Friday, 22 December 2017

Eric P. Wilson and His Snowman.

As it's that time of year I thought I'd pick out a trick made specially for Christmas. To begin let's look at who invented it.


Eric P. Wilson was a magician active from the 1920s (or earlier) who died in 1963. There is very little written about him, most of my knowledge comes from his books and adverts for his inventions. His main contributions to the magic world came in the form of effects for children's parties with three of his four books being of this genre. Below are two of his most popular magic books.


There's some debate over whether or not he invented the Square Circle illusion. Davenports sold his version under the name Wunda Villa and it climaxed with the production of a doll taller than the central tube itself (the doll produced was a "golly" toy, now rightly considered offensive). It seems today that Louis S. Histed was most likely the inventor of this effect, though, as it uses the black-art principle, it could be argued no particular person can be given whole credit for the effect. Here's the  full page advert Davenports used to sell Wilson's effect.


Wunda Villas are very hard to come by now, but these snowmen are seen more often. This might be because you could buy four of these snowmen for the price of a Wunda Villa and still have change in the 1930s. The effect was perfect for children's shows and was marketed for many years.


It's a simple trick based on the ghost tube principle. The apparatus can even be used as a plain ghost tube leaving out the final snowman production, ideal for the rest of the year.


I'm not aware of this trick being used much since. The secret is maybe a little too simple for general use. It could be that revealing the snowman can give away the secret of the ghost tube to the eye of an observant viewer. It was designed for children's shows though and judging from its popularity must have been effective for that audience.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Maskelyne's Mysteries as a Brand.

From the 1860s the Maskelyne family presented magic entertainments in London and on tour around the world. There was a gradual decline in the Maskelyne's fortunes however and their last theatre closed between the wars. The decision was made in 1935 to sell the company and Lewis Davenport, who performed at the Maskelynes' entertainments throughout his career, purchased Maskelyne's Mysteries.

The deed for this purchase was (and probably still is) on display at The British Magic Museum. The deed is pictured below, apologies for the awkward angle, it was to avoid reflections off the case.


With the purchase came a huge amount of paperwork, apparatus and theatrical equipment. It also came with the rights to use the Maskelyne name and this article is going to look at how Davenports used the name to sell their wares. As a side note the Davenports did occasionally perform using the Maskelyne's Mysteries banner, but I'm going to concentrate on the shop side here.

"Maskelyne's Mysteries" was a phrase used by the Maskelynes for many years to describe their performances. The Davenports stuck with this and the term "Maskelyne's Mysteries" was used alongside "Demon Series" to represent tricks retailed by Davenports. 1930s and 1940s catalogues usually had "L. Davenport and Co. and Maskelyne's Mysteries" as the header on every pair of pages.

In August 1935 Davenports opened a satellite shop, also in London, called Maskelyne's Mysteries (ran by Gus Davenport). This was open a relatively short time, closing in April of the following year (dates can be found in this pdf from The Davenport Collection website). Although it was only open a brief time catalogues were issued. Following the closure the Maskelyne's Mysteries name was still used on leaflets and catalogues such as the one below.


Although the Maskelyne's Mysteries name was used prominently across Davenports catalogues and adverts it was only rarely used on specific lines sold by the company. One example, possibly the first, is this woodworking plan for an effect known as The Phantom Air Mail.


It prominently states "Maskelyne's Mysteries present The Magical Constructor No.1". As far as I know there were never any further Magical Constructor plans, I have seen four or five of this particular plan, but none for other effects. It seems like a really good idea, so I'm not sure why these plans weren't more popular. Maybe magicians weren't willing to pay for an effect in plan form, I haven't seen any examples of this trick made up.


The most successful Maskelyne branding was Davenport's range of toy magic sets. Davenports had always made sets, but the Maskelyne's Mysteries sets were extremely popular and can be found much more easily than other Davenports sets.

These sets have similarities with others of the period, particularly the Ernest Sewell sets discussed in this post. I believe the Maskelyne's Mysteries sets were first manufactured around the same time as the first Sewell ones in the late 1930s.

They were often sold by department stores and independent retailers. Below is the most commonly found size of set, coincidentally, my three examples were all retailed by Gamages (shown in the bottom right corner of each label).


The contents varies between sets, sometimes items listed on the inside of the box are blanked out and replaced by other tricks with their own loose instructions. Tricks included varied from imported mass produced items to items made by the Davenports themselves (sometimes by the children).


The picture above shows a double decker Maskelyne's Mysteries set. This shows the other label design used on these sets. Although only two designs of label were used they were printed in different sizes to match the different size sets. Below is a picture of this set open with its drawer out.


I believe this was the largest set in the series, though I don't think there was a consistent set of sizes available over the years. Below is one of the smaller types they sold.


An example of how these sizes varied can be found in this late set, shown below. I haven't seen any other examples so long and thin, sadly it's not complete.


We've seen in the Gamages examples above how sometimes Maskelyne's Mysteries sets would be branded with a particular retailer, occasionally the Maskelyne name was dropped altogether and a whole label was produced for the retailer. Although these aren't strictly Maskelyne sets it's worth including them as the only way they differ is the label.


