Cups & Balls: A Revelation from 1634

HocusPocus1a

Looking for something else on the World Wide Wonderweb, I came about this interesting image of Hocus Pocus Junior and his famous revelatory book, The Anatomy of Legerdemain, or, The Art of Jugling, first published in 1634. Across the title page, there is a depiction of the artist in action and with his props (see above).

Now have a closer look at the hands and at the cups on the table:

HocusPocus2

It seems that this image is much more than just an arbitrary illustration for any magic book. First, I think, it’s a surprisingly accurate “freeze shot” of the very moment before the magic is going to happen: The right hand with the wand will tap the closed left hand, that hand will open and display – nothing! The ball that was supposed to be in the fist will be seen to have disappeared.

Where to? Well, the image also tells us this “clearly”: By displaying the top cup as if it were transparent (they didn’t use drinking glasses for magic back then), we can see where the ball is actually hidden and where it may reappear any moment now!

Could this be the first very accurate magic illustration and how-to instruction on a book’s cover (or frontispiece), I wonder?


 

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A War Fought with Playing Cards

Holger Steigerwald has pointed fellow magic historians towards an interesting piece of academic research on 17th century English playing cards. It was written and published as a diploma thesis (in German) by Florian Völkerer at the University of Vienna in 2018. Its title can be translated as “Playing with Memories. On the Exploitation of the Spanish Armada on 17th Century English Playing Cards.” It is available for download in PDF format here.

Völkerer Playing Card Spanish Armada

Here’s the English abstract from the author:

The thesis deals with a set of english playing cards from 1679 depicting the events of the Spanish Armada. After a number of supplementary investigations it attempts to identify the narrative conveyed by the cards, as well as to address the probable reasons why this narrative was constructed in a specific manner. Main results are that the production and distribution of the cards appears to be closely linked to the english exclusion crisis, during which the cards where part of the anglican propaganda-effort against the catholic James II. The narrative therefore serves as an historical argument in the political debate and is consequently constructed in a distinctly anti-catholic manner. While staying close to the facts for most of the time, it differs from our current knowledge about the Spanish Armada mainly in overemphasizing the impact of the actual fighting (and therefore of the english fleet) on the eventual outcome of the events. Furthermore, the role of individual actors is put into focus, to the extent that the whole campaign appears almost as a personal squabble between Elizabeth I. and the pope. Thereby the historical events are used as an allegorical depiction of the struggle of anglican England against a counter reformatory catholicism led and controlled by the pope, while the depiction of Elizabeth I. serves as a stark contrast to James II. The playing cards investigated in this thesis therefore show exemplary how historical narratives can be shaped and used to construct arguments in contemporary political debates.


Layers of Layers of Bosch

Since listening to Dr. Steffen Taut‘s fascinating talk on recent research findings about Jheronimus Bosch‘s (?) famous painting, The Juggler, at the latest EMHC, I have spent quite a bit of time on the wonderful website of the Bosch Project, and I’d urge you to check it out, too!

It takes a moment to load the huge amount of data, but then they will guide you inch by inch into and through the surreal world of Bosch. These data do not only give you the Bosch paintings in amazing detail and scan quality; in the interactive section, they also feature the underdrawings made visible through infrared and X-rays, so you can compare drafts and finalizations, various styles, etc.

Bosch1

Here are some examples what the screen image looks like when you play around with the various visible layers of the painting:

Bosch2_halbBosch7_halbhalb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now have a look at some of the fine details. I actually doubt that you could see and identify them so well when standing before the original painting in the museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye!

By the way, I have always marveled at the modern red hat of the woman spectator on the left. Doesn’t it look like a 20th century creation?!

Bosch9_Faces

Here’s the detail of the cut-purse in action. Note how well you can see the shining tip of the blade.

Bosch8_Dieb

More details, discoveries and thoughts on this painting to come!


 

The Definite German Magic Bibliography

A moment of silent awe and admiration, please.

40 years in the making, here it finally is: THE Bibliography of German magic books and other publications until 1945, Almost 700 pages, more than 3,000 entries, thorough, and heavy as hell!

Big kudos to Volker Huber and Christian Theiß for making this happen!

I have already started to identify the exact editions of some books in my collection. Can’t wait to dig in deeper on the weekend!

Biblio2

The first edition of this masterpiece is limited to 300 copies. You may want to check it out here.


 

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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Wien11_Hofzinser_MC

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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Wien9_Flip

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!

Wien8_Ioni

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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Wien14_Hotel

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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Wien2_RathausAufgang

Wien6_RathausEmpfang

Wien5_RathausLeuchter

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.

Wien4_Karten_RM

Wien3_Karten_MC

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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Wien10_Koffer

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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Wien15_Paddle

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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Wien7_Hexensabbath

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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Wien1_Denkmal

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.


 

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


 

 

Magic Books versus Conjuring Books…

DavidPrice

On The Davenport Collection website which I mentioned and recommended a few days ago, I came across this funny bit in a fine article on “Booksellers, collectors, and rogues” by David Price (the British one) about the fine line between magic books and conjuring books, at least back in the Fifties:

Magicbooks

Love it!

I wonder whether similar “magic” code words exist(ed) in other languages as well?


