Friday, 18 August 2017

Collect your tokens, get your tricks.

Freebies, every box of cereal should have one. Used to encourage sales of all sorts of things, freebies of toys and gifts have been used for centuries. Often they require the collection of tokens, eventually redeemable for some prized trinket sent through the post.

Here's one such parcel, more or less as it would have arrived through the letter box in the mid 1930s.

The envelope came from the Quaker Oats Advertising Department. I presume that to get this little parcel vouchers had to be collected and a bit of postage paid.

It was likely advertised as a free magic set, generally such giveaways were a bit exaggerated. The contents isn't  really a magic set, but would provide a good amount of fun to the budding child magician.

In it are a few Japanese imports, a coin slide and a finger trap, an indoor firework, miraculously un-burnt and two packet tricks. One of the packet tricks is The Vanishing Cards, made for Boy's Broadcast, an extremely short lived paper that run for less than a year from 1934. It's likely this stock was reused after the paper closed. The other packet trick is by Davenports, Changeable Cards. I'm not sure whether these would have been assembled by a dealer and sold to Quaker or if Quaker would source the contents in bulk from a range of sources.

Magic tricks were often used as giveaways, especially packet tricks, being small, flat and cheap to post. I intend to do a post on some of these giveaway items in the future.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Professor Hoffmann, the father of the modern magic book.

Magic books are a huge part of my interest in magic. They don't feature a great deal on this blog as they're not that photogenic and I don't often have much to say without it becoming a review. I also don't collect books in the same way as I collect props, I don't really seek out first editions and I'm happy with later reprints where original editions are expensive. I'm going to make an exception for Professor Hoffmann though, I've not got an extensive collection of his books, but enough to give a rough outline of his conjuring career. 

Angelo John Louis worked as a lawyer and wrote a large number of books under the pseudonym of Professor Hoffmann. He felt being known as a magician would hinder his reputation, saying "I do not think that being known to dabble in magic would increase my professional prestige".  The book that threw Hoffmann's name into magic history was his 1876  debut, Modern Magic.

Above (left to right) are a 6th, 12th and 16th edition of Modern Magic. It was the first book in the English language to attempt to explain how to perform magic tricks, rather than simply exposing the secrets. Hoffmann attempted to cover all aspects of performance magic in 1876, using Ponsin and Robert-Houdin's French language writings as a base.

Some of Hoffmann's translations were published off the back of Modern Magic's popularity. Below are the three published in Hoffmann's lifetime, Robert-Houdin's Conjuring and Magic and Stage Conjuring and L.P.'s Drawing Room Conjuring.

The above are all later editions and Drawing-Room Conjuring is in terrifically poor condition! These Robert-Houdin's were published in 1900, by this time Hoffmann was in the highest regard as a magic author, so Robert-Houdin was pushed off the spine in favour of Hoffmann. 

After these translations were first published and fourteen years after Modern Magic Hoffmann published the second in the series, More Magic.

Above (left to right) are a 1st edition and an edition dated 1893. More Magic followed the pattern of Modern Magic covering tricks missed by the first book and including those invented in the interim. 

I tend to think of Hoffmann's core works as a trilogy, ending in Later Magic, though many include one or two more of his publications.

The above are a 1935 and a rebound 1953 edition. Later Magic was first published much earlier, in 1903 and expanded in 1911. This was Hoffmann's last book to attempt to include all magic tricks up to date, though not Hoffmann's last magic book.

Hoffmann attempted the follow up to Later Magic twice, his first attempt in 1911, though he felt it two brief to properly count as a member of the series. Complaining that his age and work pressures prevented him from writing a full follow up he published Magical Titbits, considerably shorter than his three preceding books.

Latest Magic was published in 1918, a year before Hoffman's death. Hoffmann considered this the final in his series of four books (as mentioned, he excluded Titbits). It included many of his own tricks. Though a good book, it ignores the huge advancements made in magic since 1911, so doesn't really follow the pattern of the first three tomes. One can hardly blame Hoffmann though, he provided a solid catalogue of effects from the 19th century to 1911, by which time he was already seventy two. 

