What a unique and intriguing story is the WIZARD CUFF HOLDER. An extremely interesting piece of history.
If you have ever searched eBay for “card cheating” you probably stumbled up on 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 apiece.
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 old days, gentlemen used to wear shirts with detachable collars and cuffs. Yes, shirt cuffs used to be removable. When the collar or cuffs got dirty (and we all know those are the part of a shirt that get soiled first) the person could just remove them and replace them with fresh ones. This way gentlemen could always maintain the appearance of wearing a fresh 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… dirt… dust… mud… horses… prospecting for gold.
The Wizard Cuff Holder was invented out of necessity. 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 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.
There is an image of a fairy holding the little gadget. She is standing next to a wizard who seems to be forging new ones. The text on the ad reads, “Frank’s Unequalled WIZARD CUFF HOLDER.”
The old playing card, pictured next to the display, has been placed there just as a visual decoration or perhaps an indication of size.
But we now know that the old Wizard is not a holdout, or any kind of card-cheating device, and was never intended to be used for any purposes other than clipping detachable cuffs to the sleeves of a shirt.
If you are still not convinced, run a Google search for “wizard cuff holder cardshark”.
Here’s an example of a Wizard Cuff Holder from 1888! This one has been in my private collection of vintage jewellery for many years. Check it out for several close-up pictures.
The Cuff Holder shows signs of wear – but it is genuinely 131 years old!! – and all parts are in good working order. What a testament to quality craftsmanship. 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 gizmos 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.
When you don’t know what the Wizard Cuff Holder is, it can be confusing to find any information on it. Listed below are some of the terms people use when looking for this little gadget:
- patent 2-5-1888 wizard cuff clip
- vintage wizard clip pat oct 22 1889
- wizard patent oct 22 89
- wizard par oct 221889
- wizard oct 22 1889
- wizard cuff clip
- cuff clip wizard
- pat pend feb 1888
- pat pend oct 1889
- cuff clip wizard
- simple card shark holdout device
I know I started out with some fairly vague search terms when I first came across one of these gadgets. When you don’t have a clue what it is, you don’t know what to look for or how to describe it. Hopefully searchers end up on this page and finally know what the little wizard thing is!
Less common these days is the Clipper Cuff Holder – a similar invention by a different maker.
No doubt these little gems from the past will keep popping up on eBay as card-cheating devices. Some sellers make great effort to promote their sensational Wizard, explaining how it might have been used to hide a card up the sleeve or may have caused 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 own 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 sensationalising it as a card-cheating gadget.
The Sears Catalogue from 1897 states:
“Wizard Cuff Holders. The most popular made. No.2189. The Wizard Cuff Holders, improved nickel plated. Per pair 8 cents; per dozen $0.85.”
Whilst this may appear cheap, to put it in perspective, the same catalogue also sells men’s suits from $2.98 to $10.00.
Folklore suggests that the more inventive of the Wild West poker boys managed to use this innocent gadget to somehow keep a playing card (usually an ace) hidden up their sleeve. I have no idea how successful they were at this task. You certainly wouldn’t want to face the consequences of getting caught cheating.
So there you have it!
What an intriguing story is the Wizard Cuff Holder.
If you want one of your own, here’s one you can buy: Wizard Cuff Holder 1888!
I have a few of these gadgets. The one for sale is surplus to my needs.
For the one I am keeping in my collection – I have great fun hauling it out at dinner parties and asking my friends to guess what it is. It gets passed from person to person, each one thinking hard. I tell them what it is, then I add the legends of the Wild West poker boys. We pass it around the table again as my friends marvel at the ingenuity of the invention… and try to work out how to use it to hold an ace up their sleeve. Just keep your eye on it and make sure no one pockets it! LOL.
Taking care of your Wizard Cuff Holder:
– Buff it with a soft cloth from time to time. Don’t rub it too hard or you risk removing the nickel-plated surface.
– If it is tarnished you can carefully use a 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, store it wrapped in soft cloth to protect it from getting damaged by other items.
Whether you’re a collector, an enthusiast, or an admirer of vintage cufflinks and other mens vintage jewellery… this is an antique cufflink and you have to admit that this little Wizard Cuff Holder is definitely a beauty. Not only does it represent man’s ingenuity to solve problems, it was also constructed of materials and in a manner that has stood the test of time.
Above all, enjoy your Wizard Cuff Holder. It has taken a long journey to get to you. Make the journey worth it!