Vernon's silhouettes

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Postby Guest » 05/31/06 08:22 AM

Does anyone know if Verner/Vernon signed the silhouettes he cut? If not, is there any way to recognize his originals?

All the best,

Postby Joe Hanosek » 05/31/06 09:19 AM

I've seen them signed, sometimes just stamped (embossed), sometimes both.
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Postby Guest » 05/31/06 09:53 AM

As a collector for 30 years I can tell you that you have to handle a lot of silhouettes to be able to recognize an individual artist's style without a signature.

A while back a signed Vernon sold for several hundred dollars on eBay (overpriced in my view) while a week later I recognized two unsigned Vernons that he did at the World's Fair and bought both for less than $10 each. I own a fair number of his work amongst the 3,500+ in my research collection.

Vernon was not the "best silhouette artist ever" as some would have you believe. He was one of the better cutters of the 1920s and 30s when the mood or sobriety hit him. He cut over a number of years so there are plenty of examples in the market place. Unless the silhouette is particularly collectable - a famous magician or other notable - they are worth far less than the hundreds some seem willing to pay.

Postby Guest » 05/31/06 04:22 PM

What would have made Vernon "one of the better"
cutters? Are there any other magicians in your 3500+ collection?
I'm pleased that this thread is started. That Vernon had the talent to create a portrait of someone by cutting a piece of black paper (to me
as a journeyman illustrator) is as notable a skill as his skill with cards,cups,rings, et al.

Postby Guest » 05/31/06 05:49 PM

Originally posted by David Alexander:
A while back a signed Vernon sold for several hundred dollars on eBay (overpriced in my view) while a week later I recognized two unsigned Vernons that he did at the World's Fair and bought both for less than $10 each. I own a fair number of his work amongst the 3,500+ in my research collection.

Unless the silhouette is particularly collectable - a famous magician or other notable - they are worth far less than the hundreds some seem willing to pay.

How would one tell if an unsigned silhouette is a Vernon. (That is if you are willing to part with that potentially profitable information?)


Postby Guest » 05/31/06 07:16 PM


Vernon had a nice sense of proportion and balance, although he did have a tendency to emphasize the chin in many of his cuts. He did nice "slash" work without over-doing it - that is, he was able to add to the silhouette by cutting out certain parts of the paper without overdoing it. He did very nice collars and neckties on men and hats and accessories on women, but did not over do them as so many other artists are wont to do. As a pro, I'm sure you know what I mean.

When he was on his game, his small bust portraits were just marvelous and as good any one then working and far better than most. I've been cutting silhouettes for over 25 years and Vernon's work and that of several others are always lessons in balance and proportion.

Cord -

On recognizing his work - you simply have to handle a lot of his work and that of others to be able to recognize the difference. It's pattern recognition, the pattern of what he does and how he does it.

Adding to that, I will tell you that Vernon's work clearly shows exposure to several other silhouette artists who were either contemporaries or in the generation immediately before him.

Working in NYC and at Coney Island I know he was exposed to these people. Being familiar with their style shows their influence on Vernon as he, like most artists, did not function in an artistic vacuum.

Certainly looking at the work of Larry Gray and Paul Fox you can see Vernon's influence on them as they both learned from him.

One final thought, I read somewhere that Vernon's claimed genesis as a silhouette art was that he'd seen a silhouette artist who wasn't very good and claimed he could do the same thing. Picking up a pair of scissors he produced a silhoutte that those present thought was superior to the one from the professional artist.

The problem I have with this story is that it is exactly the same story that the famous silhouette artist August Edouart told of his beginnings. Exactly. I suppose it could have happened twice, the first time in 1824 and the second time in the early 1900s, but I'm too cynical to believe it.

As magicians "make their own glamour" as John Booth once defined it, I'm willing to accept it as a nice story.

Postby David Scollnik » 05/31/06 08:15 PM

Originally posted by David Alexander:

One final thought, I read somewhere that Vernon's claimed genesis as a silhouette art was that he'd seen a silhouette artist who wasn't very good and claimed he could do the same thing. Picking up a pair of scissors he produced a silhoutte that those present thought was superior to the one from the professional artist.
Well, you know clearly more about this subject of silhouettes than I do. But this one story is related in Volume 4 of The Vernon Chronicles. In it, I believe Vernon recounts his father saying that his sense of proportion was better than that of the other anonymous silhouette cutter, but that his father followed that comment up by saying that the other cutter did a better job with the collars. So the praise was not as absolutely positive as in the version of the story you heard.
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Postby Guest » 06/01/06 04:51 AM

Check out (I think I had to Google it first), they are getting lots of press from Jane magazine.

Postby George Olson » 06/01/06 07:22 AM

Did Vernon ever cut in Chicago in the 40's?

