Friday, 28 February 2020

The Secret Out Series, the Stepping Stones to Hoffmann?

When I was in my early teens attending meetings at the Nottingham Guild of Magicians I used to spend a great deal of time looking through the magic library in the tea room. In a little lock-up cabinet there was a great range of magic books donated to the guild from its foundation in the thirties. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, I had little interest in the post-1950s books and was drawn to the mystery of the earlier publications. After devouring the Hoffmanns, all the Pearsons books on offer, and the Naldretts I looked at a few of the odder earlier books. W. H. Cremer's Magic No Mystery and Hanky Panky were certainly odd.


Over the years I've found copies of my own and picked up other magic-related books whose covers seemed to match.  These half dozen books were marketed as a series by their London Publisher: Chatto and Windus. My copies are from the Edinburgh bookseller John Grant who, according to Raymond Toole Stott, was the last firm to print them. In magic circles the four books associated with W. H. Cremer are well known.

W. H. Cremer Junior (1811-1889) was a toy and game importer and seller on London's Regent Street, just a stone's throw from where Hamleys is today. In an advert for the shop's catalogue from 1870 Cremer states it contains "Information on every matter relating to Toys, Games, Dolls, Magic, Entertainments and Amusements of every kind for Evening Parties, Fetes, &c." In this same advert, from Christmas 1870, Cremer's The Secret Out is advertised.


Although Cremer is listed as the editor of The Secret Out it has a murkier background than this. A version of this book had been published previously in America and is thought to have its roots in the translation of a few French texts on magic. For more speculation on the true authorship of this, and other Cremer books, see this interesting thread on Magic Cafe. Cremer may have arranged the printing of this book in the UK so he could stock it in his shop, or the publisher may have thought having the name of a well known, high-class shop owner associated with magic would help the book sell. Either way, it seems that Cremer had little to do with the actual content of the book.


Three other books were published under Cremer's name by Chatto and Windus and John Grant. The Magician's Own Book shares its title with a well known early American publication on magic, though its content differs. Hanky Panky is a bit more cobbled together with the boast of "250 illustrations" managed by the inclusion of many stock illustrations barely related to the text. Magic No Mystery suffers less from this and carries 70 relevant illustrations.

In addition to the Cremer books, three other books were marketed at part of this series. In an 1881 Chatto and Windus catalogue, The Pyrotechnist's Treasury by Thomas Kentish is included but by the time of the advert below, from the John Grant series, this book has been omitted.


The remaining two in the series were The Art of Amusing by Frank Bellew and The Merry Circle by Cara Bellew. The Art of Amusing contains a tiny amount of magic and The Merry Circle doesn't include any. They still belong to this popular and influential series though and have a great deal of entertaining novelty value.


It seems that these books were very successful from the very early 1870s and were being marketed as a series from 1875 at the latest. Perhaps the success of these books encouraged Hoffmann to begin translating and writing his own magic books. They certainly demonstrated there was a good market for magic books, both for magicians and amateurs.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Stressful and Startling Sugar Spoons.

Spoons are a staple of any shop selling practical jokes. In a country where drinking tea is a national obsession thousands of these spoons were sold by magic shops to naughty children hoping to scare and irritate their relatives. These were mostly imported from Germany or manufactured in the UK and were retailed by many shops, particularly Ellisdons and Davenports.


First up is a pair of classic exploding spoons. When laid on the table they look innocent enough but if picked up a detonator is released and a loud bang is produced.

Spoons like these were sold in mail-order catalogues with lively cartoon adverts. In this article I'm featuring Davenports adverts as, in my entirely biased opinion, they are the most entertaining. Here's an advert for a bending spoon from the 1930s.


These spoons were one of the more unusual in their group as they were manufactured as a trick from scratch rather than being normal spoons altered after production. The hinge is well made and invisible to the casual observer.


A more popular and cheaper trick spoon was "The Impossible Spoon". These were normal spoons drilled with a large hole in the bowl. Here's another Davenports advert.


Popular from the 1920s these spoons are probably the easiest to find novelty spoons out there. The spoon in the foreground was made in Czechoslovakia and the one in the background Germany. It's likely they were turned into trick spoons in the UK however.


The spoon below is much scarcer. Made in the UK, it has a celluloid lid sealed to the mouth of the spoon's bowl. It performs much the same function as the spoons above, preventing the user from getting sugar out of their sugar bowl.


My favourite of these silly spoons is the fly spoon, which does what it says on the tin.


Again using a normal aluminium spoon the novelty manufacturer has created a trick with just a small alteration. A hole has been drilled in the centre and a fly pin has been pushed through the hole. When held on a tablecloth it's easy to make the fly move around on the spoon in a very realistic fashion.


Spoons were not the only items of tableware that received the novelty treatment as can be seen from this Davenports advert pushing an array of folding cutlery.

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Although many of these are of pretty low quality there are odd exceptions such as this bending fork. It is of high quality and has a superb hinge, almost invisible when the fork is straight. 


Joke cutlery is still manufactured but not in the quantities seen between 1920 and 1960. Spoons with holes in their bowls are now marketed as "Diet Spoons" and bending spoons are still available. A few new novelties have also been introduced such as extending forks and spoons such as Archie McPhee's "Freeloader Fork"