Big Friday sale

The Collector's Scrapbook by Gary R. Frank

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


Here's good buy for magic historians. "Scrapbook" is an apropos title, as organization here is minimal, but this hodgepodge of photos, clippings, playbills and other memorabilia will provide any lover of conjuring with an evening's pleasant reading, and the added pleasure of later revisiting the substantial graphic material included. More than twenty magic personalities are seen here, including Blackstone Sr., Malini, Ben and Marion Chavez, Dante, Goldin, Houdini, Kellar, Nicola, Chung Ling Soo, Thurston, and others.

Most magic books would benefit from the inclusion of an index; this one has an index and would have benefitted from a Table of Contents. Such a Table would have been difficult to construct, however, given the loose assemblage provided here. There is no author's voice present here; no background or commentary to weave a story or provide context, save brief captioning. Hence this is not a history text so much as it is, as labelled, a scrapbook of odds and ends, much of which has not been widely seen before by the conjuring community. Therein lies its charm.

As brief examples, magicians who are already familiar with Houdini's battles with spiritualistic mediums, and with the career of noted slate-writer Henry Slade, will find a report on two visits with Slade provided to Houdini by Frederick E. Powell. There is a brief review from New Zealand of Max Malini, circa 1918 (accompanied by a photograph of a dapper Malini in hat and overcoat). There is an excerpt from a Horace Goldin brochure in which Goldin feuds with Dante over statements about the Sawing in Half illusion, and other claims reputed to be made on Dante's behalf by Kellar and Thurston. There's a reprinted page of Thurston's advance sheet, stating theater requirements for his big show, including scenery, electrical, prop, orchestra and transportation details. Much of the material concerning Ben Chavez, founder of the famed Chavez Studio of Magic, was new to me, including promotional material and, in essence, lesson plans.

There is a wonderful essay by David Devant entitled "The Future of Magic," which ran for the public in The Strand magazine in 1919. In it, Devant repudiates the claim that the public's familiarity with advanced technology will eventually render conjuring obsolete. His argument—and his passing comments about the insignificance of exposure (recall that Devant was eventually barred from the Magic Circle over accusations of exposure)— could well have been written today. (Although I confess some reservations about Devant's approach to teaching private students.) Last but not least, there are five tipped in color plates, none of which that have previously seen color reproduction. Unfortunately these are a bit on the small side, and the first and third items in my copy (both Thurston posters produced by Otis Litho) were somewhat muddy, perhaps the result of poor lighting, focus, or both. However the other Thurston/Otis (essentially a remake of the famous Thurston/Strobridge "Imps" poster) is quite nice, and the two Carter posters, while again small, are beautiful. Any way you consider it, this book is a bargain for magic buns.

"The magicians of the future will have no use for a prop which looks like conjuring apparatus and nothing else...A trick which is obviously brought about by the use of some clever and ingenious apparatus has no great interest for the public of today."—David Devant, 1919, The Collector's Scrapbook

8-1/2" x 11" perfect bound; 96 pages; 5 color plates, over 50 photographs plus other illustrated material: 1994; Publisher. Gary R. Frank