Question for the Die-Hard Tricksters ...

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

Postby magicam » 09/16/04 02:32 AM

I purchased Juan Tamariz's Mnemonica today, not for the tricks but for the bibliography with commentary in the back (Mr. Tamariz deserves credit for acknowledging his roots for the routines, etc. in the book). With all the buzz going on about this book, I'd hazard a guess that this little bibliography in the back of the book will get little comment. There's quite a bit of history, biography and bibliography in Tamarizs bibliography, enough that this "trickster book" (my term for books dealing with the performance of magic, versus my core area of interest, magic history and biography) will make it into my HGCR series.

So thats the lead-in to my question to all of you guys and gals who are familiar with the "trickster literature:
What books are you aware of which are primarily trickster in nature but have a significant (or otherwise important because they contain unique source material) portion dealing with magic history, biography or bibliography, a la Tamarizs latest book?

To get you going, here are some examples of such books:

1. Maskelyne and Devants OUR MAGIC: contains a 13 page bibliographical index of card tricks in the (then) current literature a fascinating defacto survey of the card literature of that time.

2. T. Nelson Downs MODERN COIN MANIPULATION: contains a 32 page largely biographical appreciation of Downs by Hilliar.

3. Ottokar Fischers ILLUSTRATED MAGIC: contains a 17 page survey of contemporary magicians written by Fulton Oursler.

4. Victor Farellis JOHN RAMSAYS ROUTINE WITH CUPS AND BALLS: contains a nifty 11 page bibliography of cups and balls literature.

5. David Devants SECRETS OF MY MAGIC: chock full of historical tidbits, despite the titles and table of contents seeming focus on tricks and illusions.

6. Howard Thurstons 400 TRICKS YOU CAN DO: contains an 8 page biographical sketch of Thurston.

7. Dai Vernons MALINI AND HIS MAGIC: in addition to the short Malini: the Man chapter, Vernons descriptions of Malinis effects are often laced with history.

Because my focus is on magic history and bibliography, Im confident that Ive overlooked some very good (or even not so good?) trickster books with valuable historical or bibliographical reference material in them.

Care to provide some leads? Besides the author and title name, if you have the time, a brief idea of the historical, etc. content would be most helpful.

Many thanks in advance,


P.S. To the moderators: can I place this question in one or two other GF areas to insure that the more, performance-oriented folks read it? C.
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Postby Dale Shrimpton » 09/16/04 04:12 AM

You forgot the best example of this. Tarbell is laced with historical anecdotes on every page.
The names mentioned, sometimes in passing, other times, as in the Bamburg dynasty, in depth
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Postby magicam » 09/16/04 10:04 AM

Thanks for the response Dale. Interesting! Were you thinking about only the bound volumes, or were these tidbits also in the original course (sorry, I sold my set of Tarbell years ago to fund college tuition)? Does each volume have such info, or are there particular volumes you have in mind?

To give some perspective on the nature of my query here, it might be a good idea to quote from my essay on historical works from the first number of The Historians Guide to Conjuring (Redux). Here goes:

"Before proceeding further, since this book claims to be a historical reference work, one important clarification of scope should be made concerning the notion of historical importance. Many of you who (rightly, in my opinion) take a broad historical view of conjuring literature would argue that many books which do not have a scintilla of history per se are nonetheless historically important. Most such books would probably be called the classics of conjuring literature, for lack of a better term. While the precise identification of the criteria for a classic in the literature of conjuring may be elusive or subject to a nice debate, for purposes of this discussion there are several hallmarks which, in my opinion, merit note: consensus recognition that a book is a unique source of information on an important topic, or thoroughly explains the state of conjuring (or a significant element of conjuring) at a point in time, or is otherwise a harbinger of the future of conjuring. The foregoing hallmarks are all admittedly historically important. Take, for example, Reginald Scots The Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1584), a title almost universally regarded as a classic and the general importance of which is not debated. Few would dispute the statement that The Discoverie contains historically important material on magicians and magic in England in the 16th century certainly it provides one of the few contemporary snapshots of the kinds of tricks performed in that era, despite the fact that providing a glimpse of the state of conjuring at that time was almost certainly not Scots goal when he penned The Discoverie. In a sense then, the passage of time renders many authors of the classics unwitting chroniclers of conjuring history. As a consequence, a convincing argument could be made that The Discoverie and other classics should be included in this work. However, notwithstanding their historical significance, I am neither qualified nor have the time to incorporate the classics into this work (which would require, among other things, a volume-by-volume analysis of potentially thousands of magic books published over the centuries), though I may choose to include certain editions thereof whose contents provide significant supplemental historical or bibliographical information, such as, using The Discoverie as an example, Stephen Forresters The Annotated Discovery of Witchcraft Booke XIII (Calgary, Alberta, 2000), and the Brinsley Nicholson (ed.) edition of The Discoverie (London, 1886).