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Postby Guest » 06/01/06 07:28 AM

Don't know if Vernon cut in Chicago in the 40s. I know he was at the Century of Progress in 1933 as I spoke with a fellow artist there who laughed that "Dave" was far more interested in card tricks than in cutting silhouettes.

Postby Guest » 06/01/06 08:40 AM

Its really a small world.

I went to visit my sister in OK city a few years ago. The guest bathroom was being repaired, so I showered in their master bath. While combing my hair, I happened to glance down to the wall by the sink. There was a sillouette of a small boy. Could it be.....? There at the bottom of the frame was the distinctive handwriting and "Vernon").

My brother in law explained that when he was a boy in the 50's, his mother took him to a department store in Kansas City, where a man cut his sillouette! My sister was not aware of the connection between that sillouette and my magic hero!

Postby Guest » 06/01/06 03:55 PM

Imagine that....very nice story.
Steve V

Postby George Olson » 06/01/06 04:09 PM

I got the cutting out of the box, it is signed by "Robert Singleton" with a very flowing script. As I remembered it looked like a "v" but alas it's not a Vernon.
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Postby Guest » 06/01/06 06:09 PM

Singleton was a contemporary of Vernon, perhaps a bit younger. He cut somewhat in the style that several did at that time. Singleton did a very nice bust cut. He taught an artist I knew years ago.

Postby Guest » 06/01/06 06:11 PM


You should have your family get the silhoutte out of the bathroom as high humidity is not good for it. You should also remove any cardboard from the rear and replace it with acid-free museum board. Acid will migrate from corrigated cardboard or cheap chipboard especially in high humidity.

Postby Guest » 06/03/06 08:39 AM

I am interested in knowing more about the silhouettes that Vernon did of Houdini. There are at least 2 that I am aware of. There is the one that appeared in The 4th Vernon Chronicles and that, I believe, was sold at a Swann auction a few years back. It was on the cover of their auction book if I remember correctly. That one was signed as "Verner." Another one that I have seen in the recent issue of Genii or Magic looks to be signed by "Vernon," obvioulsy later in his life.

Is anyone able to shed any light on these, or others? Did Houdini actually pose for these, or own them? Are there others out there?

Many thanks.

Postby Guest » 06/06/06 02:23 PM

I know of only one silhouette artist who, with certainty, cut Houdini from life. That was Beatrix Sherman. Sherman persued the cutting of the famous of her day with a single-mindedness that was amazing. She cut 11 presidents of the United States, all from life.

Sherman had three copies of her silhouette of Houdini all cut at the same time and signed by him. They were full-lengths. Swann erred when they identified the full-length silhouettes as by Vernon. I corrected that error in an email by telling them that I had the duplicate in my hand just a few months before, it then being in a private collection. I had a perfect copy of it.

The Swann Sherman silhouette of Houdini sold a couple of years ago bringing in $8,000 plus buyer's premium. The duplicate that I had handled sold a year later for, oddly enough, the same amount. The third copy is in the hands of a museum.

Vernon did have some celebrity silhouettes that were signed by the subjects. Had he cut Houdini from life it is likely that he would have had him sign the silhouette.

Postby Guest » 06/07/06 01:10 AM

Here's an interesting silhouette website:

And it even includes a page devoted to Dai Vernon:

Postby Guest » 06/07/06 06:47 AM

David Ben owns a silhouette of Houdini cut by Dai Vernon. Whether or not it was cut from life I can not say. What I can say (wait for it... the commercial message is almost here) is that there is considerable information about Vernon's silhouette cutting career in the new bio David wrote, which is due to ship from the printer in about three weeks. Check out for more info.

Gabe Fajuri

Postby Guest » 06/10/06 05:28 PM

Wasn't there a book,with the Vernon silhouettes published?

Not to side track, I've seen a book with caricatures drawn by Gary Darwin. Any idea on how much a Darwin drawing goes for?

Postby Guest » 06/11/06 01:35 PM

There were two Houdini silhouettes in the Swann Galleries auction on 10/30/2001. One was signed D W Verner (Circa 1918) and the Beatrix one was signed to John Mulholland. These were in my collection along with most other Houdini items in that sale. Of the items, I like the D W Verner one the most as it was a true, true image of Houdini. It graced the cover of that particular sale.

Postby Guest » 06/11/06 03:49 PM

Originally posted by Latimer Bardens:
Wasn't there a book,with the Vernon silhouettes published?
There are a number of Vernon silhouettes published in the Al Baker book from The Miracle Factory.

Postby Guest » 06/11/06 04:50 PM

Vernon did the silhouette of Houdini that appeared on the cover and the title page of HOUDINI - His Legend and Magic by Doug Henning.

He also did one of Henning and it faces the Houdini silouette on the title page.

