I’m back Saturday morning 10 AM. I think I’m getting used to this. (Sarcasm doesn’t always come across in the writing.) It doesn’t hurt that the bar seems to close way too early. On this mornings schedule is three talks on, The Expert at The Card Table, ending in a panel discussion.
Before I start a brief note: There is no way, even in the two and a half hours allotted for the discourse, that all the research on Erdnase can be imparted to the audience. I will only make the briefest comments on the presentations. There is an extensive amount of discussion about Erdnase on the Genii forum. I recommend you start here: http://tinyurl.com/42h5ltx
Jason England starts the morning with a slide presentation on the book itself. Jason is a gambling expert and has collected over 60 different editions of the book. The slide show takes us through the many and most important or interesting editions. A presentation like this usually can get boring. “This is the 1st edition.” Click. “This is the 1905 edition.” Click. “This is the 1905 edition in red cloth.” Click. And so on. Jason actually does a good job of keeping things interesting with his running commentary and quick pace.
Hurt McDermott is a filmmaker and playwright who developed an interest in Erdnase from read the Genii forums. He was especially curious as to why the book was published in Chicago and why the author might need to hide his identity.
Hurt had a lot of information, but unfortunately he read his entire presentation from his papers. He droned a near monotone, never making any contact with the audience. I am sympathetic. I remember the mistakes I made in my first presentation. I hope we’ll get more and better things from him. Here is what I’ve pieced together.
The whys of both are traced to a man named Anthony Comstock. Comstock was a politician and United States Postal Inspector. He was dedicated to an oppressive idea of Victorian morality. The Comstock Law made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices and information.
He had a wide definition of what could be determined as obscene. This included gambling exposés. (This may also be part of the reason the magic section was added, to make the book more palatable.) Comstock would go after the authors and publishers of any materials he found immoral. They would be harassed, framed, arrested, jailed. He bragged he drove 15 people to suicide.
But this was Chicago. It was a wide open town. A live at let live town. The long arm of Anthony Comstock laws got broken off at the city line. The book was “safe” here. With the author and publisher (one in the same, according to the book itself) anonymous, they were safe also.
Reading Erdnase Backwards
For a long time Richard Hatch was the “H” of H & R Books. Besides being a book dealer, he is a performer, writer, publisher and teacher. To call him “the preeminent scholar on the question of the identity of the author of The Expert At The Card Table” is not doing him justice.
I find it hard to find the words to describe his presentation. In over an hour, without notes, he will give us a PhD level dissertation on Erdnase history and the usual and unusual men suspected to be the author. It is a breathless race though a mountain of information punctuated with opinion and tangents. It was a lesson on presentation. He went way over time, but it was an entertainment all on its own.