Big Friday sale

The Magic Wand by Unknown

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2003)


All right, ready or not, here we come: let's up the ante to the more than 46 years and 10,000 pages of that bastion of early 20th century British magic publications, The Magic Wand. The Wand’s origins lay with the great innovator PT. Selbit who started The Wizard magazine in 1905. By 1910 however, the demands of Selbit's successful career as a full-time performer led him to hand the magazine over to magic dealer George Munro, who renamed the journal The Magic Wand. Here this digitized collection begins, in September of 1910. In the quiet of the evening, invoke a spell of the imagination, gaze into the glow of your monitor at the photo on the cover page, and allow yourself to be whisked back by a century so rapidly it will make your neck snap. There you will find a timeless image—didn't you just see it last week, even if the faces and fashions varied just a tad?—of 10 of Britain's conjuring lights, including no less than Neva Maskelyne himself, crowding around an eleventh. Who are these sessioners all tightly focused upon? None other than David Devant, of course. What a time, what a place—what an image!

In the issue that follows, there is news of Germain, of Raymond, of Leipzig. Of the latter is made this mention: "... since his visit all the local talent have discarded the two-handed pass, and are going about shoving cards out from the middle." Apparently the Side-Steal has just arrived!

There is a full report of a recent show at Maskelyne and Devant's program at St. George's Hall, including the resurrection of the Psycho automaton. There is a brief report from the Northern Magical Society; the fine print identifies the group's president as none other than Servais LeRoy. A serialized feature on card sleights is begun by Professor Hoffmann, with opening comments about the recently published book by a Mr. Erdnase. Elsewhere a new Goldston book is reviewed. There are features on shadowgraphy and ventriloquism. And there are plenty of ads for the latest commercial breakthroughs. Not bad for 16 pages!

But of course that is, as the saying goes, only the beginning. Eventually the magazine would be taken over by George Johnson. In 1921 he changed the publication schedule to quarterly, while he kept up with his other publishing ventures, including Sam Sharpe's translation of Hofzinser’s Card Conjuring (as Todd Karr writes in his printed introduction to this 3-disk set of CD-ROMS—why wasn't this included on the first disk?) Johnson's most ambitious and in some ways idealistic enterprise was the serializing of Sidney Clarke's Annals of Conjuring, which recently saw its definitive presentation in the single volume version released by The Miracle Factory in 2001 (reviewed in the November Genii of that year).

The Wand would change hands once more in 1946; it expanded its size format in 1953 and continued publication until its sudden demise in 1957. It's fair to say that few contemporary magicians have seen much of these magazines before; certainly most outside of the U.K., and younger magicians as well, have never seen it at all. Thus these pages present an astonishing array of material to pore over and submerge oneself within. While the content is digitized and searchable, the navigation is more problematic here than with Pabular and Pentagram, because there is no master index provided. In fact, many albeit not all of the volumes do contain indexes, but the reader must seek them out for himself; while hypertext linking may have been prohibitively costly for the publisher, he would have done as all invaluable service by at least doing this much, namely to assemble the indexes, such as they are, into one accessible spot. Indeed, Mr. Breese writes to me that he would have dearly loved to have digitally indexed The Magic Wand and Stanyon's Magic but it would have required an inordinate investment of time; he adds, "Perhaps one day a retired and enthusiastic magician will take the trouble to produce an index for me!" (Note that a fully cross-referenced index for Stanyon’s Magic was produced for the three-volume Kaufman and Company reprint in 1996.) Until that time, however, I would encourage readers to seek out the internal indexes and, as I have advised previously, print them out for browsing purposes. It is challenging to try to get a handle on this much material, and any small assistance in that effort can provide significant improvement.

Obviously The Wand will be of enormous interest to historians, but this was a magazine of magic as well as news, and there is plenty here to conjure with. Of course in the early years there is much in the way of Victorian era apparatus magic for the stage, but by mid-century there is plenty of modern close-up magic, with a quick glance turning up dose-up and card material from Edward Victor, and an Eddie Joseph series on the "3-Shell Game." Elsewhere Gus Southall provides an interesting, slightly flourishy but convincing in-the-hands false or "Sham Shuffle." In June of 1946, Douglas Francis contributes a trick in which the mark of a lady's kiss appears on a selected card; this is the first instance of such an effect with which I am familiar. Also in '46 E. Brian MacCarthy provides a self-contained handling for the "Stack of Pence," in which all the props are carried in (and some secretly obtained from) a matchbox, the drawer of which is used as the cover on the spectator's hand. For those who are looking for more than tricks, however, there is an abundance of delights. In 1924, George Joyce provides a brief satirical piece entitled "An Examination Paper" that made me laugh out loud. Question 1: "Have you invented a Four Ace Trick? If so, why?" Question 4: "Through what arcs of a circle do the two portions of the pack travel when making the pass, (a) by a neophyte, (la) by a stags illusionist?" Question 5: "What is the French for kite?" Question 1 I: "Do you describe yourself on your notepaper and circulars as the 'World's Greatest Magician?' If not, give a reasonable excuse."

Among the many reports from St. George's Hall, there is a brief account of P.T. Selbit's performance of "Walking Through a Wall," along with a mention of Cecil Lyle. There are advertisements for apparatus from "The Servais LeRoy Co., manufacturers of high-class magical apparatus and illusions." An exquisite newspaper print from a 1912 issue of The Daily Graphic sketches images From The Seventh Annual Festival Dinner of the Magic Circle, including one of Lyle performing, and of a weary Maskelyne who "pleads for originality." Elsewhere Maskelyne contributes a piece entitled "A Crying Need," and that crying need is, he says, for "something different." He adds, "My greatest wish, were it only possible of realization, would be that I might live to see the time when the mere fact that a certain sleight, method or effect were being used by one performer would lead all others to reject it." That time is not yet upon us, but these 10.000-plus pages may help to pass the days until its arrival.

The Magic Wand; Three CD-ROMs in two cases Martin Breese International