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The Life & Magic of Stewart James (1908-1996)


Below is an analytical bibliography of the James creations discussed in the exhibition.  Each entry begins with the trick’s publication history and a brief description of the effect performed.  More or less cross-references are provided depending on how many different sections of the website mention a particular trick.


  1. 1915: “Knot of Enchantment”
  2. 1926: "A Match for Gravity"
  3. 1929: "Spell of Mystery"
  4. 1935: "Miraskill"
  5. 1939: "Audio-Hypnosis"
  6. 1939: "Face up Prediction"



  1. 1939: "Further Than That"
  2. 1939: "Headline Prediction"
  3. 1940: "Robot Deck"
  4. 1943: "Gobak Card Mystery"
  5. 1945: "Vocalculate"
  6. 1955: "Fifty-One Faces North"

"Knot of Enchantment” (1915)

This rope trick originally appeared in Boys World magazine c. 1915-16.  However, it also appears in Stewart James’ Encyclopedia of Rope Tricks (1941), which seems to be the same version reproduced by Slaight in The Essential Stewart James.
Effect:  The performer has one end of the rope tied to each wrist in a handcuff-like fashion.  He mentions that it is physically impossible to make a knot in the centre without untying each wrist.  However, after briefly turning his back, he then faces the audience to reveal a perfectly real knot in the center of the rope.  Neither of the knots at each wrist have been disturbed.

Biography:  One of the earliest memories Stewart had regarding his interest in magic was performing the “Knot of Enchantment” standing on the verandah of the house where he was born. “That house and its neighbour still stand; the verandahs are only a few feet apart. I was not allowed to leave the verandah. I worked Knot of Enchantment, standing on my verandah, for Warner Meade who was working on his” (ES).Stewart was restricted to the veranda, because his parents were “very strict” and his mother thought he was a “sickly child” (ES).  For those reasons Stewart only attended school from the ages of seven to fifteen, was not allowed to play with other children and spent an unusual amount of time by himself.  Because he was denied friends his age in real life, magic became a hobby which Stewart practiced with imaginary friends: “When I became interested in magic, I escaped to the world of my imagination and my friends who lived there. We worked out tricks together” (ES).

Principles: Mr. James describes the relationship between his work on magic principles and this particular rope trick most succinctly in the following quote: “The Knot of Enchantment was an influence on my thinking in magic, and a major cause of my interest in principles, not just tricks.  I believe it is a near perfect deception; it appears impossible, and you accomplish it without cheating. It is honest in that it is really a puzzle and not a trick. Any trick requiring a sleight is not honest. You are telling a lie with your fingers” (ES)

Further Research:  See Stewart James’ Encyclopedia of Rope Tricks for a complete description of this trick and its method.



“A Match For Gravity” (1926)

In the September issue of The Linking Ring in 1926, “A Match For Gravity” became the first Stewart James trick to officially see print.
Effect:  A piece of string, about one metre long, is tied to a kitchen match.  The other end of the string is fastened to a watch borrowed from a spectator.  The performer holds an ordinary lead pencil horizontal to the ground in one hand while holding the wooden match in the other hand.  After the end of the string with the attached watch is draped over the pencil, and the end with the match is pulled taut, the spectator’s watch is left dangling five or so feet above the ground.  The magician then asks the audience what will happen if the match is released.  The obvious answer is that the watch will hit the floor and break.  But when the performer dramatically lets go of the match, the piece of string quickly winds around the pencil and suspends the watch in midair.      

Biography:  Though Stewart James discovered this trick when he was much younger, he did not publish it until he was eighteen-years old.

Principles:  As with “The Knot of Enchantment,” the method of this string trick depends upon false assumptions spectators make due to misconceptions about physics.  Once again, one of the earliest magic effects James’ refines and spends a significant amount of time thinking about is not a sleight-of-hand trick; it operates based on a deceptive, self-working and naturally occurring principle!  Of course, James applied his understanding of such principles to more than just string or rope tricks.

Further Research:  The publication of this piece of magic caught the attention of Sid Lorraine, editor of The Linking Ring, and initiated an extensive correspondence between him and Stewart James.  “A Match for Gravity” also inspired Barrie Richardson to adapt the trick to fit his own performance style.  His version is titled “Letting Go” and can be found in Act Two (Richardson 175).



