Some Collected Impressions from the 8th EMHC in Vienna

EMHC Vienna 2019 Head

Traveling back now from Vienna on Sunday evening, the 8th edition of the European Magic History Conference is already (very recent) history. I am more than happy to have made the trip and to have attended for the first time!

My head is spinning with interesting facts and insights from a total of 16 lectures; I have met a few familiar faces and made many new acquaintances; my magic collection has grown through a few pieces I was able to acquire; my own presentation found some kind interest; and a couple of exciting new books are about to appear!

Overall, rubbing shoulders with some of magic‘s greatest historians / collectors / luminaries like Edwin Dawes, John Gaughan, Mike Caveney, Roberto Giobbi, The Davenports, our host Magic Christian and many others has been a reverent and rewarding experience!

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Now if this blog were more tabloid style, I could yell out headlines like these:

Dutch Magician Decapitates Rabbit!
Renowned Book Collector Considered Buying A Buried Witch‘s Bones!
Famous U.S. Collector May Bring His Treasures Back Into Barnes and Attics!

 

But of course I won’t. Fortunately, I am more of the serious and responsible writing kind! However, I have no intention of giving a full and thorough review of the conference; I was there to listen, learn, and discuss. So what follows are just some facts, highlights and side notes from my very personal point of view.

For the full program and abstracts of all lectures, have a look here. For the details and the laughs you simply had to be there–sorry! But as a glimpse into the program will reveal, the diverse agenda catered to almost every field of interest: biographical notes and details on some performers and venues; books old and new and how to study them; collectors’ items; some case studies (on a gruesome illusion, a fake automaton, a famous painting, and an early trick deck from 1623), and two topics on magicians serving in wartime and political crisis.

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Shortly before the conference, Magic Christian had already announced a major surprise: the resurfacing of a fine and known Hofzinser portrait, painted by Johann Matthäus Aigner in 1846, that had been missing for almost a century. Christian had been looking for it for 25 years, mainly in museums and other collections. Then, only weeks ago, he received a phone call from a lady who offered him to acquire this huge portrait from an estate. It had in fact been hanging in a private home in Gmunden for the last 100 years! Proudly, Christian unveiled it and presented it to the participants, who were duly impressed!

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I must say I enjoyed all the talks, as diverse as they were in terms of topic, material, and presentation, but I took the most fresh knowledge and inspiration from these contributions:

Flip tracing the history of the “Decapitation Illusion”, as always with an abundance of pictures and information, and also with a word of criticism on the “trivialized” versions like “Forgetful Freddie” and the “Armcutter”. To prove his point, he successfully (non)decapitated a toy rabbit.

James and Sage Hagy with a vivid description of the magicians present (including Houdini) and their tricks at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. They very graciously handed out free copies of a beautiful little book they had prepared along their topic.

Steffen Taut shared some amazingly enlarged pictures (look here, zoom in and marvel!) and recent scientific methods to (re)assess the paintings of Jheronimus Bosch (correctly pronounced “Boss”), and he added some interesting new hypotheses on a number of details, symbols, and meanings of “The Juggler.” He concluded that there may have been an original version of this famous painting; the one we know and admire, however, was more likely painted “only” in his workshop or by a follower, but not by Bosch himself.

Francois Bost presented some exciting new findings from his own long-standing research on Robert-Houdin‘s political mission to Algiers in 1856, including a heretofore unknown letter from RH to Colonel de Neveu (who had won him for the trip). He concluded that RH had in fact played to a selected, peaceful audience of civil servants (instead of fierce, hostile Marabouts) and that the mission had caused little impact (although it was boosted by the press and RH himself), but had probably served as an early military attempt to test psychological warfare on a people with the help of a renowned magician! (This topics tied in nicely with my own presentation on magic and warfare.)

Ron Bertolla deserves our special appreciation for introducing us to French juggler-turned-creator Alain Cabooter and his wonderful (fake) automaton, “Ioni, The Magical Gymnast” (see below). Not only did he show a truly magical video presentation of Ioni’s astonishing feats at the horizontal bar, which caused thunderous applause; he also brought the treasured figure (now defunct) with their current owners to Vienna and handed out a free booklet with the full (and unhappy) story. Wow!

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Again, I can’t help but marvel at the incredibly rich and diverse history of magic, its ingenious creators and performers, and its myriad links to other arts or historical events!

