Hoffmann's Modern Magic a Classic?

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby magicam » 11/14/05 05:32 PM

I did a quick search of the GF and could not find a discussion on the following, perhaps because this topic is such a foregone conclusion and so obvious that it is not deemed a very interesting topic. But for a variety of reasons, I wanted to ask the question of thoughtful folks here and see what you think. So here goes.

Professor Hoffmanns Modern Magic seems to be universally considered as one of the classics in our literature. Now, the question is, why is that? Im not an expert in the field of how-to magic books, but here is what I have gleaned in my reading over the years:

1. It is a classic because it was the first conjuring treatise in the English language. By that I mean that it was the first book in English to really explain how to routine and perform magic, with relatively clear instructions, and was comprehensive in its scope.

2. It is a classic (or perhaps, in this case, it represented a watershed event) because the comprehensive nature of its content forced professional magicians to innovate, since most or all of their staples had been exposed to the general public.

Do you agree with the foregoing reasons? Are there other major reasons why Modern Magic is considered one of the all-time classics in our literature?

Id really appreciate your input, and thanks in advance for reading.

Clay
User avatar
magicam
 
Posts: 795
Joined: 01/28/09 09:40 PM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/14/05 05:44 PM

He may well have set the standard for publishing other people's material, pipe dreams and freely borrowing ideas, methods and themes from working performer's acts and putting them before a paying audience (of laymen no less).

A tough act to follow but some have come close, and few have learned to do better.

Let's add Fred Braue to that short list of true trend setters, as he "preserved" much of what he saw performed, taped, and invented methods to make sure the effects were publishable, never mind getting permission. So let's add Expert Card Technique to that short list of books which informs our group of who we were and who most of still are.
Mundus vult decipi
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6814
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby magicam » 11/14/05 08:26 PM

Jonathan, are the reasons I stated the ones you think of when it comes to explaining why Modern Magic is a classic? Clay
User avatar
magicam
 
Posts: 795
Joined: 01/28/09 09:40 PM

Postby Bill Palmer » 11/14/05 09:36 PM

Clay:

I think you have something there. It's definitely the first of the mass market magic books. It does everything you mentioned. In its own way it (and the rest of the series) is somewhat of a precursor to the Tarbell course in magic. It may not be as well organized, but it's right there.

There is a lot of information there.

Granted, much of the information came from other magicians. But had Hoffmann really offended these fellows, he certainly would not have been admitted to the Magic Circle by those other founders -- Maskelyne, Devant, Chapender, Downs, Hertz, Leipzig, Thurston, Goldin, Robinson, Selbit, Thorn, LeRoy, Sachs, and Germain. How many of that list were actually there when the initial meetings took place and how many were simply honorary members, I do not know. But he was in some pretty heady company. And many of the things he revealed in his books were the products of some of those same people's fertile minds.
Bill Palmer, MIMC
Bill Palmer
 
Posts: 719
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Houston TX

Postby Dustin Stinett » 11/15/05 01:57 AM

What fascinates me about Modern, More and Later Magic, as has been alluded to, is the fact that if three magic books were published today by one author for the general public, as these were, and detailed as much current technique and secrets as did these books, that author would be skewered as an exposer of magical secrets and a thief of intellectual property by the magic community.

And we herald them as classic texts and are still considered recommended reading.

Go figure.

Until Greater Magic was published (within the magic community only, remember), Modern Magic was the definitive, single, text for magic. Greater Magic took that throne and has never relinquished it, in my opinion (single text remember: Tarbell is disqualified).

These are classics because they are as nearly complete a course in the art of magic as a single book can be.

Dustin
User avatar
Dustin Stinett
 
Posts: 6073
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/15/05 04:20 AM

Originally posted by Magicam:
Jonathan, are the reasons I stated the ones you think of when it comes to explaining why Modern Magic is a classic? Clay
Yes Clay, it is a sort of Wallmart of magic offering much insight, utility and value to the reader. The utilitarian benefits tend to outweigh the ethical implications for most in magic. So many goodies in there and for all but a ver few of us, it is much easier to cite that book for historical reference than to check and verify other sources of the time.
Mundus vult decipi
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6814
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby David Alexander » 11/29/05 04:05 PM

Angelo Lewis was well paid for his efforts. Dr. Grossman once published Prof. Hoffmanns original contract with George Routledge & Sons, dated January 1872. It has him contracting to be paid the sum of 100 - 25 on receipt of one-fourth of the manuscript and the remaining 75 on receipt of the rest of the manuscript provided it was delivered on or before the 20th of January, 1873.