"Spell of Mystery" (1929)

Marketed by Stewart James 1929 (June) – What was the original publication date of this specific text?  (it is reviewed in the July, 1929 issue of The Linking Ring).
Effect:  A spectator cuts the cards, completes the cut and then deals two cards face-up onto the table – a two and then a heart for example.  The spectator then deals one card per letter, spelling T.W.O. O.F. H.E.A.R.T.S.  Sure enough, the last card dealt is turned face-up to reveal the Two of Hearts – the card just spelled.

Biography:  This is the first card trick Stewart James published! 
“This was the first card trick of mine to go into the world, although by this time I had given birth to others. I tried to work out tricks using objects I had. Mother was against magic completely, and although my paternal grandfather had made apparatus for individual magicians, and so had Father to a much lesser degree, he didn’t like me fooling around wasting my time on magic. So a deck of cards was a natural thing to work with secretly.”

Principles: Stewart on Cyclic Stacks – the “Value + Suit = Twelfth Position” formula.  This works with both the “Eight Kings” or the “Si Stebbins stacks.”  

Further Research:  See page 1953 in The James File for other variations of this trick that Stewart used.



“Miraskill” (1935)

This self-working card trick was independently published and marketed by Stewart James in 1935.  According to Allan Slaight, just one copy was sold (ES).
Effect:  A deck of cards is shuffled by the spectator, who also chooses to have either the red or black cards.  The magician then writes down a prediction, which is folded and placed onto the table.  The spectator then deals cards from the deck in pairs.  If the cards of a pair are black, they are placed in one pile; if they are red, they go to another pile; if they are opposite colors, they are discarded in a third pile.  At the end of the dealing, the magician is discovered to have predicted who has the most cards and by how many.  The spectator then shuffles the cards again.  Another prediction is made, folded and placed in full view.  The spectator chooses another color and deals through the deck in pairs, but this time neither player wins.  The magician and the volunteer have exactly the same number of paired cards.  The second prediction reads: “We will both have the same number of cards” (ES).        

Biography:  Within the magic world, “Miraskill” is possibly the most influential self-working card trick ever published by James.

Principles:  The method of this effect is based on a secret principle inherent to a deck of 52 playing cards, which is now known as the “Miraskill” principle.  It has a harmonious relationship with the Gilbreath principle, discovered by Norman Gilbreath circa 1958.

Further Research:  Other studies of “Miraskill” include but are not limited to: Advantage Play (page 58), by David Ben; Stewart James in Print (page 1883), by Allan Slaight; and Aunt Mary’s Terrible Secret, by David Williamson.



Audio-Hypnosis” (1939)

Originally published in the June, 1939 issue of The Linking Ring, this trick was inspired by an offhand remark made by an acquaintance.  It is reprinted in Stewart James in Print (pages 170 to 172).
Effect:  A spectator is temporarily hypnotized and is given the suggestion that they can now hear noises not usually audible to the human ear.  A feather is placed inside of a metal tube and capped.  When the tube is shaken back and forth the spectator hears the faint noise of the feather tips grating against the sides of the cylinder.  As soon as the trance is broken, the volunteer no longer hears the feather make any noise at all, no matter how hard they shake the tube.

Creative Strategies:  In his references to “Audio-Hypnosis,” Stewart James mentions the trick directly as an example of his creative trinities approach (SJP 287).  He also links his initial ideas for this effect to those which produced the trick “The Waiting Place for Unborn Thoughts” (SJP 170).  “Audio-Hypnosis” serves as a key, practical example for some of James’ more difficult-to-grasp creative strategies.



“Face-up Prediction" (1939)

This improvisational card trick was created by Stewart James circa 1939 (ES).
Effect:  The performer writes a secret prediction down on a slip of paper, places it in open view and does not touch it again.  A spectator shuffles the cards, cuts the cards, and is asked to ribbon spread them face-up on the table before slowly running a finger above the indexes.  The card the spectator finally touches reveals the exact same name written down on the prediction made before the trick began!

