Help us get to over 8,750 articles in 2024.

If you know of a magician not listed in MagicPedia, start a New Biography for them. Contact us at


From Magicpedia, the free online encyclopedia for magicians by magicians.
Jump to: navigation, search

S. W. Erdnase (most likely a pseudonym) is the author of The Expert at the Card Table, a book detailing sleight of hand and cheating techniques using playing cards which has been in continual publication since 1902. Erdnase's true identity is one of the enduring mysteries of the magic community.

Research into the identity of Erdnase

Martin Gardner's research proposes that the real Erdnase was Milton Franklin Andrews, and that the book was ghost-written by William John Hilliar. (S. W. Erdnase spelled backwards is E.S. Andrews, lending support to the theory that Andrews was the author's last name)

But since, there are numerous possible candidates discovered by David Alexander, Richard Hatch, and Todd Karr (among others), any of whom might be the pseudonymous author. The candidates by Alexander and Hatch have been profiled in (respectively) Genii, MAGIC and Magicol. Karr's candidate is identified as a Midwestern-based con artist named E. S. Andrews who was active around the turn of the century and whose biography seems to fit Erdnase's.

Known facts

  • The author's last name in reverse is "e s andrews".
  • The author points out in the introduction the need for money.
  • Some of the illustrations in the book carry a copyright statement right beneath the drawing, but others don't.
  • Marshall Smith did the illustrations for the book.
    • Smith says he met the author in a hotel room and was paid for his artwork with a check.
    • Smith described the author as well-spoken and gentlemanly, short of stature, with a pleasant, smooth tone.
    • Smith expressed his surprise at the number of drawings (101) in the book because he didn't remember drawing so many. Only 20 or 30.
    • Smith stated that the author mentioned a family connection to Louis Dalrymple, a political cartoonist.


  • The author appears to have been highly knowledgeable in psychology, deception and gambling, based on contents of the book and the level of subtlety in his explanations.
  • The author appears to have had some knowledge of the law or access to legal advice, based on the elaborate copyright notices throughout the book; or was just paranoid.
  • Smith's illustrations appear to have been crudely altered, perhaps an indication that the author did not have sufficient funds for professional corrections.


There have been attempts at identifying candidates that could have been writing as Erdanse.

James J. Andrews

In 1946, Martin Gardner located the Chicago-based Marshall D. Smith, the artist who had done the drawings that illustrated the book. Smith gave his account of is single meeting with the author (44 years earlier).

This led to searching for a James Andrews, which spells S.W. Erdnase backwards if you drop the first three letters [Jam]esandrEWS). He found a James J. Andrews listed in The New York City Directory for 1909 lists a clairvoyant, living at 398 Sixth Avenue and an article written by a "James Andrews" published in Harper's Magazine (June 26, 1909) titled "The Confessions of a Fakir".[1][2]

Gardner eventually dropped this candidate in favor of Milton F. Andrews.

James M. Andrews

Scott Edward Lane, on the Genii Forum[3] proposed a James M. Andrews. This Andrews was a hotel/casino owner and operator in Chicago, and also an expert card dealer, around 1902.

Milton Franklin Andrews

Based on another lead provided by Edgar Pratt, Gardner found a cardsharp from Hartford, Connecticut, named Milton Franklin Andrews. Andrews died during a murder-suicide in 1905 in San Francisco just as the police were closing in to question him about the killing in Colorado. Smith was also certain that Erdnase told him he was related to the political artist, Louis Dalrymple. [4]

James DeWitt Andrews

Proposed by Richard Hatch, James DeWitt Andrews was a Chicago lawyer who wrote many manuscripts. Many including the word 'treatise' on the title page like "The Expert at the Card Table".[5] Other candidates researched by Hatch have been a Canadian riverboat captain named E. S. Andrews, a Michigan newspaper publisher named E. S. Andrews, a British engineer named E. S. Andrews (first noted by Mike Perovich) and William Symes Andrews (1847-1929), a American electrical engineer who wrote a book on Magic Squares, published in Chicago in 1908. He discounted all these when he stumbled uopn Edwin Summer Andrews while searching for a relationship to Louis Dalrymple.[6]

Edwin Summer Andrews

In 1999 Richard Hatch proposed a longtime traveling agent for Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, whose job would have given him plenty of opportunity to ply the cardsharp’s trade named Edwin Sumner (possibly "Summer") Andrews. The railroad man signed his name “E. S. Andrews” on his 1898 license to marry Dollie Seely in Illinois.

