Friday, 24 August 2018

Cigarette Sensations, Defunct Deceptions.

In this post Deveen was discussed, a cigarette manipulator. Along with cigarette manipulators, tricks involving cigarettes have become much rarer as smoking had decreased and attitudes towards smoking have shifted. In this post effects that use cigarettes are going to be explored.

First, here are some gimmicks that would have been familiar to cigarette manipulators.

All of these would be used by the magician without ever being seen by the audience, assuming all goes to plan. The large dropper at the back was manufactured by the Australian magician Alma, the other items are from a variety of suppliers.

Davenports had a section devoted to cigarette tricks in many of their catalogues, below are some of their items used in cigarette manipulation.

On the right is a 1930s cigarette box which allows you to produce cigarettes from the air one at a time and drop them into the box until it is full. It appears utilitarian but contains quite a complex mechanism. In the foreground are two cigarette pulls, the larger one allows a cigarette to be changed into a silk. The boxed items are all cigarette catching gimmicks, probably the most widely produced cigarette trick.

Davenports also made a special cigarette holder that allowed the instantaneous production and vanishing of a cigarette.

This was most famously used by the superb manipulator Cardini. His act combined many forms of manipulation and was notable for being performed with gloved hands. Unlike Deveen in the previous post Cardini had a hugely successful career, performing on the best circuits.

This image is a full page from a variety programme for the London Palladium in 1937.

Cigarette magic wasn't just used in manipulation acts though, it was perfect for close up. At a time when cigarette smoking was widespread, they were just as useful as coins for performing pocket tricks. Alongside sleight of hand effects with cigarettes dealers produced apparatus such as the Davenports examples below.

On the right are two tubes that allow a lit cigarette to turn into a match, these are beautifully engineered, probably in Germany. The tube on the bottom left allows a real cigarette to vanish from a tube using the Baffler Box principle, hence the name "Baffler Vanishing Cigarette".

Cigarette effects have naturally declined as smoking has gone out of fashion, but the gimmicks and sleights can still be applicable to similarly shaped objects today. It's interesting to look back at how many cigarette effects were available that simply would not work in a modern magic act. Effects using pipes and cigars were also popular, but I'll leave that for another post.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Imp Bottles, a Popular Pocket Puzzle.

One of my favourite magic tricks masquerades as a puzzle, the imp bottle. This tiny bottle can be laid down on its side by the magician, but anyone else trying to push it on its side can't, the bottle pops back upright. Although it's presented as a puzzle, it's one the participant will never be able to solve as it is really a trick and requires a little extra something only the magician has.

An early description of this effect appears in Hoffmann's  Modern Magic as The Bottle Imps. He's clearly describing a dealer item already popular by 1876. He mentions that they can be made of papier maché or other light materials, though most are made of wood or, more recently, plastic. 

Below are some in my collection in approximate chronological order. 

These examples were made in the 1920s by a German firm, most likely Kingl. They have small paper champagne labels and originally had painted gold collars.

This example, probably also made in Germany, has a more bulbous shape and a flat bottom. Instead of wobbling around and settling upright like most bottles this has a very positive action. You can see the gold collar more clearly on this example. I think the reason the collar is so often rubbed can be explained by the handling used by the magician when introducing or removing the gimmick.

This later example is slightly larger than the above examples and much brighter. I feel the longer the neck gets in comparison to the bottle's body the more it points to the method, though it's still very deceptive.

This item was retailed by Ellisdons from the 1950s. It's unusual in being completely of metal construction. This material only works here because the body is of light spun aluminium and the base the usual lead.  Here the bottle shape used in most modern plastic examples is introduced.

Ellisdons also retailed this example in the old shape. Although it looks similar to the wooden examples at the top of this article it's of plastic construction with a moulded lead base.

Below is a picture of these bottles together to show how their sizes varied:

The Imp Bottle is still very popular today, available as a pocket money item and as a toy in Christmas crackers. Unlike most cheap plastic items this effect is truly deceptive and introduces a small amount of sleight of hand instead of being self-working.  

