Joker card (1875)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Sep 26 15:55:26 UTC 2003

I have the following notes, the first seeming to refer to the shell-game itself, the second referring figuratively to the pea that is the hidden object in the shell-game.

1846:   Playing the little "Joker."  [headline]  [A rube visits a] "crib" in Park Row, where . . . the "boys" were playing the thimble rig, commonly called the little Joker.  New York Herald, February 8, 1846, p. 1, col. 4

1855:   So dexterously are the cup and balls shifted by the party leaders, . . . that the rank and file of the different cliques can't tell where the "little joker" is. . . .  Q. K. Philander Doesticks [Mortimer Neal Thomson], Doesticks: What He Says, N. Y.: Edward Livermore, 1855, p. 271.

HDAS: 1856 (ref. to the pea)); OED°, but under Joker, 3a, has 1858 quote: The thimble-rigger’s ‘little joker’, from OWHolmes


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: Bapopik at AOL.COM
Date: Thursday, September 25, 2003 6:13 pm
Subject: Joker card (1875)

>   OED appears to have 1885 for the "joker."  ("The Joker" was not
> coined by the Steve Miller Band.)
>   28 November 1875, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, pg. 9, col. 1:
> _The Science of "Beating the Gillies"_
>   _Illustrated._
> _Three-Card Monte, "Head Faking," The "Case,"_
>   _"Box Rocket," "Ring-Board," &c._
> (...)
>   The "baby," the "joker," the "old man" are samples of the
> titles lavished upon this card.
> (The third card in three-card monte--ed.)
> (...)
>   A "capper," or in other words a man who lures the victims to
> their fate, keeps a lookout at the door of the side-show or on the
> lot outside for subjects who appear sufficiently green to be
> easily robbed.
> (...)
>   The trick of marking the cards is sometimes varied by the
> dealer himself turning an edge of the "joker," or, in slang
> phrase, "crimping" it.
> (...)
>   The "ringed finger" is the sland phrase that designates the
> finger that is used in this performance.
> (...)

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