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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, 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, 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.


James 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.

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. [3]

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".[4] 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.[5]

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.[6][7]

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.[8] "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.[9]

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.[10]

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. [11]

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.[12]

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

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."

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 Aug. 7 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.

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?
  • 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.


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  1. Erdnase, Genii 1948 July
  2. The Conjuror's Magazine of August 1949
  3. The Man Who Was Erdnase by Bart Whaley and Martin Gardner and Jeff Busby ISBN 9781563010002
  4. MAGIC, December 1999
  6. January 2000 Genii - New Light on Erdnase by David Alexander
  8. Searching for Erdnase by Richard Hatch, Magic Magazine December 1999
  10. Is This Erdnase? by Todd Karr from Magical Past-Times: The On-Line Journal of Magic History
  11. Phantoms of the Card Table by David Britland & Gazzo (page 54, the search for Erdnase).