Dear Genii Forum readers:
With the kind permission of Richard Kaufman and David Meyer (editor of Magicol magazine), my quarterly Magicol column, Librarium Magicum, will be posted on Genii Forum. I hope many of you enjoy it. If you are not a member of the Magic Collectors Association, then you cant get Magicol, in which case IMHO you are missing out on a bargain for the money. For your annual dues of $25 ($30 for overseas members), you get 4 nicely produced issues of Magicol. Thats about 140 pages per year of great magic history covering all fields of collecting and history, many of which are in full color. All issues are profusely illustrated. You can join by sending your annual dues to: Magic Collectors Association LLC, P.O. Box 511, Glenwood, IL 60425-0511. Maybe some of my fellow MCA members can chime in here on GF and offer their thoughts on the value of getting Magicol.
For those of you who primarily perform and dont really collect or study magic history, subscribing to Magicol is a great and inexpensive way of keeping in touch with the great legacies of magic. All of the greats in magic have stated that some knowledge of magic history is an essential part of being a complete magician, and reading Magicol is one of the best ways to learn about the history of this great art. And dont worry, nearly all of the articles in Magicol are not so esoteric like the one below. Most of the articles bring the greats and lesser-knowns and the tricks and illusions of magics past to life in vivid and easy to read style.
Besides receiving Magicol, membership in the MCA has other benefits, one of which is the privilege of attending the annual Collectors Weekend, held each year in April or May. Many of the lecturers are well known, and in the past have included people like Jim Steinmeyer, John Gaughan and Ricky Jay. Each year MCA members can hear and meet the greats of magic in an intimate setting, unlike the huge crowds at the IBM and SAM annual conventions. This year, for example, MCA members were the beneficiaries of an exclusive invitation to tour the famed and secret warehouse of David Copperfield and see his huge magic collection and displays of rare magic apparatus and illusions from famous magicians of the past. As it turned out, David was there to personally greet the members during their tour. Can you name another magic organization offering such an opportunity?
So, without further ado, heres the first installment of Librarium Magicum ...
by Clay H. Shevlin
Welcome to Librarium Magicum! This occasional column will be devoted to all sorts of printed matter and bibliographical topics related or relevant to conjuring, its title intended as a nostalgic nod towards the articles of old from the very early days of Magicol and other beloved, now-defunct, periodicals such as The Magic Cauldron (Kuethe), Magical Bookie (Patrick), Mystics Quarterly (Hagy), The Hoffmann Collector (Sawyer), and Findlays Collectors Annuals. It was in those publications that authors under such noms de plumes as Ptinos and Veritas shared tidbits of information and stories of their collecting exploits relating to books and other printed matter under quaint titles like A Chat on Little Known Editions and Did You Know? all in a spirit of adventure and amity. As a young collector, I read and reread those publications (and still do), and loved the way they were written. It is my hope to rekindle some of that magic by offering a column equally as diverse, charming and quirky as those in the publications of yore.
Antiquarian bibliophiles are always on the hunt for a new rarity, that as-yet undiscovered 16th or 17th century conjuring book. Doubtless they still exist, waiting for the dedicated book hunter to unearth them. And in the course of the hunt, there are, of course, the numerous leads which result in disappointment. Recently, I came across a book with a very intriguing and promising title: A New Book of Knowledge; Treating of Things, Whereof fome are Profitable, fome Precious, and fome Pleafant and Delightful With divers other Notable Things. According to the bookseller, this ephemeral little item was printed as a small octavo of 12 pages measuring approximately 7.7 x 13.5 cm., with the imprint London, Printed for G. Conyers at the Golden Ring in Little-Britain, 1697. It is not recorded in Toole Stotts conjuring bibliography, nor, more surprisingly, is it recorded by John Ferguson in the collected editions of his Bibliographical Notes on Histories of Inventions and Books of Secrets (first published in 1959). But it is recorded by Wing as entry N585.
Could this possibly be one of those undiscovered conjuring rarities? Its title and subtitle certainly have many of the buzz words seen in conjuring books of that day. And George Conyers was no stranger to books with conjuring content, having printed and/or sold many coveted magical rarities, including one with a similar title: W. Winstanleys A Book of Knowledge, Deliverd by the Ancient Philosophers (ca. 1684; see TS 1205). In addition, Conyers produced or sold Thomas Hills Legerdemain or Natural and Artificial Conclusions (two issues dated ca. 1710 and ca. 1712; see TS 354 and 903), J. M.s Sports and Pastime, or, Hocus Pocus Improvd (ca. 1700; see TS 459), Thomas Luptons A Thoufand Notable Things (1686 and ca. 1700; see TS 447 and 448), and multiple editions and issues of John Whites A Rich Cabinet of Modern Curiofities (ca. 1691 to ca. 1710; see TS 691-694, 695-696) and Arts Treasury (ca. 1700 to ca. 1714; see TS 695-698-700. N.B.: the imprints in Toole Stott entry nos. 699 and 700 also name Conyers, but if Toole Stotts dating for these issues is correct (i.e., ca. 1770), it is unlikely that the same G. Conyers was involved, given average life spans of the day).
