On his way home from his new school (only a two mile walk, all down hill, no snow, ever, and he always had shoes) the boy stepped into the public library of the town to which he and his family had just moved. The library was very small--probably less than 1,200 square feet. Of course the town was small, so a tiny library seemed natural. The lad was a bit despondent, having just been moved away from friends and familiarity to an area where surfing was the primary activity. The boy didn't even like to swim in the ocean so there was little question about whether or not he would ever attempt to balance on a stick in the crashing waves of "Trestles," "Hole in the Fence" or any of the other local surf beaches. No, and right now the boy had a library to investigate.Let's judge a man not by his tools
And count him happy when his work
The playthings that his secret hour
Then though he sport with Money or
With Sword and Glory or with Pen and
What does it matter, if he plays the
Tribute to Hilliard
He was able to quickly find the books that were his desire, having their library code committed to memory: 793.8: the magic books. The section was small (of course), and located on the bottom shelf in a darkened corner of the small cramped isles. The boy recognized the books as being the same as those that were at his old hometown library, except for two of them. There was one on the history of magic, which looked interesting, but one in particular caught his eye. It was huge; thicker than just about any book he'd ever seen, let alone any magic book. It was the image of the cups and balls on its faded red binding that he noticed before the title registered in his mind. But the power of that image and the enormity of the book told his instincts that he had just found something special--very special.
* * *
Just before the end of the 19th century, a promising journalist met a promising Vaudeville magician and their ensuing friendship would last the rest of their lives. Some years later John Northern Hilliard (1872-1935) would go to work as the press agent and advance man for his friend and illusionist Howard Thurston (1869-1936). Performing his duties for Thurston was his job, but his passion was in the task that took up his nights: Countless nights in nameless hotels in every major city across the country. The task he had happily taken unto himself was to write the greatest magic book yet published--a book that would bring magic "up to date." His day job gave him the immeasurable opportunity to meet with virtually every great magician of the period, many of whom were already his friends. Those who were not soon became friendly with him. Hilliard's personality made it near impossible not to like him. These giants of the craft happily shared their knowledge and creations with their friend, who would then spend hour upon hour typing or handwriting the pieces, making additional handwritten notes and corrections and keeping it all in three-ring binders.
In 1931 Carl W. Jones (d. 1957), a Minneapolis newspaperman and magic enthusiast, learned of Hilliard's manuscript while lunching with Thurston. The illusionist informed Jones that Hilliard was reluctant to move forward with the project due to the Depression. Jones became enthusiastic about the idea and urged Thurston to talk his friend into continuing the project and allowing Thurston and Jones to be the publishers of this dream of a book (the book would be Jones' first of many important magical publications). Hilliard accepted Jones' proposal--and advance money--and went to work collecting and writing. Jones was in no hurry: He'd hoped that by the following spring the country would be in a "better frame of mind and the book will be better received." It was in 1932 that Jones came up with the title: Greater Magic. Hilliard was immediately thrilled by the title, telling Jones that, "It is THE title" and recommended that they get it copyrighted right away.
Over the next three years Hilliard would report to Jones that the manuscript was near completion several times. In late 1932 Hilliard reported that he'd "like to get in done in three months" and that he had "about finished gathering material." In 1933, in a letter to S. Leo Horowtiz, Hilliard wrote that he was "near the end." He also reported to Jones that it would be ready by the fall of 1933. In April of 1934 Hilliard felt that the book would be ready by the coming summer. In late 1934 Jones read in an issue of The Sphinx that Hilliard said that the book would be published in January of 1935. Jones became concerned that Hilliard had found another publisher, but Hilliard reassured Jones that he was only "plugging the book" and nobody but Jones "will publish the book, not even if they offered a million dollars."
* * *
The boy never found the time to do his homework. That afternoon and well into the night the only book he opened was the treasure he had found. He had already made up his mind that he would purchase the book from the library. Something easily done if the borrower "lost" the book (or had it "stolen" from him while at school, as this one was--or so he told the librarian). He justified his lie--something he was not fond of doing--to himself by trusting his instinct that told him someone else would ultimately steal the book. At least he paid for it at its replacement cost, as listed on the card catalog entry for the book: $6 (it would be about three years later when he would discover its actual cash value; at the time about $35). Greater Magic by John Northern Hilliard was now (and would remain) the centerpiece of his magic library.
A look at the table of contents revealed 32 chapters along with several opening pieces, an end piece and an index. The first 14 chapters, he noticed, were dedicated to playing cards. 580 of the book's 1,025 (xxi plus 1,004 numbered) pages devoted to cards. The boy was in heaven! He was too young to yet appreciate the splendid expansiveness of the opening compositions, "In the Beginning," "Pageant" and "Prolegomenon." However, part of Howard Thurston's "Introduction" caught his eye: "Whatever your specialty in magic may be, you will find scores of astounding effects. Finally, when you have studied it, you will be conscious of owning the greatest book ever written on magic."
* * *
"I think the greatest tragedy in life would be to die and suddenly wake up and realize you had never lived. I have lived."
