Soldier's Prayer Book

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Soldier's Prayer Book is a classic plot on card magic in which the cards are used to tell a story.


The original patter story related the various characteristics of a deck of playing cards to both God and the calendar by a soldier in the field to justify carrying a deck of cards with him.

In Old and Curious Playing Cards (1931) H.T. Morley writes the old Story of the "SOLDIER'S ALMANACK, BIBLE AND PRAYER BOOK," which was a favourite with our forefathers, at the beginning of the 19th century. There have been various versions published, one in Brussels as far back as 1778, another in Paris 1809, but the basis of the Story is practically the same in each case. It starts out with Richard Middleton, a soldier, attending divine service, with the rest of the regiment at a church, instead of pulling out a Bible to find, the parson's text, spread a pack of cards before him.

From "The London magazine, viz, from 1732 to 1758 inclusive, Volume 45:[1]

"The soldier then continued as follows; 'When I count the number of dots in a pack of cards, there are 365, so many days as there are in a year. When I count how many cards are in a pack, I find there are 52, so many weeks are there in a year. When I reckon how many tricks are won by a pack, I find there are thirteen, so many months are there in a year. So that this pack of cards is both bible, almanack, and prayer-book to me.'

It also appeared in August 6, 1776 edition of both the Edinburgh Advertiser[2] and The Universal Magazine[3]. But it may go as far back as 1763[4].

For magic purposes, it was revived in 1937 by Jean Hugard as "The Perpetual Almanac or Gentleman Soldier's Prayer Book".

It has evolved into telling other stories from a pre-arranged sequence of cards with one of the most popular being "Sam the Bellhop" by Bill Malone.

Some story effects use the complete deck, while others use just part.

The famous British comedy magician Bob Read made a specialty of this, using different newspaper hats while reciting the patter and showing the cards.

Versions

  • Baldwin, Richard: London Magazine or Gentelman's Monthly Intelligencer Vol XLV for the Year 1776, p 544 "The Card Spiritualized" - an account of Richard Middletown story-deck.
  • Anonymous: The Soldier's Prayer-Book (circa 1790) by J Ross printer, Newcastle: a printed sheet with the Richard Middletown story
  • Mr. Cumberland: Satirical, Humorous and Familiar Pieces Prose (1795) by G. Nicholson and Co, Manchester, The Card Spiritualized by a Private Soldier
  • Shain, Steve: Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards (1912) by Mrs. John King Rensselaer, George W. Jacobs and Co. A variant of the Richard Middleton Story with a Jewish faith slant to it.
  • An Illustrated Fairy Tale (In Reality a Monologue With a Pack of Playing Cards) in La Vellma's Vaudeville Budget for magicians, mind readers and ventriloquists by David J. Lustig (1921)
  • The Adventures of Diamond Jack - Herman L. Weber (known as Namreh) (ad April 1926 in The Sphinx)
  • The Adventures of Diamond Jack (original version) - Namreh (Herman Weber) - Reprint in Encyclopedia of Card Tricks (1937) (Hugard)
  • A Story and A Deck of Cards in Genii 1937 April, Vol. 1, No. 8, p. 6, by Robert Nellar (1937)
  • Jack Hart in the Army in Tops Vol. 5, No. 4, p. 32, by Monte Harris (1940)
  • Sermon with a Deck of Cards by Roy Wallace in Linking Ring, Vol. 28, No. 10, p. 72, 1948.
  • Diamond Jack in Tops, Vol. 20, no. 10, October 1955, page 7.
  • A Fish Story in New Tops Vol. 4, No. 12, December 1964, p. 48, by Herb Runge.
  • Treasure Trail, and is a tale of adventurers hunting for diamonds.It doesn't quite use the entire deck (just 32 cards). John Fisher's Magic Book (1968)
  • The Fleeting Queen - Murry A. Sumner - Linking Ring, Sept. 1983
  • The Perils of Jack by Hippie Torrales in Apocalypse Volume 8, Number 2 February 1985 Page 1031 (only uses 11 cards and includes a color change)
  • A Night at the Improv by Eric Mead in Magical Arts Journal, vol. 2, no. 9-10-11-12, 1989. Also in DVD Easy To Master Card Miracles, Vol. 1, 1994
  • Dental Surgery in IBM convention note Little Rock from 1999 by Doc Dixon.
  • After Hours in Constant Fooling, Vol. 2 by David Regal (2002)
  • Apologies to Dickens by Ron Giesecke (2002).
  • After Hours by David Regal in DVD: Power, Premise, Participation Vol. 4, (2003)
  • Juan Tamariz has two story-tricks in his Mnemonica (p.189) (2004) titled as "First story" and "Second story". Both use only half of the deck.
  • Hopping Henry - Tim Sutton, The Magic Circular, January 2009, p. 8-9.


  • Monty The Spiv by Harry Stanley's Unique Magic Studios in the 1950's
  • Chip and a Chair from the Underground Collective by Scott Grossberg a story effect based around texas hold 'em. http://www.underground-collective.com
  • Risen - Michael Paul - Web: http://www.michaelpaulmagic.com
  • The Adventures of Diamond Jack - Eugene Burger - Book: Secrets of Magic
  • Elliot "The Hawk" - Vid: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=oyV7n4WstMY&feature=related (based on Night at the Improv?)
  • Why Dan McGrew Was Shot by Frank Lane.
  • Joe the Bartender by Ed Watkins.
  • Sam the Call Girl by Whiskey Fletcher.
  • Shawn Farquhar performs an ambitious card routine to Sting's song Shape of my Heart, displaying cards to the appropriate words in the song.
  • Diamonds on the Islands - unknown - Doesn't use full deck
  • Mark Phillips does one with giant cards based on visiting the department of motor vehicles

References

  1. http://books.google.com/books?id=D31UAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA544&dq=Richard+Middleton#v=onepage&q=Richard%20Middleton&f=false
  2. Newspaperarchive.com
  3. The Universal Magazine of Aug 1776
  4. A Pack of cards chang'd into a compleat almanac and prayer-book. : Adapted to the entertainment of the humorous, as well as to the satisfaction of the grave, learned and ingenious. Printed and sold by Zechariah Fowle at the printing-office in Back-Street, Boston. (Price 3 coppers), (between 1763 and 1771)

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