With great anticipation I telephoned the bookseller and asked for more information on this promising little tract. Alas, among the recipes, cures and household hints, the closest thing to magic is in the first chapter (really, a paragraph), titled To Write Secretly, which tells the reader to mix powdered alum with clean water, let it dissolve, and then write with the dissolved mixture on paper, being careful to dry it by the fire. Upon re-wetting the paper, the writing will appear of a Blewifh Colour. So, does A New Book of Knowledge have conjuring content? Purists would probably say no. But for those who own books like John Wilkins Mercury, or the Secret and Swift Messenger (London, 1641 and 1694), and consider them rightfully a part of a conjuring library, A New Book of Knowledge may be had for the princely sum of 2,500.
Aside & Query: How many magic books are there whose reprints are significantly scarcer than the original editions? Here are a few: the Aeonian Press unauthorized reprint (Mattituck, NY, n.d.) of Milbourne Christophers Houdini: The Untold Story (300 copies versus thousands of copies); the Da Capo Press reprint (New York, 1982) of Harry Prices Short-Title Catalogue and the Short-Title Catalogue Supplement (under 220 copies versus probably at least 1,000 copies of each of the original editions); and Burt Sperbers reprint (under his A Real Miracle imprint, Malibu, CA, 2000) of William Mannings Recollections of Robert-Houdin (25 copies versus 205 copies). As standard publishing practices go, its not unusual for reprints to be produced in smaller press runs, but generally the variances are not as great as the examples provided above. Doubtless our dear readers will think of other examples of such large print-run discrepancies, but what title represents the most extreme example of this phenomenon?
As some of you know, my primary areas of interest are in conjuring histories, biographies and bibliographies. The literature in these fields is surprisingly rich and diverse, ranging from the well-known titles to the utterly obscure, from general history and bibliography to the history of a very specialized topic or bibliography of a particular book. One example of a relatively unknown and specialized magic title of historical interest is The Elusive Canary (The Vanishing Bird Cage), written, illustrated and published in 1936 by Mystic Craig (born William Vagell or Vagela). In addition to describing his methods of performance and presentation, Mystic Craig also offers a 7 page history of the effect of the Vanishing Bird Cage. An example of a very specialized conjuring bibliography is David Meyers Howard Thurstons Card Tricks (1991).
With the advent and advancements of desktop publishing over the past generation, the number of little-publicized publications of historical, biographical or bibliographical (not to mention general magic) interest is sure to grow. The good news is that, with a little persistence and communication with fellow enthusiasts and your friendly dealer, you can keep up-to-date with most of the current specialized offerings, many of which are produced in small print runs.
One example of a recent, highly-specialized publication is Ed Hills Membership Listing with Notes of The National Conjurers[sic]Association 19111923, published last year in an attractively-produced, limited edition of 50 numbered, velo-bound copies under Eds Monographs for Magic Historians imprint. Hill has provided historians with a list of the NCA members, arranged alphabetically and by membership number, extracted directly from 7 bound volumes of NCA membership applications resting in the H. Adrian Smith Collection in the John Hay Library at Brown University. In almost all cases, each members date of birth is given, as well as other information such as his performance specialty, areas of interest, stage name, and affiliation with other magic organizations. NCA members included some of the greats like Okito, Blackstone and Thurston.
This is precisely the kind of publication whose importance may not be clear to some, but will certainly be evident as source material to a historian doing research on American magicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Publications such as this are largely unrecognized good deeds, and Ed Hill should be thanked for the dedication, countless hours and risk involved in compiling and publishing this work. It would be a shame if his efforts did not receive enough support to quickly sell out this modestly-priced publication. Even if you do not find the subject matter of this publication of particular interest, it is only the first of a series planned to be published by Hill under his MMH imprint. So why not show support for Eds efforts and encourage him to produce more in this series? And lest the spirit of contribution and support argument leaves you unconvinced, is there any doubt that this title will eventually go out of print and sell in excess of its $30 price tag?
Membership Listing with Notes of The National Conjurers Association 19111923 is available for $30 ($40 if outside of the U.S.) postpaid from Ed Hill, 3 Chandler St., North Providence, RI 02911.