How Do Magicians Duplicate Signatures?

A magic consultant's method

How Do Magicians Duplicate Signatures?
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There comes a time in every consultant’s life when they must duplicate a signature. More often than not, someone has signed a card, and you need to recreate the signature to create a duplicate playing card rapidly.

As always, I tend to avoid digital methods, opting only for analogue and more reliable methods (a reminder that I love tech magic, which is almost always more impressive and almost always less reliable).

To duplicate a signature, you will first need to collect the signature. Doing this in a secretive way is part of what makes the trick fooling to the live spectator. If they sign something and then a random guy walks off with it to a nearby photocopier, the chance they’ll be impressed by your trick diminishes.

There are two core ways to collect the signature:

Sign Something Else

I’ve been on set when we chose to use a release form to collect signatures. That’s one of those one-page agreements contributors sign to agree to be on the telly. The hope here is that they will go on to sign the playing card in the same way. The truth is that they rarely do. People do not instinctively sign playing cards in a soon-to-be-televised magic trick in the same way as they sign a legal document. It would help if you used some coaching and careful wording. I’ve worded this nicely, but it’s worth saying that I do not recommend using release forms to collect signatures.

The second way I’ve used the “sign something else” method on television was when telling the contributor we needed to run a camera test. We made something up about the fact we’d only get one take at this because it’s a magic trick. And so, before the talent arrived, we asked the spectator to sign their name on something so we could either:

  • Get a good shot of it in case we miss the shot later.
  • Test that their signature reads well on camera.

This sounds like bad pre-show, but I assure you that in that context, when the contributor is trying not to embarrass themselves on telly, and in a world in which most humans do not know that the production crew is in on the trick, it works. It’s not the ideal method, but it certainly works. We’ve often had to test if things will read on camera (like to see if people’s clothing strobe), and we’ve also had to walk cameras through stuff so they know where to focus, etc. There are really common acts, even without secret methods.

The third way we’ve used this concept is during an earlier trick. You position your hero trick as the third trick in the set. As part of the first trick, they get a card signed. This card gets offloaded during the second trick for duplication. Such that by the time you get to trick numero three, the signature has been duplicated onto a new card that gets forced in trick three.

An issue with both these options is that you do not know where they shall sign the card, which will make it difficult to replicate. This is why the only time I would consider using such an option is when the trick involves impossibly moving the signature rather than the signed object. However, if you know what their autograph looks like ahead of time, it can speed up a live duplicate later on.