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. This version can be found here.

Friday 10 April 2020

Will Blyth, a Proficient Part-Time Author.

If you could look on the bookshelf of a well-read magician in the 1920s or the 1930s you'd find at least a few books by Will Blyth. For fifteen years from 1920 Blyth wrote nine magic books enjoyed by both amateur magicians and professionals alike. Blyth was a well-respected magician who toured magic clubs and societies extensively as a lecturer. He specialised in performing for children and was also renowned for his abilities with the cups and balls.

When C. Arthur Pearson began rapidly expanding his Amusements for the Home series Will Blyth became his go-to magic author, producing more books than any other magician for the series. With the exception of 1925, Blyth produced a book every year for Pearson from 1920 to 1926.

The above books are laid out in the order of their release with 1920 at the top left and 1926 the bottom right. For more information on the Amusements for the Home series have a look at this article.

Will Blyth was a senior member of the Magic Circle and became their honorary librarian. This is an interesting conflict of interests given that many members of the club viewed the Pearson books as akin to exposure due to their availability to the general public. In spite of this, Blyth proudly boasted his membership of the Circle, displaying his medal and featuring the club's logo on the covers of his books.

Blyth managed to keep active in the magic world alongside a successful career within the London Salvage Corps. This was an organisation overseen by the London Fire Offices and concerned with the protection of goods and property affected by fire and water damage from fire fighting. Blyth's father, John, had been a senior member of the organisation and Will Blyth was said to have been born in a fire station. The photograph below shows Blyth in his superintendents uniform and was reproduced on the cover of the February 1935 issue of The Magician Monthly.

Blyth's work as Superintendent, the most senior position in the organisation, involved presenting lectures on fire prevention and safety. It was at one of these that he met a young Francis White who he went on to mentor for many years. Blyth's work in the Corps and his interest in paper tearing combined into an act called the "The Fireman's Story". He wrote up this act and presented it in the closing chapter of his 1928 book Effective Conjuring.

Effective Conjuring was the first of two books written for the publishers Methuen. Methuen rarely published magic books but Effective Conjuring became very successful for them. The 1932 and 1934 reprints are now amongst the most common 1930s magic books on the second-hand market. Blyth's second book for Methuen, How to Become a Conjurer, was released in 1934. This book was more squarely aimed at the beginner but didn't share the success of his previous work for Methuen.

How to Become a Conjurer includes a section on building a magic library where he lists all of the books he had written. This holds somewhat of a mystery. In the list he mentions Cups and Balls, published in 1933 and containing 20 pages. I haven't been able to find evidence of a physical copy of this book. Magicpedia states that Cups and Balls were lecture notes from his appearance at the 1933 I.B.M convention in Northampton.

I'd be very interested to know if this is the case and if anyone has a copy of these notes. There is a pamphlet that was put out by Davenports for many years under the title Sleight of Hand Simplified which, after an earlier stock cover, goes into depth about how to perform the cups and balls. It is anonymous and runs for 20 pages, the length of the mysterious Blyth book. Perhaps this was written by Blyth and originally had a front-page mentioning the I.B.M. conference which was changed for general sale? If anyone can shine any light on this I'd be very interested.

In addition to these books, Blyth was a prolific contributor to The Magic Circular, The Magic Wand and The Magician Monthly among other periodicals. He was well-loved in the magic community and spent a great deal of time helping others both as secretary of the Magic Circle's John Nevil Maskelyne Benevelont Fund and as secretary of the Professional Fire Brigades Widows and Orphans Fund. He died suddenly on the 7th of January 1937 at the age of 63.

His popularity was evident from the scale of his funeral which Francis White described in an appreciation in The Magician Monthly. The funeral cortege travelled from the London Salvage Corps headquarters past a guard of honour and onto Cannon Street where uniformed London Fire Brigade representatives lined the street. Francis White reported that the church was packed and floral tributes came from The Magic Circle, The Sheffield Circle of Magicians, TheAberdeen Magical Society, The Covan, Douglas Craggs, The Davenport Family and many more.

Pearson reprinted a few of his books in the late 1930s (above) but since 1940 neither his Pearson or Methuen books have been reprinted. It's fair to say they have dated, as have most magic books of the period, and the poor quality of the binding of Pearson's books make it hard to practically learn tricks from them today. His final book for Pearson, Money Magic, is perhaps his most underrated, being probably the first coin magic book written in truly clear language. In the forward for this book Percy Naldrett wrote:

 "I commend this book to the man-in-the-street who wishes to be ever ready to entertain friends without too laborious preparation or practice; also, I commend it to the more experienced conjurer seeking subtle and delightfully deceptive moves, and again to the genial joker, who delights in catches. I can only find one fault in the book of Money Magic. It is too cheap."

This nicely sums up Blyth's books. Accessible, affordable and of substance.

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.

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"