Also, Louis Dalrymple’s mother is Adelia Seeley (but notice different spelling) who was from upstate New York, which was the home turf of Dollie’s father, Solomon Seely.[7][8]

Wilbur Edgerton Sanders

David Alexander's research (with Richard Kyle) led him to propose Wilbur Edgerton Sanders, a wealthy and well-educated mining engineer and the author of a standard text on mining. His family was a politically powerful family in Montana.[9] "S. W. Erdnase" is an anagram of "W. E. Sanders" and Genii Magazine devoted a large portion of its September 2011 issue with new work by Marty Demarest to an exploration of Alexander's theory, providing substantial circumstantial evidence that links Sanders to Erdnase.[10]

E. S. Andrews

Todd Karr's research focused on a con man named E. S. Andrews from Chicago that swindle businessmen and doctors and appeared to have had over $900 just before the publication of The Expert at the Card Table. Karr tracked E. S. Andrews life through newspaper accounts of his arrests throughout the country.[11]

Robert Frederick Foster

Peter Kane and Jerry Sadowitz believed text found in The Complete Hoyle (1897) written by Foster has very similar styles to Erdnase. Foster was a member of the Society of American Magicians and could possibly have met Erdnase and assisted with the Ledgerdemain section. [12]

Herbert Lee Andrews

Richard Wiseman on his blog proposed Herbert Lee Andrews (1844 - 1906), who's wife named Emma Shaw Andrews would be "S.W Erdnase" in reverse. He lived in Chicago around the time of publication and helped run a business just a few blocks away from James McKinney and Co, the company that printed the book.[13]

Jose Antenor de Gago y Zavala (L'Homme Masque)

Juan Tamariz has advanced the theory that Erdnase was written, or at least helped with editing the book, by the Peruvian magician named "L'Homme Masque" (The Masked Man), who lived in Europe. During the 9th Congress of the Latin American Federation of Magic Societies (FLASOMA 2009) held in Peru, he explained the reasons. During the explanation of this theory Gaetan Bloom was present, supporting this hypothesis.

E. S. Burns (Emil Sorensen)

E. S. Burns, the proprietor of the Atlas Novelty Company in Chicago, Illinois, was nominated by Hurt McDermott in his book "Artifice, Ruse & Erdnase" as a possible dark-horse candidate. Hurt summarizes though with "The only problem is there is no evidence."

August Roterberg (1867-1928)

August Roterberg (1867-1928), born in Germany and emigrated to the United States around 1883 as a teenager, was a magic dealer, inventor and started the modern age of magic publishing in Chicago. He published Card Tricks and How To Do Them, the same year as Erdnase's Expert.[14][15]

William Symes Andrews (1847-1929)

William Symes Andrews, a American electrical engineer who wrote a book on Magic Squares[16], published in Chicago in 1908 by the Open Court publishing company (who also published Evans OLD AND NEW MAGIC). He is much older than recalled by Marshall Smith, but Al Flosso seemed to have thought he was Erdnase[17]

Harry Stuart Thompson (1858-1930)

Peter Zenner had a hunch that "Erdnase" was associated with the people behind the publication of The Sphinx. He suspected Harry S. Thompson in April, 2013, and started to research his life. Brought up in his father's printing and publishing business in Chicago, Harry was a commercial salesman, specialising in printing inks, at the time of the publication of The Expert. He was an expert in sleight of hand and had one of the largest magic libraries in America. A friend of Houdini's, Harry was able to show Harry his card moves and that is why they were miscredited. A small man, aged 44 on February 28, 1902; he fitted Marshall D. Smith's description perfectly. [18]

Edward Gallaway (1868-1930)

Chris Wasshuber has proposed Edward Gallaway, a typsetter working a James McKinney & Co. during the time the book was printed there, based on his reading of the McKinney bankruptcy files[19] and other research.[20]

Wasshuber hired forensic linguistic expert John Olsson[21] to compare Gallaway's book "Estimating for printers" with EACT. Though not conclusive, he found very promising similarities.

Edward Gallaway owned a first edition of "Expert at the Card Table" which was uncovered during research done by Jay Marshall in the 1950s.[22]

Edward Douglas Benedict (1860-1926)

Although Harry Stuart Thompson seemed to fit all the criteria, Peter Zenner couldn't find a link between him and anybody named "Dalrymple" - let alone Louis Dalrymple. Thinking that "Erdnase" could have been a close friend of Harry, with access to his library, he decided to investigate E.D. Benedict. Downloading a genealogical book which included him and his family, Zenner found that the name Dalrymple appeared therein. There WAS a (distant) link between the two names! Encouraged by this discovery, Zenner read all of Benedict's contributions to The Sphinx and found that there was a similarity between the writings of Erdnase and Benedict. A brief biography was submitted to The Genii Forum (see page 123) and only time will tell - the hunt may finally be over!