To those who are interested in such classics, there is some consolation: several of the works to be listed in this edition contain commentary on these books and the reasons for their significance. See, for example, both volumes of Maurine Christophers & George Hansens The Milbourne Christopher Library (Pasadena, California, 1994 & 1998), Stephen Forresters A Bibliography of Classic Authors in Magic and Related Arts (Calgary, Alberta, 1993)(Forresters work is especially interesting, because it contains lists from many respected collectors and historians of their favorite conjuring books, almost all of which, though not stated as such, would be regarded as classics), Trevor Halls Old Conjuring Books (London, 1972), H. Adrian Smiths collected essays in Volume XXXIV of Books at Brown (Providence, Rhode Island, 1987), and both volumes of Toole Stotts A Bibliography of English Conjuring (id.). Although not within the scope of this work, another excellent, and perhaps even more fruitful, source are the hundreds of articles on this topic published over the past century in conjuring periodicals, many authored by Milbourne Christopher (M.U.M.), Edwin Dawes (The Magic Circular), Trevor Hall (The Magic Circular), John Mulholland (The Sphinx), Leo Rullman (The Sphinx), and R. C. Ritson (The Wizard), to name a few."

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Postby Guest » 09/16/04 03:13 PM


I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for, but here are a few suggestions.

For biographies:
- Dunninger, Joseph
100 Houdini Tricks you can do
Fawcett, 1944

- Goldin, Horace
Its Fun to Be Fooled
Magico reprint, circa 1993

- Olson, Robert
Carl Rosini: His life and His Magic
Magic, Inc., 1966

- Severn, Bill
Bill Severns Guide to Magic as a Hobby
McKay, 1979

- Britland, David
Master of the Game
Martin Breese, 1988

For bibliographies:
- Abrams, Max
Annemann: The Life and Times of a Legend
L&L, 1992

For biographies and bibliographies:
-Romano, Chuck
House of Cards: The Life & Magic of Paul Rosini
Charles J. Romano, 1997

- Hay, Henry
The Amateur Magician's Handbook
Signet, 1974

- Thompson, J.G. Jr. (compiled by)
"My Best"
Tannen, 1959

- Townsend, Charles Barry (edited by)
Merlins Catalog of Magic
Hammond, 1981

Also of interest:
- Hargrave, Catherine Perry
A History of Playing Cards
Dover, 1966

Hope this will help!

The Six-hour Memorized Deck
The Joyal Index

Postby Edwin Corrie » 09/16/04 04:00 PM

Here are a few more, in no particular order. I started with just a handful, but the more I looked the more I found.

Extensive crediting of inspirational sources and related ideas.

Annotations, corrections and lots of cross-references to related ideas, subsequent developments etc.

Includes a full bibliography of Martin Gardner in Print (books, tricks in magazines).

Includes a chapter with background information about great magicians of the past.

GREATER MAGIC (Hilliard; Kaufman & Greenberg edition)
Detailed account of the genesis of Greater Magic, including correspondence between the various parties involved.

BEST OF FRIENDS 1 AND 2 (Harry Lorayne)
Short biographical sketches of many of the contributors.

Autobiography of Ren Lavand.

Chapter on the Literature of Conjuring.

An informal but extremely interesting history of packet card tricks.

Short accounts of the lives of famous magicians of the past.

MY BEST (J.G. Thompson)
Short biographical sketches of the many contributors.

Technical notes and Jennings bibliography

Discussion of the history of playing card flourishes and a fairly comprehensive bibliography.

Short biography and bibliography section.

GUMMIRINGE: EIN ENZYKLOPDIE (Dr. Edi Brum (Brumoli)) (in German)
Extensive list of book and magazine sources for rubber band tricks.