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The Venue

The EMHC Conference was held at the Hotel Stefanie, Vienna‘s oldest hotel, and their service team supplied us unobtrusively with a never-ending stream of tasty food, snacks, and drinks.

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Evening Entertainment…

…included a musical and magical dinner at Marchfelderhof on Thursday. When our bus arrived there, we were greeted and treated by the owner and his team with music and flags. Inside, the fine and fun restaurant is ridiculously but charmingly loaded with thousands of  items—lamps, musical instruments, pictures, signed photographs, figurines and what not (see below). As some collector‘s spouse suspiciously opined, the trip was probably taken to demonstrate „that other collectors put much more stuff in their rooms, see, Honey?“

The magic between courses was provided by Magic Christian, Flo Mayer and Wolfgang Moser.

Wien12_Marchf

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Friday evening was spent three stories down below city level in the very old Zwölf Apostelkeller, with traditional Viennese food and some fine strolling magic performed by Robert Woitsch and Raphael Macho.

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Saturday afternoon saw us walking over to Vienna‘s huge and impressive City Hall (with 1,575 rooms, as a plaque said). After a formal reception at the invitation of the Mayor and Governor of Vienna, Dr. Michael Ludwig, we were ushered into the City Council where we marveled at the splendor of the enormous flambeau above us and soon took over the green felt tables. Reinhard Müller was the first to have the cards out. Soon after, Magic Christian performed an Ace routine (with a fine Graziadei subtlety) on this parliamentary stage where, on other days, more subtle deceptive maneuvers may be executed.

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Before attacking another buffet, we were treated with a magic show of one piece each by Robert Woitsch, Mark Albert, Wolfgang Moser and Flo Mayer. With the exception of Wolfgang Moser, all featured performers over those three days hail from the Magischer Club Wien, of which Magic Christian is the President.

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What about the Future?

The conference closed on Sunday noon with an interesting talk on the future of magic collections, how to maintain them, and all owners’ responsibility to take care of their treasures and their knowledge in due time so collections neither get thrown away, nor scattered all over the world, nor disappear in obscure museums, but rather remain within the magic community and “the big river” from which the next generation of collectors may fish.

A second topic was how to get younger magic fellows interested in the old books and tricks of our art and how to facilitate their entry into the fields of history and collecting. (I might write more about these topics in a future post.)

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Next European Magic & History Conferences:

At least, the immediate future is safe and secured: The participants confirmed to have the next meeting in London in September 2021, organized by Fergus Roy, who already announced some exciting highlights, including a look into a rather unknown collection of 1 million (!) posters. The 2023 Conference is scheduled to be held in Gent, Belgium then.

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New Book Department:

November will see the publication of the coming Bible of Bookplates (please excuse the trivialized secular term, but the alliteration was too tempting) by the late Jim Alfredson and Bernhard Schmitz. About six years in the making, Bernhard and the sic! Verlag are currently putting the final touches on the book, which will present about 1,200 magic bookplates that have been identified yet! If you want your bookplate to be included also, make sure to send it to Bernhard before October 1st!

Birgit Bartl-Engelhardt and Wittus Witt will bring out a quick encore and addition to the beautiful Zauber-Bartl Chronology (in German) that was presented to the market just last week. This one will trace the story of the „Zauberkönig“ magic dealers family, to which Rosa Bartl also belonged. (Accompanying his conference presentation, Wittus also has a lovely small book out that features about 300 magic lapel pins. It comes both with an English and a German text.)

And finally, after about 40 (!) years in the making, Volker Huber and Christian Theiß have completed the long awaited Bibliography of German Magic Books until 1945, covering some 3,100 books and booklets on 700 pages. What a monumental achievement! It will most likely set the standard for decades to come. Whether a second volume covering books from 1945 til today will follow is currently unclear, as Christian said. And if so, it might well be a decade or more away. Let’s hope and see–and in the meantime, let’s be happy about and thankful for the first volume before asking for more!