Biography: Stewart James developed this as a “super close-up quickie” to perform for the press as a follow up to his Newspaper Headline prediction stunt (ES). 

Principles:  “Face-up Prediction” is based on the same basic yet absolutely deceptive performance principle capitalized upon in Dai Vernon’s “The Trick That Cannot Be Explained.”  The two magicians seem to have independently created similar tricks.

Creative Strategies:  James discovered the effect and method for this trick using his “Trick Family Tree” technique.

Further Research: “The Trick That Cannot Be Explained” (More Inner Secrets of Card Magic – 1960).



“Further Than That” (1939)

Published in Jinx #134 (April, 1941)
Effect:  A deck of cards is shuffled several times.  The spectator cuts the cards and chooses a number between ten and twenty; that number of cards is dealt to the table. The digits of their number are added together to create a third number.  The spectator then memorizes the card in that position of the packet – the Ace of Spades.  The deck is then reassembled, but the magician does not touch it and states: “A normal magician would now have to look through the pack to find your card, but this trick goes ‘further than that.’”  The performer then reads the spectators and names the Ace of Spades as the chosen card.  Again, he says that the average magician would end the trick there, but this effect goes “further than that.”  At which point one card is dealt for each of the letters A.C.E. (in one pile) and the letters S.P.A.D.E.S. (in another).  The card spelled to is indeed the Ace of Spades.  But the trick goes even “further than that:” the “ace” pile contains the other three Aces and the “spades” pile consists of the Two through Seven of Spades.  The trick goes yet further than that and as a finale the rest of the thirteen Spades are dealt in sequential order from the top of the deck.

Biography:  Stewart’s reaction to his “Further Than That” trick being stolen by other magicians and then sold for profit is quite modest: “It was marketed as ‘Obie’ O’Brien’s $2.50 Card Trick arount 1971 with tens instead of aces, a blank-deck finale and no credit. This didn’t irritate me terribly . . . ” (ES).

Principles:  “Further Than That” relies upon small stack work and a mathematical spelling principle.



"Headline Prediction” (1939)

“The Newspaper Headline Prediction” in Stewart James in Print: The First Fifty Years. Ed. Allan Slaight. Toronto: Jogestja Ltd., 1989.
Effect:  On the first of September, 1938, Stewart James predicted the headline for the Buffalo Evening Times one year in advance.  When his prediction was removed from the local police safe on the first of September, 1939, it read: “World war Threatened, Nazis Attack Poland.”  The Buffalo Evening Times headline read: “World War Threatened, Germany Attacks Poland.”

Biography:  James was made extremely uncomfortable by the media attention he received after accurately predicting theGerman attack on Poland.  He never performed “Headline Prediction” again.  However, he was happy with his original discovery of a deceptive method for the trick.  In Stewart James in Print, he recalls reading the entry for the trick in Jeff Busby’s 787-page Whaley’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Magic: “I was pleased indeed to read, under ‘Headline Prediction’ that it was ‘Invented by Stewart James’ (SJP 212).



“Robot Deck” (c. 1940)

In The Essential Stewart James, Allan Slaight estimates that “Robot Deck” may have been created even earlier than 1940.  His description of the trick is a combination of notes he made after seeing James perform the routine in 1974 and undated, handwritten explanations made by the magician himself.
Effect:  On August 26, 1983, James wrote a letter to Slaight describing the multiple effects in “Robot Deck” as follows: “Robot routine as of July 21, 1983. Mental Spell, Straight Poker, Stud Poker, Blackjack, Bridge, Scrambled Spelling Bee and Remarkable Prophecy” (ES).  Based on that quotation, it seems safe to assume that the specific effects within “Robot Deck” slowly evolved over the years as James refined the routine.

Principles: This card trick is exemplary of the “stack within a stack” effect James experimented with in “51 Faces North” and other creations.

Further Research:  A comprehensive study of the manner in which James combined and applied deceptive principles would have to include a comparison of “51 Faces North” to the “Robot Deck.”  Both tricks are relevant to the concept of interlocking stack work.



