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Friday, 16 July 2021

Houndsditch, The One-Time Home of the Novelty Trade.

Novelties and magic have been interlaced since the very earliest days of magic retailing. If you peruse a Hamleys catalogue from 1900 you'll find pages of jokes, novelties and puzzles between pages of the finest stage and parlour tricks available at the time. Some magic shops grew large enough to import these cheaper items directly from the manufacturers in Japan, America and Germany but others relied on purchasing wholesale from importers. In London, many of these novelty importers and traders found a home in the unusually named street of Houndsditch.

Located in the East End, Houndsditch was originally a defensive Roman ditch running along the outside of a portion of the city's wall. The route of the ditch's name is said to come from the 13th century when waste, including dead dogs, was routinely dumped in the ditch. The unpleasant story behind the street's name, and an association with crime, even led to an attempt to hold a referendum on renaming the street in 1908, though ultimately there wasn't sufficient support for the referendum to be held. The ditch was filled in the 1600s and quickly developed to become a street.

The newly available land on Houndsditch provided a blank canvas for Jewish immigrants who had been granted permission to settle in England by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. This community grew and became well-established in the East End. The area steadily welcomed Jewish immigrants over the next few hundred years but things changed greatly in 1882 following the accession of Tsar Alexander III. He created a wide range of laws persecuting Jews in Russia and many were forced to flee their countries. Two million went to America and 150 000 settled in Britain. Jewish communities across Britain worked hard to help support, home and feed their new neighbours.

It was this influx around Houndsditch that led to the sudden appearance and growth of many new businesses, with most in the area specialising in either clothing or novelties. Some of these novelty traders became long-established and successful but they left behind very little trace in the archives. A few had catalogues, some advertised in papers, but many more were purchasing their wares at the London ports and selling them directly to shops and hawkers with little or no paper trail. Some businesses were recorded in one form or another though.

Two postcards postmarked 1908 show the busy road. One is captioned: "Hounsditch [sic] The Famous Centre for the Latest Novelties." 

Though many shops are visible in the photo the only one which can be clearly seen is Henry Grunhaus. It is possible to just make out the words toys, dolls and fancy goods in the window. On the 1901 census Henry is listed as a salesman at a fancy goods warehouse, with his father Marcus listed as a fancy goods dealer. In this second photo we see Henry's brother's shop.

Isidore Grunhaus's shop is clearly at 29 & 30 Houndsditch, the original location of their father Marcus's shop according to the 1901 census. The caption reads "Houndsditch. One of the Busiest Streets of London. The Home of the Novelty Trade."  These two postcards were almost certainly commissioned by the Grunhauses themselves as they so clearly display their premises. The above example even has retouching to make the name on the shop clearer.

Another novelty wholesaler who left their mark was Richard Bercovitch. He put together wholesale lists of jokes and novelties from his shop named the A.1. Balloon and Novelty House. The use of "A.1." as a prefix was a common ploy at the time to ensure your business appeared at the front of directories.

His 1920s catalogue reproduced images from a range of his suppliers from across the world and also had a few illustrations produced closer to home for his "Berco" range of jokes.

My sister site, CollectingMagicBooks.com, has just released a full reproduction of this catalogue, complete with a new introduction about Bercovitch and his business. For more information or to purchase have a look here: Richard Bercovitch, Ltd. Joke Catalogue.

For the most part, the Second World War saw the end of Houndsditch's association with the novelty trade. Hawkers selling novelties were no longer the norm in London and larger department shops, magic shops and toy shops were importing their goods directly from manufacturers or via agents in the country of manufacture. During and after the war there was a long period of shortages and restrictions which closed most options for novelty importers to find their goods abroad. A few shops lived on in Houndsditch, but it appears they did so by turning more towards traditional retailing and away from importing and trading. One survivor was W. Goldstein and Co. (not to be confused with the magic dealer Will Goldston) who ran a shop called the Army & Navy Novelty Co. A picture of their shop still thriving on Houndsditch in 1975 can be seen on the London Picture Archive here.