Friday, 23 February 2018

C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd. Friend or Foe?

In the first years of the twentieth century public interest in magic was at its height. Most people would see live magic regularly and exposure of secrets was a major fear for professional magicians. David Devant was famously suspended from the Magic Circle in 1909 for publishing secrets in a magazine aimed at the general public.

C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd. (founded by Cyril Arthur Pearson, above) published a range of cheap books alongside magazines and newspapers such as the Daily Express. Their biggest book topic seems to have been the "Amusements for the Home" series which was mostly made up of magic books. Below are a selection of magic books published  by them between 1913 to 1925.

These sent a bit of a ripple through the magic community as they were priced very low and advertised widely to the general public. Some magicians felt this was not normal magic book publishing, but exposure, with customers merely buying books out of curiosity. It didn't start with C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd., surprisingly it seems to have been a more obscure publisher, S. H. Bousfield who got the ball rolling. David Devant's first magic book, Magic Made Easy, was published by them in 1903.

Although there were cheap magic books printed long before this one, there's an argument to be made that this paved the way for Pearson's range. The colour scheme, size, pricing, cheap binding and photographic cover all appear in Pearson's magic books. Pearsons even bought the rights to this book and published it in their series. I've struggled, and failed, to find information on S. H. Bousfield, it's possible they were already connected to C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd in 1903.

Pearson's books were well illustrated, with striking colour covers and sold well for over thirty years. As mentioned, some magicians felt they were too cheap and this put them in reach of the general public. As such they gained the nickname "Yellow Perils", reusing a racist phrase used previously to represent fear of the East. It's true some books were aimed at the beginner market, but most were original creations of the authors and would offer only interest to someone already versed in magic methods and writing.

This exposure fear lead the Magic Circle, and other magic societies, to introduce a minimum pricing rule, whereby members who sold magic books under a set price could face suspension or expulsion. It seems wildly anachronistic now, rewarding wealthier laypeople with access to magic books and penalising genuinely interested poorer people. Thankfully magic societies now understand that restricting access to books isn't positive for the art. Regardless, a real magic book would be a very hard trudge for someone with only superficial curiosity to hold their attention.

Pearsons did publish a few magic books in better binding. Below is a small hardback, very similar to later Yellow Perils but properly hardbound, The Drawing Room Entertainer. To the right is Pearson's major magic publication C. Lang Neil's The Modern Conjurer.

This large format, photographically illustrated, book brings together sections from other Pearson publications, including bits from their magazines. It is well known for including a series of pictures of J. N. Maskelyne plate spinning, below is a video made by John Helvin showing Maskelyne in action.

Returning to the Yellow Peril issue, I don't think they were published for the exposure market. I think it's fairer to say these books went towards democratising magic as a hobby, bringing good quality literature to a wider audience of aspiring magicians. It's interesting to note that these were published in two formats, the hard board yellow editions (generally two shillings) and later paperback editions with simpler illustrated covers (usually one shilling). There is some overlap where books were published in both formats between 1925 and 1927 but generally speaking this range is later. Below is a picture of some of this later range.

This series petered out in the late 1930s, though Pearson's did publish magic books in later years. Of particular note was Norman Hunter's Successful Conjuring in the 1950's. I'm planning a post specifically on Hunter though, so I'll explore that properly there.

Also, some other publishers sold books that are easy to confuse with Yellow Perils, such as this edition by Routledge. It is exactly the same size, though poorly illustrated and written.

In some ways the legacy of the Yellow Peril and contemporary publishers of affordable magic books is still with us. Dover still publish a large range of affordable magic books for the beginner to professional, though with much better binding! Like many of the exposure worries in the early days of magic they never developed into real problems and magic lived on.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Feature Article: Ellisdons.

- Apologies, this article is temporarily unavailable. -

- Please refer to the contents for other articles. -

- For Ellisdons news please sign up to the newsletter. -