Gibeciere Winter 2007 by Various
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2007)
The third issue of Gibeciere offers four articles by researchers from Germany, Italy, and Japan. The issue begins with an article by Volker Huber, who also appeared in the opening pages of the premier issue. This time Mr. Huber explores the history of the trick known as "The Educated Swan," whose origins are first described in 1550 in De subtilitate libri XXI by Hieronymus Cardanus. The effect is that the navigation of a tiny wooden ship, floating in a basin of water, is mysteriously controlled by the conjuror. (For an entertaining clue to the method, go to youtube.com and search on "the video that Geller does not want you to see.")
Some three hundred years later the trick was a staple in the repertoire of professional magicians, except that it had since become known as "The Educated Swan," since the boat had long before been replaced by a swan. The same principle would be seen in the 20th century in the form of commercial toys based on question-and-answer games. Mr. Huber takes us on a tour of the wide variety of variants on the theme, including in the form of elaborate automata, clocks, and other clever machinery, accompanied by a catalog of illustrations from his substantial collection.
The next entry is the continuation of Mitsunobu Matsayama's "Investigation into the Magic in Japan after the Opening of the Country." In this second installment, Matsayama traces the magical genealogy of magicians of the Yanagawa family, running to ground the identities of a 19th century line of Japanese magicians who comprise the Itchosai dynasty. This is an extremely complex detective story since, among other factors, Japanese stage names can be conferred on disciples, both during the master's lifetime or sometimes posthumously. This convention can still be seen today; Princess Tenko is actually the second Tenko, the successor to the late Tenko Hikita.
To further muddy the waters, Matsayama gradually discovered evidence that there was more than one first Itchosai and possibly as many as three. But as the story unfolds, the author eventually concludes "that the first three Itchosais ...were one and the same person." That first ltchosai, thanks partly to his mastery of the Butterfly Trick (the history of which was traced in Matsayama's previous article), gave command performances before the Japanese shogun, and for visiting foreign dignitaries. "His main apprentices succeeded in making ambitious world tours and may have brought back to Japan examples of western magic ..." And the third ltchosai, who also visited the west, turned to more traditional Japanese magic in his own country; he would eventually perform for the emperor of Japan. This installment features some beautiful graphic elements, and the genealogical chart is reprinted on a full-page bookmark for easy reference.
In the premier issue of Gibeciere, Italian magician and historian Vanni Bossi, in a superb article about the early history of the prearranged deck, touched on a book published in Italy in 1543, Dialogo di Pietro Aretino, nel quale si parla del givoco con moralita piacevole, by Pietro Aretino. In this third issue, another renowned Italian magician, Aurelio Paviato, details every instance of card cheating techniques and magic that appears in Le carte parlanti (as the book later came to be known), attempting to clarify and understand the intended meanings from their descriptions as written in 16" century Italian and littered with period jargon and slang.
This is even more difficult than it sounds, as some phrases simply cannot be reliably translated and must be guessed at based on the author's expertly informed intuition. Fans of cheating methods with cards will be fascinated by Paviato's investigations and surmises. Along with Vanni Bossi's first-issue piece on prearrangements, this might be my favorite Gibeciere entry to date. But that's the point there's probably not everything here for someone, but there is likely something here for everyone (provided that everyone has an interest in the history of magic).
The issue concludes with Peter Brauning's investiga-tion into "the augmentation of a dynasty," namely the identity of Abraham Leendert Bamberg, a Dutch conjuror somehow related to the Bambergs, although "the precise relationship is difficult if not impossible to determine." Born approximately 1794, this Bamberg was an itinerant conjuror who spent a lot of his life in Germany. The tracing of his history marks a mini-history of the royal politics and the anti-Semitism of the time, recounting as it does the various machinations of Bamberg's attempts sometimes successful, sometimes not to manipulate the system that bestowed various types of permits for travel and performance. His life is an adventure story partly an adventure in bureaucracy. That very bureaucracy fortunately provides much of the records the author unearths to help establish A.B.'s existence; unfortunately those records appear to vanish in the neighborhood of 1825 or thereabouts, and no doubt the chase shall continue apace to track this Bamberg further into his future.