The purpose of this website is to build coherent pieces of information on the search for S. W. Erdnase, the enigmatic and still unknown author of The Expert at the Card Table (TEATCT). There is a wealth of research on the subject, spread over numerous books, articles, websites, etc. and of course ongoing in the famous twelve-year-old, 4,300+ posts long (and counting) ERDNASE thread on the Genii forum. This research is always interesting but at times chaotic, and this website is an attempt to gather, compile, and summarize it into discrete units of inquiry. In other words, to ask questions, and then present what we collectively know towards the answer. Each such line of inquiry has its own section below and is continuously updated as new information is found. If something seems missing or wrong, and especially for ideas on entirely new sections, don’t hesitate to contact the maintainer.

Everyone researching Erdnase is in debt to everyone else doing so. In all possible cases, original research is credited to its originator(s). External sources are cited well enough to be found by anyone. For visual pieces of evidence, images are included directly on the page, unless for copyright (or similar) reasons. Everything else is to be considered ongoing thoughts and ideas. There is a fair share of subjectivity, as is the case for any source of information, and some sections will seem more established than others.

This website rests on the fundamental idea that S. W. Erdnase will be found through new evidence, not through pure reasoning, although the latter is what guides towards the former. That is why some readers will look for discussion on the various candidates but not find it here. Even less any anagrams.

Last updated: December 7, 2019


Last updated: December 7, 2019

When was the book written?

The time period during which TEATCT was written has been hard to pinpoint. It might have happened over a long period or a short one. The book was probably being wrapped up around the time the author engaged M. D. Smith for doing the illustrations. When this happened has been placed to the highest precision so far by David Alexander. In his 2011 article “The Magician as Detective: New Light on Erdnase” in Genii, he makes clever use of M. D Smith’s recollection that his meeting with the author was on “bitter cold winter day” [1]. Alexander examined Chicago weather data for the time period immediately preceding the book’s printing, which was entirely finished on the very latest March 8, 1902, looking for days that might fit that description. Given time for preparing the manuscript and illustrations for print, the meeting probably happened at least a couple of months before that March date, although this is not known. This still might not be a clue to when the book was written, but to a larger extent around when the writing process had ended.

Alexander pointed out December 14 and 15 as remarkably cold; they were at a minimum temperature of -9 and -12 degrees Fahrenheit (about -23 and -24.5 Celsius) respectively. As was also noted by Tom Sawyer, these specific dates however do not stand out among dates even in December, as a number of other dates had similarly low temperatures:

Date Minimum Average
Dec 15, 1901 -12 -7.0
Dec 14, 1901 -9 -0.5
Dec 20, 1901 -8 -2.0
Dec 16, 1901 -5 2.0
Dec 19, 1901 -5 4.0

Sorted by average.

Even more dates had an average temperature deviating far below the normal for that period, i.e. departure:

Date Minimum Average Dep.arture
Dec 15, 1901 -12 -7.0 -34.5
Dec 14, 1901 -9 -0.5 -28.3
Dec 20, 1901 -8 -2.0 -28.3
Dec 16, 1901 -5 2.0 -25.3
Dec 18, 1901 -1 1.5 -25.2
Dec 19, 1901 -5 4.0 -22.5
Dec 17, 1901 3 6.0 -21.0
Dec 21, 1901 -2 7.5 -18.6

Sorted by departure.

Looking at daily average temperature for the entire winter of 1901/02 up until March, the ten coldest dates were:

Date Minimum Average Dep.arture
Dec 15, 1901 -12 -7.0 -34.5
Jan 27, 1902 -8 -3.0 -26.8
Dec 20, 1901 -8 -2.0 -28.3
Dec 14, 1901 -9 -0.5 -28.3
Feb 5, 1902 -7 1.5 -23.5
Dec 18, 1901 -1 1.5 -25.2
Dec 16, 1901 -5 2.0 -25.3
Dec 19, 1901 -5 4.0 -22.5
Feb 4, 1902 -6 5.5 -19.3
Feb 8, 1902 -0 5.5 -20.2

Sorted by average.

