Saturday, 5 July 2014

Updated: The world's smallest magic set?

Here's a very small magic set, certainly the smallest in my collection. Its "twenty tricks" fit into a standard sized match box branded "Masters' Army and Navy Safety Matches". The other side and the striking surfaces read "20 TRICKS" and "ENTERTAIN YOUR FRIENDS".

When the inner drawer is removed we can see it jammed full of small bits of apparatus with which a range of magic tricks can be performed.

Squeezed in are a few small rings and a length of ribbon, two dice, two match sticks with a small piece of rubber tube, some mini playing cards including a double back and double front, two wooden pegs, a metal gimmick for levitating two glasses and a length of metal tube.

Sadly there are no instructions with this set, and I have no idea who manufactured it. It's clearly from the latter part of the 20th Century and British. Most of the props are self explanatory, though I'm unsure what the metal tube is for. It could be for the trick where you hold the tube on a borrowed handkerchief and push a lit cigarette into the tube extinguishing it against the handkerchief without causing it any damage.


Since writing this I was kindly contacted by Alex Melven who informed me that these were assembled and sold by the noted stage magician Edward Victor.

Alex pointed me towards Rae Hammond's book "The Magic of Edward Victor's Hands" where the instructions for this set are reprinted along with other matchbox magic sets Victor made and sold in the 1950s. 

I also found another example of this set recently made with a "Swift" brand matchbox. The contents is similar with the exception of the cigarette tube which was made of plastic rather than metal. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A letter from J. N. Maskelyne.

My personal favourite historical magician has to be John Nevil Maskelyne. I'm not going to go into depth about his life but, for those who don't know much about Maskelyne, Eddie Dawes and John Fisher have both included good overviews of his life in their books and there's also a very brief overview on Wikipedia. Here's a little item from Maskeyne's time at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Dated from 1901, while Maskelyne was still with George Alfred Cooke, it's politely written declining the offer of a print.

Although it's just a guess, the print Maskelyne could have been referring to may have been the one below. I only assume this as it is a relatively popular print and the only common print I can think of that relates to the hall and pre-dates Maskelyne's time there.

This print, published in 1828, shows the building when relatively new and still a museum owned by William Bullock. The building was leased to Maskelyne from 1873 until 1904 when the lease expired and the building was demolished within a year. Although The Egyptian Hall, "England's Home of Mystery", has now gone there is a wonderful model of the hall at Davenports Magic Kingdom. The model contains their collections of Maskelyne related items.

For original Maskelyne buildings there are a few still extant, most notably his watch making shop in Cheltenham. He lived and worked here at the time when he was exposing the Davenport Brothers (no relation to the Davenports above) and when he met Cooke.

Now a chemist's shop, the building has a blue plaque commemorating Maskelyne though there is nothing inside mentioning him.