Wishful Thinking and Automatic Rejections: Erdnase and Voynich

ZZZauber_Erdnase_Fr
An early quest in Genii Magazine

This fascinating article by medieval scholar Lisa Fagin Davis published in The Washington Post was brought to my attention the other day via a post over at the Genii Forum.

Dealing with the annoying recurrent and premature claims by various authors for having solved the riddle of the legendary Voynich manuscript, Davis shares a number of critical observations and very reasonable recommendations. With striking similarity they also match the proceedings and the heated discussions over new “findings” about the Erdnase authorship in our field of interest.

Thus, I have extracted the relevant paragraphs from the article below and added the corresponding Erdnase references, so ((double brackets)) around original text and bold additions are mine:

Why do people keep convincing themselves they’ve solved this ((medieval)) mystery?

For ((centuries)) decades, the ((Voynich Manuscript)) Erdnase authorship has resisted ((interpretation)) discovery, which hasn’t stopped a host of would-be readers from claiming they’ve solved it.

Every few months, it seems, a new theory is trumpeted ((by the new media)) beneath a breathless headline.

But most would-be interpreters make the same mistake ((as Newbold)): By beginning with their own preconceptions of ((what)) whom they want ((the Voynich)) Erdnase to be, their conclusions take them further from the truth.

Like others before them, ((these)) authors tend to go public prematurely–and without proper review by the real experts. Word of each new solution spreads across the ((globe)) Genii Forum in minutes.

Almost Dozens of solutions have been proposed in the past ((century)) decades alone, most of them more aspirational than they are substantive.

I recently received an ugly and threatening direct message . . . referring in detail to my critique . . . For some, apparently, the stakes appear to be irrationally high.

. . . undercooked solutions presented without context lead readers down a rabbit hole of misinformation . . .

Every new ((Voynich)) Erdnase theory offers an opportunity for readers to exercise healthy, critical skepticism . . . Proposed solutions shouldn’t automatically be rejected (the default reaction of most ((medievalists)) Erdnasians), but they should be approached with caution. Seek out expert opinions, and do some follow-up reading. It shouldn’t take ((a Voynichologist)) an Expert expert to spot a leap of logic or an argument based on wishful thinking instead of solid facts.

. . . we tend to bring our preconceptions with us to the table. The more we burden the manuscript with what we want it to be, the more buried the truth becomes.

To truly understand the past, we have to let it speak for itself. The ((Voynich)) Erdnase Manuscript has a voice–we just need to listen.

Chapeau, Ms Davis, I’d say you’ve nailed it! For Voynich, Erdnase, and beyond.

I think it would be fun and revealing to browse through the Erdnase thread over at the Genii Forum again with this checklist in hand.

This brief text should be required reading for all (amateur) historians and over-enthusiastic secret-solvers, don’t you think? Please help spread the word!


Addendum:

Here’s a related article by the same author. It ends with this plea:

To those of you out there in Voynich-land who are even now working on decrypting or deciphering this “elegant enigma,” please take heed of Manly and Mendelsohn’s words of caution: in order to be accepted as legitimate, your solution must be logical, repeatable, take into account the verifiable published scientific analyses, and result in a reading that makes sense both intellectually and chronologically.

Solid advice!

Ah, were it not for the chronological discrepancy, I might have solved the Erdnase puzzle back here… 😉


 

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Looking for Erdnase

The search continues: A new docu-drama is about to follow the trails of S.W. Erdnase, the most famous unidentified man in magic history, author of the The Expert at the Card Table. It will combine interviews with knowledgeable folks like Juan Tamariz with reenacted scenes. There is a Kickstarter project running until March 25th to ensure funding of the ambitious film. The mastermind behind this project is Hans-Joachim Brucherseifer, a young German filmmaker. You can watch a brief trailer and listen to an interview with him on Scott Wells‘s podcast The Magic Word here.

ZZZauber_Erdnase_Fr

Read some of my thoughts and musings on Erdnase here.


Addendum: The funding goal has been reached, 15,185 Euros have been collected. Looking forward to the movie, which should be out by the end of this year!


 

The Multiplying Books

It’s springtime in Magic Bookie Land, new titles just keep popping up everywhere like mushrooms on a wet day!

