Thumb Prick - Card Punch


This is an original thumb prick (a.k.a. card punch) dating back to the an era before the televised poker tournaments made the game of Texas Hold'em a household name.

Without getting into too much detail, a thumb prick is a miniature card punch that is worn glued to the thumb, during the course of a card game, and used to make marked cards by punching small dimples on the faces of the cards, which produces small bumps on the backs. These bumps are commonly called "blisters" or "punch work" and are used to read the cards by running the tip of the thumb across the back of the deck, while dealing the cards. These kinds of card punches are usually used to cheat at poker. Furthermore, since this is a body-worn gaff that is used to mark cards during a game, it is always used when the game is played wit someone else's deck of cards. Otherwise, if a hustler has the luxury of preparing a marked deck ahead of time, a mechanical pegger card punch would be used instead.

This thumb prick is made from some kind of soft metal; if I were to guess I would say it is solder, but it had been expertly machined down to the final size and shape. How anyone was able to clamp this miniature object inside of the jaws of a lathe is a mystery to me, but I can tell it was machined because there are visible traces of a cutting tool. The thumb prick has a conical shape with a flattened top, at the center of which there is a sharp miniature pin, possibly the tip of a needle. At the back there is some glue that resembles the kind of glue that is uses on glue traps. The clear acrylic box on this picture is not original; it is just an archival box that I use to store this small object.


Thumb-Prick Card Punch: poker cheating


It is hard to pinpoint the exact date when this thumb prick was made but there are a few details that lead me to believe this is an old gaff. First of all I go this from a trusted source and was told that this punch came from an old card hustler that used to use it in games. I don't have access to a forensics lab, but if I did I would probably be able to run a DNA analysis from the skin fragments that must be mixed in with the strong glue that is still at the back of this punch. Furthermore, I believe this is old because it is expertly made and I know it would have been impossible for someone to make just one piece so well, without being tooled-up for a larger production. Whoever made this punch must have been an expert machinist (or jeweler) and must have made a lot of them. Possibly this was one of the thumb pricks that was sold by the infamous KC Card Company. So, if these car punches were made in large numbers, they must have been made at a time before plastic cards became popular. Below is a clipping from the 1961 KC Card Co. Blue Book, showing a listing for a thumb prick.

Thumb Prick: marked cards