All three books are available for subscription now. Do now what you have to do! 🙂

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Magic coincidence No. 1: A surprising discovery

I may have found an interesting historical magic reference in the cheap decoration of my hotel room. Look at the depiction of that old and grim Japanese warrior above: If it‘s not some sort of fly swat, he may be handling a huge magic paddle! 😉

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Magic coincidence No. 2: A spooky discovery

Taking a stroll after Peter Rawert’s enlightening presentation on books‘ provenance research (a fascinating topic I had never even thought about before), his acquisition of a copy of Reginald Scot‘s seminal work and its link to the alleged witch Ursula Kemp (whose alleged bones he almost ended up buying!), the first shop window I looked at belonged to an art gallery and presented this painting, „Witches‘ Sabbath“ by one Bonaventura Genelli!

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Magic coincidence No. 3: A weighty discovery

Noticing this statue in the heart of magic Vienna, some of us speculated it could well be our host’s very own one, with MCD meaning “Magic Christian Denkmal” (in German) or MCM meaning “Magic Christian Memorial,” erected by his grateful admirers and disciples… 😉

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Jokes aside, we can only conclude by thanking and applauding Magic Christian once more for being such a very gracious and caring host who offered us over four days a cornucopia of magic history, both from our field and from the wonderful city of Vienna!

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More Magic in Vienna:

While being there, you may also want to check out the Museum der Illusionen (Museum of Illusions; I guess you figured that one out) with its fine optical illusions.

And in line with it, there’s currently a dazzling exhibition (until 26 October, 2019) at the mumok museum, Vertigo. Op Art and a History of Deception 1520–1970.”

(Jan Isenbart)


Addendum 29.08.2019

And here’s a full review of the conference by Ian Keable of the UK, who had presented a lecture on the four magicians in Charles Dickens’s life.


 

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Where Magic and Warfare Meet

EMHC Vienna 2019 Head

Today’s the day! I am humbled and excited to speak at the 8th European Magic History Conference (EMHC) in Vienna, Austria. You can download the full program brochure here.

I’ll be pursuing some of the many roads where magic and warfare intersect, which is quite a fascinating and multi-layered topics. These aspects include

  • the surprisingly military lingo of magicians
  • the constant “wars” some magicians are fighting
  • some magicians who were also involved in military deception (like Robert-Houdin, Jasper Maskelyne, John Mulholland, and Barton Whaley)
  • how, particularly during the Second World War, entire “ghost armies” appeared and disappeared; trucks turned into tanks and vice versa; dummy planes, trains, tanks and explosive sheep (!) helped to mislead or surprise the enemy; and deception plans were used successfully in at least five major operations of the War
  • the fact that the concept of deception has been rooted deeply in strategic and tactical warfare for thousands of years
  • the main similarities and differences between military deception and our friendly art of deception for entertainment purposes
  • some magic victims of warfare and
  • some truly “magical” war anecdotes.

I have read and acquired way too much material to put it all into my 25 minute presentation, so I guess I’ll be sharing quite a few bits and pieces here over time. Stay tuned!

Here’s my favorite picture from the presentation:

TankIllusion


 

 

Words and Thoughts on Wonder

Speaking of interviews, science magician and professional speaker Dr. Matt Pritchard from the UK runs a fine, scholarly website which I have been pointed to only very recently. In his own words, the site’s concept is quite simple:

I interview a host of creatives, magicians and scientists about their work and how they cultivate & share wonder. They are all people who have inspired me in my own work or just made me go “Wow!”

The 70+ interviews are a treasure trove of interesting people with fascinating ideas or areas of expertise. Advice: Do not only hunt for the magicians! (But make sure to read R. Paul Wilson.)

Highly recommended!

WoW
Website Screenshot

 

Zaubern mit Hirn

Wahrnehmungstäuschung, Ablenkung, falsche Annahmen – das Wissensmagazin “P.M.” widmet in seiner aktuellen Ausgabe (06/2019) sechs Seiten dem Phänomen Zauberkunst und seiner wissenschaftlichen Erforschung. Zu Wort kommen u.a. Dr. Gustav Kuhn und Apollo Robbins, erwähnt werden aber auch einige weitere Forscher und Zauberer.

Gazzo_Cups and Balls
Gazzo, ein Meister der Straßenzauberei und der Ablenkung

 

Zeitzeugen von Kalanag und Gloria für Buchprojekt gesucht

Im Frühjahr 2020 soll endlich eine in Zauberkreisen bereits gespannt erwartete Biografie von Helmut Schreiber-Kalanag erscheinen. Verfasser ist der Journalist und Buchautor Dr. Malte Herwig. Beim Sammlertreffen 2019 las er jüngst aus seinem Manuskript und führte viele Fachgespräche.

