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The Himber Wallet Book by Harry Lorayne

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 1999)


Another book by Harry Lorayne—where is one to begin? Were this a fabulous book, I would probably be inclined to wax nostalgic about the profound influence that Harry Lorayne has had on the art of magic, especially card magic, and how his performances and books, along with an unprecedented instructional writing style, helped create a generation of cardicians, myself included.

Were this a terrible book, I might be inclined to grumpily examine Mr. Lorayne numerous foibles, including a potentially fatal over-abundance of self-esteem, and a memory almost supernatural in not only its ability to remember most anything, but also to selectively forget his influences and magical progenitors.

But this is neither a fabulous nor terrible book—it's merely somewhere in between, and in fact, tends to wander far and wide, from one end of that vast territory to the other.

The story begins once upon a time (the author fails to tell us exactly when), when Mr. Lorayne wrote a manuscript for his friend Richard Himber, entitled Best of Bill-Fooled. Subsequently, in 1963, he also wrote The Hundred Dollar Book, consisting "of effects with cigarettes plus some of the excellent routines from Best of Bill-Fooled plus some new ideas." These two titles are the rarest of Mr. Lorayne's oeuvre, having never been reprinted since their original issuance. Now the author has taken what he believes to be the best of the Himber Wallet effects from both of those works, eliminated the cigarette material, and has combined this material with a number of new items, both of his own creation and those contributed by others. Although he goes on at some length to explain that even he thinks those original works were very badly written, he has not completely rewritten them because he thinks that "the comparison should exist." This unfortunate choice now means that the reader must be subjected to constant parenthetical interruptions, informing us as to what is rewritten, what was originally written, what is partially added to or commented upon, ad nauseum.

The author should have either (a) completely rewritten the book from scratch, without all the extraneous back-and-forth commentary, or (b) reproduced the original work in unaltered form as a reference for the historical record, and then clearly delineated all additional material and commentary. This muddy middle ground results in the least readable writing to which Mr. Lorayne has ever attached his byline.

Which is unfortunate, because the contents aren't bad. On the one hand, the book consists of 51 tricks with a Himber Wallet—a rather useless project in some ways, when one considers (as Mr. Lorayne indeed acknowledges) that one is not likely to use more than any one such effect in any given performance, as any repetition would immediately make the wallet the focus of undue suspicion. The principle of the device is extremely simple—it has two identical compartments and can readily (and sometimes cleverly, especially with the additional use of the pass-through center section) switch the contents of one for the other. There's a limit to how many ways you can put such a device to use.

But until that limit is struck, there are plenty of variations for Mr. Lorayne, and a thoughtful student, to explore along the way. The most obvious use of the prop—for a "Card in Wallet" effect—is generally a poor one, considering the very direct application of the principle (switching an empty side for the side with a typically unsigned card), and the many superior versions which enable an actual signed card to be produced. (There are exceptions—a personal favorite is Scott York's "Escape From Bulgaria," which I described in the Peter Samelson issue of Genii.) Mr. Lorayne has however discovered some surprisingly interesting applications of the Himber Wallet to this effect, including handling along the lines of the Mullica Wallet, which enable the magician to produce a signed card from the wallet's interior.

One of the best and most traditional uses of the wallet has been in the way of prediction effects with multiple outs. Clearly two alternate choices can be provided by the basic mechanism of the wallet, but with the addition of double-faced cards—brilliantly utilized at least 30 years ago or more by Al Koran, combined with what became known as the 101 deck—four options are readily granted. Mr. Lorayne has developed a very practical dodge for six such outs, and has even pressed this principle to the limit and provided as many as eight or even twelve outs! A great many of the book's routines fall into this prediction category, and students will no doubt find something to their liking in this department.

The trick entitled "Polaroid Money" is one of the most famous tricks utilizing the Himber Wallet, and was in fact Richard Himber's preferred routine with the wallet, although for some reason it never saw print in the original Best of Bill-Fooled manuscript. It did appear in The Hundred Dollar Book and has been widely circulated ever since, typically being included as basic instructions accompanying the sale of the prop. In this, blank "photo-graphic" paper, when briefly enclosed in the wallet along-side some actual currency, is repeatedly printed as one-dollar, then two-dollar, and then five-dollar bills. The multiple changes make clever use of all the wallet's options, and seem to go beyond what a mere single switching device could achieve. This plot departs from the use of playing cards, utilizing something that naturally belongs in a wallet, namely money. This is a modern classic and for good reason.

In a useful summary at the book's close, the author points out, with specific examples, how the wallet can be used to achieve five fundamental applications: switch (a method, not an effect), produce, disappear, predict, min-dreading. All of these approaches are explored in the course of the book, including book tests, add-a-number, Bank Night, serial number divination, torn-and-restored card, cut-and-restored ribbon, and more.

One of the best items in the book is an idea of Doug Edward's in which an American Express Card application—the kind that you find in displays by the restaurant cash register—is converted into, in essence, a Himber Wallet. Despite the fact that Mr. Edward's recent book, also written by Mr. Lorayne, seems to have skated through the dealer's shelves with barely a ripple of notice, save for some interesting work on the Zarrow Shuffle, nevertheless this is a superb idea with wide application. In the middling class, a clever prediction of an imaginary coin flip from Larry Becker, an effect that has seen print elsewhere, is unfortunately not improved with the addition of a wallet. And speaking of not being improved, and under the heading of Al Baker's dictum that "many a trick has been improved to death," Scott Wells "contributes" an effect of Paul Gertner's, a variation of a wonderful item readers will no doubt recall from Mr. Gertner's book, Steel and Silver, in which the image of a selected card appears in the palm of a photocopied image of a hand which has been previously shown "empty." In this case the trick has been ruined by "improvement" with the addition of a blank card to the first image, which certainly manages to tip the entire surprise that a card will appear in the image of the photocopied hand.

The poor-to-nonexistent crediting is laughable at times; imagine Harry Lorayne referring to "The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley" as "It's Jacob Daley's (I think) Color-Changing Aces." Apparently it's too much effort to step to the shelves and check a copy of Stars of Magic, in order to be able to know instead of just think. This is ludicrous—almost as ridiculous as the pathetic tracings that are passed off as illustrations in this volume. Fortunately, the nature of the material doesn't require fine illustration—but that doesn't make these any more palatable. And by the way, just for a bonus dose of confusion for the uninitiated, the Daley trick is then properly named elsewhere in the book, in an entertaining multi-phase card trick contributed by Wesley James (no surprise that Mr. James got the credit right). Sprinkled throughout the book are six brief anecdotes of the author's recollections of his friend Richard Himber, certainly one of magic's most unusual characters.

All in all, a mixed bag, but an informative guide to the ins and "outs" of the Himber Wallet, a timeless utilitarian prop; you're bound to get an education, and with the application of some taste and restraint, you'll no doubt find something to put to use.

The Himber Wallet Book • Harry Lorayne • 6" x 9" hardbound with dustjacket • illustrated with 90 line drawings • 227 pages • 1998