Emory Cobb Andrews (1878-1932)

E. C. Andrews was proposed by Dr. Richard Evans as a possible candidate in Ye Olde Magic Mag Vol. 9 issue 3[23] and Genii (Vol. 86, No. 9; September 2023)[24]. Evans' evidence in favour of Andrews was based on Andrews' presence in Chicago, his closeness to the book's printers and to publisher Frederick J. Drake, his name (he signed the 'C' in 'Cobb' like an 'S'), and the fact he was an amateur magician who, according to his family, had a personal friendship with Houdini. Andrews had a career in the printing ink industry with Philip Ruxton Inc., and published important texts on this matter. His work colleague Harry S. Thompson and his boss, Philip Ruxton, were both members of the Society of American Magicians. In his youth, Andrews demonstrated a propensity for deception.

Erdnase in popular culture

Erdnase, The Musical

Peregrine Arts is in the process of developing, for Spring 2008, "Who Killed Erdnase?", a new music-theater work by the Ridge Theater and Gavin Bryars team in conjunction with author Glen David Gold. See more info at philadelphia music project and peregrine arts

Erdnase, The Play

Neil Patrick Harris teamed with Guy Hollingworth to direct him in "The Expert at the Card Table," a small, intimate show that ran from July 13 to August 7 2011 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. Written by Hollingworth, the show is an adaptation about the author of the influential book and how it came to be.

Erdnase, The Film

A film based on the life of the mysterious author, adapted by German director Hans-Joachim Brucherseifer, is currently in production. The magician Yann Yuro (a.k.a. Florian Beyer) plays the lead role of S.W. Erdnase. It is scheduled to be released in late 2022.

External Resources

  • Genii Forum Topic on Erdnase
  • THE MAGICIAN AND THE CARDSHARP by Karl Johnson for American Heritage Magazine, which includes the sidebar WHO WAS ERDNASE? CARD CONJURING’S MOST ENDURING MYSTERY
  • Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter Vol. 5 No. 35 – August 26, 2000 - Whatever Happened to S.W. Erdnase?
  • Erdnase Film - Official Website of the feature film about "The Expert at the Card Table"
  • The Expert at the Card Table: Artifice, Ruse, and Subterfuge DVD from Geno Munari ( contains a film characterization of S.W. Erdnase, interviews with Richard Hatch and Bart Whaley on the Mystery of Erdnase, an interview with Martin Gardner, "The Gardner-Smith Correspondence", "The Murderous Card Shark" by Martin Gardner and John Conrad, "Was Erdnase Abdul Aziz Khan" By Martin Gardner, and newspaper articles.
  • The Annotated Erdnase by Darwin Ortiz (1991) contains "The Search For Erdnase" by Martin Gardner.
  • "S.W. Erdnase: Another View" by Thomas A. Sawyer (1991) - Self-published, 67 pages, addresses the conclusions of The Man Who Was Erdnase and the Andrews data from The Annotated Erdnase.
  • "Further Thoughts on S.W. Erdnase" by Thomas A. Sawyer (1997).
  • The Gardner-Smith Correspondence by Martin Gardner, limited edition reprint by H&R Magic Books (1999)
  •, created by Julie Eng and Jason England, explores all of the different editions of The Expert at the Card Table, a book which has been perpetually in print for over 100 years.
  • "Erdnase Unmasked" (2011) - a composite of articles culled from the pages of Magicol, The Journal of Magic History and Collectibles No. 180 (Auguts 2011). It also includes a reprint of Martin Gardner’s article, “Editions of Erdnase”, that first appeared in Magicol, (Vol. 2, No. 1, August 1951), a private publication reserved for members of the Magic Collectors Association.
  • The Mysterious Gambler by Bart Whaley - A booklet featuring two essays. This first is an extensive study on who were the writer and publisher of the 1864 book "How Gamblers Win." The second essay titled "Loose Ends & Dead Ends" is about the identity of Erdnase and in particular some additional information and ideas that came about after "The Man Who Was Erdnase" was published.
  • Everything Erdnase Exhibit
  • Erdnase, Genii 1948 July
  • The Conjuror's Magazine of August 1949
  • The Man Who Was Erdnase by Bart Whaley and Martin Gardner and Jeff Busby ISBN 9781563010002
  • MAGIC, December 1999
  • January 2000 Genii - New Light on Erdnase by David Alexander
  • Searching for Erdnase by Richard Hatch, Magic Magazine December 1999
  • Is This Erdnase? by Todd Karr from Magical Past-Times: The On-Line Journal of Magic History
  • Phantoms of the Card Table by David Britland & Gazzo (page 54, the search for Erdnase).
  • Artifice, ruse & Erdnase by Hurt McDermott (2012)
  • See the posting on the Genii Forum dated July 7th, 2015
  • Magic newsletter #681 7/30/2015
  • Richard H. Evans, The Expert's Expert. Ye Olde Magic Mag, Vol. 9, Issue 3 (June 2023)
  • Richard H. Evans, The Expert's Expert. Genii Magazine, Vol. 86 No. 9 (September 2023)