The work was contracted to be 400 printed pages. At his cost the author was to provide rough sketches and ideas of the diagrams to be used and would, if requested, assign the copyright to the publisher at his cost. He was to receive 12 copies gratis. If the work did not hit 380 pages, a proportionate sum would be deducted from his fee.

He was well-paid for the time. A site that provides current value for old amounts estimates that Angelo Lewis received, in modern terms:

5,618.37 using the retail price index

7,854.20 using the GDP deflator

44,576.87 using average earnings

48,637.36 using per capita GDP

91,473.86 using the GDP

Considering that the author was the Masked Magician of his day, exposing to the general public the workings of magic that was kept secret, it is ironic that his works are today considered classics. At least we can be certain that the work of Lenny Valentine wont be viewed as classic in 100 years.
David Alexander
 
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL

Postby Guest » 11/29/05 05:58 PM

It might be a good idea to define "classic". Then to ask if Modern Magic meets the definition...

That aside, there are several things that I believe contribute to the reputation of "Modern Magic". No less an authority than the esteemed Sam Sharpe has noted that there is an appreciable difference in "tone" from "Modern Magic" to its' sequel(s). Mr. Sharpe also explains the reasons for this, in his view. He notes that much of the material is derivative. Not of performances, or confidences told, but from the printed word.

Specifically Sharpe relates this in the introduction to the work in question: "Ponsin on Conjuring". That book, so often talked about, but seldom read, is NOT the complete translation of the original Ponsin work, as some of you may know. It is the things that Hoffman OMITTED from HIS translation, a job he undertook in order to pilfer the material for inclusion in "Modern Magic".

And let's not forget that other little book, again translated by Hoffman, again from the French, called "Secrets of Conjuring and Magic". What was that guys' name? Robert-Houdin? Oh yeah, him....

Considering the material he had to work with, is it any wonder that the FIRST book of his famous trilogy reads so well, and has guided so many, so ably, and for so long?

While many use "Modern Magic" as the "marker" for our transition to a new era in magic, both in performance and in the literature, I would suggest that the line was crossed years before, by the French! "The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic" is arguably the most important tome of the 19th century, and the works of Ponsin and Robert-Houdin so influenced Hoffman that they simply cannot be ignored. They are the material from which Hoffman was able to write what we think of as the first great "classic" of magic in the english language.

On another note, how is it, even without the translation of Ponsin, that we ignore SoCaM, first translated in 1868, I believe, a full 8 years BEFORE MM?

Finally, it is interesting to read the Sharpe introduction to Ponsin, and bearing that in mind, to go back to MM and look for the differences in style throughout the book. When you know what to look for it is obvious which tricks were Ponsin's, and which were written from "scratch" by Hoffman, regardless the source of the information. Food for thought...

Best, PSC
Guest
 

Postby magicam » 11/29/05 06:57 PM

David:

The numbers you posted are remarkable. Why is it that the comparison figures vary so widely?

Clay
User avatar
magicam
 
Posts: 795
Joined: 01/28/09 09:40 PM

Postby David Alexander » 11/30/05 01:05 AM

Clay,

The various figures reflect a variety of conditions. It would take 5,618.37 today to buy what 100 could buy in 1872. Not having a degree in economics, I can't comment on the others. See http://www.eh.net/hmit/ for details...and also here http://eh.net/hmit/ukcompare/ukcompessay.htm for a detailed explanation of how these figures were arrived at.

Apparently Angelo made a nice pile of money on this by almost any standard. The contract was a buy out, with him assigning the copyright if the publisher so requested, and certainly, if they could, they would...and did. And he paid for the transfer as well.

Routledge sold it to the American market, published here by David McKay...my copy has the Martinka foil stamp on it. All in all, Routledge did well with this title and could only have made money on it since they were not paying Lewis royalties.