Today, Houndsditch has been sanitised into another London street of concrete-faced offices and the odd ground-floor restaurant. No buildings survive from the time of Bercovitch and the Grunhauses to give a hint of the community that once called Houndsditch home.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Shocking Snakes, a Perennial Prank.

I'm currently writing an in-depth book on the history of the Ellisdon family and their famous joke and magic business. It's set to be released later this year through CollectingMagicBooks.com

To mark this announcement I thought I'd take a look at some classic joke shop staples, appearing snakes.

The most famous incarnation of these was created in 1915 by the goliath of the American novelty world, S. S. Adams. He created the Snake Nut Can, an innocent-looking tin of nuts which, when opened by the unsuspecting victim, released a huge green snake. Here's a 1950s model.

Though Adams' can was certainly the most successful use of this idea, his invention was really a variation on an already popular theme, rather than a true original. The first adverts I have of a joke appearing snake are in a Hamleys catalogue from around 1900. One is a spring snake from a playing card box and the other a spring German sausage from a pouch of tobacco, both almost certainly imported from Germany.

Over time the most popular form of the joke sold in the UK used small pots of jam, mustard or face cream. One of these early glass jars can be seen below.

These two adverts from Davenports show how the joke was marketed from the inter-war years onwards. The distinctive pattern of the jar above can be seen in the advert on the left.

The German and Japanese manufacturers ran with this joke in a big way creating many variations. Snakes would pop out of practically any object which could accommodate a spring snake. One of the simpler tricks was this shaving brush canister.

Many of these early versions have charming hand-painted faces. To give an idea of the huge variety of snake jokes on offer, here is a page from the German firm Carl Quel's 1937 wholesale catalogue.


The top advert shows one of the most complex of the snake pranks manufactured, the snake camera. This looks like a real 1930s camera, complete with bellows, but fires out a snake when the joker pretends to take a photo.


The London joke firm Ellisdons found particular success with a fake book aimed at tempting the onlooker to have a sneaky look.


The advert above, from their 1937 catalogue, shows what would happen to the victim when they attempted to read What I Know About Women. These were also fitted with a spring-loaded noise maker which emits a loud squeak when the snake escapes. 


These pre-war models were imported from Japan by Ellisdons. During and after World War Two they manufactured them themselves, selling them in large quantities through Woolworths and via mail-order. 

Pre-war Japanese snake tricks were carefully crafted in card and paper and would have effectively duped many victims. Most simply carry the word "Japan" or "Foreign" but a few have makers marks such as this trick harmonica case. I haven't yet been able to confirm which firm used this mark.


The smallest items I've found which incorporate a spring snake are these two Japanese lighters.


The lighter on the left has a cloth snake while the one on the right has a cheaper waxed paper one. The most popular of the snake tricks remained the jars and cans though. The Japanese ketchup jar below has a painted red interior to represent the ketchup and hide the spring snake and sprung squeaker within.


As with most novelties manufactured in Germany and Japan, particularly those fiddly to make like the above, the Second World War saw the end of their manufacture. The huge variety of snake jokes didn't return after novelty manufacturing resumed in the mid-twentieth century. Spring snake novelties are now confined to cheaply made plastic snake cans which would arouse suspicion before opening, providing merely a shadow of the original joke. 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Second Sight and the St. Clairs.

Second sight acts have been performed for hundreds of years but their heyday was the latter half of the nineteenth century. Though not always presented as a magic trick, many magicians performed second sight in their acts. The act generally consisted of two performers, at least one of whom was blindfolded, appearing to transfer thoughts between each other.

The classic acts, such as those performed by Pinetti and Robert-Houdin, consisted of one performer, generally the magician, holding up articles bought in by members of the audience and requesting the second performer, seated blindfolded on the stage, to describe said objects. Below is an etching showing Robin performing a second sight act in Piccadilly in January 1851.


Second sight became hugely popular and many successful magicians introduced it into their shows. Though there were various ways of performing the effect, the most usual method required a huge amount of study and practice from both performers to effectively create the illusion of telepathy. There were also some technological methods, perhaps the earliest of which was Robert Heller's sofa, used between 1869 and 1875.


