Paul Cummins – The Invisible Card

Paul Cummins
The Invisible Card

As you’ll see in my cut-and-pasted description of this routine from my lecture notes, it’s one I’ve been doing for years and years and years. The mechanics of the routine are not original with me, but the entire presentation has been honed for all of those years. It’s a wonderful routine that doesn’t do much for magicians but which laymen really react to. It allows you to interact with them, it provides opportunities for humor, and it contains 3 distinct effects.

The mechanics of the routine were shown to me in the 1970’s by an acquaintance in NYC named Howard Bash. Since writing the lecture notes, I have been trying to track down the history of the trick. Recently I acquired Richard Hatch’s excellent translation of Robert Giobbi’s Card College 3, and I immediately recognized the routine on page 523 which is also called “The Invisible Card” and is remarkably similar to the routine you are about to read. Giobbi credits the original routine to a Dick Ferguson (penned as Richard Bruce) in the “Sept. 1951 issue of Hugard’s Magic Monthly, Vol. IX, No. 4, page 835.” Although I have many original HMM’s my library does not contain this specific issue. I’d love it if any GMN’er would send me a copy of just the pages of this issue that describe Mr. Ferguson’s routine. Giobbi also mentioned in CC3 that his presentation was based on a routine by George Kaplan from The Fine Art of Magic on page 110. Curiously, this routine is titled, “The Lie Detector” and bears little resemblance to “The Invisible Card” with regard to mechanics or presentation – perhaps something was – literally – lost in the translation? Jeff Busby had also given me a veiled reference to a routine by Elmer Biddle called “Trenscendent” – if any GMN’er’s have access to that routine I’d also love a copy!

Finally, after I lectured in Baltimore last September, GMN’s own Eric Henning took a liking to the below routine but personalized the patter wonderfully! He has graciously consented to allow me to include his patter as part of this column. Thanks Eric!

As usual, if there are any questions about the routine please don’t hesitate to contact me here on GeMiNi or by via email at [email protected]

Thanks, and enjoy!


This venerable routine has been in my repertoire since the early 1970’s, and I still perform it today. It was shown to me in a basic form by a fellow teenager named Howard Bash at a meeting of I.M.P.S. (International Magical Performers Society, presided over by Arnold Belais of Multiplying Pipe fame) in New York City. I have not seen or heard from Howard Bash for over twenty years, but I’ll always thank him for starting me on this routine. Over the years and during countless performances, it has evolved, more presentationally than technically, into the following.

Taking a shuffled deck in use, have a card selected and shown around. Hold the deck for a jog shuffle and chop off about a quarter of the deck. Extend that quarter-deck for the spectator to replace the selection. Start to jog shuffle, running two cards onto the selection and then injogging the third. Shuffle off onto the injog. Hold the deck in dealing position in your left hand and lift up on the injog, creating a pinky break below it (and over the two cards above the selection).

Ask, “…have you ever seen an invisible card…?” Ninety nine percent of the time the answer will be “no.” To which you reply, “…I’m not surprised, they’re hard to see…!” Should your spectator answer “yes”, then reply, “…I see, well some would say you’re crazier than me…!” In either case, continue with: “…I’m going to try to narrow down the deck until I land on the card you’re thinking of…” Cut the top half of the deck to the table (or into a spectator’s hand if no table is available), “…I don’t think it’s in this half, but I’m kinda guessing…”

Begin spreading through the face down cards in hand and separate the spread when you reach the break. Push over the next five cards and flip them face up onto the left- hand quarter-packet. Place the spread cards in your right hand underneath the left- hand cards. “…I’ll take four or five cards here, and I’ll show them to you. Don’t tell me which card is yours; just let me know if it’s in this group or not, because if it’s not in the group – we’d do the whole rest of this trick for nothing…!” Take the left-hand half deck into your right hand from above. You will peel the five face up cards into your left hand, naming each one as you peel it. Keep a left pinky break below the third card peeled, the selection, and remember its name. When peeling the fourth card, pick up the selection below the right hand packet (this is the Reverse Biddle). Continuing, peel the fifth card onto the left-hand group. The most important aspect of all false counts is rhythm, and this one is no exception – the naming and peeling of the cards should be done in cadence and without pause. Ask, “…is your card in this group…?” Your audience will answer positively. Act a little surprised, “…it is? Well, so far….. so what…?”

Motivated by the need to handle the small packet in your left hand, place the right hand packet face down onto the tabled half deck (or onto the half held by the spectator). This unobtrusive action centralizes the selection face up in the deck. Turn the small packet face down and count four as five using the reverse biddle again, to wit: Pick up the packet from above with your right hand and peel off the top card into your left hand, “one.” Peel the second card onto the first, “two,” but keep a left pinky break below this card. As you peel the third card and count “three,” pick up (or, Reverse Biddle) the second card counted. Count and peel the fourth card, and finally drop the last right hand card onto the left-hand packet.

