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.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Professor Hoffmann, the Father of the Modern Magic Book.

Magic books are a huge part of my interest in magic, though I 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. As such I've not got an extensive collection of Hoffmann's  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 and by this time Hoffmann was in the highest regard as a magic author. As such 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 his 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 too 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 career. 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 I believe 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 illustrations 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 realise 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.