Pictured here in Henry Ridgely Evans' The Old and The New Magic, this sofa employed a secret that was quite revolutionary at the time.  The craze for second sight led to many lesser-known entertainers adopting the act. The secrets to performing second sight were readily available to those interested, Hoffmann having discussed them at length in his 1890 publication More Magic. There were even "penny dreadfuls" published on the methods.


This book was published around 1909 by Manchester's Daisy Bank Publications who specialised in sensational crime books, magic books and fortune-telling books cheaply printed for sale on newsstands. The book was written by Albert Morrow, who worked at Munro's and founded the Mystic Club.

A seldom mentioned couple who performed second sight were the St. Clairs. This striking postcard shows the couple billed as "Second-sight Seers".


Researching the St. Clairs has been extremely challenging as they used stage names and only had moderate success. Beginning with what can be stated as fact, a second sight act called the St. Clairs was advertised for bookings from October 1905 through to June 1920. Throughout this period they were billed as "Roma and St. Clair", or some variation thereof, with the exception of one year, 1907. From August 1907 to the end of that year their billing changed to Ranee and Rajah and their act was performed in Indian costume and probably in blackface, sadly quite usual at the time. It is clear that Ranee and Rajah was the temporary name for the St. Clairs' act as they used the same descriptions for their shows and had the same address on their adverts: 38 Dawes Road, Fulham.

The act is described variously as "mystical double turn", "telepathic novelty", "modern mahatmas", "second sight seers", "telepathy up-to-date" and "mental mystery". Prior to 1907, adverts also mentioned that the St. Clairs had individual turns, Roma performed comic recitals and St. Clair had a lightning cartoon act. The core second sight act involved them playing cards while blindfolded and mystically transmitting the times set on large model clocks to each other. On longer billings, they used the names Mdlle. Roma and Mr. Kent St. Clair. St. Clair was generally described as the assistant to Roma.

As far as facts are concerned that's all that can be said about the St. Clairs with any certainty. There is no official record of a Kent St. Clair or a Roma St. Clair, so to learn more about the couple we must venture into conjecture. Having spent a great deal of time chasing up all of the addresses they listed in adverts and all entertainers using the St. Clair name during the period, I believe the most likely story is as follows. I think Roma was Alice Hughes, born in 1862 in Stockton on Tees and Kent St. Clair was James Hughes, born in Liverpool in 1857. This is how their names appear on the 1881 census, where James lists his profession as "Ventriloquist". In 1891 he lists his profession as "Conjurer and Ventriloquist" and still has the surname Hughes.  

On New Year's Eve 1905, one of the Hughes' sons, also James (hereafter referred to as James Jnr. for clarity), got married in Liverpool. On the parish record the father of the groom is recorded as "James Chadwick Hughes" with his profession listed as "Entertainer". The groom's name, however, is "James William St. Clair Hughes". The groom works as a clerk. The addition of the name St. Clair to James Jnr.'s surname is an interesting one. James Chadwick Hughes didn't perform magic and ventriloquism under his own name, he preferred "Professor St. Clair". Through searching the British Newspaper Archive we can see this Professor St. Clair was an active entertainer from 1877, performing particularly to children in the Liverpool area. His act was a popular, if unadventurous, one that was much-loved in Liverpool. In J. F. Burrows's 1906 book, Programmes of Magicians, he describes it as follows:

"Prof. St. Clair.
Catching money in the air. Pass coins from one hand to glass tumbler held in the other. Sun and moon handkerchiefs. Handkerchief changes into a billiard ball. The knotted handkerchiefs untied on command. The dancing coin in a goblet. Answer to a sum appears on a slate. Cards passed up the sleeve. Diminishing cards. Banknote burnt and found restored in a candle. Cone of wood passed through hat. Cards and spring balls produced from a boy. Borrowed coin passed into an orange. Juggling tricks."