Hoffmann's writings on magic were serialised in boy's magazines throughout his carreer. They were also included in broader books written and edited by Hoffmann, or with Hoffmann as a contributor.

On the left is an 1879 edition of Drawing Room Amusements by Hoffmann, which contains part of Modern Magic alongside sections on party games and other entertainments. On the right is Every Boy's Book of Sport and Pastime, edited by Hoffmann, a 1911 2nd edition. This contains a huge amount of information on all sorts of topics, with a magic section made up of sections from all three of Hoffmann's main books.

His books were also edited down and sold in cheaper, smaller formats, three of which are shown below.

These three are undated, Card Tricks Without Apparatus and Conjuring Tricks with Coins, Watches, Rings and Handkerchiefs are both taken from Modern Magic. Tricks with Watches, Rings, Flags and Gloves is taken from Later Magic. Many variants of these books were printed, though as I understand none of them included writing not found in Hoffmann's larger books.

Hoffmann wrote a great amount on games and puzzles as well as magic. He even got the prestigious job of updating and expanding Hoyle's Games.

Above is a 1907 edition of the hugely popular Illustrated Book of Patience Games, the illustration for which are printed in black and red ink. To the right are a 1903 and 1913 edition of Hoyle's Games Modernized, probably the most widely available book written by Hoffmann.

The pride of my Hoffmann odds and sods is also the smallest. I didn't realised what I had when I bought it as part of a Gamages magic set. This little book, produced by Gamages, invented by Hoffmann, allows the magician to divine a card thought of by a spectator.

My heart skipped a beat when I first opened it to find it was signed by Louis Hoffmann himself. As he wasn't a magician who performed professionally his signature is hard to come by, I really treasure it. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Ernest Sewell, the magic set mogul.

Like most magicians my first practical experience of magic was via a childrens' magic set, in my case a Paul Daniels one. Daniels was by no means the first magician to endorse and sell magic sets though, the first to put their name to a set was probably Ernest Sewell. Now he's mainly only remembered for his sets, or "Cabinets of Conjuring Tricks" of which thousands must have been made. His sets were responsible for getting many children into magic, perhaps most notably David Nixon as shown on this label on a late Sewell set.

There were two main groups of cabinets sold by Sewell as listed in the booklets that come with the sets. The first group were simply listed by size from 1 to 5, and the second phase had sets listed as 0, 1, 1a, 2, 2a and 3. The adverts as the back of the booklets below show these two phases.

I believe the change was to prevent the doubling up of tricks, the earlier sets all share tricks with each other, so to buy more than one set would cause overlap. The later sets only overlapped in 1 and 1a or 2 and 2a, as I understand it. I'm not sure when the first type of numbering was discontinued, but a safe assumption would put is during the Second World War, or just after, as the availability and expense of materials would likely have caused problems.

Broadly speaking the smaller the set, the easier they are to come by, here are three examples of the smallest sets produced in the early period, No.1s.

The earliest sets are from the 1920s and I believe he sold them into the mid to late 1950s, though I have been unable to find specific dates. The No.2 set is also quite easy to find, here's a 1920s example:

The easiest way to roughly date the sets is to see how old Sewell is on the label, I've found three different portraits on his cabinets.

According to a catalogue from the late 1940s (after the numbering had changed to the second phase) a No.0 set is 3/4, approximately £30 in today's money up to a staggering 66/6 for the No.3 set, more than £400 today. This was an era when toys were very expensive and these high quality British made magic sets would never have been affordable for the average working class family.  

Sewell sold his cabinets under the banner of the London Magical Company, here are three of the larger format sets. On the left is a 1930s No.4, the No.3 was the same size as the No.4 but without the pull out drawer. To the right of this are two later sets, a No.2 and a 2a, the quality of the contents declined in these late sets.

