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Ask A Worthologist Question: Magician’s Card Cutter

by Mike Wilcox (05/08/12).

Everett M. was given this brass “card cutter” by a retired magician who had a garage full of stuff related to his act. But the secret as to how the cutter was used was never revealed. Now that Everett us looking to downsize, he’s hoping a Worthologist can pull back the curtain and explain what the thing actually did.

Everett M. was given an odd-looking piece by a retired magician he had befriended before he died, he never found out what it was for, but remembers the magician saying it had something to do with cards for magic tricks He now wants to sell it, as he himself is getting on in years and is downsizing to a smaller residence. Before he does get rid of the piece, he wants to find out exactly what it was used for and what he can expect to get if he sells it. He contacted WorthPoint’s Ask a Worthologist service to inquire about this piece and his inquiry was forwarded to me, here’s his question.

“I was given this brass cutter by a retired magician who had a garage full of stuff related to his act. He wasn’t physically able to do much, and like a good neighbor, I used to help him out with getting groceries, running errands for him and blowing the snow out his driveway in the winter. One day I was helping him move some things in the garage he pulled this thing out of a box and told I could have it. I asked him what it was and he said it was for card tricks and would fill me in about it later. I took it home, but never got around to asking him what it was called or exactly how it could be used in cards. He died about a year later, and no one I’ve shown this thing to knows what it is. It’s a mystery I’ve had for almost 20 years now. As I’m downsizing myself now, it has to go, but I would like to finally know what it is and what its purpose was.”

Here’s my response:

This is a very interesting piece and here is your-long awaited answer: it’s called a “Card Cutter.” These were used to cut down or tapered playing cards in a manner that a card shark or magician could recognize suites or face cards when dealing and playing. These were sold by specialty shops that marketed various card-cheating/magic tools from the late 19th century through to the 1960s. Most, like this one, tend to post-date 1900. The best-known supplier of such tools during the 19th century was Will & Finck, located in San Francisco. In the 20th century, the top makers were HC Evans & Co., KC Card Co. and Hunt & Co.

Your old friend actually gave you quite a gift. In the current market, these card cutters are sought after items, the vast majority of them trade hands at specialist auctions pertaining to gambling and magicians’ equipment and paraphernalia, where they often range in price from $1,400 to $1,800. The image above is from our Worthopedia, it was a bargain at $945.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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