On the assumption that the meeting happened in the winter of 1901/02, and given M. D. Smith’s testimony, it would be a reasonable conclusion that he and the author met either in mid-December, 1902, or in late January/early February 1902. The latter span might seem a bit too late for the book to be completed in time for early March when the book is known to have existed in its final form. Even more so, if it already did at the time of its copyright application on February 15.

However, it is currently not known that it was that winter they met. The winter of 1900/01 had quite a few days that could be described as “bitter cold”, for example, February 22–23 with daily average temperatures at ~25 degrees below the normal, and with many days that month reaching minimum temperatures at around zero degrees. March 5–6 that same winter had similar minimum temperatures and departures from the normal.

  1. The Gardner-Smith Correspondence, H & R Magic Books, PDF Edition, page 7.

Last updated: October 10, 2015

Early chronology

Work in progress.

We know that the two copies required by copyright law to be sent to the Library of Congress were so on March 8 of 1902, putting a latest date on when the book must have been printed, bound, and delivered:

From the Catalog of Title Entries of Books, Library of Congress (Second Quarter, 1902) From the Catalog of Title Entries of Books, Library of Congress (Second Quarter, 1902)

According to Richard Hatch, the earliest known advertisement for TEATCT was in the November 1902 issue of The Sphinx:

First known advertisement for TEATCT (The Sphinx, November 1902) First known advertisement for TEATCT (The Sphinx, November 1902)

The advertisement was placed by Vernelo & Company – an importer, manufacturer and inventor of magic apparatus run by Edward M. Vernelo. (His wife “Madame Inez” was the editor of The Sphinx at that time, through The Sphinx Publishing Co., owned by the two.)

The book had already briefly been mentioned by William Hilliar in the September 1902 issue of The Sphinx:

Mention of TEATCT in The Sphinx, September 1902 Mention of TEATCT in The Sphinx, September 1902

The earliest known mention of TEATCT outside the magic community was in the National Police Gazette on March 21, 1903 (image pending).

Frederick J. Drake began selling first edition copies in 1903 until he reprinted the book in 1905 in both paper- and clothbound editions. These were marketed in, for example, Stanyon’s Magic (prices are English pre-decimalization):

Drake reprints of TEATCT on sale in Stanyon’s Magic, December 1906 Drake reprints of TEATCT on sale in Stanyon’s Magic, December 1906

Drake continued selling TEATCT at least as late as 1934 – possibly 1937 when the Frost Publishing Company started printing it, although it is not known if the same printing plates were used by Frost, or new ones were made from a previous edition.

Last updated: December 7, 2019

Who wrote the preface?

Work in progress.

The possibility of the preface of TEATCT having been written by someone else than the author was explored in a handful of posts in 2014. According to JHostler, the style and content of the TEATCT preface are similar to those found in books published by Frederick J. Drake. Three examples are given, but there are a lot more Drake books that should be looked at for a comparison of their prefaces.

Notable is that the TEATCT preface has the entire book’s only use of “he” in the third person reference to the author, the famous last sentence: “…if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author, as he needs the money.”

Last updated: December 7, 2019

Where exactly did M. D. Smith meet the author?

Work in progress.

What bank issued the check the author paid M. D. Smith with?

Work in progress

Jeff Wessmiller wrote back in 2005:

I had the honor of meeting with Darwin Ortiz the day before yesterday and we had an interesting discussion about who Erdnase was. He informed me that the Chicago bank that issued M. D. Smith’s check (for payment of the illustrations) was later bought out by a larger bank which today still maintains account information from 1902. The source that gave Ortiz this information, which he did not disclose to me, has not contacted Darwin with follow up information. Only a few legal formalities needed to take place before the account information could be given out, but that’s the last Ortiz heard of the investigation.

The topic was brought up again by Tom Sawyer in 2012:

Back in June 2005 there was a little discussion (on this thread) of possibly tracking down the records from Erdnases bank. I have wondered whether anyone ever followed up on that. Maybe a broader idea was to check with all of the likely banks.