--John Northern Hilliard to Doc Brumfield less than one week before Hilliard's death.
John Northern Hilliard's sudden death in 1935--alone in an Indianapolis hotel room--left the future of Greater Magic uncertain. Only about a third of the book was complete and there was still a huge amount of material residing in Hilliard's notebooks. Carl Jones retrieved the material from Thurston and Hilliard's family. Hilliard's daughter Helen ("Bob") transcribed the many handwritten pages and notes into typewritten pages for Jones, who then took up the daunting task of organizing the material. He began to correspond with many of the contributors asking for their help in going over their own material. The work was slow and was further delayed by continuous labor difficulties in Jones' business. Jones' estimation of how much work Hilliard had completed himself depended upon who Jones was communicating with and ranged from three-quarters, one-half, one-quarter to only 20%.
Offers of help, in both editing and illustrating, came in. Ted Annemann offered to complete the book in 60 days (he clearly was expecting the book to be "normal" in size). He expected a fee of $25 a week, but was willing to forgo any credit. Young Nelson Hahne offered to illustrate the book, however Jones had been considering Harlan Tarbell as early as 1933 (Hahne would later illustrate one of Jones' most important magical publications: Bobo's Modern Coin Magic). In the fall of 1937 it would be Jean Hugard who Jones would select to take up the task of completing a journey that had begun as a dream nearly a decade before. Hugard's initial proposal included a fee of $100, but this was certainly before he fully comprehended the task ahead of him. Ensuing correspondence between Jones and Hugard make it evident that the final agreement was for more. Accompanying Hugard's editing would be over 1,000 of Tarbell's illustrations. From his death in March of 1935, it would take over three years to complete Hilliard's dream. In December 1938 Carl Waring Jones released John Northern Hilliard's Greater Magic: A Practical Treatise on Modern Magic amid high expectations. So high were these expectations that Ted Annemann in The Jinx listed the then untitled book among those belonging on his "five-foot shelf of magic." This was three years before its publication. Ultimately the reviews and brisk sales would prove that the book had met or exceeded those expectations.
Dedicated to Angelo Lewis (Professor Hoffmann), author of Modern Magic (described by Annemann as a "bulwark against magical mediocrity"), it would be Greater Magic that would displace Modern Magic as the greatest book on magic ever written, forever sending it to its rightful place as a classic text of magic. But now modern magicians had a new "bible." 715 effects contributed by over 100 magicians, including the greatest names of the day and some past masters. From complete effects, credits within effects, to single mentions of tips and finesse and even complete chapters, a partial list of contributors reads like a "who's who" of magic: Max Holden, Percy Abbott, J. N. Hofzinser, Theodore Annemann, Horace Goldin, Al Baker, Ade Duval, Karl Germain, David and Theo Bamberg, Dr. James Elliott, Joe Berg, Jardine Ellis, Sam Berland, T. Nelson Downs, Harry Blackstone (Sr.), David Devant, Floyd Thayer, Carl Brema, Cardini, Buatier DeKolta, Milbourne Christopher, Chung Ling Soo, S.H. Sharpe, Dr. Jack Daley, Paul Curry, Stanley Collins, Harlan Tarbell, S. Leo Horowitz, Houdini, Selbit, Edwin Sachs, Jean Hugard, John Scarne, Burling Hull, Stewart James, Paul Rosini, Joseffy, Stewart Judah, John Ramsay, Billy O'Connor, Harry Kellar, Lester Lake, Mora, Jack Merlin, William W. Larsen (Sr.), Paul LePaul, John Nevil Maskelyne, Max Malini, Nate Leipzig, Eugene Laurant, Sid Lorraine, Audley Walsh, Robert Stull, Howard Thurston, William H. McCaffery and Dai Vernon.
* * *
Rarely one to read a magic book from the beginning, the boy first turned to chapter XIX, "Card Stars of the U.S.A." In this chapter he found material from the men the author considered the greatest in the country at the time: Ted Annemann, Al Baker, Cardini, S. Leo Horowitz, Stewart Judah, Nate Leipzig, William H. McCaffery, Paul Rosini, John Scarne and Dai Vernon. In it he discovered "The Princess Trick" (Annemann), which he still uses on occasion, and "Everywhere and Nowhere" (Rosini) which was to him an amazing revelation of the concepts of timing and misdirection.
It was in this chapter that he became appreciative of the overall style of the book. The clear, detailed instructions and illustrations many of which were supplemented by "THE BARE BONES OF THE TRICK." These sections were particularly helpful to him as they were easily referenced while actually working through the trick. When he'd get stuck, he would be able to quickly get back on track without having to go back through the complete text.
He wandered through the book, reading the chapters not in order, but in an order that interested him. Most of the other chapters on cards (including an entire chapter on the rising cards effect), then the chapter on coins, balls (specifically the short piece on the cups and balls), the linking rings and the one on rope magic. Some of the material was not new to him. It was then that he realized that several of the beginner's books he had grown up with had borrowed heavily from this book. Not only did this revelation tell him that he had been learning the "right stuff," but it also served to further impress upon him the importance, the sheer greatness this book held in the world of magic.
