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S. W. Erdnase is a pseudonym of 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.

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

Research into the identity of Erdnase

Martin Gardner's research, now largely discredited, 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)

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 and MAGIC, while 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 name in reverse is S. W. Erdnase.
  • The author points out in the introduction the need for money
  • 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.
  • Some of the illustrations in the book carry a copyright statement right beneath the drawing, but others don't.
  • 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
  • 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.


Milton Franklin 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). Based on Smith’s information and another lead provided by Edgar Pratt, Gardner claimed he tracked Erdnase to 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. 1

Edwin Summer Andrews

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 Milton Franklin 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.2

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.3

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.4

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. 5

External Resources and References

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