Breslaw's Last Legacy by Unknown

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 1997)

Stevens Magic Emporium continues their forays into the publication of facsimiles of antiquarian works with this edition of one of the most popularly reprinted (in its day) works on conjuring in the English language. In a foreword by prominent and generous bibliophile Byron Walker, who provided his copy of a 1795 edition from which this one was copied, we are informed that no less than 21 editions of Breslaw have been identified since its initial appearance in 1784. Those editions have varied from 36 to 144 pages, and this edition represents the latter, most expansive version, selected for that very reason. The checkered past of this book's history includes the remarkable fact that Breslaw, a conjurer of German origin, likely never had anything to do with the book; his name was apparently appropriated shortly after his death by the anonymous author who wished to capitalize on whatever notoriety the real Breslaw had earned in life.

Cards are capable of affording a deal of entertainment, besides the different games which are played with them; and indeed it must be acknowledged, the tricks played with them are more innocent than anything else they are used for.Breslaw's Last Legacy, 1795

This is a wacky hodgepodge of material. There are relatively practical conjuring matters addressed including knocking a packet out of a spectator's grasp so that only the selection remains in his or her hand, here named the Nerve Trick; other card methods and material including controlled shuffles (apparently describing the use of the injog), forcing a card, gaffed half-and-half cards to enable the pack to change from mixed spots to all pictures; a description of the shirt pull; a spring-loaded wand enabling the performer to produce a card from an egg; and passing a coin through a table which, along with other items, was adopted and recycled from previous published works. There is also a wide variety of riddles and betchas and the like, based on clever wording or counterintuitive knowledge, and a number of purely mathematical feats. There are exciting if risky entertainments like tricks with mercury, and inducing a spectator to bite down on a walnut shell filled with ink, as much fun here no doubt as it was in Hocus Pocus Junior [page 322].

In more imaginative events, there is a method for bringing a drowned fly back to life (slightly predating Stephen Minch's passion for fly magic). A presentation for a card trick includes claiming that if a woman is a pure virgin her card will jump out of the pack (slightly predating Tom Mullica's balloon virgin detector); another presentation involves the magician apparently sniffing out a selected card (slightly predating David Williamson's hilarious and occasionally terrifying approach to the Fingerprint Trick). Beyond these adventures in entertainment comes an extended description of bringing a baked chicken back to life, brief biographies of notable characters, wild accounts of witches and witchcraft, and lengthy interpretations of dreams (slightly predating Freud and Jung's equally unreliable speculations). These nineteenth-century jokesters really knew how to party, so get yourself a copy of this and share in the fun. You might not be using much of this material anytime soon, but the book is a delight, the production is superb, and once again Stevens has given us the opportunity to hold and read beautiful facsimiles of rare works we might otherwise never have the chance to enjoy, for which they have my eternal gratitude and appreciation. Encourage them to keep up the good work by purchasing a copy and experiencing the joys of Breslaw's Last Legacy—even if he didn't have any thing to do with it.

4 - 1/2" X 6" laminated hardcover; 144 pages; 1997; Publisher: Stevens Magic Emporium