centralizes the signed card.

"The swindler must first make out a check in his checkbook that looks like your ten dollar check." While holding the blue-backed deck face toward you, run through it until you reach the signed ten of spades near center.

"He then reverses his bogus check in his checkbook, just as you have." Openly reverse all the cards behind the selection, turning them face outward; then take the signed card onto the reversed group and openly turn all the cards in front of it face outward, leaving the selection reversed in the middle of the spread, its index clearly exposed, but the signature concealed. At this point, lower the hands, allowing the audicnce to see the face of the reversed ten of spades in the spread. Then quickly square the pack and fan it, once more displaying the face-up card. Set the fanned pack several feet to the left of the fanned red-backed deck.

"He then resorts to an illegal procedure that is as mysterious as it is underhanded." Make a magical gesture above the two fanned packs. Then have the spectator remove her ten of spades from the red-backed deck to check her signature. The signature has vanished from the face of the card. Ask her to check the swindler's ten dollar check. On its face she finds her own signature. "That is your signature on the swindler's check, isn't it? That's the beauty of this new system: your signature isn't forged, it's actually stolen I"

Both decks are complete, no clues to the mystery remain, and you can proceed with another effect.

Mr. Elmsley has considered variant handlings, including alternative methods for forcing the odd-backed card. One such procedure, devised before that just taught, was to set the face-down red deck before the spectator and have her cut it near center. The bottom portion was then picked up and the odd-backed bottom card was secretly displaced to a position second from the top, using Bill Simon's cover for the side-slip (ref. Simon's Effective Card Magic, pp. 112-114). The displacement was made as the top card of the packet was momentarily removed, while emphasizing that this card was randomly arrived at by the spectator's cut. The card (actually two cards) was then replaced on the pack, after which the odd-backed force card was dealt face-up onto the table, using a "necktie" second deal. After much reflection Mr. Elmsley chose the Hindu shuffle force as the more simple and economical procedure.

If the blue-backed deck is originally set face-down in front of you, then the palmed card is added face-up to this pack using the tap replacement, the card can be shown reversed In the center of the pack, yielding an extra magical effect: that of a prediction, or perhaps a sympathetic reversal. But it is felt that doing so may be too pat, and could suggest to sharp spectators the idea of a force. This suspicion might In turn lend a clue to the main mystery of the migrating signature. In the end, Mr. Elmsley chose the more subtle route while avoiding the clutter of extraneous subplots. If you desire to perform a prediction effect using the techniques above, you would be better served by learning "Hidebound Forecast" (pp. 33-36). That, at least, is Mr. Elmsley's analysis of the situation.

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