Newsletter 6 - The Art of Card Palming

Holding and Hiding

Some Thoughts on Palming

The art of card palming can be brought to a degree of perfection that borders on the wonderful. So said Erdnase in The Expert at the Card Table. In early works on magic, it was common to palm out the chosen card before having the deck shuffled by the spectator. Few performers use this today. That approach has been replaced by other methods, usually the performer controlling the selected card while he or she shuffles the deck. Is the card really lost if the deck is never out of the performer’s hands? It is surely worth thinking about.

One Hand Top Palm

I first read this technique in volume 1 of Hugard’s Card Manipulations, a series of books worth returning to if you are looking for forgotten ideas. I’ve always known it as the Hugard One Hand Top Palm though Hugard took no credit when he published it. I don’t do it quite as described by Hugard, who first pushed the top card sideways before levering it up into the palm, but it’s the same idea.

The palm takes some practise to make the card flip into the hand but once the knack is acquired it works smoothly. The trick then is to find a way to cover the action. You’ll find plenty of information on that topic in Ed Marlo’s volume on the Action Palm in his Revolutionary Card Technique series.

The following shows how a card can be palmed in the action of spreading the deck face-up. It has the benefit of being able to steal the card away without the hand appearing to be near the top of the deck.

If you are not acquainted with the One Hand Top Palm, here are some reverse shots that might help give an idea of the mechanics.

Trevor Lewis Colour Change

In 1978, Trevor Lewis showed me this application of the One Hand Top Palm. Trevor performed it very well. He was an accomplished sleight of hand performer and won first prize for Card Magic at FISM in 1976. When performing the change he would extend his left hand to show it empty. Then place the face-up deck into it. His right hand briefly covered the deck to affect a change of the face card. It was very smooth and not a hint of the steal. I published it in issue number 2 of The Talon magazine but it seems largely unknown.

Joe Dignam’s Card Through Table

I met Joe Dignam through Bob Ostin in 1974. Each Saturday, for many years, we all met in Cousin’s Cafe in Liverpool to talk magic along with Stephen Tucker, John Brown, John Fealey and whoever else happened to come our way. Joe was focussed entirely on card magic and an avid student of Ed Marlo’s work. He has a one-hand tabled faro shuffle published in The New Pentagram (Volume 2, No 9) which is worth noting.

His version of Card Through Table was published in Talon no1 in 1978. More recently I wrote it up for Genii magazine (April, 2020). It was very deceptive in Joe’s hands. I haven’t got a video of Joe doing it so you’ll have to make do with my demonstration:

I wasn’t sure where Joe got the palming method but he was probably inspired by Ed Marlo whose work he knew well. It was through Joe that I had access to a lot of Marlo material including the humungous Marlo magazines. Prior to meeting Joe I’d only read The Cardician.

When the trick was published in Genii, Jerry Sadowitz emailed to say that the palm is identical to one Dai Vernon showed him in 1981. Here’s Jerry’s account:

“He taught me this himself at the magic castle in 1981. He controlled selection to top. He then transferred the pack from right hand to left. In so doing, he picked up the the top card as described in your article but directly lifted it into gamblers flat palm. The best thing is that his right hand then waved over the pack..and due to the flat palm..the waving hand was dead flat. He then produced the selection from his pocket. It's on p.41 of further inner secrets of card magic, under the name 'one handed palm'“

“I appreciated the two stage handling of Dignam and the effect he uses it for, but I thought you might like to know the essential move is Vernon's.”

It is a thing of beauty. The way the steal goes into the palm via the clenching of the fist makes it exceptionally smooth. That knocking on the table is very disarming. And you don’t even need to think about ditching the card. As soon as your hand gets to the edge of the table the card simply falls into your lap. Here is the explanation.

The Dodo

Talking of Jerry Sadowitz, there is to be another issue of The Dodo magazine. It will be released on the same basis as the previous issue ie you pay the £25 up front and if Jerry gets 100 orders by Sept 30th the magazine will be published and sent to subscribers. If he doesn’t reach the 100 mark, refunds are given.

Now…. Jerry has warned me to warn you that The Dodo is not for everyone. The previous issue was a tribute to Roy Walton and in consideration of Roy’s character Jerry says it was ‘especially polite and reined in.’ The next issue won’t be. If you’ve read Jerry’s previous publication, The Crimp, or are a follower of his comedy you’ll know what to expect. Anyone who is offended by bad language and incredibly savage humour probably best steer clear. You’ve been warned. If interested, email Jerry at I’ve already put my order in.

“It’s the Greatest Line of Chatter I Ever Heard”

Jimmy Grippo knew how to work miracles and much of it was down to his masterful and subtle use of palming. When a spectator selected a card, they also shuffled it back into the deck. There is never any doubt that the card has been lost and as a result its reappearance is all the more impossible.

Grippo is mentioned in the diaries of British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. When in Las Vegas, Tynan watched Grippo perform. He swore he saw Grippo have someone call out the name of a card and show that it was the very same card he was holding. It’s likely Grippo used his card index to create this indelible memory. Tynan, however, believed it was a true exhibition of telepathy. Bear in mind this was the view of a man steeped in theatre.

Geno Munari told me some time ago that he was preparing a book on Grippo’s work and possessed the card indexes he used. I hope that book makes it to publication. To give you an indication of what made Grippo so special, here he is on The Merv Griffin Show alongside Orson Welles. There are several wonderful moments in this video. Note the way Grippo conceals the palmed card by placing his hand on Orson Welles’ arm, the use of the One Hand Top Palm to dispose of a card at an off-beat moment, and a very bold force, in conjunction with the card index, that makes for the kind of miracle that astounded Kenneth Tynan.

David Britland

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