Research is currently ongoing following this lead. According to the Illinois Bankers Association [1], these are most of the Chicago banks in 1902 that still exist today:

Name Type Founded
BMO Harris Bank Commercial May 1, 1882
Hoyne Savings Bank Savings Jan 1, 1887
Royal Savings Bank Savings Jan 1, 1887
Northern Trust Co. Commercial Oct 12, 1889
Pulaski Savings Bank Savings Jan 1, 1890
PNA Bank Savings Jan 1, 1891
ABC Bank Commercial Jun 10, 1891
Central Federal Savings and Loan Savings Jan 1, 1893
Liberty Bank for Savings Savings Jan 1, 1898

Sorted by date founded. Strikethrough means no current records, see below.

A similar list can be acquired using the Institution Directory at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation website. Since above are banks that still exist, the First National Bank is not in the list, which is the bank M. D. Smith thought it was in conversation with Martin Gardner in 1946 [2]. The First National Bank of Chicago was in 1902 located at the southwest corner of Monroe and Dearborn streets. A few years later Smith also mentions that he knows a manager at the Harris Bank and will “ask him if there is any way to chase that name.” [3] As far as known that never happened, and it is not evident if Smith at that time thought it might have been Harris Bank that issued the check, or just that he happened to know someone there that could provide knowledge in general.

A representative of the current day BMO Harris Bank states that they only hold bank records for the seven years required by law, and subsequently do not have any records from 1902 [4]. Similar inquiries are currently being made to all the other banks in the list above, as well as the First National Bank that through a series of mergers over the years is owned today by Chase. Recent correspondence, however, concludes that the latter does not have any relevant records [5]. This is also the case with Liberty Bank, that only holds records for up to 15 years [6], for Northern Trust that only holds records for seven years [7], and for Central Federal Savings and Loan.[8]

If Darwin Ortiz and his source are to be believed, finding out what banks bought other banks in Chicago between 1902 and 2005 might provide additional clues as to what bank issued the check.

  1. Email correspondence with Illinois Bankers Association on October 14, 2015.
  2. The Gardner-Smith Correspondence, H & R Magic Books, PDF Edition, page 8.
  3. Ibid., page 21.
  4. Email correspondence with BMO Harris Online Services on October 15, 2015.
  5. Email correspondence with JPMorgan Chase on January 5, 2016.
  6. Email correspondence with Liberty Bank on January 20, 2016.
  7. Phone conversation with Northern Trust on January 22, 2016.
  8. Email correspondence with Central Federal Savings and Loan on January 19, 2016.

Last updated: December 7, 2019

Who published the book?

An assumption about TEATCT is that it was self-published, due to the statement in the first edition saying so:

Title page of the first edition of TEATCT (1902) Title page of the first edition of TEATCT (1902)

But as has been pointed out before, we might assign to this statement as much truth as we do to S. W. Erdnase being the name of the author. What does self-published mean in the context of this book? All things considered, it can be viewed as simply the direction of some amount of money. If the book really was self-published, the author paid James McKinney & Co. to print it. If, on the other hand, the book had a publisher other than the author, the author was paid to write the book. Let’s look at each scenario a bit more in detail:

A self-published book would begin with the author having completed a manuscript. The illustrations to go with it were done by M. D. Smith, but according to a conversation Martin Gardner had with Smith on December 13, 1946, “[he] is not sure how [the author] managed to contact him – probably through engravers or printers. At any rate, he got in touch with Smith to have the illustrations made.” [1] Manuscript and illustrations were delivered to McKinney, who prepared them for print and then produced several copies of the finished book. (However, we do not yet know if the book was bound at McKinney or elsewhere, or how the materials were delivered in either direction.) These copies would now be owned by the author, to be marketed and sold by his own means. This is where the business between the author and McKinney ends, unless the latter was also paid to store the finished books for some time.

If instead someone other than the author published the book, it would still start with a manuscript. Written in whole, parts, or not at all, before contact was made with the publisher, which might have been initiated by either part. A contract, not necessarily written, would have been agreed upon for the author to go ahead and finish the manuscript. Most important, such contract would specify monetary compensation to the author, meaning e.g. royalties, percentage of sales, advance payment, etc. Regardless of the exact terms, it would be the publisher paying the author for delivery of the manuscript. This, and producing, marketing and selling the book, are the expenses on behalf of the publisher, expected to be returned by the book sales. Depending on the terms, the business between the author and the publisher could end here, for example if the former were to be paid in a single advance sum, the publisher keeping all future proceeds.