 

Wishful Thinking and Automatic Rejections: Erdnase and Voynich

ZZZauber_Erdnase_Fr
An early quest in Genii Magazine

This fascinating article by medieval scholar Lisa Fagin Davis published in The Washington Post was brought to my attention the other day via a post over at the Genii Forum.

Dealing with the annoying recurrent and premature claims by various authors for having solved the riddle of the legendary Voynich manuscript, Davis shares a number of critical observations and very reasonable recommendations. With striking similarity they also match the proceedings and the heated discussions over new “findings” about the Erdnase authorship in our field of interest.

Thus, I have extracted the relevant paragraphs from the article below and added the corresponding Erdnase references, so ((double brackets)) around original text and bold additions are mine:

Why do people keep convincing themselves they’ve solved this ((medieval)) mystery?

For ((centuries)) decades, the ((Voynich Manuscript)) Erdnase authorship has resisted ((interpretation)) discovery, which hasn’t stopped a host of would-be readers from claiming they’ve solved it.

Every few months, it seems, a new theory is trumpeted ((by the new media)) beneath a breathless headline.

But most would-be interpreters make the same mistake ((as Newbold)): By beginning with their own preconceptions of ((what)) whom they want ((the Voynich)) Erdnase to be, their conclusions take them further from the truth.

Like others before them, ((these)) authors tend to go public prematurely–and without proper review by the real experts. Word of each new solution spreads across the ((globe)) Genii Forum in minutes.

Almost Dozens of solutions have been proposed in the past ((century)) decades alone, most of them more aspirational than they are substantive.

I recently received an ugly and threatening direct message . . . referring in detail to my critique . . . For some, apparently, the stakes appear to be irrationally high.

. . . undercooked solutions presented without context lead readers down a rabbit hole of misinformation . . .

Every new ((Voynich)) Erdnase theory offers an opportunity for readers to exercise healthy, critical skepticism . . . Proposed solutions shouldn’t automatically be rejected (the default reaction of most ((medievalists)) Erdnasians), but they should be approached with caution. Seek out expert opinions, and do some follow-up reading. It shouldn’t take ((a Voynichologist)) an Expert expert to spot a leap of logic or an argument based on wishful thinking instead of solid facts.

. . . we tend to bring our preconceptions with us to the table. The more we burden the manuscript with what we want it to be, the more buried the truth becomes.

To truly understand the past, we have to let it speak for itself. The ((Voynich)) Erdnase Manuscript has a voice–we just need to listen.

Chapeau, Ms Davis, I’d say you’ve nailed it! For Voynich, Erdnase, and beyond.

I think it would be fun and revealing to browse through the Erdnase thread over at the Genii Forum again with this checklist in hand.

This brief text should be required reading for all (amateur) historians and over-enthusiastic secret-solvers, don’t you think? Please help spread the word!


Addendum:

Here’s a related article by the same author. It ends with this plea:

To those of you out there in Voynich-land who are even now working on decrypting or deciphering this “elegant enigma,” please take heed of Manly and Mendelsohn’s words of caution: in order to be accepted as legitimate, your solution must be logical, repeatable, take into account the verifiable published scientific analyses, and result in a reading that makes sense both intellectually and chronologically.

Solid advice!

Ah, were it not for the chronological discrepancy, I might have solved the Erdnase puzzle back here… 😉


 

Snapshots and Pieces from The Davenport Collection

Speaking of magic websites brimming with inspiring information on tricks, tricksters, and history, I also need to mention The Davenport Collection website, which is fed (you guessed it) by the Davenport dynasty. It was started in 2016, today it already hosts about 900 entries, and it keeps growing.

The layout is so Nineties, but the content is wonderful! Serious students of the past should find the articles and conference papers of magic historians particularly interesting. Here’s an excerpt:

Davenports
Screenshot from the website

Go and have a look, but don’t complain to me later that you have just spent two or three hours of browsing, reading, and marveling over there!


 

Georges Méliès, the Painter

Elsewhere I have already written (in German) about a fine recent art exhibition in Munich and Aachen on “Lust for Deception”–and thus manipulating perception–through the centuries. (You can see some pictures here.) It was a fitting tribute to include magician and movie pioneer Georges Méliès with a number of short, deceptive stop-trick clips which ran nonstop on a special screen.

But later, I was much more surprised to discover an amazing painting by the same artist in the huge trompe l’oeil section. I must admit that I had not been aware of his other immense talent. Had you? His “Self-Portrait of the Artist” (below, exact date unknown) certainly deserves special mention, both out of itself and in the light of his real/reel profession.

MeliesSelf
Web Screenshot

I have asked The Great Googelini for advice, but even he could not conjure up a significant number of other “traditional” paintings by Méliès. But as I learned here, he apparently aspired to work as a painter early on. Instead, he became a magician and a visionary pioneer of filmmaking who painted his own fanciful scenery and smokescreens.

And, as they say, the rest is history.


Addendum 26.08.2019:

As I’ve just learned from French fellow magician and Méliès expert Frédéric Tabet at EMHC, the attribution of this painting to him (Méliès, that is) is highly questionable in the light of recent research. For example, the person depicted does not even remotely look like Méliès, nor does the signature match… So let’s be careful here!

By the way, Frédéric has an academic book out (in French) about Méliès and the relations of magic techniques and cinema in its early years. If you can read French fluently, you may want to check this out.