Regrip the cards in your left hand at the fingertips and raise that hand up to eye level so that you are looking right at the near, short end of the packet. Slip your left forefinger to the face of the packet and press up slightly. Use a sure grip with your left thumb and fingers on the long sides of the packet. Now bring your right hand over the packet from above and grip it by the ends. Let two cards riffle off your right thumb and bend the top two cards up briskly so that you can see into the packet. Look at the spectator, look back into the packet, and make a silent decision. “…would you hold out your hand palm up, please…?” She does. Keeping the top two cards of the packet bent up, twist your right wrist counter clockwise until your right forefinger can enter the packet. Pull your right thumb and forefinger out of the packet toward you as if they held a card by the short end. Simultaneously, apply extra pressure with your left forefinger – the packet will literally, and audibly, SNAP shut.

Indicate your right hand, “…this is the invisible card I was talking about when we started…” Place the invisible card onto the spectator’s outstretched palm. “…don’t drop it or we’ll never find it..!” Pause a beat or two and, depending on your audience, you can get a laugh out of a gentle tease of the spectator holding the invisible card.

“…If I have five cards and give you one, how many does that leave me…?” The spectator will answer “four.” “…exactly…which means I have four left…” Spread the packet and take the top two face down cards into your right fingers. Use your thumbs to move the top card of each pair in a circular motion against the back of the bottom card of each pair, visually demonstrating that there are only four cards in your hands. This is a strong vanish!

Flip all four cards face up into your left hand and ask, “…are any of these your card..?” Your audience will respond negatively. Table these four cards (or hand them to someone). Pretend to pick up the invisible card from the spectator’s hand from above with your right hand. Turn your hand palm toward you, as if you were looking at the face of the `invisible’ card, as you say, “…good, then it must’ve been the….Four of Hearts…!”, naming the selection that you noted during the initial Reverse Biddle count. Although the audience knows you are putting them on at this point, they have been (time) misdirected from the fact that you looked at the five cards, and they’ll be surprised that you know the name of their selection.

Replace the `invisible’ card onto the spectator’s palm, “…I know this seems crazy but pick up the card and turn it over so it’s face up…” Mime for the spectator what you want them to do with your own hands. Then pick up the deck and lift off about twenty cards (or thirty, just don’t accidentally cut to the reversed selection). “…and slide it into the deck…” Let them pretend to slide the invisible card into the open deck. Plop the twenty cards back onto the left half “…so we can prove to everyone that neither one of us is crazy because if that’s where you put it….” perform a wide face down ribbon spread (or pressure fan, if no table is available), “…that’s where we’ll find it..!!!”

Although this is simple in effect and undemanding technically, it may be done anywhere with any deck in almost any condition. The by-play and participation with the spectator is fun and the effect is a fooler. In fact, laypersons actually see three effects: the vanish of their selection, the fact that you name the selection even though it is nowhere to be found, and the reappearance of the selection face up in the deck that has been out of play since the very beginning of the routine.

Eric Henning’s Patter Script for The Invisible Card

Have a card selected and shuffled back into the deck as in Paul’s routine.

“Now, you have a small problem — you need to remember your card. But I have a big problem — I have to remember all fifty-two cards! I must confess I have a terrible memory. With all the things to remember today — Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, faxes, cell phones, pagers, email addresses, computer passwords, PIN numbers — I’m surprised anyone can remember a chosen card. I certainly can’t keep track of fifty-two. Fortunately, I’ve found some techniques to help my memory that might help yours, too.”

“The first thing the experts say to do is reduce the total number of things we have to remember. So I’m going to try to narrow down the number of cards we’re dealing with to about five. Now I’m going to show you five cards. Please don’t tell me your card, just tell me whether it’s one of these five…” Do the Reverse Biddle sequence, naming the cards. “Is one of these five yours? Good! We’ve just reduced the total number of things we have to remember from fifty-two to five.” ..and driven home the number “five” in the process.

“Here’s another tip: repetition. You’ve only seen your card a couple of times, and after a short time it’s easy to forget it. It’s almost as if it’s invisible. Here, let me show you. You see? Your card’s invisible — would you hold it for a moment, please? Thank you. Oh, would you turn it around so I can see the face please? Ah, I see — it’s the [name their card].” Paul’s right – this touch gets a huge reaction and should not be ignored.

“Don’t worry — it’ll come back to you! Would you toss your invisible card into the deck here? Thanks. Meanwhile, when you have forgotten something, it’s almost as if it had vanished. Look, I have only four cards here, and none of them is yours. Which brings us to the final tip. Once you’ve reduced the number of things to remember, and still have trouble, just make it different from everything else around it.” Spread the cards on the table, revealing their selection face-up in the deck. “That’s how to improve your memory.”

I hope you give this routine a turn – it’s worked wonderfully for me for many years, simple as it is. This routine and many others are available to GMN’er’s at 20% off the cover price of $25.00 when purchasing my lecture notes, “…from a shuffled deck in use…” I happily pay the postage worldwide.

As usual, I welcome any comments on the above routine or any others that have been posted to GeMiNi.

Paul W. Cummins
3703 Foxcroft Road
Jacksonville, FL
32257 USA