The gem amongst my Sewell cabinets is this beast, the largest set manufactured that I've been able to find, a No.5. I only know of one other example of this set, in the huge Zauberkasten Museum (Magic Set Museum) in Vienna. 

Some of the tricks within it are scratch built, not with the production line type manufacturing processes of the standard sets. It has been looked after and is in as new condition, possibly this was manufactured but never sold when new.

Sewell also sold loose tricks and magic sets of card and coin tricks. His company also produced a wide range of other toys and games, one of the most successful being a hybrid of tiddlywinks and table tennis, known as Tiddlytennis.

During the Second World War Sewell purchase a kite company called Brookite which he merged with his toy company. Brookite are still going strong today, so although the magic sets ceased production in the 1950s the company survived. 

Friday, 28 July 2017

Raymond and Dockstader, postcards from the top and bottom of the bill.

Here’s a trio of postcards that have an unusual connection. The first one I picked up is shown below, a striking portrait of a smiling magician. Most readers will have noticed this postcard isn’t quite right.

The original image is a very well known picture of The Great Raymond, a prominent American who toured extensively across the globe. It seems at some point a batch of these cards were recycled by a printer for another magician. A decorative stamp has been used to rather clumsily cover over the original name and a stamp re-naming the magician as The Great Dockstader has been used above the portrait. A similar but unaltered postcard of Raymond can be seen below.

I imagine Raymond wouldn’t have been best pleased if he knew his publicity material was being used as stock material, but I doubt many of these were made. I haven’t seen any for sale since, maybe these were recycled in the UK after Raymond had returned to touring in America or elsewhere. It's interesting to note the altered postcard shows Raymond with the classic Keller type devils on his shoulder, an image I've seen in Raymond posters before but not in a Raymond postcard.
Dockstader didn’t always use stock material as shown by this last postcard.

Declaring himself rather comically as America’s foremost illusionist this simple postcard shows the actual Dockstader. He bears very little resemblance to Raymond, so it can’t have been a particularly effective marketing tool to hand out postcards clearly of another magician! 

Information on Dockstader is hard to come by, he may be related to a well know minstrel troupe leader who also used the stage name The Great Dockstader, but that is pure speculation. It would be hard to even ascertain that he's an American as many acts on the UK music hall circuits pretended to be American to appear more exotic. Maybe someone reading this knows more?

Raymond himself was a very successful magician, performing around the world. He produced a very large amount of publicity material, posters, postcards and other ephemera which have helped his image endure. 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Swallowing Razor Blades, a stage spectacle.

One of Houdini's most famous stage tricks was the swallowing of loose sewing needles and the apparent regurgitation of these threaded on a length of cotton. A variation of this old effect is performed with razor blades, much more visible on stage and with the same sense of peril as the needles effect. This photo, printed in many Davenports catalogues from the 1930s shows George "Gilly" Davenport performing the effect.

George Davenport popularised the effect after the company purchased the rights through Max Holden from an unknown American source in 1930. It was a huge success and has been sold by Davenports ever since. I have two examples in my collection. The one shown below has the striking red and yellow packaging synonymous with Davenports with a text description of the effect stamped on the box.

The apparatus itself is in remarkable condition with the original packaging on the blades. The trick was improved by Robert Harbin with the addition of the gimmicked spool of thread, removing some of the more complicated handling. He gave these improvements to Davenports and they printed them along with the original instructions. The trick also came with a handy block to make the resetting of the trick straight forward and to avoid tangles. 

This example has a few differences, the most obvious being the packaging. This has slightly rarer graphics with the clown face more generally used for jokes and novelties. It also has a wonderful stamped image of the trick, clearly based on the photograph of Gilly above.