Derzeit sucht er noch Zeitzeugen, die mit Kalanag und/oder Gloria de Vos (alias Anneliese Voss) in Kontakt standen oder solche Mitmenschen kennen, die im Besitz entsprechender Briefe oder Dokumente sind oder die etwas über Anita/Angela Ferrari wissen, Kalanags Partnerin nach der Trennung von Gloria.

Malte ist zu erreichen unter malte.herwig [at] gmail.com.

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Well Said, Mr. Lamont!

Magic is not about fooling the audience. Magic depends on successful deception, but that is the means, not the end. Of course, the audience should not know how it is done, but this is a basic requirement, not the goal. The goal is not to provoke the experience of not knowing how it is done. The goal is not the experience of ignorance; it is the experience of magic. The audience are not the enemy; they are the people for whom we provide this experience. The goal of the magician is to create the effect that something happens that cannot happen. This is a paradox. It is a source of wonder. This is a profound and worthy goal.

Peter Lamont on “What is magic?”


 

Magic Exhibitions in London

Speaking of magic exhibitions: “Staging Magic” has opened in London and promises to tell “the story behind the illusion.” It will be enhanced by special events and film screenings. You can see it at the Senate House Library, which is part of the University of London, until June 15th.

Staging Magic London

Another exhibition, “Smoke and Mirrors”, will open April 11th at the Wellcome Collection in London and run until September 15th. On that occasion, a new book on magic will be published: “Spectacle of Illusion” by Matthew Tompkins, who, according to the site, “recently became the first member of the Magic Circle to be admitted on the basis of a peer-reviewed scientific publication.”

Spec of Illusion


 

We Blinded Them With Science

Recent years have seen a surge in scientific research around the hidden forces of deception. Names like Kuhn, Wiseman, Fraps, Martinez-Conde and Machnik come to mind. Soon, another book by Dr. Kuhn will appear on our bookshelf:

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Read more about it here.

BTW, the next Science of Magic Conference will be held in Chicago in July, more details to be found here.

1SOMA


 

Woooooooooowwwww!!!!!

Simply amazing: My birthday’s coming up, and this book is coming out! Finally, after years and years and decades of waiting: 600 pages of pure insight and wisdom (I guess), by magic’s biggest treasure alive and our most beloved Maestro, Mr. Juan Tamariz.

Screw those flying unicorns; I want THIS rainbow!

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Update: Got mine! About 100 pages in, and I find myself nodding and nodding again… Transcendental lucidity!


 

Thoughts on Erdnase, 101

Erdnase, Fig. 101

Mulling over the famous figure 101 that comes with the trick “The Three Aces” within TEATCT, here is a thought I have enjoyed nurturing for quite some time: What if there was a secret connection between the opening of the book (the original title on the frontispiece, to be precise) and this more or less closing feature of the book, the final drawing?

Unlike the other figures, this one does not only explain the ruse; in fact, it does deceive you, the reader. The display of the aces looks totally regular. Only when you know that there is a subterfuge involved, you will understand that the Ace of Diamonds is not what it claims to be, but something-or someone-else (the Ace of Hearts).

Now the same may be said about the triple of ARTIFICE, RUSE and SUBTERFUGE (= ARS (lat.) = art). I have always wondered why Erdnase used three nouns with roughly the same connotation here: You are being deceived expertly and artfully at the card table. Precision? (Erdnase obviously loved describing things in detail by doubling or tripling words.) PR blurb to make his book sound utterly important? Or simply a clever means of hiding something in the middle, in plain sight? That something might be “RUSE and.”

What is more, in American handwriting, figure I0I can be read forward as well as backwards. A hint at an anagram or at shifting words around?

Remember, “RUSE and” = “and RUSE” = “Andrus” = “Andrews” (!)

Finally, the book’s frontpage promises “over one hundred drawings.” The total of 101 figures delivers this promise, but only by the smallest margin. You may not call this cheating, but probably another artful subterfuge…

Pure conjecture, I admit. This could be more convincing if, say, figure 101 were really displayed on the very last page of the book, maybe on page 202, and if the book’s title went more like ART, ARTIFICE and ACES at the Card Table to resemble the three Aces in figure 101 even more closely.

Just a thought.

Here’s a bit more on Erdnase within my site.