The list was done in a bit of a hurry because it's quite late here, so please excuse any inaccuracies.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/16/04 04:08 PM

Clay, I don't think anyone who has practiced sleight of hand for years likes to be called a "trickster." That's a demeaning term I've had to listen to my pal George Daily use for years and it makes my skin crawl.
Perhaps you could find a term that's a little more respectful of the thousands of hours of work that go into the perfection of SINGLE effect.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 09/16/04 04:26 PM

"Trickster" has a meaning within mythological circles. The trickster is a character, often with perceived magical powers (which are usually just sleight of hand) who appears in many roles from the court jester, to the coyote, to...

Well, I'm no expert, but there are books on the trickster heritage and SOME magicians would best be described as tricksters.

Having said that, one might want to choose their terms carefully as this one has a history unto itself.
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Postby Guest » 09/16/04 04:38 PM

Maybe I'm opening up a big can of worms, but I had a thought. I have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea of someone being a magic history buff and yet not being interested in the tricks and moves etc. Dai Vernon is considered one of the most influencial figures in the history of magic, to understand his influence it seems like you'd need to have some of his books on tricks. Thats' just one example. Just throwing out a thought.

Noah Levine

Postby Edwin Corrie » 09/16/04 04:41 PM

Oops, I found a few more:

A history of edge-marked cards and information about Walter Scott.

LE PRINCIPE DE GILBREATH (Richard Vollmer) (in French)
Compilation of tricks using the Gilbreath principle.

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS (Simon Aronson) (free download from his website)
Treatise on memorised stacks and bibliography of Simon Aronsons work on memorised deck effects.

Includes information on how the magazine came into being.

Reinhard Mllers scholarly treatises prepared for the Escorial conventions. Not sure how many there are I only have three (Gilbreath, Marlo on Faked Decks and False Counts), but they contain lots of references to other works.

Also I forgot to mention that the chapter in Gaultiers MAGIC WITHOUT APPARATUS focuses on French magic literature before Robert-Houdin.

Some of these may be getting of the track a bit as they are compilations of tricks, but it's all interesting.

Now it really is late and definitely time for me to get to bed.
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Postby Joe Hanosek » 09/16/04 05:09 PM

The Magic of Matt Schulien has some history of the restaurant and family among the tricks.
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Postby Bill Duncan » 09/16/04 07:01 PM

I've always enjoyed the "history" related in BULL in (the bound edition of) Richard's Almanac.

And Steve Minch's "Toward A Unified Mythology" at the end of Sleight Unseen.
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Postby magicam » 09/16/04 07:31 PM

Okay, first off, my apologies to RK and anybody else who doesn't like the term "trickster." This term carries no negative connotation for me (as it evidently does for others) and is really my shorthand for performers and those who focus on performing magic rather than collecting, history, etc. But since I am usually a stickler for clarity of expression and meaning, I guess I should know better and could have found a better term. That's what informality will get you sometimes! So, again, my apologies to those of you who dont like the term. Brad's comments were interesting and another example of words having very specific meanings to different people.

Noah Levine wrote:
"Maybe I'm opening up a big can of worms, but ... I have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea of someone being a magic history buff and yet not being interested in the tricks and moves etc. Dai Vernon is considered one of the most influencial [sic] figures in the history of magic, to understand his influence it seems like you'd need to have some of his books on tricks..."

Noah, I couldnt agree more. The problem for me is I have trouble wrapping my brain around all the magic history that is out there. So I tend to focus on an area of interest thats been with me since I was a kid books. I love books and I love bibliography. Am I a historian? To some degree. Am I a very knowledgeable magic historian? Absolutely not. Could I expound on the history and origins of the levitation of a person? Not in very great detail. Could I name a dozen books discussing (at least in part) the history and origins of the levitation of a person? Yes. Have I read all of them? Yes. But Im not lucky enough to have an encyclopedic memory and so cant keep everything I read in my head. But I can lay my hands on the information if I need to. So those are the limitations I have to live with.

Noah, I believe, indirectly raises a point which perhaps has been discussed in Genii Forum: namely, that the magicians magician is very much a student of the history of his/her art in addition to being proficient in the art. Thats what makes Ricky Jay such a unique person in our little world, IMHO. Thats not to say there are not other masters out there who are knowledgeable magic historians, but Jay may be the best example of this.

