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
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