This Robin's example perhaps demonstrates that the Maskelyne name was no longer the selling point it was when the Davenports purchased it in 1935. Maskelyne sets were made up until the late 1950s, possibly just into the 1960s when imported plastic sets started to displace more expensive hand made sets.

Maskelyne is still a familiar name among magicians, but no longer with the general public. These sets do show an interesting period where the name was still synonymous with magic despite the Maskelyne family's performances dropping away.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Smaller and Smaller, a Look at Diminishing Effects.

A theme that pops up quite often in the old catalogues is the idea of an object gradually shrinking before vanishing entirely. Perhaps the most popular of these tricks, and one regularly performed today, is the diminishing cards.

In this effect a group of cards is removed from a deck and fanned. The fan of cards then decreases in size incrementally before disappearing.


The set on the left is by Davenports, I'm unsure where the set on the right comes from. In both cases the largest card is the standard poker size, which gives an idea of how small the cards end up. The Davenports set is threaded together, allowing for more natural fanning than the riveted set.

A variation on this theme is the diminishing billiard ball, popular when billiard ball manipulation was common on the stage.


These two sets are likely from Germany. The left set shows the different sizes and the one on the right shows how the balls nest.

Even less popular than billiard ball manipulation today is pocket watch manipulation. Here are two adverts for the diminishing pocket watch.


On the left is the Davenports advert for the effect, the right is a Janos Bartl advert. Bartl manufactured these watches in Hamburg.


This set is beautifully made. There are small brass nubs in the centre of each face to ensure the printed faces aren't rubbed off when the set is opened and closed.

Here's an effect I'm going to shoehorn into this post, it's not strictly a diminishing effect. The trick, know as Multum In Parvo (a great deal in a small space) allows a quantity of milk to increase and then diminish again.


The unusual thing about this example is that, unlike most sets, it is made entirely out of glass. The gimmicks being specially blown for each vessel. I'm not sure who produced it, but the quality is superb. This doesn't have the kicker ending where all glasses are filled from the jug at the end, the milk is simply poured back from the jug into the smaller glass giving the effect of a sudden decrease in milk.

This is by no means a complete list of diminishing tricks, match boxes, coins, cigarettes and many other items have been included in similar effects.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Stamps, Stickers and Seals.

It's always fascinating when you open a magic book and find in it a book plate or signature of a previous owner. Sometimes there's a label or stamp showing which shop sold the book and in this post I'm going to look at some examples of these.

Working roughly chronologically here is an ink stamp from Blands.


This stamp shows Bland's address from approximately 1885.

Hamleys later bought out Bland's but here is a label from one of Hamley's other shops from before the takeover, 229 High Holborn.


In this 1893 edition, the label has been used to cover up the publisher's printed address. This common trick is used to try and ensure the customer returns to the magic shop for more books instead of buying direct from the publisher. The catalogue page has also been pasted in the book and wasn't part of the original binding. 


This paper label is later and was found in a copy of Hoffmann's Latest Magic, so it's probably from 1918. 


Later again is this purple ink stamp found in Percy Naldrett's 1925 book Volume Six.

Another big dealer during this period was the department store A. W. Gamage. They often put small paper labels in the inside covers of books. The one below is from a 1904 edition of Hopkins' Twentieth Century Magic.


In 1905 Will Goldston began managing Gamages' conjuring department. Here's a label from around 1910, during Goldston's time there.


Goldston left Gamages in 1914 to establish his own magic shop. This 1917 edition of Supplementary Magic by Elbiquet contains one of Goldston's paper labels.


Looking at a smaller dealer now here's a stamp from a 1909 edition of Some Modern Conjuring by Donald Holmes.


I'm not familiar with Maddock, mentions of him are scarce. According to Genii's Magicpedia his real name was Jas. W. Bell and Fergus Roy mentions him as a relatively large dealer in The Davenport Story, Vol. 1.

Speaking of the Davenports, their labels crop up very often, particularly their seal-like paper labels. In this example a solid ink stamp has been used alongside the seal to discourage customers from buying direct from Burling Hull.


This seal is perhaps the most common and shows the 15 New Oxford Street address they held between 1915 and 1937 (for a list of Davenports' addresses and when they used them see the FAQ section on the Davenport Collection website).

Here is a clearer view of a similar seal.


There are also at least two gold versions of this seal. This one shows their address from 1938 to 1942. 


This label wasn't from a book, but from the inside lid of a Sand and Sugar can.

They also produced a gold label with no address on, instead it simply had Made in England written around the edge.


This label was found pasted in a book from 1945. Often, and understandably, some magicians weren't best pleased with having labels pasted in their new books so it's not uncommon to see evidence of their removal.


Slightly later than the above, Willane's Wizardry was published in 1947. This copy has a label affixed from George McKenzie's Mac's Mysteries.


Many dealers sold second hand books and fixed their labels in many years after the book's publication. Here's one such example.


The famous escapologist Murray sold magic items and jokes after poor health prevented him from performing.

