Playing cards became popular with magicians in the last century or so as they were props which were inexpensive, versatile, and easily manipulated. Although magicians have created and presented myriad illusions with cards (sometimes referred to as card tricks), these illusions are generally considered to be built upon perhaps one hundred or so basic principles and techniques. Presentation and context (including patter, the conjurer's misleading account of what he is doing) account for many of the variations.
Card magic, in one form or another, likely dates from the time playing cards became commonly known — towards the second half of the fourteenth century — but its history in this period is largely undocumented. One may surmise from the practice of how other everyday objects have been pressed into the service of conjurers across cultures and the ages that card magic developed spontaneously and roughly concurrently in different parts of the world, if not always synchronously. However, compared to sleight of hand magic in general and to cups and balls, it is a relatively new form of magic.
Card "manipulators" performing card fans and other manipulations, which require the individual cards to flow smoothly across each other, sometimes use a Zinc stearate-based powder (marketed as "Fanning powder"). This is applied as a means to lengthen the life of the cards and to make the friction between each more consistent throughout the life of the cards.
Though manipulators tend to have personal preferences on the types and brands of cards used based on their own experiences, the overall favorites almost always have an “air cushion” or small dimples on the finish of the card. These hold air, in a similar manner to the dimples on a golf ball, and allow the cards to glide over one another easily. However over time they can collect oils and dirt which make the cards harder to use in manipulation. Applying Fanning Powder to card beforehand helps slow this as well as repel moisture that may build up on the hands through extended performances. Also some manipulators may keep their decks in card protectors or clips to further extend the life of their cards.
Twenty Questions: Neil Patrick Harris, Who Came to Prominence as the Title Character on ABC's "Doogie Howser, M.D.," Spoke to American Theatre after Rehearsing for His New Role as the Emcee in Broadway's Cabaret
Feb 01, 2003; What's your sign? Gemini. We Geminis have sort of a semi-split personality--the introvert and the extrovert, the yin and the...