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Back Palm

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Back Palm is any sleight that conceals an object (like a card or coin) at the back of the hand.

See also: Coin Back Palm.

Back Palm with cards

As used with cards, it was popularized in the late 1800s by Otto Maurer, Dr. James W. Elliott and Harry Houdini.

Camille Gaultier in La Prestidigitation sans Appareils ("Magic Without Apparatus") states that that the sleight was in use in France prior to 1895 by M. Harmington (at the Theatre Robert-Houdin) and M. Emile Isola (at the Theatre des Capuchines).[1] According to Max Dif, Harmington began performing at the Theatre Robert-Houdin in 1886, but it is not clear when he began performing this sleight there.[2] In The Magician's Handbook by P. T. Selbit, Howard Thurston relates how Otto Maurer was teaching the Back Palm to American magicians around 1887, which he had learned from a Mexican gambler.

Dr. Elliott is said to have originated the sleight with a "reverse" by 1885, so that both sides of the hand could be shown. Elliott stated in the June, 1900 issue of Mahatma: that he would present $500 to any living person who performed the back hand card palm and reverse prior to 1885. He claims to have originated this sleight, and submits the following statement:—" I first showed the sleight to Morrelliaux Berntz Cortelli, a Mexican who is now living in the suburbs of Toledo, Ohio. A few months later he visited Otto Maurer and showed him the sleight, without the reverse".

In the Sphinx, October 1922, Clinton Burgess went on to describe the history as "During the early part of 1895, while coaching a gambler in certain card moves...Dr. James William Elliott, while making an unsupported "split" shuffle, accidentally spilled the deck, all of the cards but one falling to the ground. That one card, by some freak movement, had worked itself between the first and second fingers of Elliott's right hand, where it remained supported between the first joints of those fingers.... Elliott at once saw possibilities in rear-hand concealment, and then and there, with that single card, worked out a crude sleight which he later developed into the "Elliott back-hand palm." ... The first man to whom Elliott gave the secret of his perfected sleight was one Morrelliaux Berntz Cortelli, a Mexican gambler, who, in June, 1900, resided at Toledo, Ohio.... While in New York, getting a supply of marked cards, [Cortelli] was referred to Otto Maurer...Maurer showed Cortelli a peculiar single-handed color change, and in return, Cortelli, who had not given much time to the Elliott sleight, taught Maurer the Elliott rear-hold, without the reverse." The editor, Dr. A.M. Wilson wrote as a note that he was present at Otto Maurer's when a Mexican who gave no name showed Maurer the back-palm, but had no reverse.

Thurston would produced an entire act made up of moves utilizing the back palm.

By 1895, the back palm with cards was being performed publicly by T. Nelson Downs who applied the move to five cards, vanishing them one by one and reproducing them, with the reverse movements made after each vanish and reproduction.[3]

It later also became a pet effect Imro Fox, Houdini, William E. Robinson, Ziska, and Howard Thurston.

One of the first publications explaining the technique was in New Era Card Tricks (1897) by A. Roterberg.

Publications for card back palm


  1. Of Legierdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks By John Braun
  3. The Back Palm as a Secret Sleight, Hugard's Magic Monthly Vol. 01 No. 7 (December 1943)