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Playing Card Chain

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

When I did the Paper Buckle post last time I thought it would be nice to fill it out a bit by mentioning the related idea of the Playing Card Chain, because the illustration in Mechanemata reminded me of the ones in La Nature and Kolumbus-Eier.

In my original post the intention was not to delve into the origins of the Playing Card Chain. But David Mitchell has observed that it seems to go right back to Jacques Ozanam's Récréations mathématiques et physiques (1723), which seems like quite a significant point that's worth making. So rather than go back and completely redo my Paper Buckle post I've decided to give the Playing Card Chain its own separate post and add the new information here.

I'd seen this illustration before in Ozanam and the other sources mentioned below, but frankly never really gave it a lot of thought because, like David, I had always assumed it to be the familiar "Walking Through a Playing Card" effect. But I obviously wasn't paying attention, because Ozanam does talk about making a "chain" ("pour couper une carte comme une chaîne"), and although the explanation is not really very clear it has to be the Playing Card Chain. The first edition of 1723 is available online, but the copy I found didn't include the illustrations, so the one below is taken from the 1725 edition.

Ozanam's book was the basis for a lot of subsequent magic literature, but the following three works drew particularly heavily on the original descriptions and illustrations.

  • I giochi numerici (1747) by Giuseppe Antonio Alberti (largely a translation of Ozanam)

  • Trésor des jeux (1759) by Carlo Antonio (a direct copy of Ozanam, in French)

  • Engaños a ojos vistas by Pablo Minguet (1755) (2nd edition) (translation of some parts)

The Playing Card Chain in Ozanam (1725) (top left), Alberti (1747) (top right),

Minguet (1755) (bottom left) and Carlo Antonio (1759) (bottom right)

Engaños a ojos vistas (the first Spanish magic book) went through many editions and its bibliography is very complicated, as discussed in an article by Enrique Jiménez-Martínez in Gibecière Vol. 4 No. 2 (Summer 2009). The first edition is from 1733, but according to Gibecière the Playing Card Chain and a number of other tricks do not appear until the much expanded second edition of 1755 - which, confusingly, bears no date on the title page but seems to have been reprinted from the same plates as it reproduces the date of 1733 in the introductory text. Various copies of Minguet are available online, but if the title page doesn't say 1733 then it's probably not the first edition.

David Mitchell noticed that Minguet's illustration has two small letter o's at the ends of each cut, whereas Ozanam's doesn't. This is also pointed out in the Gibecière article. Ozanam refers to these "petits o o" in his description but failed to include them in the drawing. Minguet clearly spotted the mistake and added them. Apparently Alberti also noticed and added single o's in I giochi numerici, whilst in Trésor des jeux (the first Swiss magic book) it looks like Carlo Antonio just reproduced a mirror image of the original Ozanam drawing without adding anything.

Ozanam and Grandin

It's well known among magic historians that the magic tricks in Ozanam's book were not included in the first edition of 1694, but were added after his death by a certain M. Grandin in the 1723 edition. When I started looking into old magic books online around 2012, I stumbled across a reference to several people by the name of Grandin in the Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne (1817) (Vol. 18, page 299, bottom of left-hand column), including one who is listed as a theology graduate and Professor of Philosophy at the College of Navarre. This particular M. Grandin is said to have been responsible for a new edition of Ozanam (publication date given as 1724), to which he had added "les problèmes de musique" (presumably they meant "magie"). Up until then I had never seen this little detail in any magic reference work - he was always just "a certain Grandin". I'm guessing from the way it's stated that the "M" again stands for "Martin".

I find it hard to believe that no one had found this before, but since I added the information to Genii Magazine's Magicpedia page on Grandin the fact that he was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Navarre seems to be mentioned quite often.


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