Perhaps one of the most commonly pitched magic tricks of the current age, the whirling card has a deep history. The idea of animating a playing card with a thin thread or human hair (these secret props were used interchangeably for animations and levitations through the centuries, up until the second half of the 1900s when thread took over almost exclusively), appeared in the unpublished MSS III, 18, also called “the Asti Manuscript”, c. 1700, p. 68 of the Pieper translation. This manuscript was translated in Gibecière, Vol. 8 No. 1, Winter 2013, p. 29-234. The trick involved animating a card by pulling it out of a deck using the hidden thread. It was essentially a playing-card version of “With words to make a groat or a testor to leape out of a pot, or to run alongst upon a table” from Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft, 1584, p. 327. From there, animating cards grew out into having the card climb walls and traverse ceilings, as can be seen in “The Dancing Card” from The Conjuror's Magazine, Apr. 1792, p. 385.
The spin and levitation features were added to the plot in August Roterberg's New Era Card Tricks, 1897, p. 194. In it, the thread is affixed to the ceiling of the stage, allowing the card to spin out up to thirty or forty feet before returning back to the performer.
Bob Hummer's marketed Whirling Card, 1943, is perhaps the best-known entry into the field. Hummer affixed the hair into his ear, boomeranged the card out a few times, and then spun the card around his body. It should be noted that Hummer would spin himself around with the card during its orbit, always keeping the card in front of his torso. The technique of spinning the card around the performer's back while he stands facing forward was a later addition. (Jay Marshall used to tell an amusing anecdote about Hummer and this trick. In later life, Hummer grew hard of hearing, and used his hearing aid as the anchor point for the thread.)
The modern handling which runs the thread over the performer's thumb crotch to create a make-shift pulley system for greater control and flexibility of motion was created by David P. Abbott and published in The Magazine of Magic, Vol. 1. No. 1, Oct. 1914, p. 30. Abbott didn't use the technique to levitate a card, but rather a ball of paper.