I will quibble with one point that Noah makes, however, and perhaps my opinion relates to the fact that Im not good at memorizing things. I dont think I need any of Vernons books to understand (at least at a very basic level) his influence on magic, so long as I am satisfied that those who are knowledgeable on these things are more or less in agreement on his influence. Ideally, itd be great to do the independent research and read every significant book on card magic (for example), interview those who are knowledgeable on card magic, etc., but time is short, and for me, there are other things to do in life. Of course, the more one digs into Vernons work and reads his books and books about him, ones appreciation and understanding would increase. Moreover, Id venture a guess that those who really understand Vernons accomplishments are those who perform themselves.

To Martin Joyal, Edwin Corrie and Joe Hanosek, many thanks for taking the time to contribute. As I had hoped, even the relatively few titles mentioned so far on this thread have provided some new sources for me to research. Many thanks, guys!
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/16/04 08:57 PM

I think the word "magician" adequately conveys everything more nicely than "trickster."
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Postby NCMarsh » 09/16/04 11:31 PM

speaking of Vernon:

I'm surprised that the Vernon Chronicles have not been mentioned (unless I missed them) in response to your query...wonderful photographs and either volume I or III contains a fascinating look at the '30's magic scene in NYC...sprinkled throughout with stories of the contributors (probably the only significant mainstream source for information on folks like Larry Grey, Arthur Findley et alia)

to a lesser extent the same is true of the Ganson/Vernon material

stay tuned for David Ben's Vernon biography (there is also a book in the works (not from Ben) on a major -- but under-documented -- twentieth century performer)

Also of interest:

Mind and Magic of David Berglas

Phantoms of the Card Table (included as a "trickster" volume due to the re-printing of the McGuire book within)

John Carney's Book of Secrets (historical material is fairly basic)

both Magic and Methods of Ross Bertram and Bertram on Sleight of Hand contain fascinating anecdotes of the lives of many past masters...including what was probably the first printed record of the Kennedy/Vernon centerdeal meeting


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Postby Guest » 09/17/04 04:15 AM

MagiCam: Frances Ireland Marshall and John Booth have a number of books which relate first-hand stories about magicians. You might also want to check into The Learned Pig Project and look over some of the historical essays and books on line there...

Most magic magazines have articles about magicians; if you are just looking for interesting readings, check around at magic auctions or place an ad to buy old magazines; they are a rich source of what you seek and are pretty much available at good prices.

If you are looking for specific information about someone or some group, check out the indexes of Genii Magazines at the Genii Open Index Project:

Google and other search engines should provide you enough reading material to last a long time. Just plug in Magic History and Anecdotes and then spread out from there with requests for information on specific people, places, tricks, etc. You might also want to plug in words such as Conjuror, trickster, magician, etc.


Postby magicam » 09/17/04 11:29 AM

Brad Henderson wrote:
'"Trickster" has a meaning within mythological circles. The trickster is a character, often with perceived magical powers (which are usually just sleight of hand) who appears in many roles from the court jester, to the coyote, to'

There was something about your post which made me think that there was a book on this subject matter and I finally remembered it. If my memory is correct, it is a book written by I.G. Edmonds called Trickster Tales, published in 1966 by J.B. Lippincott Company. As some of you may know, Edmonds wrote a number of juvenile-oriented titles on magic history, including The Magic Brothers (on the Herrmann brothers), The Girls Who Talked to Ghosts (on the Fox sisters), The Magic Dog (on Lafayette's dog), and The Magic Man (on Robert-Houdin).

Although not really magic history, Trickster Tales is an interesting compilation of world-wide (or in politically correct terms, "multi-cultural") stories of mischievous (sp?) spirits. Very fun reading! One can find a copy of this book for about $15 on the internet.

To Opie R., thank you for your input. Yes, I love to read about magic history using the sources you have mentioned, but I am primarily interested in hearing from performers who have come across magic history in magic titles which, on the surface, appear to focus exclusively on the how to of performing. Im pretty familiar with the more obvious magic history titles, and even most of the titles mentioned in this thread, but as Martin and Edwin have shown me, there are several titles out there that I dont know about and thus the reason for this post.


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Postby Bill Mullins » 09/17/04 11:37 AM

"Gene Maze and the Art of Bottom Dealing" has a nice annotated bibliography in the back.
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