So, while he was screwing his magic friends, exposing their secrets, his publisher was screwing him, but he came back for more. Perhaps the other titles involved royalties. I have no idea if any of his subsequent contracts survived. And I don't know what the professionals of his day thought of what he wrote. I do not know when his identity came to be known as it was clear from the contract that "The book to be written under a nom de plume to be agreed on by both parties and the true name of the author not to be published."
David Alexander
 
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL

Postby Richard Hatch » 11/30/05 09:15 AM

Originally posted by pchosse:
On another note, how is it, even without the translation of Ponsin, that we ignore SoCaM, first translated in 1868, I believe, a full 8 years BEFORE MM?
Paul, I believe the original French edition of SECRETS OF CONJURING AND MAGIC was published in 1868, but that the English edition (translated by Hoffmann) was not published until 1878, after MODERN MAGIC. On several English editions, Hoffmann's name, rather than Robert-Houdin's appears on the spine, attesting to Hoffmann's popularity as an author by that time...
User avatar
Richard Hatch
 
Posts: 1596
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Logan, Utah

Postby Craig Matsuoka » 11/30/05 03:05 PM

Originally posted by David Alexander:
Perhaps the other titles involved royalties. I have no idea if any of his subsequent contracts survived.
According to Roland Winder, it appears that Hoffmann was able to leverage much better deals for himself after the success of the first book. There were 15,850 copies in 13 editions by November 24, 1911.

In his checklist, Winder reports that he met with Routledge Chairman Cecil A. Franklin in October of 1958. At that time, Franklin confirmed the "100 contract" story by producing the original for Winder along with other agreements for later books.

After examining these documents, Winder was moved to write, "I was glad to see that Hoffmann fared rather better with subsequent books than with his first one."

These documents were still around in 1958, so I'm assuming they made it into the Chadwyck-Healey Archives of British Publishers on Microfilm. If you have access to a library with a full set of reels, there's a good chance the later contracts will turn up there.
Craig Matsuoka
 
Posts: 195
Joined: 03/13/08 05:13 PM
Location: Kailua, Hawaii

Postby magicam » 11/30/05 05:51 PM

David Alexander wrote:
So, while [Hoffmann] was screwing his magic friends, exposing their secrets, his publisher was screwing him....
A few weeks ago at my house, I had the privilege of sitting by a fire, in comfortable chairs and with cocktail in hand, and chatting with Edwin Dawes and Thomas Sawyer about the effect Modern Magic had on magicdom. All of you know who Dr. Dawes is, but just as a reminder (since he has kept a very low profile in magic in the recent past), Tom Sawyer has written several significant works on Hoffmann and Victorian conjuring books, including editing and publishing The Hoffmann Collector, which featured contributions from a veritable whos who of magic historians. Among the things I learned from Tom was that Bland apparently cooperated with Hoffmann in the preparation of Modern Magic, which was quite a surprise, given that Bland was a dealer. But on reflection, one could argue that Bland saw it as a potential boon to his business, albeit certainly not from his professional clients!

Clay
User avatar
magicam
 
Posts: 795
Joined: 01/28/09 09:40 PM

Postby David Alexander » 11/30/05 06:50 PM

With a dealer helping Prof Hoffmann, seems something of a tradition was started. The Camel cigarette expose ads of the 1930s that caused such a ruckus in magic - the info came from magic dealer Max Holden.

Since Brand was helping Hoffmann, does that suggest his identity was known early on or was it kept secret? Do we know when his identity became widely known to magicians, not necessarily the general public?
David Alexander
 
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL

Postby magicam » 11/30/05 10:17 PM

David, those are good questions. Wish I explored them with the "brain trust" present at my home that night! I'll have to follow up with Tom one of these days and see if he can elaborate on Bland's role. Clay
User avatar
magicam
 
Posts: 795
Joined: 01/28/09 09:40 PM

Postby David Alexander » 12/01/05 10:49 AM

Apparently, Modern Magic was a steady seller for Routledge, especially profitable given that there was no royalty involved which increased their profit by a considerable percentage.

I would be interested to know if subsequent projects involved royalties or if Lewis just got larger flat fees. As previously observed, the 100 fee for an unknown author with no track record, wasn't a bad deal for its day. (Although it must be remembered that Routledge only advanced 25 on delivery of the first portion of the manuscript, with the balance of 75 payable on deliver of the rest of the manuscript. So they weren't really gambling that much at the time.)

This procedure survives today with large publishers hiring writers to create stories in "universes" created by others, notably Star Wars, paying them flat fees rather than royalties. The flat fees are often a third or a quarter of what royalties would earn, although flat fees are paid on delivery of the manuscript, rather than paid over a long time as royalties are.
David Alexander
 
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL

Postby Tom Klem » 12/05/05 04:53 PM

To all who have written:

What an interest thread of Professor Hoffmann's Books. I feel like a novice after these posts but I will add perhaps just a thought or two.