Around 1898 "Professor St. Clair Jnr." started appearing with and without his father, Professor St. Clair, performing a shadowgraphy act. In January 1907 the Liverpool Echo reported that Professor St. Clair had died suddenly. The obituary stated that St. Clair had performed to around two million children in Liverpool and the north and had a good career as a society entertainer which saw him perform in front of King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. Bizarrely it stated that the cause of death was "an affection of the throat, ascribed to irritation induced by the exercise of the ventriloquial voice."  

There is a range of evidence that suggests the St. Clairs of the second sight act were Professor St. Clair and his wife Alice. It was not uncommon for entertainers to compartmentalise their acts, having one for family events, in this case Professor St. Clair's conjuring and ventriloquism, and one for more sophisticated society events, such as second sight. In the St. Clairs' adverts for their second sight act they give various London addresses for booking, but these all appear to be forwarding addresses. The only addresses outside London for the St. Clairs are in Liverpool, where we know Professor St. Clair and his family lived. 


Perhaps the most striking pieces of evidence relate to how the adverts for the second sight act change at the same time as the death of Professor St. Clair. Up until December 1906 the second sight act is billed as "Roma and St. Clair" and regularly advertised. In January 1907 Professor St. Clair suddenly died and, at the same time, adverts for the St. Clairs second sight act ceased. When these ads returned in August 1907 they were billed as Ranee and Rajah, and didn't change their billing back to the St. Clairs until 1908. It seems possible, if not likely, that Professor St. Clair performed as Kent St. Clair with his wife Alice as the St.Clairs. Upon James Snr.'s death, James Jnr. needed to learn this complicated act to perform it with his mother. To allow them to practice while preserving the reputation of the St. Clairs they performed as Renee and Rajah, even changing their appearance during this period. Once the act was mastered by James Jnr. they began again as the St. Clairs in 1908. If this were the case, I would assume the postcard depicts the original St. Clairs before January 1907.

A further factor that supports the idea of James Jnr. following in his father's footsteps appeared in August 1909 when a new "Professor St. Clair" began performing magic in Liverpool. It's highly likely that this was James Jnr. We can see on the baptism records from December 1906 James Jnr. listed his profession as "Clerk", as he did on the 1911 census, but from a baptism record from January 1912, through to records on the eve of the First World War, he described himself as an "Entertainer". His mother Alice bought up James's younger siblings and worked as a maternity nurse. It seems probable James worked multiple jobs to support his recently widowed mother and his young siblings. On the 1911 census we can see Alice was living with two of her children, a fifteen-year-old and a nine-year-old. Alice died in 1937. It has not been possible to find out when James died, but his last performance as Professor St. Clair appears to be in 1942. For anyone interested in researching this further, it's worth noting the majority of the family adopted the surname St. Clair-Hughes from the 1930s onwards.

A few other magicians have performed under the name St. Clair, one lived in Bristol in 1914. Mark Raffles also used it as a stage name very early in his career. A Mdlle. Roma, who specialised in palmistry, also existed, though, like these two other St. Clairs, they do not relate to the performers above. It would be very satisfying to have a piece of categorical evidence that proved the Hughes family performed second sight as the St. Clairs but at the moment this is just a hypothesis. 

If you have any information on the parties above I would love to hear from you.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Jack Klaw, Novelties Unlimited and Klawvana.

It's no secret to those who read this site that I love the world of novelties and jokes. It's easy to overlook that many of our most successful magic shops and manufacturers were propped up by selling and making these more frivolous things. Many pocket money pranks were imported from Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and China but there were British manufacturers too. Some are fairly well known, such as Ellisdons, BeePee and Brownings, and some barely recorded. I recently fell down a rabbit hole trying to identify the manufacturer of this charming compendium of practical jokes.

On the face of it there seem to be plenty of clues to the manufacturer of this set. There are two trade names used throughout the packaging: "D. H. V. and Co." and "N. U.". Thanks to the wonderful Davenport Collection website the pieces began to fall together. In their collection, they have two joke greeting cards, one with the "N. U." branding, and one very similar branded "Klawvana". Here's a similar card from the set above.

The Klawvana branded card has an unusual logo of a woman and a greyhound, the same as on this exploding compact trick.