These also come with some extra envelopes showing that the blades have been chrome plated by Paisley Cooperative Manufacturing Society Ltd. This was presumably done to make them even more showy under the spotlights and was done after they were purchased. Gilly performed this effect for Movietone News in 1931 and Jasper Maskelyne performed it for Pathé in 1937:

Performed live it is a striking, stage filling trick that personifies the "packs small, plays big" idea. One of the best live performances I've seen was the late Bunny Neill performing this. He produced a string of blades long enough to stretch right across the stage, a brilliant sight. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Houdini's circus wagons in Budapest.

This isn't a normal post as it's not about something in my collection, but rather something spotted by chance. I went on holiday with my partner to Budapest in March 2016. We hadn't gone because of the Houdini connection, but I can't say that wasn't at the back of my mind! Early in the holiday we visited the Budapest History Museum within Buda Castle. Looking out of the window into the main courtyard I spotted the strangest thing.

I had watched the Houdini miniseries featuring Adrien Brody in 2014 and was aware some of it was filmed in Budapest. Although I didn't have a memory of seeing this wagon in the series, it could hardly be anything but a prop from it. Its reference to Welsh Brother's Circus and "Nature's Mistakes" clearly referring to Houdini performing as a wild man for that circus. 

Down in the courtyard I got a closer look at this wonderful mock-up. It was beautifully made, painted and aged. 

There was also another wagon tucked into a corner of the yard.

I'm not aware of any actual Maxwell The Magnificent, but I presume he was a character in the series. My memory of the show's not fantastic and, being frank, I didn't enjoy it enough to buy on DVD.

Shortly after we came home I read the news that a Houdini museum, The House of Houdini, was to open in Budapest, a city that previously had no formal memorial to one of their most famous sons. The museum itself is within Buda Castle, so that probably explains why these props were there.

We visited what we though was the Weisz family home, though research has since shown that to be unlikely. We did explore the Jewish Quarter thoroughly though and visited the fantastic Great Synagogue, a building the family surely would have known.

More about Houdini's links to this area can be found in this article from the House of Houdini. Budapest is a wonderful city to visit and it's great to hear they're making more of Houdini, I can't wait to get back there. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Paul Daniels in the 1980s.

Early last year Paul Daniels, one of the most successful magicians of all time, died. As a child I caught the end of his long prime-time television career and my start in magic began with one of his magic sets. I tend to collect items earlier than 1960 so I don’t have a great deal of things relating to Daniels, here are a few things from the height of his fame I have picked up though.

The first item is a poster from his 14 month run at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London’s West End. Starting in 1980 this run was a real rarity as variety shows in the West End has died out completely prior to “It’s Magic”. The run was hugely successful coming off the back of his television stardom which rocketed in the late 1970s.

Throughout his career he marketed magic sets for numerous toy companies. The first range under the branding TV Magic Tricks was released in the early 1980s, with individual tricks and larger magic sets available. These were manufactured by "Dubreq" and "Magic Marketing" who I assume were part of the same company.

These sets were released at the height of Daniels' fame alongside children's books and annuals bearing his name. I've always presumed these books were written with, or ghost written by, Ali Bongo as they are particularly similar to Bongo's books of this period. As with Ali Bongo's books they are among the very best magic books for children and were a big part or my childhood.

Paul Daniels didn't reserve his image for magic publicity though, in fact he was happy to put his name to almost anything. He sold tapes to help people learn foreign languages, Atari computer games and even draught excluders!

Like many magicians of my generation I started out with a Paul Daniels magic set, in my case a "Peter Pan Playthings" set I got for my forth birthday. I was lucky enough to meet Paul on a few occasions and saw him lecture and perform. He was always very kind and encouraging to young magicians.  

In recent years he sold some of his considerable collection and I was lucky enough to pick up some of his Davenports items.  He was a close friend of the Davenport family and cleared one of their family homes, one item from this clearance is this copper Wonder Box.

As a pioneer of TV magic and a true professional magician for over forty years he had a huge influence on the direction of magic in the UK. Working with Ali Bongo and John Fisher, his TV shows created an interest in magic for a whole generation, a legacy that will continue for many decades to come.