“Gobak Card Mystery" (c.1943)

This card trick was first published in the Linking Ring (September, 1948).  However, Stewart James developed the routine during World War II, sometime around 1943, and sent it in a letter to Francis Haxton.
Effect:  A volunteer selects and remembers one card from a small group of cards, which is then thoroughly shuffled.  The magician then deals the cards face-up and one at a time.  The spectator’s selection has vanished!  The magician then reads the volunteer’s mind and names the chosen card.  Finally, the spectator takes the packet and spells their own name, dealing one card for each letter.  The last card is dealt, as the last letter is spoken, and is revealed to be the previously missing selection!

Biography:  As the following quotation intimates, focusing his creative powers ondeveloping this card trick helped Stewart James to maintain his sanity during WWII:  “I devised this when I was in the armed forces on the continent of Europe.  I worked on it to take my mind off the position I was in, wrote it up in a letter and sent it toFrancis Haxton. I tried hard to forget the unhappy circumstances of its birth, and thiscaused me to more or less consciously shun it.  I did not even remember it whenHaxton first worked it on me when I had returned to England, and I was fooledas to how he knew my card” (ES). 



“Vocalculate" (c.1945)

The undated, handwritten notes describing this lie detector effect were not published until the release of The James File (in 2000).  Regardless, Allan Slaight and other James scholars estimate that it was created circa 1945.
Effect:  A deck of cards is thoroughly shuffled and three volunteers are selected.  The first spectator cuts the cards, takes the top card and then deals one to each of the other two participants.  The magician has one spectator tell the truth regarding the suit of a chosen card and another tell the truth about the value of a selection.  From that point forward, participants are allowed to either lie or be honest about the actual identities of their cards.  Inexplicably, the magician knows whether or not they are lying every single time.

Biography:  This routine would have been created after James returned to Courtright, Ontario at the end of the Second World War.  In terms of his personal life, it marks the point at which he ended his engagement to Grace Macdonald and began the 27 years he would spend caring for his ailing mother. 

Principles: This card trick represents another of James contributions to cyclic stack material in the magic world.  It works with both the “Eight Kings” stack, the “Si Stebbins” stack, and others.

Further Research:  For a more complete study of the lie/truth trick plots James originated, see page 1681 of Allan Slaight’s The James File.  The chapter titled “Lie Spoiler,” includes the tricks: “The Cards of Diogenes,” “Roguesser,” “Vocalculate,” “Lieu,” “The Lion Is Bessie,” “Doodle Diddle,” “Three Little Words,” and “Utter Simplicity” (1681-1697).



“51 Faces North” 1955

A half-typed, half-handwritten manuscript of “51 Faces North” was discovered five years after Stewart James’ death.  Dated July 15, 1955, the document was partially reproduced in the premier issue of Penumbra, in 2002.
Effect:  The magician announces a card – the Queen of Spades (for example) – as a prediction.  The spectator thinks of a number, holds the deck and then begins dealing cards face-up onto the table.  The cards are dealt one-at-a-time and the numbers one, two, three, four and so on are counted aloud.  When the spectator reaches the secret number chosen, that card is dealt facedown.  The rest of the cards are dealt face-up.  51 cards are now North (face-up), while only one card is South (facedown).  The spectator turns that card over – it is the predicted Queen of Spades!

Biography:  Though James developed this card trick in 1955, he chose not to release his secret method for performing it.  He also did not include it in any of the collections of his tricks compiled toward the end of his life.  It was by pure accident, that in 2001 (after both Stewart James in Print and The James File had been published), that Allan Slaight discovered a misfiled letter written James much earlier.  The mysterious letter contained his solution for “51 Faces North.”

Principles: This effect is in reality the third and final trick in a three-phased card routine.  As Gordon Bean and William Goodwin aptly note in the first issue of Penumbra, the “strategy of one effect setting up another” is possibly the most brilliant aspect of “51 Faces North” and resembles the structure of James’ “Robot Deck” (8).   

Further Research:  A comprehensive study of the manner in which James combined and applied deceptive principles would have to include a comparison of “51 Faces North” to the “Robot Deck.”  Both tricks are relevant to the concept of interlocking stack work.




Copyright © 2007 Joe Culpepper and Magicana. All rights reserved.