* * *
Carl Jones limited the original print run to 1,000 books and priced the book at $12.50 post paid: A fortune in a world snarled in economic and political turmoil. Hilliard and Jones had been convinced early on by Howard Thurston that they could expect to sell about 500 copies. 378 copies were sold before the first book left the printer. Every magic dealer of note was advertising the book a month before its release. After its publication a marketing war was on. Holden's offered copies signed by Hugard. With every copy of Greater Magic sold, Thayer offered a free copy of Leaves From My Notebook by Hilliard (published by Thayer; regular price $1). Kanter's offered to sell Greater Magic on an installment plan: $1 would hold the book and the buyer could finishing paying for it at his convenience and with no extra charge.
Its financial and critical success secured, over the next decade Greater Magic would go through nine impressions with a revised edition being released at the fourth printing in 1942 (the revision being chapter XXX; "Old and New Apparatus"--a chapter on some of the items in the collection of Charles H. Larson--was replaced by "Magicana," a chapter on historic books, periodicals and prominent collections and libraries).
The continued success of Greater Magic would, of course, lead to some controversy. Who really wrote the bulk of this, the greatest magic book ever published: Hilliard or Hugard? Accolades such as "the greatest book ever published" were bound to boost the egos of those involved to the point of overstating their contributions while downplaying that of others--including those of the publisher. Of course, Hilliard and Thurston were no longer available to comment, leaving only Jones to bear witness in Hilliard's and his own defense against those who would credit Hugard with the lion's share of the work.
There is no question that Hugard's contribution was monumental. Those who claim he wrote everything beyond Chapter IX cite the individual styles of Hilliard vs. Hugard. Little of Hilliard's expansive style appears after that chapter, while instead the more concise style of Hugard dominates. Another clue (noticed by your current scribe) may be in the number of footnotes that appear within chapters II through VIII. Within those chapters--chapters undeniably completed by Hilliard--appear numerous footnotes. However, for the remainder of this gigantic book there appears only one footnote and it appears in a chapter that Hilliard had all but completed. That footnote, however, refers to a T.J. Crawford effect later in the chapter and it was Hugard who added the Crawford material to what Hilliard had already completed. But too, it must be noted, that the Crawford material came from Hilliard's voluminous notes--as did the vast majority of the material in the book. There is little question that Hugard had to expand on some of Hilliard's original notes, but there is also little question that he did not have to expand on all of what appeared after chapter IX. What Hugard did supply was the connective language that appears between these individual pieces. It is here that the disparity of the two writing styles is noticeable and it is why some credit Hugard with writing all of the material that appears after Chapter IX.
In his analysis (in More Greater Magic: Kaufman and Greenberg; 1994) of the book itself, the Hilliard manuscripts and the correspondence between the principals, Richard Kaufman states that, in his opinion, Hilliard and Hugard were each responsible for an equal and majority share of the final product. He also states that "Greater Magic is the result of the writing of at least a dozen individuals" including Ralph Hull ("The Tuned Deck"), Royal Heath ("Magic Squares"), Leo Rullman ("Magicana" in the revised edition) and David Bamberg ("Stage Presentation"). Kaufman further states that Hilliard and Hugard "together with Jones produced a tremendous book."
After nearly a decade and nine successful printings, A.S. Barnes and Company (in association with Carl Jones) would release it as a five volume set titled The Greater Magic Library (1956). In 1994 Kaufman and Greenberg released, to great critical acclaim, a revised 1,400-page edition (both a regular and a two-volume deluxe edition that included the aforementioned More Greater Magic). This revised edition includes 300+ pages of tricks and correspondence between the men involved (and those desirous for involvement) in the publication of the book. Of the Kaufman/Greenberg edition, one reviewer simply chose to quote John Mulholland's original review of Greater Magic from The Sphinx: "It is so superlative that no review can do it justice."
* * *
Completing the book would take the boy into his early adulthood. Chapters that didn't interest him in his youth would hold a new fascination to him, such as the first chapter in the book: "The Master of the Playing Cards," a short (but no less fascinating) history of the playing card. Much later in his life the mellifluous "Pageant" and "Prolegomenon" would hold new meaning for him. It seems to him that the diversity of this great book is in harmony with the diversity of life. Such is the thing of greatness.
I'd like to pass on my thanks to Gordon Bean for his usual assistance and input in these matters, and my profound gratitude to Richard Kaufman for his invaluable input and generosity. Like its subject, this dissertation was a collaborative effort.The land of Conjury may be a land of Cockaigne, a demesne of sham and glamour, a country of pinchback and cardboard, but to us oldsters it has been beyond all desire beautiful--the enchanted garden of our youth. Some of us have not quite lost our belief in it even now. To so many of us it has been our only commerce with dreams. And tonight, before the fire, with wind and snow outside and the "Liebestraum" in the next room, I have been living, for an hour, with my dreams.
--John Northern Hilliard
From "Good Sirs and Gentlemen, I Give You Dreams" -- The Sphinx January 1935