The compact is not branded Klawvana though, it is an "N. U. British Product". This suggests N. U. and Klawvana were one and the same, explaining the similarities between the two joke greetings cards in the Davenport Collection. As luck would have it, I remembered seeing the word Klawvana on a novelty recently, a trick butterfly that would fly out of a closed book. 

This novelty was a huge success for the U. S. firm S. S. Adams, who patented their version in 1932. As a side note, the patent number printed on Adams' butterflies was always the incorrect "1858538" rather than the actual patent number: 1858535. Looking at British Klawvana butterflies, the early models are listed as patent-pending and the later have a number corresponding to this patent first applied for in 1962. The applicant for this patent was Jack Klaw, who by the time of this application had been manufacturing and selling wholesale into the joke and magic community for at least twenty-two years. 

Searching for Jack Klaw in the magic press brings up no leads, but he does appear in an issue of The London Gazette from February 1940.


From this, we can see that Jack Klaw and Paul Clive were in partnership manufacturing toys under the name Novelties Unlimited. The previous year, thanks to the 1939 Register, we can see both Clive and Klaw were living in separate houses in Andover, with Clive listing his profession as "Jokes and Magical Dealer" and Klaw recording his as "Toy Manufacturer". It seems that when Paul Clive's magic dealership took off and moved to London the two men went their separate ways.


Jack Klaw continued to use the name Novelties Unlimited, abbreviating it to N. U. on his products. It looks like Klaw's business was strictly wholesale as he doesn't appear to have advertised to the public.

Jack Klaw was born in London in 1904, shortly after his parents arrived in the UK from Russia. He was born Jacky Klawansky, but he and his eight siblings anglicised their names to Klaw, some officially, some unofficially. Very little is known of Jack's life but his route into magic possibly came from one of his older brothers, Harry. Like Jack, Harry Klaw doesn't appear in the magic press, but he was a working magician in the 1920s and 1930s. Harry posted a handful of adverts in The Stage across these decades offering conjuring entertainments at home. In these he always described himself as a "Card Wizard" and sometimes used the phrase "a pack of comedy". He performed magic to supplement his income as a shopkeeper, but sadly it has been impossible to identify what he sold from his shop. Perhaps it was Harry's interest in magic that lead to Jack's career supplying magic shops with jokes and tricks. 

Returning to the joke compendium, the pranks centre around two main themes, cigarette tricks and detonators. It seems these were the core of Klaw's products as in the 1961 Kelly's Directory his firm is listed in the Smoker's Requisites and Cigarette Tubes sections in addition to the Toy Manufacturers section. The set includes cigarettes branded N. U. and ones with the State Express 333 logo, a real cigarette company.


There are also two detonator based tricks, a "Pep Pep" mint box and a bottle insert. The generic instructions for both of these show that an exploding match box and exploding "Nushine" boot polish tin were also available. The design for the N. U. Detonator was registered under the number 842155 in 1945, and each detonator is stamped with this number. 


The detonators are heavy-duty compared to the cap detonators more commonly found in trick items. The "Pep Pep" tin also has a mini list in the lid titled "What Gives Spice To Life?" which shows the company also sold a dribbling glass and scent bottle. Despite the inclusion of this advert in the set, there is no clue as to where an individual could order these items from, again suggesting N. U. was exclusively wholesale.



This set probably dates from the late 1940s and is one of only two I've seen. In 1954 Jack's youngest brother, Joseph, died and Jack sought buyers for his late brother's watch repair business. It is possible that Joseph manufactured and/or designed the detonators sold by Novelties Unlimited. Around 1961 Jack moved his business to 395 Hornsey Road in Islington. From here it appears he moved away from the complicated printed packaging and concentrated predominantly on manufacturing cigarette and match gags to be packaged and sold on by his customers. In the 1971 Kelly's Directory he describes the business as a "Toy Makers". From the box lid on the above set we can see he was selling rubber cream wafers, and rubber chocolates branded Klawvana were produced in the 1960s.


