The Politics of the Erdnase Mystery

by Gregg Webb

I had the Expert at the Card Table memorized in 1967. Years later I noticed that people were delving into who Erdnase actually was. I followed the developments, and believed as many did, that his name spelled backwards would yield the identity. Many came up with Andrews.

I left it at that for a while, until finding out about Wilbur Edgerton Sanders, and because of some anagrams in a notebook, and his buying of 2 decks of cards for a camping trip, I switched my allegiance to him as the man behind the mask. The issue stated about the mystery was that we needed to place a deck of cards in the hands of whoever was Erdnase. Having placed 2 decks of cards in Sanders' hands, I felt that I backed the correct man.

I left it at that for a while more. A different aspect of the mystery surfaced some time later when someone asked me if I thought, as an illustrator myself, that Smith, the illustrator of The Expert, worked from photos. I did, mainly because I had heard of several illustrators, including Jim Steranko the famed comic book artist and one-time magician and writer and illustrator of card magic, who thought so. After stating this in an on-line chat room, I found out how angry people can get if someone states an opinion other than their own.

That is when I began to realize people were claiming expertise at something at which they were not an expert at all. This issue will come up again. To be clear, there are people who are somewhat of an expert at one thing who assume that they then are experts at all things, or at least some other thing from where their expertise lies. In other words, there are people who handle cards well who assume they are experts at all things about Erdnase. There are people who like to debate and consider themselves excellent debaters and who also like cards, who don't realize that they are not experts at being historians or historical sleuths.

Skipping ahead, I discovered that there was another candidate from the ones that everyone was already writing about, and his name is Edward Gallaway. I found a book about him and read the entire thing.

Lo and behold there was a trove of information about Gallaway, and I decided this was certainly the guy who was Erdnase. His Aunt's last name was Andrews, to get one issue out of the way. Also, he had many talents, as many magicians do. He worked at a number of jobs, switched back and forth from different jobs, and took time off to do other things. For example, he was a typesetter and worked at the print shop that printed The Expert at the Card Table! He was also a newspaper writer, both in English and in German. He spoke fluent German. Sometimes he took time off to travel and gamble. He sometimes took time off to perform his magic tricks in a circus.

Even further, he wrote a book about how to estimate the cost of a printing project. This book is illustrated with photos. In one photo you see him doing card manipulations with fifty thin metal rulers about four inches long that were used in printing layout. Since the pricing of a printing job took a lot of math, it was mentioned that Gallaway went to a school that specialized in math drills. When one thinks of running up hands for varying numbers of players, one can appreciate the math skills required to not only do it, but to think the system up. Finally, on this topic, most of the tricks, in the second half of The Expert, are not original. They were in German magic books. Gallaway was fluent in German. People will say that Sanders took a few college courses in German, but anyone who has studied a language knows that you aren't fluent enough to read a German magic book with several college courses.

Suffice it to say, I think Erdnase was Gallaway, but what perplexes me is how angry people get when I mention this. One would think that anyone interested in this mystery would want to know who it really was, but I think there is politics or even tribalism at play here. Once anyone has gone on record believing it was one of the other candidates, anything that contradicts that narrative threatens their credibilities.

Next, another part of the attempt at a solution to this mystery is that a linguistic analysis was done of the words and language used by the candidates and by Erdnase, and compared. Gallaway clearly comes out on top, but it puts people off who are not of a scientific bent. I found it difficult going but I stuck with it. It seems the forensic linguistic analysis part is the only part the so-called experts read, and dismissed as mumbo jumbo. I personally found the anecdotal material on Gallaway the most compelling, but the forensic analysis is the most scientific.

In conclusion, I believe some of the "experts" only read the forensic analysis of Gallaway. Many others who have strong opinions against Gallaway haven't read anything about him at all and base their opinions on the opinions of those who don't want it to be Gallaway. Again, I seem to find all this political or tribal.

In no other field can one not read the available materials on a subject and still expect to have an opinion, and which opinion is based on someone else's opinion who also didn't read all the materials.

A good book on the subject is The Cardsharp and his Book by Dr. Chris Wasshuber and available from

Gregg Webb, October 2022