A classic develops with time and usually a champion or two. The Mahatma is filled with very nice accounts of Hoffmann's Books. Part of its life the Mahatma was published in the workshop of the Martinka at 493 Sixth Avenue near 30th Street. On the inside cover of their catalog they offered Modern Magic or More Magic with an order of 10 dollars or more and Later Magic for an order of 20 dollars or more. This put these books in many libraries with out having to purchase the books.

When I purchased my first copy of More Magic it was as if it was never opened and read. It was the McKay edition with a Martinka pasted over the publisher name on the second inside page. I believe it was one of these free copies. I cannot prove it though.

The Martinkas were highly respected in their time. I believe they for multiple reasons championed Hoffmann's books here in NYC. Since the Martinkas shop was a gather place for almost all the great professional of their time. I doubt they would champion a book the professionals who by invitation gather there on Saturday nights found distressing.

Tom Klem
Tom Klem
 
Posts: 116
Joined: 02/24/08 01:00 PM
Location: New York City

Postby Gary Brown » 12/26/05 09:49 PM

Just to throw in a few additional thoughts . . .

Not all of Hoffmann's contemporaries were thrilled with his efforts. One professional magician of the day wrote that Hoffmann should be "hanged" for publishing Modern Magic. On the other hand, many leading magicians began their careers with the teachings of the good professor. David Devant's autobiography provides his account of the thrill of obtaining a copy of Modern Magic as a young magic enthusiast.

Of the more than 200 volumes in my magic library, Modern Magic is certainly one of the most frequently consulted items. Hoffmann's encyclopedic text often gives me a lead in tracking down an effect, an approach or an idea. His elegant prose and the fine engravings make the book (and its sequels) a joy to read. And while we can discuss the Professor's compensation (clearly he was well paid), the closing passages of his last book, Latest Magic, provide some insight into his passion for the art.

These books remain full of wonder after more than a century. They've stood the test of time. In my mind, that's what makes them classics.

Gary
Gary Brown
Gary Brown
 
Posts: 59
Joined: 03/18/08 12:08 AM

Postby Richard Hatch » 12/26/05 10:13 PM

Originally posted by Gary Brown:
One professional magician of the day wrote that Hoffmann should be "hanged" for publishing Modern Magic.
Gary, can you provide that citation? Who wrote it and where?
User avatar
Richard Hatch
 
Posts: 1596
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Logan, Utah

Postby Gary Brown » 12/26/05 10:28 PM

Richard-

I was afraid someone was going to ask. I read that someplace and can't recall where at the moment -- I'll search and post it when it shows up. (Then again, I recently rediscovered something I found about about Houdini and Dr. Slade which had eluded me for several years . . .)

Gary
Gary Brown
Gary Brown
 
Posts: 59
Joined: 03/18/08 12:08 AM

Postby Guest » 12/27/05 01:29 AM

Originally posted by Gary Brown:
Richard-

I was afraid someone was going to ask. I read that someplace and can't recall where at the moment...
Perhaps here , (with no citation, or attribution, but there it is)


Indeed, Lewis' books exposed so many secrets that one performer wrote "Hoffmann deserves to be hanged."
Guest
 

Postby Gary Brown » 12/27/05 05:21 AM

Thank you James. Actually the site you posted seems to have "borrowed" some material from the Magic Book Guide site , something I used to maintain. (for those interested in such matters, the Magic Book Guide was a spin off of Dusty Tomes , a piece that Michael Edwards and I wrote together some years back.) Unfortunately, I did not include an attribution of the Hoffmann reference at the time of writing it.

However, I'm pleased to report that last night I found the original reference. David Price provides the statement that a "leading performer" declared that "Hoffmann deserves to be hanged." He provides the following reference: Clarke, "Annals of Conjuring," Magic Wand 16, no 136, p.204. The trail, for me, ends there. Can anyone solve the mystery?

Gary
Gary Brown
Gary Brown
 
Posts: 59
Joined: 03/18/08 12:08 AM

Postby magicam » 12/27/05 01:37 PM

Not having the issue of The Magic Wand referenced by Gary, it is interesting to note that Clarke himself gave high praise to Hoffmann's book. Evidently, though, Clarke presented both sides of the issue!
Clay
User avatar
magicam
 
Posts: 795
Joined: 01/28/09 09:40 PM

Postby Todd Karr » 12/27/05 02:43 PM

If you own The Miracle Factory edition of The Annals of Conjuring, see page 351 for the hanging comment, which Clarke quotes from "a letter, dated 1876, written by one conjurer to another.."
Todd Karr
 
Posts: 280
Joined: 03/13/08 09:03 AM


Return to Magic History and Anecdotes