Just about two weeks ago, Penguin Magic brought out Juan Tamariz‘s opus magnum, The Magic Rainbow. You may want to GET THIS NOW. Yes, it’s 149 Euro, but it has almost 600 pages and costs about what you paid for the last four or five “latest wonders” or overpriced one trick DVDs, so why worry? This one is likely to serve you a lifetime supply of brain food to understand magic better and to make you a much better performer.

1rainbow

Last week, Dover published a Kindle edition of How to Make a Living as a Professional Magician: Business First, Sleight-of-Hand Later by Matt Patterson. It’s an updated version of his 1997 manual, Blood, Sweat, and Pinky Breaks, which I had been unaware of before. The price is 12,45 Euro.

Only today I noticed a revised and extended edition of JosePepe” Carroll‘s two volume modern card magic classic, 52 Lovers, now advertised as 52 Lovers Through the Looking-Glass over at Vanishing Inc. The price is 70 Dollars.

Vanishing Inc. have also just started a new line of booklets called Astonishing Essays, which are pigeon-holed somewhere between lecture notes and books. The first three out of ten booklets planned feature Steve Cohen, Rob Zabrecky and an unnamed Prison Magician (with a lifetime sentence).

Cohen

By the way, Steve Cohen also put out a fine graphic novel just recently, The Millionaires’ Magician. The price is 24,99 Dollar, and you can catch a full online preview here.

Oh, and not to forget our very own Pit Hartling, who has just republished his acclaimed first book, Card Fictions, and his more recent, but quickly-out-of-print mem deck oeuvre, In Order to Amaze. Prices are 35 and 52 Euro.

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Für unsere deutschsprachigen Zauberfreunde: Thorsten Havener hat ganz frisch ein neues Buch am Markt. Sag es keinem weiter: Warum wir Geheimnisse brauchen beginnt mit einer sehr berührenden, persönlichen Geschichte des Autors. Danch reitet er flott durch einen Wust von Gedanken und Anekdoten, Studienergebnissen und Info-Häppchen. Im Mittelteil dürften dann auch viele Zauberfreunde auf ihre Kosten kommen und manchem vertrauten Namen und Prinzip begegnen. Der Preis: 16 Euro.

Erdnase

Bei Amazon ist am 11. Februar Der Experte am Kartentisch von S.W Erdnase auf deutsch erschienen. Der Untertitel: “Wie Sie erfolgreich manipulieren und meisterhaft zaubern”. Nun ja. Ob es sich bei dieser Veröffentlichung des Nikol Verlages um die bekannte Übersetzung von Christian Scherer handelt, konnte ich noch nicht feststellen. Der Preis: 7,95 Euro.


 

Have You Seen This Bookplate Before?

Gallaway_bookplate_300dpi

The reason why I’m asking is quite an exciting one: This bookplate belonged to the man some scholars believe to be S.W. Erdnase: Edward Gallaway. In his library, a copy of The Expert at the Card Table was found, with this very bookplate inside. Gallaway owned other books on gambling, maybe also on magic. Each bookplate found can help in identifying Erdnase. So if you have ever seen this bookplate before in a book or two, or have some old libraries of magic and gambling books (most likely from the 1850s to the 1920s) to haunt, please give it a try and give a shout to Chris Wasshuber over at Lybrary, the main researcher who favors Gallaway as the man who was Erdnase!


 

10 Good Reasons Why This Man Was Erdnase

(…and one or two why probably not.)

Following the lines of, uhmm, “special thinking” and wild inductive reasoning often displayed in the Erdnase thread over at the Genii Forum,  minutes and hours of my own dedicated research and uninformed opining have unearthed that the author of The Expert had, in fact, always been around, hiding in plain sight before us and even among us, as he was no outsider to our community. On the contrary, he was and is one of our most respected practitioners and innovators!

This man…

  • like few others had the expertise to perform all the sleights described in the book with “unflinching audacity”
  • was interested and well-versed both in gambling and magic
  • was a true artist but also a logical, almost scientific thinker
  • could write well and did so elsewhere
  • preached to be natural and to handle the deck lightly
  • loved a good secret and fooling the boys (and he did keep many secrets over decades)
  • was almost always in need of money
  • became, in fact, the biggest promoter of his own book
  • had a special reason for using the anagram “Erdnase”: At one point in time, in New York City, a Dr. S. Weenas (sic!) was his optometrician
  • hid and displayed his name very prominently on the famous title page of TEATCT, centered within the inverted pyramid text:  DetAIl eVERy kNOwN:

ErdnVern

Finally, Erdnase has been found. TEATCT was written “by DAI  VERNON, the Expert Card Handler”. There can be no doubt that he’s our man!