I'm aiming to add more labels and stamps to this post as I find them. I've just picked a few books from my library, as I come across more stamps I'll add them to the list.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Pots for Poultry, Some Dove and Rarebit Pans.

Few tricks have had the staying power of the humble dove pan. It first became popular in the late 19th century, though the inventor has been forgotten in time. Most early version were made in tin, as were many normal cooking pans at the time.


This large example would be able to hold three or four doves and has air holes under the handle. The original routine would generally begin with some eggs being broken into the pan, followed by some magic liquid (lighter fuel) which would be lit. The lid would then be placed on to extinguish the flames before being lifted to show the eggs had changed to an animal or animals.

More showy pans were made of polished copper, brass, chromed steel and later aluminium. Below is a chromed Davenports model named the Goldston Dove Pan.


Before the recent increase in imported spun metal tricks from India, Canada's Morissey Magic had the market share in dove pans. Here is one of their larger aluminium models, a duck pan.


The dove pan is most commonly used with a slightly different routine today, more suited to children's entertainers. The ingredients for a cake are put in the pan, set alight and a birthday cake produced for the birthday boy or girl.

A similar effect, the Welsh rarebit pan, was also hugely popular from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth, but is rarely seen today. Below is a tin example sold by Blands in the 1880s.


The original plot of the trick began with the borrowing of a hat. The pan is shown empty and the ingredients for Welsh rarebit (for foreign readers, this is a type of cheese sauce on toast from Wales) placed within. A fire is then lit in the audience member's hat and the now lidded pan held over it to cook the contents. The magician proclaims that the contents will have cooked into a nice slice of rarebit but upon removing the lid a live rabbit is found within instead. The hat is then shown to be unharmed by the flames and returned to its relieved owner.


Here's a later, English-made, version from the the early twentieth century. This looks more like a normal pan with its single handle. Sadly this effect went the same way as as the omelette pan in this post, as hats fell out of fashion it became difficult to borrow a suitable high sided hat from the audience.

The dove pan lives on though, having moved from the grand stage shows of  Leroy, Talma and Bosco to the repertoires of children's entertainers across the globe.

Friday, 25 August 2017

How Do You like Your Eggs?

Eggs have probably been used in magic for as long as magic has been practiced. Everyone's familiar with eggs, they're fragile and would seem difficult to manipulate. Of course the're also the perfect size to palm and flesh coloured, the fake ones aren't very fragile either.

The Egg Bag is the most widely used effect with eggs, a simple cloth bag and an egg are all that's used to create a truly baffling effect for the audience. Arnold De Biere is credited with creating the much-copied audience participation egg bag routine, here he is performing the effect in 1933.


Other notable performers who featured the effect in their acts included Max Malini and Horace Goldin. Bags were made by almost all dealers as they are so easy to put together, below are two early Gamages examples.


These come with decoy eggs produced for chicken farming. They are left in the coop and encourage the chickens to lay. This doesn't help the magician however, as they are very heavy plaster and painted gloss white, both a hindrance to performing the egg bag effectively. Gamages and others would sell lighter turned wood eggs as well though, before plastics took over.


Here are two more Gamages effects. On the left a very rare gimmicked egg that allows you to back palm the egg by placing it on your finger like a ring, the pink area sitting at the base of the middle finger. On the right is a hollow wooden egg used to change a handkerchief into an egg.

The item above left is plastic, a material that revolutionised magic props as it did for all sorts of more important things! Davenports threw themselves into plastics, perhaps most beautifully in their range of turned magic wands (more on that in another post). The plastic eggs Davenports made were superb quality.


They're made out of cellulose nitrate, the material used in ping pong balls (these are much thicker though). They are a perfect weight for an egg bag.

An unusual effect Davenports sold was this themoset plastic eggcup which allowed you to do a very persuasive vanish of an egg.


Spun metal versions of this trick were also made by a few manufacturers.

One popular trick using real eggs was the omelette pan, an effect from Hoffmann's days. With tons of potential for laughter, an egg milk mix is poured into a poor audience member's hat, only to turn into a little cake (the hat is returned unharmed).


Here are two omelette pans sold by Davenports. They appear so innocent, not like showy magic apparatus at all. It must have been a really strong effect and one we'd still see today if it weren't for the decline in wearing hats.

Egg tricks were always a staple of magic sets, particularly egg bags and handkerchiefs to eggs. Here are a couple of items from Max Andrew's Vampire Magic range, the left of which was included in their sets. The eggs from mouth may have been included in their sets, but this one has its' own packaging.


To close here's something a bit different, not a magic trick, a yolk... sorry, a joke.


These little novelties were imported and sold by Davenports to naughty school children around the country. Here's a Davenports advert for this joke.


Much like the novelty spilt ink bottles of this post it was designed to be placed on a precious surface to shock the victim. I wager this would still work today even though it's a bit warped and tired.

Eggs are a universal object, the perfect relatable item for magic. The egg bag is still in many conjurers' repertoires, for good reason, an egg and a little cloth bag doesn't date. Eggs also provide an open book for awful puns which I've tried, but failed, to avoid.

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.