Big Friday sale

The Tarbell Collection by Harlan Tarbell

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 1994)


Few if any reading these pages will be unfamiliar with the masterful teaching and reference texts that have come to be known as the Tarbell Course in Magic. The collected seven volumes, originally released as the Tarbell System, a mail order magic course from the late 1920's, is the standard reference guide that every serious conjuror turns to when researching an effect or when in search of "new" material. Recently an eighth volume was released by Richard Kaufman, based upon the research of Steve Burton. When all was said and done, Mr. Burton still had some unused material on hand; material from the original Tarbell System that was subsequently overlooked in the collected reprints. Mr. Burton has been kind enough to share this material with the rest of us with the release of this small volume.

"You will have difficulty pleasing everybody. Do not try it." Harlan Tarbell, the Tarbell Companion

Harlan Tarbell was a superb teacher of magic, whose efforts largely remain unquestionably timeless; his concise descriptions are as practical and readable as the day they were written. This volume is peppered with his distinctively simple yet eminently useful illustrations; a commercial artist himself, Mr. Tarbell's contribution to the nature of conjuring illustrations is an important part of his legacy.

The routines and techniques within this volume include "Various Principles of Palming and Shifts" (for cards); four additional card routines (including a Chalk Talk routine of Mr. Burton's); a quick numerical bit with paper currency; an egg bag routine climaxing with a number of body load productions from a boy assistant; several excellent methods for producing a rabbit from a hat or from a bundle of previously produced silks; Mr. Burton's routine for the production of a rabbit from a Chinese Production Box; and six large illusions that would be particularly good fodder for a young illusionist wishing to build his or her own equipment. These include the Doll House (with an excellent presentational tip), a one man version of the Substitution Trunk (yes, you read that correctly), and a simplified Sawing in Half illusion based on the Selbit method. The latter item, that may seem primitive by today's standards, but still contains some excellent points, not the least of which is that the box looks like a simple packing crate and not something designed by makers of antique automobiles.

An often overlooked element of the Tarbell Course, but amongst its most invaluable contents, are Mr. Tarbell's essays about broad subjects including presentation, routining, humor and the like. Included in this volume is an historically interesting piece about how to succeed in vaudeville, and the penultimate entry is a lengthy article entitled "Success in Magic," which offers a range of advice on the art, craft, and business of magic, much of which is still quite applicable today. This chapter is illustrated with more than twenty pages of photographs of magicians and samples of brochures, press clippings, business cards, and stationery (including Max Malini's letterhead!), which could have been better reproduced, but serve the original purposes of the author well enough.

Finally Mr. Burton, who provides some occasional commentary throughout, has done us a great favor by compiling an index of sleights covering the entire collection, e.g., eight volumes plus this "companion." This is an invaluable tool for anyone who possesses the entire series. There are, for example, some seven pages of card sleights alone, subdivided further into categories such as Changes (8 listings), False Cuts (18), False Shuffles (9), and Forces (28!), each listing the name, volume, and page number. Harlan Tarbell's efforts have served magicians over the past seven decades, and will no doubt continue to do so for centuries to come. Mr. Burton has done both Mr. Tarbell and us a favor by enhancing the record and completing our picture of the good doctor's vision.

Compiled and Edited by Steve Burton 6" X 8-3/4" two color laminated softcover; 150 pages; 130 drawings and 41 photographs; Published by Steve Burton Magic.