Who invented the Topit?

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Matthew Field
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Who invented the Topit?

Postby Matthew Field » June 22nd, 2018, 10:01 am

At the recent History Gathering @ The Magic Circle, attendees received a small gift or two on exiting. Mine was a copy of the July 1924 "Magician Monthly", a rather mediocre slim magazine published by Hamleys, a London department store with a large magic department.

In one of their house ads, I found the following:

Topit, Invented by Harold Comden. The Wonderful Vanishing Pack of Cards .... (and so on).

Can anyone enlighten me as to who Harold Comden was, and the reason he is credited?

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Bob Farmer
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Bob Farmer » June 22nd, 2018, 10:33 am

No idea, but I recall Pat Page telling me the Topit was a device used by thieves that magicians had adopted. Pat didn;t actually need a Topit to do Topit-like things. He once had me hold a clear circular glass tray. He blew smoke into a glass and inverted the smoky glass on top of a red ball that was sitting on the tray. He swirled the glass and the ball vanished. It was astounding. The method was even more astounding: he'd used a regular Topit throw but the ball landed up under his jacket at shoulder height.

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Matthew Field
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Matthew Field » June 22nd, 2018, 11:00 am

That's the story I know -- a shoplifter's under-the-coat bag. I saw Pat do many things with (and without) the Topit.

But who is this Harold Comden?

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 22nd, 2018, 12:12 pm

THE MAGICIAN MONTHLY, February 1920
Top-it.
IS IT A MIRACLE? WHAT ? ?
"TOPIT"
The wonderful Vanishing Pack of Cards,
Invented by HAROLD COMDEN.
A most Peculiar, Puzzling, Perplexity and Curious, Convincing, Conception.
An ordinary pack of cards after being shuffled, is held in the hand in full view and instantly vanishes, without any cover being used.
Can be performed surrounded by spectators, without fear of detection.
Positively no trick cards, elastic, cord or thread used, and impossible to fail.
Chris Van Bern says:—"I consider the card vanish evolved by HAROLD COMDEN, absolutely perfect, practical and most bewildering "
Robertson-Keene says " Re the card vanish, I think its effect is most puzzling and quite indetectable. Candidly it fooled me at first."
MAGICIANS ! You must include this mysterious, magical, marvel in your repertoire to be up-to-date. This unique, most effective and
practical illusion complete with illustrated instructions.
This advertisement is copyright.
A. W. GAMAGE, LTD., HOLBORN, LONDON, E.C. I

THE MAGAZINE OF MAGIC APRIL, 1920
LADIES' NIGHT AT THE MAGICIANS' CLUB.

The last ladies' night entertainment of the Magicians' Club was given on Sunday evening, April 4th, at the Bijou Theatre, Bedford Street.
Houdini, the President of the Club, was in the chair, and was supported by Carl Hertz. The theatre was packed to the doors, and many members had to be content with standing room.
The proceedings began with a graceful little speech from Houdini, who welcomed the members and ladies to the entertainment and said how glad he was to be among them once more a fter an absence of nearly six years.
A very enjoyable entertainment was thoroughly appreciated by the crowded audience.
Harold Comden presented a number of clever card tricks, including a very convincing version of the Nap Hand trick, and concluded with his own mystery, " Topit," showing, incidentally, that in " Topit " he has a very useful accessory. Every magician can find some use for " Topit."

ABRA, 1953:
Now here's an interesting letter from Henry Renaud, inventor and silk specialist, of Bath:
I was a little disappointed that in your Editorial note about the Topit Vanisher you did not mention its inventor, my friend Mr. Harry
Comden. This useful accessory was at one time known as " The Comden Topit Vanisher" or "Topit—the Vanishing Pack of Cards." Comden
always had it with him, and I have often seen him perform miracles with it. One in particular stands out in my memory.
I saw him work this in Snell's Saloon Bar, Ilfracombe. Before the last war this bar was frequented during the summer season by pros,
working in C.P. at the Pavilion and the Alexandra, as well as those engaged by various hotels. Harold's special effort was this. Obtaining
a double sheet of newspaper from the bartender, he would tear it in two and place one half on the bar as a working surface. On this he placed the smaller tumbler, inverted, inverted the large glass over it, and then shaped the remaining paper around the outer glass. Then he twirled the glasses around—you could hear them clinking. Suddenly raising the paper right off the counter, he showed that the half-pint glass had disappeared.
A spectator felt inside the larger glass for assurance. Bringing the paper shape back to the counter, Harold caused the larger glass to vanish in the same way, finally smashing his fist down on to it. It was all done with the Topit*. . . . Comden invented many magical items, most of them (he told me) marketed by Hamleys. Here are three:
The Great Sensation. Suspended squarely from a wooden rod held by a spectator is a cotton handkerchief. The performer brings the upper
end of a two-foot length of black tape behind the hank's centre. The right hand, shown empty, comes to the handkerchief's centre-front
and pulls the tape right through, the hanging tape behind the handkerchief shortening accordingly as he does so. The penetration finished,
the handkerchief is shown undamaged and the left hand to be empty. The Great Test. A grand spiritualistic effect with three books, a sheet of paper and an envelope. It would take too much space to describe it here ; but believe me, many mentalists would spend sleepless nights
over it if they saw it presented by the originator.
Pip-Pip. An offtrail effect with 52 loose card pips, a paper bag, an easel, a piece of ribbon and a large knife, and a card selected by a spectator. Harold performed this for me at his digs one afternoon, and I was greatly impressed.
In '38 or '39, he left Ilfracombe, apparently for good. I never knew what became of him. I should like to know if any reader has news of him.
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Tom Frame » June 22nd, 2018, 12:13 pm

