In the current season of Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, magician Handsome Jack performed an update of Harry Anderson’s The Grapler in which he tears up a flyer and then instantly restores it to new.
In the routine, Jack reveals that he performed his miracle by swapping a torn flyer for an untorn flyer using a device called a hold out that is strapped to his wrist and controlled by opening and closing his legs.
The magician ends up with his jacket off, standing on a table with his pants around his ankles opening and closing his pasty white legs.
It’s a funny bit but the apparatus that Jack uses to perform his routine has a long history that stretches long beyond depantsing on national television.
The device Jack uses is a Kepplinger Holdout, a creation of 19th century inventor and card cheat J.P. Kepplinger.
Kepplinger, nicknamed ‘the Lucky Dutchman’ made his own luck by switch in winning cards using the device.
A small metal clasp would hold the cards up his sleeve. When he opened his legs, this would pull a cable that ran up his body, down his arm and push out the clasp, delivering the cards to his hand.
Since his legs did all the work, the cheat could set at the table with his hands away from his body and swap cards in and out with ever visibly moving.
In 1888, Kepplinger met his match, a trio of card sharps grew suspicious of his unending good luck and stripped him, revealing the device.
Kepplinger, knowing that he was faced with a beating, arrest by police or worst, made a deal with the men. With no other choice, Kepplinger made the card sharps hold outs of their own and word of his device soon spread.
A year later, the card cheat was arrested by police. He tried to hide the device in the bathroom under the excuse of needing to ‘freshen up’ before the brought him in but the police searched him first and found the device.
A few years after that the device was found in every gambling store in America.
In 2012, Four Korean men won close to $900,000 in a fortnight at Foxwood’s Resort Casino in Connecticut using the an exact copy of the hold out from Kepplinger’s original design.
The men were caught because, with a complex bit of kit strapped to your wrist you are eventually, like Handsome Jack, going to be caught with your pants down.
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne magician, author and scamologist.