The name June Barrows Mussey probably means nothing to most magicians today. That's because he is much better known by his pseudonym Henry Hay, the author of this month's selection.
June Barrows Mussey (1910 - 1985) was an author, anthologist, publisher, translator (Ottokar Fischer's Illustrated Magic is among the many books - though most non-magic in nature - he translated to English), advertising copywriter, and magician. In his youth, he performed as Hadji Baba - The Boy Magician, at one point earning a higher income than did his father. His magic career, which included a tour that, at one point, allowed him to perform on the same stage as his hero T. Nelson Downs, aided in the financing of his college education. He graduated at the young age of 19 from Columbia University.
After serving in the Marine Corps (in air intelligence) during WWII, Mussey traveled to Germany in 1950 to work as a foreign corespondent. He settled in Dusseldorf where he would spend the rest of his life. As noted by Mussey's friend Richard Hatch (of H&R Books, in his obituary of Mussey which appeared in Genii), at the time of his passing he was considered the "greatest living German language advertising copywriter."
His interests were quite diverse and he applied considerable focus in everything he did. Hatch related to me that Mussey could take on a translation project prior to knowing the language from which he was to work because he had the ability to learn a new language quickly. We know of works translated to English from German, Dutch, French, Swedish and Norwegian. Though accomplished in many endeavors (and quite well known among the aficionados of his other interests), his lasting legacy is his work as an author of magical textbooks.
As Henry Hay (Hay was a family name, though I have not yet confirmed it, I believe it to be from his mother's side) he authored Learn Magic (David McKay Co. 1947), Cyclopedia of Magic (Garden City Publishing 1949) and in 1950 came his crowning work, The Amateur Magician's Handbook.
The Amateur Magician's Handbook was first published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York. Over the next 32 years the book would be expanded by Hay three more times (it is currently in its fourth edition). I discovered stated publishing dates of (with multiple printings of several of these) 1950, 1951, 1958, 1965 (second edition), 1971 (first UK edition), 1972 (with a Canadian edition in 1972 as well), 1974 (third edition), 1982 (three different publishers including Canadian; fourth edition) and 1994. It has editions in cloth covers and trade paperback. Its list of publishers is as equally staggering: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., Signet/New American Library, Faber & Faber, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd., Harper & Row, Edison/Castle Books and USA Book Sales. These companies didn't choose to print this book without a profit motive. It's important to make the distinction that this book was not in the public domain for any of these publications; Hay held the copyright and was directly involved with the new editions.
It should go without saying that, given all of these editions and printings, this is a general magic book that has sold tens of thousands, if not into the hundreds of thousands, of copies over 52 years (without a Dover reprint, mind you). Quite impressive for a book that some consider not a book for beginners. In his review of the book in Hugard's Magic Monthly (July 1950), John J. Crimmins, Jr. said, "Offhand the material...seems to this reviewer to be much too technical for a beginner...it is an excellent reference book for the advanced amateur and the professional." On the other hand, in his Genii review (November 1950), Dariel Fitzkee praised the book for its value to the beginner. Regardless on which side of this argument they fall, countless magicians (from unknown to famous) have stated publicly that this book makes up the foundation of their magical knowledge. Personally, this was the first book of real sleight-of-hand that I owned (I have owned three editions over the years, giving away two to deserving young people who showed a desire to learn sleight-of-hand magic).
Originally published in five sections, there are a total* of 18 chapters, a glossary and appendix with brief descriptions of other tricks and illusions, and a combination biography and bibliography section that provides short biographies of many famous magicians and lists their books where applicable. The fourth edition (which now graces my bookshelves) boasts seven sections with 22 chapters along with the glossary and appendixes, including the updated biography section. (*This is to the best of my knowledge. I was unable to locate a first edition for review, so this information has been extrapolated from reviews at the time of the book's publication.)
In his 1985 obituary of Mussey, Richard Hatch describes the book as "Engagingly written and profusely illustrated with excellent photographs of the author's hands, the book continues to set the standard as a textbook on the fundamentals of magic." Of the four key words of this exquisite description, "fundamentals" (the other three being: "engagingly," "profusely," and "standard") stands out in my mind. This book is truly foundational in virtually every aspect of sleight-of-hand magic. The "Hand Magic" section covers sleight-of-hand with cards, coins, billiard balls, a short section on the cups and balls, thimbles and cigarettes. 188 pages of the book's 404 pages are devoted to this single section.
