Confessions of a Gambler

19th century gambler gives up his secrets - Marked Cards and a Hold Out - 09/09/1862


Louisville Daily Journal

6/30/20220 min read

A friend relates to a writer for the St.Louis Republican a story as told to him by a dilapidated young man who ran through a fortune by reason of an infatuation for cards. None but the initiated know the arts employed by sharpers to fleece the victims that fall into their hands. The following is an article devoted to marked or advantage cards.

Marked cards are manufactured to exactly imitate the fair playing cards in common use, and so ingenious are the devices that it is all but impossible for any but the initiated to detect the difference. One establishment in New York manufactures fifty different styles of these advantage cards by which the color, suit and size are told, after some practice, as well by the backs as the faces. They are adapted to bluff or poker, all-fours, seven-up, euchre, cribbage, whist, loo and other games where knowing just what an opponent has in his hand would cause the winning of the game. The same establishment manufactures "brief cards", "long and shorts", and "strippers" trimmed for stocking cards for every game. The prices of these cheating implements vary with the style. The common sort are sold for $6 per dozen. Marked strippers containing all the advantages are put at $12 per dozen. Transparent cards are also manufactured, by which the gambler, who will not expose his hand sees what his adversary has through the backs.

Our informant has seen no less than eight different ways of marking on the common "star-backed" cards. There is certain character in the right hand corner, placed in five different positions to denote, ace, king, queen, jack, and ten. Another character in the same position denotes the nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three and deuce. These characters are part of the star and must be looked for to be noticed as differing from any other part of the card. For suits there are four characters differently shaped, found in the left hand corner, the marks being found at both ends. Sometimes, however, the marks for size and suit are placed in the same corner. In marked "striped-back" cards, the size is told by the positions of the stripe running out at the right hand corner, high cards being denoted by a spread of the stripes; in low ones the strip is contracted. The suit is told by the spread between the bar and the left hand corner. In some marked cards with fancy backs, the suit and size are denoted by leaves; on others by carves, flourishes, etc. It is very rare that the marks are placed lower than a quarter-length on the side, yet some are found to be in the center. We might particularize further, but as the marks vary with style of the back, it would be impossible make the explanation intelligible to the reader.

Professional sharpers know where to obtain these advantage cards. Many have peculiar marks of their own which they have the manufacturer put upon the backs of the cards they order. The manufacturer of marked cards are at all times in league with the gamblers. The same person in New York to whom we have alluded has sent out a printed circular which we copy:

"The Thief - Price $3.00- This is a new invention intended to assist the player in "holding out" any number of cards, and it will do it. It is very simple in its construction, easy to operate, and any person that knows two and two are four, can use it. It can be carried in the vest pocket all the time, and always ready for use, not liable to get out of order, and should it do so, any watch maker can put it in order for a trifle, as the whole manufacture is only about 50 cents. Then why ask $3.00 you say? For this reason- that one is all you will ever want to buy as they do not wear out like cards. Also, after seeing it you can get one made as well as "any other man," and you will wonder why the thing was never thought of before. With it you can "Hold Out" one or more cards, shift and make up your hand to suit and your hands and person are at perfect liberty; your opponent may look in your lap and up your sleeve. There is nothing to be seen! After using it once, you will not be without it, for any price, as like all good inventions, its simplicity is a great point in its favor. They will be delivered FREE, by mail (securely sealed), on receipt of price. When sent by Express C.O.D. cost of collection will be added to the bill.

This circular is, of course, only sent to professionals, whom sporting men, dealers in "sporting goods" lottery agents , &c., have a peculiar method of finding all over the country.

Men who "live by their wits" are constantly devising new ways of swindling the unwary, and gamblers who shuffle through the world are not generally averse to lessening the chances of being beaten at their games. Young men, who are coaxed or led into their messes think they lose at play because they are in bad luck, little thinking they are the victims of systematic villainy. One of the sharpers ways of "organizing victory" is through the instrumentality of marked cards, but this is by no means his principle reliance.