Big Friday sale

Hugard's Magic Monthly Volumes I, II, III, & IV by Jean Hugard, Editor and Publisher

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii April, 2005)


When I was a kid, and Tannen's was a great magic store—and dinosaurs roamed the earth— Lou Tannen kept a stack of damaged books in the back, which he would sell for half price to folks like me who wanted the information and couldn't afford pristine copies. These were "seconds" from Tannen's publishing business: misprints, missing pages, and other damaged goods. To this day, my Tarbell set is missing a few pages here and there that I've never read, and my copy of Volume One is missing its cover. I've always liked to think that perhaps that missing cover was one of the hundreds of book covers pasted on the wall behind the counter at Tannen's, filling up the impossibly high space almost to the ceiling.

Lou sold me a couple of volumes of the bound reprints of Bruce Elliott's The Phoenix in my very early adolescence, and I would pore over these pages from the 1940s, filled with tricks and gossip and names of that bygone era. It broadened the span of my knowledge of conjuring, and as well, lent me insight and affection for the culture and tradition of my art. The first time I met Del Cartier—an accidental encounter because my father, unaware that Del was an imposing figure on the underground New York magic scene, knew him through the garment industry—I recognized Del's name from reading it in the back pages of The Phoenix. I don't recall if I ever used a lot of the magic I learned in those pages, but it served as an important ingredient in my magical education, one that I appreciate and understand far more clearly now than I did thirty years ago. Thanks, Lou.

Hugard's Magic Monthly was another prominent journal from that same era. It began in June of 1943 and continued for twenty-two years—ceasing publication about the time I was buying those damaged books—filled with tricks and theory and news of the spectrum of American magic of the time, with a special emphasis on the New York scene. Jean Hugard was one of the most influential men on the American magic landscape in the early and mid-twentieth century, first as a professional performer, and later as the writer of a long list of important books, some of them in collaboration with Fred Braue. Not only did Hugard contribute a constant stream of material to this journal, but there were also regular columns by the likes of Braue and Milbourne Christopher. The contributor's list is a Who's Who of American magic of the time, including Dai Vernon, Bert Allerton, Audley Walsh, Martin Gardner, Victor Farelli, John Scarne, Ross Bertram, and countless others.

"No other art has suffered so much damage as magic has from the indiscriminate bestowal of undeserved praise."— Jean Hugard

Magico has now begun the process of reproducing what will eventually encompass the entirety of Hugard's Magic Monthly, a treasure trove that will total more than 2500 pages. This first release includes Volumes I through IV, plus an index. The next release should occur some time this Summer (just as well, since purchasers can gradually accumulate the set as it is produced, without too big a cash outlay at any one time). When the project is complete, in about two years, there will be six or seven bound volumes, with individual indexes, and finally a new master index created by Magico. The contents reflect an emphasis on card magic, both closeup and stage, but also include platform and closeup routines with coins, billiard balls, silks, thimbles, mentalism— indeed the entire gamut of magic. There is much commentary and opinion throughout, both about magic of the time, and timeless observations as well, from an abundance of sources, with a great deal coming from Hugard himself. With such a wealth of material, it's difficult to single out much in the way of particulars, but it is worth noting Hugard's words in his opening editorial from the premier issue: "There will be no straining after novelty, merely for the sake of novelty, but due attention will be given to new tricks if they are good.... My project, therefore, is not to tell how tricks are done but to instruct my readers how to do the best tricks as a good magician should do them." And indeed, Hugard's eye toward practical thinking is evidenced throughout. In fact, astute readers will recognize some early instructional material that Hugard later used in The Royal Road to Card Magic. There are glossaries of terminology, and there is detailed instructional material concerning billiard balls, the back-palm with cards, and the best description of the one-handed shuffle I am aware of. For historians of the published record there is also much of interest here, including the first descriptions of the Braue Addition, versions of the MacDonald Aces including a platform handling with jumbo cards, a scathing analysis of the missing reprint credits from J.G. Thompson's My Best, and much more.

While the magazine is packed with magic, my own favorite reading material here is that which reminded me of The Phoenix. A regular column entitled "Roundabout" was contributed by Fred Braue, and is filled with gossip and news around the American and New York magic community of the time. Braue was often the source of the material that

Hugard frequently described in their collaborations, and it is clear in this column that Braue was firmly plugged into the magic scene. This is great bedside reading; it can carry you back to another time and place and make you sigh with wonder at the glory of those who came before, and with longing for those who perhaps left before we arrived. In most issues, the last advertisement on the classified ads back page, with an address that some might recognize as belonging to Lou Tannen's shop, reads: "SPECIAL INSTRUCTION in Advanced Magic—Jack Miller, the Marvelous Magician." How I wish those lessons were available now. But others still are, in the pages of Hugard's Magic Monthly.

8-1/2" x 11'' cloth-bound, 328 pages; many illustrations; 1994; Publisher: Magico