Within the "Hand Magic" section, the emphasis is on the chapters devoted to cards and coins, providing a solid foundation of sleight-of-hand ranging from the rudimentary to, as Crimmins alluded, advanced material. However, Hay's clear instructions and illustrations allow a motivated beginner to make the daunting transition from beginner to intermediate conjurer a little easier. For instance, it was through this book that I, while in my early teens, first learned the classic pass and side steal, which in turn inspired me to search out other reference books on card magic. It also instilled in me my initial love for coin magic and led me to acquiring Bobo's seminal work The New Modern Coin Magic. Every book I own on sleight-of-hand rests firmly on the foundation created by this single book.
More than just a book on sleight-of-hand, The Amateur Magician's Handbook also provides very good foundational material on non-sleight-of-hand magic. There are sections/chapters on key-cards, gaff decks (strippers, Svengali, etc.), stacks and other types of magic (including some non-card material) Hay refers to as "Head Magic." This is not mental magic, but magic that uses subtlety, the aforementioned gaffs & stacks and other gimmicks including a ring on wand that is lovely in its simplicity.
The section on apparatus magic include chapters on silks, more gimmicks & gaffs (the thumb tip, card index, nail writer etc.), and various magical apparatus, the most important being the linking rings. More important still are Hay's opening remarks in this section that relates his obvious disregard for garish apparatus and an admonition in the form of a set of questions the budding performer should ask him/herself before acquiring a new shiny tube or box.
Relatively short sections on Mental Magic, Intimate Magic (non-card close-up) and Children's Magic follow. Like the section on apparatus magic, Hay was not an expert in these areas, so he merely scratches their surfaces. However, without apology, he refers the reader to experts within each field. In the case of mental magic, he suggests the works of Annemann and Corinda. For close-up, he points out that at this point, the reader has quite a bit of potential material from this book, but also recommends the works of Martin Gardner and Lewis Ganson. Though other effects are briefly described, the section on the close-up performance is the most important part of this section. For the children's section (an area of magic I avoid like the plague; not because of a disdain for children, balloon doggies or the other types of material one needs to perform for them, but because I do not have the skill-set required to perform for the little darlings), Hay covers some basic magic (some taken directly from his other publications), and refers the reader to the works of David Ginn and Francis Ireland Marshall among several others.
The section on Platform Magic, described by Fitzkee in his Genii review as having, "the least value in the book," touches on the creation of routines, looks at tables and servantes, staging, publicity and other advice. Also in this section is an interesting piece, written by James Randi, on rehearsing and coaching using a video camera. Obviously this section is one of the newest in the book.
Some of the names behind the material throughout this book are astounding. To mention just a few, there are pieces by Ross Bertram, Annemann, Cardini, T. Nelson Downs, Nate Leipzig, Paul Rosini, Sid Lorraine, Stanley Collins and John Mulholland. There are several others, and all are properly credited, though there were some questions regarding permission bandied about after the book's publication, though I could find no obvious controversy around the issue. However, the dissemination of information and opinion were quite different back then than they are today. In 1950 people would speak up their sleeves, while today they can stand upon their cyber-soapboxes and shout at anyone willing to listen. Make no mistake about it; The Amateur Magician's Handbook is a compilation of high quality material and this time from the domain of both technique and effect. Similar compendiums today meet the wrath of some pundits, questioning the wisdom of such endeavors.
Unlike the purposely-ambiguous style chosen by Bruce Elliott in our first selection, the descriptions in this volume - when complete - are crystal clear and easy to read. The illustrations are clear and, as Crimmins said, viewing them "is an education in itself."
Also make no mistake about the fact that this book has touched the lives of thousands of magicians and would-be magicians. Hopefully the latter were given an appreciation of the art during their encounter with the work. The former - among whom I am counted - were not only given an appreciation of the art, but the writing of Henry Hay also fosters a deep desire to continue learning and growing within it.
I look forward to your comments.
PS: My thanks to Mike Caveney, Gordon Bean and Richard Hatch for their direction, time, and input.