In 1975 Jack Klaw was heavily criticised in an opinion article published in the tabloid paper the Sunday People. Titled DEADLY, the article criticised Klaw for selling a magic trick in which spent matches could be lit again. Against the backdrop of a government campaign aiming to stop children playing with matches, a Cardiff fire prevention officer had requested the Home Office ban these matches, which he believed would be sold to children in joke shops. Klaw rejected these arguments stating it was the retailers' responsibility to keep these matches out of the hands of children. 

The final sign of Novelties Unlimited I've been able to find is a listing in the Joke and Novelty Manufacturers section of the 1984 Kelly's Directory. They were still based at 395 Hornsey Road. This shows that, in one form or other, Jack Klaw was manufacturing and wholesaling tricks for at least forty five years. He died at the age of 87 in 1992.

Friday, 11 September 2020

A Haberdashery of Hocus Pocus.

Magic is always most effective when done with familiar objects. Due to this, tricks from specific periods can demonstrate which objects were commonplace at that time. Though sewing's a popular hobby today, when clothing was more expensive repairing clothes was an everyday necessity. This meant the tools and materials needed to do this were in every household. 

Houdini famously swallowed loose needles and thread before regurgitating them, the needles now threaded. Thimble manipulation and pocket tricks with thimbles were also popular. This post looks at three effects, marketed in the 1930s by Davenports, centred around things that might be found in a sewing box of the time.


This simple linen tape was produced by the German firm Bartl, whose artwork is reproduced on this Demon Series box. This tape is part of an effect where a strip of paper is measured before four inches are torn off. The conjurer magically restores the paper to its original length. Most spectators would not suspect such an everyday object like a linen tape could carry a secret. 

One effect that Davenports manufactured themselves was called Bewildering Buttons, described in their advert below.


This was a truly charming effect where a button securely sewn onto a card would magically swap places with one of a different colour. The method is really superb and would certainly be used today if such cards were still commonplace. An example of one with red and black buttons is below:


At the same time as Bewildering Buttons Davenports were also selling an effect called the Three Reel Mystery, though this was a lot less popular judging on how many survive today. In this trick, three reels of different coloured thread were placed onto a small wooden rod which ran through their central holes. Under the cover of a handkerchief, while the rod was held on each end by a spectator, the central reel of the three magically passed through the rod. All of the reels and the rod could then be examined by the onlookers. 


All of these tricks would have resonated with a 1930s audience and the top two of the above were sold by Davenports for many years after. Today they would appear unusual in a contemporary act and effects with thimbles are similarly rare to see performed today. The accoutrements of sewing can be found in dozens of magic books and catalogues of the past. It's a curious side effect of today's throwaway fashion culture that they have been consigned to the history books. 

Friday, 17 July 2020

Jardine Ellis, a Posthumously Commercial Inventor.

Jardine Ellis had a short and successful career as a magician, noted for novel and effective routines performed only by himself. As a creative magic mind, he made the decision early on that he would keep his effects to himself and resist the urge to market his secrets to fellow magicians. He was a popular member of many magic societies, attending gatherings of the Magic Circle and the Magicians' Club where he would baffle his contemporaries. The excerpt below, from The Magic Wand, describes Jardine Ellis at the 1921 Magic Circle Grand Seance.


Born Duncan Lome Campbell in 1881, Ellis traveled the globe performing. His career was a short one as he died of pneumonia in 1923. His imaginative effects could have been lost forever had it not been for the actions of some of his fellow magicians, particularly George Johnson and Stanley Norton.


In the few years after Jardine Ellis's death, Johnson wrote up and published a selection of Ellis's tricks in The Magic Wand. Some magicians were offended by this, believing Jardine Ellis had made it quite clear that he didn't wish for his secrets to be shared or sold. George Johnson addressed this in the foreword of his book: A Few Jardine Ellis Secrets, a compilation of the effects previously published in The Magic Wand:

"This clever worker was at some pains to keep his secrets within a charmed circle and usually stipulated that his tricks were not to be either shown or exposed to a conjurer. I have witnessed many of the effects but for the majority of the secrets I am indebted to Mr. Stanley Norton who, by the way, has himself written the description of the Slate Mystery.