The earliest attribution I could find was Stanyon's Magic, vol. 15, No. 4, Jan. 1920, page 27: "Topit" The Wonderful Vanishing Pack of Cards. Invented by Harold Comden.
"There is more to consciousness than meets the mind's eye." - Frame

Philippe Billot
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Philippe Billot » June 22nd, 2018, 12:30 pm

MAGIC (Stanyon) JANUARY 1920, page 27

Topit,” The Wonderful Vanishing Pack of Cards.--Invented by
Harold Comden. Is it a Miracle - or What ? Any pack of cards,
shuffled and examined by the audience, vanishes like a flash, without
cover of any kind. Clap hands, it’s gone. No “ pulls ” of any kind
used and may be done in a Circus. Chris Van Bern s?ys, “ Perfect,
practical and most Bewildering.” Robertson Keene-“ Candidly, it
fooled me.” Ellis Stanyon-‘.‘ Failed to discover method employed
at a distance of two feet.;’ Okito-“ A very ingenious device, new
in principle, and may be used to vanish any article.” Complete
with illustrated instructions Post Free, 6/3.

https://geniimagazine.com/wiki/index.php?title=Topit

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby performer » June 22nd, 2018, 1:53 pm

I could swear it was George Davenport but I may be wrong. Still, that is what I remember from my youth. Everybody said it was George Davenport.

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby performer » June 22nd, 2018, 1:56 pm

Oh, I looked it up on Google. It seems that Harold Comden invented it and George Davenport made it famous.

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Philippe Billot » June 22nd, 2018, 2:14 pm

performer wrote:Oh, I looked it up on Google. It seems that Harold Comden invented it and George Davenport made it famous.


Yes, this is reported by Patrick Page in his book entitled Topit, published in 1966.

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 22nd, 2018, 7:29 pm

Maybe the name "topit" originates with Comden. The thing itself was public knowledge by 1891 and likely predates this book by a few generations. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42628/4 ... 2628-h.htm
...Another of the poachers, nicknamed the "gentleman," was wont to attire himself in broad-brimmed hat and frock coat similar to those worn a century ago by the people called Quakers. In the former he carried his nets, and in the capacious pockets of the latter the game he took. These outward guarantees of good faith away from his own parish precluded him from ever once being searched.
Maybe the particular sleight he used? I wonder how many packs of cards he made vanish before explaining it.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 22nd, 2018, 7:54 pm

whoops, that reads as a cut/dry. Sorry. I'd like to read more about Comden and his tricks. In particular his "topic" <- was that word play with "top it"? For folks who got to see Patrick Page use the item - how did Comden's work compare?
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby performer » June 22nd, 2018, 7:57 pm

Apparently George Davenport was the King of the Topit. I bet Pat Page learned it from him in the first place.

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Matthew Field
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Matthew Field » June 23rd, 2018, 3:18 am

Thank you Richard, Philippe, Tom and the others contributing to the answer to my query.

I love this Forum.

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Andy Galloway
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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby Andy Galloway » June 29th, 2018, 5:25 pm

As a teenager in the 1950`s John Ramsay took me into Davenport`s to meet George and asked him if he would do something for me. George picked up a pack of cards from the counter, gave it a casual shuffle, then threw it into the air where it promptly vanished. Following this, he took a glass tumbler and dropped a billiard ball inside it, then blew a mouthful of cigarette smoke into the tumbler. He shook it causing the ball to rattle, then stopped suddenly and when the smoke had disappeared, so had the ball. George always wore a double breasted jacket which gave him a bit of extra cover for the Topit. Jean, George`s daughter once told me that her father once vanished the family kitten in his Topit. It was a privilege to see him work.

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Re: Who invented the Topit?

Postby performer » June 29th, 2018, 8:22 pm

George Davenport was the second magician I ever showed a trick to. I had been doing magic for a couple of years and was completely self taught from books and I had never met any magicians. I wish it had stayed that way come to think of it. But for better or worse I started to come into contact with magicians.

I was young and innocent and up to that point I had been getting fantastic reaction from laymen to my magic. Naturally I didn't expect it to be any different if I showed any of my repertoire to magicians. In my innocence I didn't realise they were not going to react the same way. And George Davenport didn't. I was quite shocked by the lack of reaction at the time. Come to think of it I still get crappy reactions from magicians and fantastic reactions from laymen. And as a result I have resented magicians ever since. So if I am rude to any of you blame George Davenport.


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