Chuck Romano

Postby Guest » 06/11/06 08:12 PM

Mr. Alexander,
Would you be willing to offer quick recommendations regarding preferred equipment (paper, scissors, et al) and any other direction for a complete beginner?

--Does one just grab some black construction-paper and start cutting? (Friends, family-members, pets, local personages...?)
Obviously, much practice has to be put-in to gain anything near "proficiency".

I imagine that after 25 years, you are able to expertly whip them out by "feel"; or do you still have to be meticulous and follow a "certain system" every time? (Is it one continuous cut, or do you cut say, the hair first and then roughly clip-out the chin & the nose, and go back for the fine, finishing-details later?)

I have a good bit of experience in quite a few different media, and I believe silhouettes are within the realm of possibility for me skill-wise (I am thinking as suave and classy presents for people, come the holidays) thus Sir what is your advice? --IF you don't mind, after all, my asking?

This is one of those too-rarely-exhibited, seemingly nearly-lost-skills that are so unfamiliar to most of today's folks, that they appear virtually brand-new.

[Please forgive me an art-history digression: The romantic old stories of cutting silhouettes by the sea 75 years ago (and the prices those puppies now-a-days command) have reminded me how the legendary Alexander Calder would go to parties in New York or Paris during the '20s with a pair of pliers and a roll of bailing-wire. He would then, for fun, bend and twist a wire-portrait of everyone at the party, which he freely gave away as souvenirs. If your family owns one of those these days well, say no more...]

It must be nice to be at a party and make something for someone that you can be fairly sure will go down in that person's family.

Postby Guest » 06/11/06 10:37 PM

The reason good silhouette artists have always been hard to come by is because it is extremely difficult to do well and easy to screw up.

In Coney Island and New York City Vernon was exposed to some of the best then working as is evidenced by his Deco-style cuts. Two artists he must have known are clearly evident in his work.

Having collected and cut for 30 years, having researched over 150 named silhouette artists working in the 20th Century for my forthcoming book on the history of 20th Century silhouette artists, I've seen a number of artists develop styles that are recognizable even without a signature.

I learned by apprenticing myself to an old cutter who taught me the basics which I got down in 9 months of several hours daily practice. It was a grind and the little bits of cut paper get everywhere. I had callouses and blisters on my fingers and lots of days with very sore hands.

After that, I thought I was fairly good. The truth is, I wasn't, and produced sub-par silhouettes for a time after that, but I made a study of it. (I gringe when I see my early work.)

Over time I developed a sense of proportion and balance. My education was greatly helped when I was on the road in the late 70s. At one point I knew a lot of the senior silhouette artists then working. Most liked me and were very helpful, but I was working professionally then and was not a beginner. Nearly all of them are gone now.

Several old timers willed me their archives which has helped a great deal in putting together a history of a group of artists, many of whom were itinerant.

I also bought nearly everything on silhouettes in the English language and bought hundreds and hundreds of silhouettes by other artists to study. The few so-called instructional books are a waste of time and were produced just to make money for the "instructing artist."

Learning to control the scissors and then being able to translate what you see, with a tiny bit of caricature and exaggeration to get a likeness is the key. You can cut out a profile out of a photograph and it won't look as much like the subject as a well-executed, free-hand, scissor-cut silhouette by a competent artist. Too much or too little and you miss the mark. I don't think anything but endless experience can teach you that.

I always tell people that the silhouettes I cut are "free." What they're paying for are the 50,000 I had to cut to get good.

When I cut today, people are amazed at the speed - around 90 seconds per subject - but I'm not a fast cutter and don't aim to be. Speed seems to be something of a bragging point by some of the old cutters. I think it's absurd. One woman I knew proudly pointed to a crappy thing she'd done that actually got published in a newspaper, proudly announcing that she'd cut it in 12 seconds....and what did I think of that?

I said I thought it looked like it was cut in 12 seconds.

Frankly, I'm not in the business of creating competition and don't teach. I did teach another guy some years ago, but he paid a fair amount for the instruction. A year into his studies he sent me a beautiful little full-length silhouette of a young girl. Marvelously done....and I told him so. I also told him I thought it was marvelous when Baron Scotford cut it in 1914, as he'd copied it out of a book and thought he'd pass it off to me as something original. I'm fortunate in having a retentive graphic memory and he was surprised that I knew an image from what he thought was an obscure book.

In my travels years ago I ran into an old magician who cut. I invited him to lunch as I was leaving his city that night. He couldn't have lunch with me that day as he explained he was delivering a number of silhouettes he'd faked, copies of old cuts to be sold by local antique dealers. He said he did that to "supplement" his retirement. There are lots and lots of fakes floating around. It takes a lot of study to spot them.