Yes, yes, I know what you’re saying… Officially, Dai Vernon was only born in 1894, and the book appeared in 1902. What a boy wonder! Or maybe he just cheated about his real age. Was he probably about 15 years older than he claimed? Considering his early proficiency with cards, this could be true! Or maybe it was a father and son ploy, elaborately planned and executed over decades (just like some U.S. White House takeovers). And yes, he didn’t choose to be called Dai Vernon until much later on, but, hey, maybe the guy was just planning ahead! All part of the ploy.

Vernon’s the man. Case closed. Thread closed. Now let’s move on to other secrets, please:

  1. Who was the mysterious Frenchman (?) “Mr Charlier”?
  2. Who invented the legendary Horse Drop?
  3. And who is “R.G.”, the German/Austrian (?) author of the early card book, Ein Spiel Karten (A Deck of Cards) from 1853?

Go, Geniis!


Thoughts on Erdnase, 101

Erdnase, Fig. 101

Mulling over the famous figure 101 that comes with the trick “The Three Aces” within TEATCT, here is a thought I have enjoyed nurturing for quite some time: What if there was a secret connection between the opening of the book (the original title on the frontispiece, to be precise) and this more or less closing feature of the book, the final drawing?

Unlike the other figures, this one does not only explain the ruse; in fact, it does deceive you, the reader. The display of the aces looks totally regular. Only when you know that there is a subterfuge involved, you will understand that the Ace of Diamonds is not what it claims to be, but something-or someone-else (the Ace of Hearts).

Now the same may be said about the triple of ARTIFICE, RUSE and SUBTERFUGE (= ARS (lat.) = art). I have always wondered why Erdnase used three nouns with roughly the same connotation here: You are being deceived expertly and artfully at the card table. Precision? (Erdnase obviously loved describing things in detail by doubling or tripling words.) PR blurb to make his book sound utterly important? Or simply a clever means of hiding something in the middle, in plain sight? That something might be “RUSE and.”

What is more, in American handwriting, figure I0I can be read forward as well as backwards. A hint at an anagram or at shifting words around?

Remember, “RUSE and” = “and RUSE” = “Andrus” = “Andrews” (!)

Finally, the book’s frontpage promises “over one hundred drawings.” The total of 101 figures delivers this promise, but only by the smallest margin. You may not call this cheating, but probably another artful subterfuge…

Pure conjecture, I admit. This could be more convincing if, say, figure 101 were really displayed on the very last page of the book, maybe on page 202, and if the book’s title went more like ART, ARTIFICE and ACES at the Card Table to resemble the three Aces in figure 101 even more closely.

Just a thought.

Here’s a bit more on Erdnase within my site.


 

Erdnasen, aufgeschaut! – Erdnasians, beware!

EngelGenug geträumt, gezögert und vertrödelt – jetzt gehe ich es wirklich an: In spätestens zwölf Monaten soll mein Büchlein fertig sein!

Mehr als 100 Jahre nach S.W. Erdnase wird es höchste Zeit, in ein neues und aufregendes Jahrhundert der Kartenkunst aufzubrechen.

Das hat zwar nichts mit meinem kleinen Werk zu tun, aber es musste hier mal gesagt werden!

Zumindest der vorläufige Titel steht auch schon fest:

ARTHR_DE

(Hinweis: Zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt könnten auch noch Subalterne, Substitute, Suppenkoma oder Sukkulenten Berücksichtigung finden.)

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Enough of pondering, procrastination, and idle play – I’m going for it now: In about twelve months my book should be finished!

More than 100 years after Erdnase it’s about time to enter a new and exciting century of expert cardistry.

This is totally unrelated to my little effort, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

I already got a preliminary title down:

ARTHR_ENG

(Full disclosure: Subtleties, submarines, substitutes, subpoena, soup cubes or succulents may also be considered at a later date.)