Card Magic: A History

Card Magic: A History

by Alex J. Coyne © 2017 Gifts for Card Players

Great magicians like Cardini, Harry Houdini, Dynamo and David Copperfield (just to name a few!) have been practicing the art of card magic for decades – but just where did card magic start? Here’s a closer look at the origins and history behind cardistry.

The First Tricks

 Stage magic has its origins in ancient Egypt, and many tomb walls are filled with representations of great performances – including the old cup-and-ball trick. According to many sources – including this one – we might have cheating gamblers to thank for the early origins of card magic.

De viribus quantitatus

Luca Pacioli was a mathematician and monk born in the 1400’s, and might be better known – or not – for being called the father of accounting after having authored the first-ever text on double-entry account.  Before that or possibly somewhere in the middle, he authored a text called De viribus quantitatus (which translates to On The Powers of Numbers), which contained information on mathematics and common magic tricks – including, of course, one of the earliest mentions of card tricks ever.

The book was translated into English in 2007, just in case you don’t speak Latin.

 The Discoverie of Witchcraft

 Wait… Witchcraft?

Yup. The Discoverie of Witchcraft was published in 1584 by Reginald Scot, a man who set out to prove – more or less – that what was then known as witchcraft was just plain old conjuring tricks of the day. He’s the historical version of James Randi. The book contained a section devoted only to card tricks – pretty far back – and you can find the full text of the book still available from The Internet Archive.

The first name in lights

Giovanni Giuseppe Pinette (sometimes known in France as Chevalier Joseph Pinetti) was born in Tuscany somewhere in the 1700’s, and is certainly one of the names you’ll find in books on magic history: He was, after all, entertaining royalty as the official magician of the court of Louis XVI.

A master of threatrics and apparently one of the first to advertise himself as a magician to the public, Pinetti was knows as a Roman Professor of Mathematics. Great superhero name too, don’t you think?

 The oldest magic shop

Cards and magic tend to go hand-in-hand. According to Guinness World Records, the world’s oldest (family-run) magic shop was founded back in 1898 in the UK by Lewis Davenport. The shop is still open and in the family, run by his granddaughter. You can find their official website over here. Be sure to take a look at their Card Magic or Custom Deck catalogues.

 Who did what?

 Want to find out who invented a specific card or magic trick? has a handy “Who invented it?” page which should be able to tell you, find it by clicking here.

What was the first card trick you ever saw or heard of? Do you have any facts about historical card tricks, magic trick history or famous historical card magicians to add? Get in touch!

PHOTO: Inside of Davenports Magic Shop