Sorry I can't be more informative, but silhouettes are not a hobby with me. They and magic, and a bit of writing, are how I make a living.

Postby Guest » 06/11/06 10:58 PM

Fair enough, Dear Sir: of course, I must now take the challenge, practice from scratch, and look forward to the day when we'll cross paths, if ever, and I can illustrate that I am not a dilletente. (Pardon my spelling.)
P.S. I already figured there was more to it than black construction paper...

Postby Guest » 06/12/06 04:20 PM

I look forward to your book on silhouettes. I am in awe of the person who can create an exquisite
likeness, in less than two minutes, only by outline.
Many skilled magicians perform Vernon's Rings,Cups and Balls,Cards,etc, but I know of
none who do Vernon's silhouettes. A unique skill
not recognized nearly enough.

Postby Guest » 06/12/06 04:49 PM

Thanks, Earle. The Great Depression caused a number of people to take up silhouetting as a way of keeping the wolf from the door. Many had short careers of just a few years while others did it their entire lives. Some made great money and others, not so much.

Think of silhouetting as two dimensional sculpting, a subtractive process as opposed to drawing, which is additive. You just cut away all the paper that isn't the person and you have their likeness....with an artistic touch or two to make it look right.

Vernon did give instructions/advice to Bob White who cuts a very nice silhouette. It's easy to see Vernon's influence on White's work....and the artists who influenced Vernon.

Postby Leonard Hevia » 07/02/06 01:01 PM

That was a wonderful post David. I look forward to reading your text when it's published.

Castawaydave, have you seen the Revelations video/DVD of Vernon cutting a silhouette of Steve Freeman? Vernon discusses the correct type of scissors and paper rquired for proper cutting. You also get to witness the cutting procedure firsthand. Take a look... :rolleyes:
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Postby Guest » 07/02/06 07:18 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Leonard.

While the scissors are relatively easy to aquire (there are several types that will work) the paper is another thing entirely.

Over 20 years ago I went to make an order with the supplier I used as I was running low. He informed me that the manufacturer was no longer making that paper.

After a mildly frantic search I learned that the manufacturer's warehouse had five boxes of paper left. Five boxes of five reams each. I bought everything they had and as a consequence, haven't had to worry about paper for a very long time. I don't even know if it's being made, or if it is being made, if it's any good.

Some silhouette paper cut better than others and some was completely useless. Not all black paper is created equal.

Like a good magic effect, there are a lot of little details to being a successful silhouette artist, most of which have never been published.

Postby Leonard Hevia » 07/08/06 07:57 AM

You're welcome David. Your posts are never dull. I still remember your story about the patrons you had to straighten out while performing the Miser's Dream.

As with all things that are difficult, cutting silhouettes requires lots of repetition/practice to get it right. I wonder if you can find the correct type of paper at a fine art store supplier. Vernon mentioned that the right scissors were the type used by surgeons.
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Postby Guest » 07/08/06 10:20 AM

Thanks again.

Because of the situation with paper that I've described, I have no experience with the art store paper, except that it is, in comparison, incredibly expensive. Using it to learn and practice to get to even a basic level of competence would be costly.

Postby Guest » 07/12/06 02:02 PM

I was just wondering if there is a tentative date that you've set for your book to be released?

Postby Guest » 07/12/06 04:28 PM


No precise date at the moment as I'm packing my house to put it up for sale, moving out of California...going east. The collection is in many boxes and all the work on the book is on hold for a few months.

Once we buy a new house and get set up, I'll be at work on the finishing touches of the book. It will cover over 150 artists who cut during the 20th Century. I've been collecting for 30 years and have a detailed collection that represents nearly everyone, although I have drawn from several other private collections as well as generous input from relatives of deceased artists.

Doing the histories of mostly itinerant artists has been an interesting challenge.

Postby Guest » 07/12/06 05:25 PM

Where are you moving, sir?

Postby Guest » 07/12/06 06:10 PM


Postby Guest » 07/12/06 06:26 PM

Ahh...I have had many great times in Tennessee: Memphis, Nash-vegas.
Here's wishing you all the best.

Postby Guest » 07/12/06 07:28 PM

Thanks. We're looking forward to it. Looks to be a great place.

Postby Guest » 07/13/06 08:47 AM

Thanks for the reply. I wish you all the best on the move and the unpacking. I will continue to follow this thread and wait for updates on the book here.


Postby Guest » 07/13/06 02:23 PM

Thanks, Wade. Probably 75% of the book is written, but I've received additional materials and silhouettes that I want to incorporate.

Chapters will detail the careers and lives of the artists with as much info as I've been able to dig up. Some are plentiful in detail as I have their entire lives, others a bit less, but a few remain mysteries despite my efforts.

Even digging through old newspaper files turns up nothing on them, so, it's time to stop digging and publish.


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