One day, while exchanging secrets - as conjurers are wont to do - Mr. Norton remarked to Mr. Ellis, 'You are very particular as to these effects; do you expect to keep them forever and ever?' Ellis laughed, 'Oh well,' he said, 'when I am gone it does not matter what becomes of them.'

I do not, therefore, feel any qualms about publishing this booklet."

It was very convenient that Norton recalled this conversation, excusing any future use of Ellis's secrets. Two of Jardine Ellis's, now public, routines really caught the attention of magicians. They are both still popular today.


One of these was a clean production of a glass of wine using handling from Ellis's Thimble and Wine Glass routine. Davenports introduced two separate improvements to the effect, the first being advertised around 1933 (above). By the mid-1930s a second improvement had been made, which can be viewed on the left of the picture below.


Despite this effect's popularity, Jardine Ellis's name lives on in a different routine of his, the Jardine Ellis Ring. This ring has become a true classic of close up and parlour magic. In Ellis's original routine, known as the Rod and Ring, the metal ring would magically pass through a walking stick. This was the effect that Davenports marketed from the early 1930s. One such ring is to the right of the photo below.


On the left is a larger copper ring of unknown manufacturer. These rings were extremely versatile and could be used for many effects beyond the ring on stick effect. As such, they became a favourite of magicians with many new routines invented with the prop. Perhaps the most significant of which are those by Hans Trixter, published in Conjuring Trix and Jardine Ellis Ring Effex. The booklet was published by Magic Wand in 1955, now under the management of George Armstrong. Jardine Ellis Rings are still available to buy from magic shops and are even included in some toy magic sets, such as those manufactured by Hanky Panky Toys.

It's hard to say whether Jardine Ellis would have been happy with his effects becoming a part of many magicians' repertoires. Either way, it's clear that the use of his name to market his tricks, in particular the Jardine Ellis Ring, has kept his name in the minds of magicians almost a hundred years after his untimely death.

Friday, 5 June 2020

The Rabbit as Magician, a Popular Comic Theme.

One of the defining symbols of magic in the public eye is that of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Much has been written on its origins but it is now little more than a cliche, rarely performed by working magicians.

It is a powerful symbol nonetheless and one embraced by the magic community with all matter of novelties and trinkets produced depicting a rabbit popping out of a top hat. A testament to its popularity is its common use in political and comedic cartoons. One fairly popular joke is to reverse the roles of the magician and rabbit and have the rabbit pulling the conjurer out of a hat.


This illustration was used on the cover of the 1961 book Tricks of the Television Stars and More Tricks of the Television Stars. The books were made up of tricks previously printed in Harry Stanley's house magazine The Gen and the cover art was probably done by Dennis Patten. A variation of this appears in a trick header within the book.


The image of a rabbit coming out of a hat was already popular by the 1950s, as shown by this cut-out advert illustrated by the magician Jack Lamonte. Lamonte specialised in custom publicity items for magicians and magic societies.


This lively flier is promoting the Sheffield Circle of Magicians' 1955 Night of Magic, held at the beautiful Montgomery Hall. Lamonte's rabbit is much less sinister than most, taking clear inspiration from Disney.

Another magic society to use the motif was the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. 


These rabbits were used in two programmes for the British Ring's 1946 convention, the first since the outbreak of the Second World War. Printed by the Ring's go-to printers Burnley's Central Printing Works, the artist is not recorded.

It's unclear when the first rabbit pulling a man out of a hat appeared. I would suspect it came out of a newspaper cartoon. The earliest example I have (off the top of my head) is on the cover of Gerald Lynton Kaufmann's 1938 book How's Tricks. This isn't just any cartoon though.


This cover, and the frontispiece, show the most characterful depiction of a rabbit producing a magician from a hat I've found. It was illustrated by Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. When this illustration was produced Dr. Seuss had only published a few books under his own name and was predominantly an advertising artist. He would later become one of the best-loved children's authors in America writing The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The image of a rabbit pulling a magician out of a hat will also be very familiar to viewers of U.K. comedy television. Since 1986 the production company Hat Trick has used a charming animated logo designed by Richard Morrison to close their programmes, more information on which can be found here