Of Legierdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks: Columns from The Linking Ring (1949-1966) by John Braun & William Broecker
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 1999)
When John Braun died in 1988 he left behind a profound influence on the International Brotherhood of Magicians and, in particular, upon longtime readers of their house organ, the Linking Ring. In addition to having served as International President of the I.B.M. 1946-1947, he began writing for the magazine in 1938, inaugurating his first column, entitled "From the Dealer's Shelves," in 1939. Subsequently he served variously as features editor, reviewer, columnist, and as editor of the Linking Ring during two periods, from 1942 until 1950 (when he resigned to become feature editor), and then again from 1965 through 1967.
Now, noted collector, historian, and sometime embattled I.B.M. official Ken Klosterman has published this magnificent collection of Braun's best-known column, "Of Legierdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks" (a phrase drawn from Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft), which ran from May 1949 through December 1966. An engineer by profession (one of many engineers who have made notable impressions upon the art), Braun was a passionate explorer of magic's richly varied terrain, and each month shared the depth and breadth of his expertise with his readers, frequently inviting them to accompany him on voyages driven by his indefatigable curiosity. Braun variously edited, contributed to, consulted upon, and even ghost-wrote numerous books—he had a great deal to do with the makings of Bobo's Modern Coin Magic, for example—often with-out formal or complete credit, and some of which we may never fully know. He was confidant and advisor to countless magicians, especially those with literary aspirations, and the reasons why so many sought his counsel shine with blazing clarity from within these delightful pages.
It would be foolish, however, to consider this book a mere reprint. William Broecker is the editor of this volume, and he brings a kind of glory to the task that renders "reprint" a poor label for his clearly prodigious effort. You may recall that Mr. Broecker has, among other credits, recently created the remarkable index for the Magico reprints of Hugard's Magic Monthly. He has performed similar service here, providing not only an exquisitely professional 19-page index, but also created a table of contents that includes brief notations on each column's subject matter, despite the fact that Braun's subjects ranged far and wide within almost every installment.
These accomplishments would already be sufficient to merit praise, but there is more. Since the original illustrations that accompanied the Braun column are long since either lost, returned to the contributors, or otherwise inaccessible, Mr. Broecker has carefully selected more than 70 black-and-white illustrations, primarily from Mr. Klosterman's vast repository, and placed them appropriately throughout the text in order to provide an interesting and tasteful graphic accompaniment. These entries, while rather widely dispersed considering the size of the volume, are beautifully reproduced, and many were new to me, including striking photographs of Karl Germain, Nate Leipzig, and no less than the mysterious (and indeed masked) L'Homme Masque.
Mr. Broecker also designed this book, which is truly lovely, with headers, footers, and design elements in red to punctuate the production values.
I have gone on at some length about the manner in which the contents have been preserved and presented, as I believe these elements clearly warrant the attention. However, this is merely a roundabout way of saying that the package is worthy of the contents, for the contents are deliriously abundant—a golden lode of jewels and riches to any reader with an interest in and affection for our art and history. Braun was born "in the horse and buggy days," and in his lifetime saw dramatic changes in the world of magic and the greater world beyond—and he was an endlessly fascinated inhabitant of both. Thus his commentary serves as a wonderful overview of a period when aspiring magicians were "made" by books like Hoffman's Modern Magic and still made passionate study of Robert-Houdin's Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, when a young magician was cast in the crucible of seeing live performances by the likes of Germain and Houdini; and when a novitiate could sit across the card table from contemporaries like Dai Vernon and Sam Horowitz. Braun learned his lessons well, and thought nothing of excerpting lengthy material from his favorite sources, too often works that today's younger readers will have heard of but actually read little, and so here Braun can serve yet again as a superb guide and tutor.
In pursuing historical mysteries, intricacies, and oddities, Braun solicited input from his readers, and these pages are filled with the kind of fascinating detail that is far too easily and tragically lost were it not for this kind of work. Thus Louis Jerome McCord—better known as Silent Mora—contributes many letters over the years (some contributed by other correspondents), containing his personal accounts of noteworthy events, and figures of both major and minor notice (he also explains how he came to use the net in his famous Balls in Net routine). Elsewhere Braun, with the help of associates Norm Sehm and Bob Follmer, investigates apparent frictions between John Northern Hilliard and Harry Kellar, apparently tracing them to critical newspaper reviews that Hilliard may have contributed to the Rochester, New York Post Express, a delightful accounting of which appears here; the solution of this little mystery story lies with a publicity blurb that Hilliard apparently wrote for Kellar's use, but for which Kellar did not quite pay in full. These are but two of countless such gems that Braun brought to the surface, ready and waiting, to be savored again by new readers.
And if it is magic you seek, there is much here as well, from Braun's sage advice to his insightful accounts of performances of the time. In yet another kind of entry which might have been too easily lost or at least overlooked had it not reappeared here, Braun reprints a small collection of tricks, which Harry Kellar published in 1907 and 1908 in the Ladies' Home Journal. Included in its pages (for the public, no less!) is a self-contained servante of sorts, later exploited to great effect by Ron Wilson (I first learned about it in a very old set of his lecture notes), and which today is being advertised for $35! The more things change ...
Mr. Klosterman has undertaken this work on apparently philanthropic grounds, intending to return any profits to the I.B.M. The printing is a limited run-650 copies—and is only available directly from the publisher, in order to keep down costs, and the price is a genuine bargain for the quality of the package. No doubt all the history and I.B.M. buffs will be quick to obtain this, but if you haven't put a good multi-faceted reproduction or collection on your shelf in the past year—if for example you failed to heed my advice and put a volume of the Hugard’s Magic Monthly reprints on your night-stand—do yourself a favor and get a hold of this or put it on your holiday gift list. It's a present, to yourself or another, that will long gladden the heart of its recipient for years to come.