Actual papers would of course be the best evidence to support either of these two setups. An invoice from McKinney to the author for printing the book, an order line in their books, or the author’s receipt for making that payment, would support the self-published theory. A written agreement between a publisher and the author, or any traces of payments to the author in the books of the publisher, would support the publisher theory. But until we find such documentation, we can only look at the data we have, some interpretations of it, and how it may or may not support these theories.

On one hand:

On the other hand:

  1. The Gardner-Smith Correspondence, H & R Magic Books, PDF Edition, page 7.
  2. Ibid., page 8.

Last updated: December 7, 2019

Who bound the book after it was printed?

Work in progress.

In 2012, magicam first raised this question. Who bound TEATCT may have various implications, for example where the entire inventory was located at some point in time, maybe even after the book started selling. James McKinney & Co. seems to have had the capabilities of binding items, one petitioner – The American Lumberman – refers to them as “a printer and book-binder” [1] and they were sold bindery supplies by E. C. Fuller & Co.

There is however one dedicated bindery mentioned in the bankruptcy files – the Chicago Book Binding Company. This may or may not indicate that this company did all binding for James McKinney & Co. that was not already handled in-house. As pointed out by Chris Wasshuber, at the time of the bankruptcy the bindery held paper stock for several titles printed by McKinney:

From the receiver’s inventory of property belonging to James McKinney & Co. From the receiver’s inventory of property belonging to James McKinney & Co.

The company seems to have been in other ways related to the McKinney/Jamieson-Higgins partnership, and went bankrupt at the almost exact same time – much like Jamieson-Higgins. In early January, 1903, W. France Anderson, receiver in the Chicago Book Binding Company bankruptcy [2], wrote to the judge:

[that] all the books of account, chooses in action, moneys, chattels and property of said Chicago Book-Binding Company, are in the possession of one John E. Seinwerth, who holds such possession by virtue of his appointment as Receiver in said Company by the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, under a bill in equity filed therein on the Twenty-third day of December A. D. 1902, entitled Stillman B. Jamieson vs. Chicago Book-Binding Company et al.

The specific nature of the mentioned proceedings are still being uncovered.

  1. James McKinney Bankruptcy Files, Edition, pages 250–251.
  2. Chicago Book Binding Company, Case No. 8613; Bankruptcy Case Files, Act of 1898; USDC Chicago; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Kansas City.

Last updated: December 7, 2019

Richard Hatch first pointed out he believes Samuel W. Jamieson of the Jamieson-Higgins publishing company filled out the copyright application for TEATCT, based on Jamieson’s handwriting in the Jamieson-Higgins bankruptcy files (lower right), and the handwriting on the copyright application. Bill Mullins compared the copyright application to Jamieson’s handwriting on a passport application as well and came to the same conclusion. Here are samples from those three documents:

Samuel W. Jamieson’s handwriting from the Jamieson-Higgins bankruptcy files (February 13, 1903) Samuel W. Jamieson’s handwriting from the Jamieson-Higgins bankruptcy files (February 13, 1903)

Handwriting on the TEATCT copyright application form (February 15, 1902) Handwriting on the TEATCT copyright application form (February 15, 1902)

Samuel W. Jamieson’s handwriting on a passport application (July 25, 1918) Samuel W. Jamieson’s handwriting on a passport application (July 25, 1918)

The similarities are so many and distinct (e.g. “J”, “S”, “W”) it can be safely assumed that Samuel W. Jamieson did in fact fill out that copyright form. That Jamieson assisted in applying for copyright does not necessarily mean he or his company had anything else to do with TEATCT, but it is certainly a possibility.

Last updated: December 7, 2019

Notes and leads

This is a somewhat loose collection of notes picked up from the ERDNASE thread that make for interesting leads and paths of investigation:

Last updated: December 7, 2019


Looking for Erdnase is maintained by Markus Amalthea Magnuson (“mam” on the Genii forum), please send any questions, corrections, ideas etc. to