What a unique and intriguing story is the WIZARD CUFF HOLDER. An extremely interesting piece of history.
If you ever searched eBay for “card cheating” you probably stumbled upon several sellers offering a nifty-looking clip that has the word WIZARD stamped on it. There is even a patent number stamped on the other side of the little Wizard.
The usual eBay description is that this is an old gambler’s cheating device, called a holdout. These little Wizard Cuff Holders sometimes sell for $10 to $20, but often they will go for well over $80 each.
If you ever purchased one of these Wizard Cuff Holders, and you want to believe the legend, then well done you!
But there’s more to the story.
This little Wizard is not a Wild West gambler’s holdout device. No hidden aces up the sleeve.
So, if the old Wizard is not a holdout device, then what is it?
Well, the WIZARD is simply a CUFF HOLDER.
In the olden days, men used to wear shirts with detachable collars and cuffs. When they became soiled, you could easily remove the collar or cuffs and replace with fresh ones. This way, you could always maintain the impression of wearing a clean shirt.
If you ever watched the HBO series DEADWOOD, you’ll know just how filthy life was in the Wild West towns. No sealed roads. Lots of dirt, lots of dust, lots of mud, lots of horses, and lots of prospecting for gold.
Out of necessity, the ingenious Wizard Cuff Holder was invented. With plastic cuffs wrapped around your wrist, you needed something sturdy to hold them in place.
But don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at this antique (and very rare) counter-top display ad for the old Wizard Cuff Holder.
In this display, you can clearly see that the Wizard is called a cuff holder.
The image shows a fairy holding this handy gadget. the Wizard is on the floor forging some new contraptions. “Frank’s Unequalled WIZARD CUFF HOLDER” is proudly displayed on the card.
An old playing card is pictured next to the display as a visual decoration, or perhaps an indication of size. It is unlikely to have meant this is a device for cheating at poker.
The old Wizard is not a holdout or any kind of card cheating device. Its purpose was simply to clip celluloid cuffs to the sleeves of a shirt.
If you are still not convinced, run a Google search for “wizard cuff holder card shark”.
Here’s an example of a Wizard Cuff Holder from 1888! This one has been in my private collection of vintage jewelry for many years.
This Cuff Holder shows signs of wear, but it is genuinely 131 years old! And all parts are in good working order. It is a testament to quality craftsmanship.
Plus, it’s a great conversation piece for dinner parties.
The following is from a forum page on wetreasures.com:
NOTHIN’ UP MY SLEEVE
Question: This curious contraption, “Wizard — Pat. Oct. 22, 1889,” comes from an old coal mining town in Colorado. At one end there’s a large spring clip, and at the other there’s a head clip which opens with a squeeze and swivels 360°- but why, or what for? Can you solve the mystery?
Answer: Would you settle for a few off-the-cuff remarks? I hope so, because what you've got is a shirt cuff holder. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, men often wore detachable shirt collars and cuffs. Some of these were made of linen, others of celluloid (a sort of plastic). By quickly slipping on a new set (and sometimes a separate shirt front as well), a gent could appear to have put on a fresh, neatly pressed white shirt. Of course, it would be a bit embarrassing to have one of these come off; so gizmo's like the one here were invented to help keep cuffs securely in place. “Wizard” was among the top brands, and a century or so ago they sold for about 10¢ a pair. Today they might sell for $10-$20 or even $80+, but mainly it’s just a neat little artifact of an age long past.
It can be challenging to find any information on the Wizard Cuff Holder when you’re unsure what this gadget is.
I know I started with some somewhat vague search terms when I came across one of these devices. When you don’t know what it is, how do you describe it? Hopefully, searchers land on a helpful website and finally understand the origin of little wizard thing!
Even less common these days is the Clipper Cuff Holder — a similar invention by a different maker.
No doubt these antique contraptions will keep appearing on eBay as card-cheating devices. Some sellers take great pains to promote their sensational Wizard. Was it used to hide a card up the sleeve? Or did it cause a bullet-flying argument between players?
One of the most honest descriptions (ever) for a Wizard Clip on eBay:
This intriguing little clip is actually a gentleman’s antique Wizard Cuff Holder from 1889. Back in the late 1800s, gents’ shirts came with detachable cuffs and collars so they could be easily replaced to give the appearance of a fresh clean shirt. This wonderful little gadget was designed to hold the cuffs in place.
Can you imagine what a wonder of modern technology this must have been!
Folklore suggests that the more imaginative of the Wild West poker players managed to use this gadget to hide an ace up the sleeve. With one end clipped to the clothing and the other end holding a hidden card.
And yes, that was my description of a Wizard Cuff Holder that I sold on eBay in April 2009. I later saw the description copied and pasted by other eBay sellers. At least they weren’t sensationalizing it as a card-cheating gadget.
The Sears Catalog from 1897 states:
“ Wizard Cuff Holders. The most popular made. №2189. The Wizard Cuff Holders, improved nickel plated. Per pair 8 cents; per dozen $0.85.”
While this price may appear cheap, to put it in perspective, the same catalog also sells men’s suits from $2.98 to $10.00.
Folklore implies this innocent gadget was used by the more innovative Wild West poker boys to hide an ace up their sleeve. How successful would they be? I tried using the cuff holder to hide a card, and it’s beyond me how to do it. And you definitely wouldn’t want to get called out for cheating.
So there you have it!
What an intriguing story is the Wizard Cuff Holder.
I have two Wizard Cuff Holders in my collection. It’s great fun to bring them out at dinner parties and ask my friends to guess what they are. Passing it from person to person, everyone thinking hard. I tell them what it is. Then I add the legends of the Wild West poker boys. We pass it around again. Marveling at the ingenuity and trying to work out how to use it to hold an ace up your sleeve. Just keep your eye on it and make sure no one pockets it! LOL.
Taking care of your Wizard Cuff Holder:
— Use a soft cloth to buff it from time to time. Don’t rub too hard or you risk removing the nickel-plated surface.
— If tarnished, you can carefully use silver polish on it. Use it sparingly and only if necessary.
— If you are keeping your Wizard Cuff Holder on display, keep it protected behind a Perspex or glass display cabinet.
— If you are not keeping your Wizard Cuff Holder on display, wrap it in a soft cloth to protect it from getting damaged by other items.
Whether you’re a collector, an enthusiast, or an admirer of vintage cuff links and men’s vintage jewelry, this antique cuff link — the Wizard Cuff Holder — is a beauty. It represents man’s ingenuity to solve problems and was also constructed of materials and style that has stood the test of time.
Above all, enjoy your Wizard Cuff Holder. It has taken a long trip to get to you. Make the journey worth it!
Originally published at http://vintagecufflinksandmore.com on November 16, 2018.