Recently, a thread over at the Genii Forum discussed stereotypical depictions of Asians in older magic catalogs. To go a-hunting myself, I took out three huge random catalogs from my collection, spanning almost 50 years of magic lore and folklore: Abbott’s Catalog No. 6 from 1940, Tannen’s Catalog No. 6 from 1966, and the Supreme Magic Catalogue from 1989. Not surprisingly, all of them feature many stereotypical depictions of Chinese, Oriental or Indian magi.
To be fair, I think almost any magic catalog, old or rather recent, will give you similar results, as it was common practice to simply reproduce the illustrations provided by the trick producers. It should also be assumed that, at the time of their drawing, these illustrations were likely to be thought fitting and authentic (or symbolic, at least), not degrading or even racist.
Some blatant Chinese examples I found in the catalogs mentioned above:
Abbott: “Abbott’s Chinese Coin Magic/The Greatest of All Coin Tricks”, p. 105; “The Tubes of Budda”, p. 157; “Abbott’s Modern Lota”, p. 249; “Modern Aerial Fishing”, p. 287; “Bawden’s Bowls”, p. 381; “Chinese Laundry Ticket”, p. 397.
Tannen: “Chinese Puzzle Box”, p. 15; “No Tickie – No Shirtee”, p. 31; “Chinatown Quarter”, p. 105; “The Chinese Pipes of Simplex”, p. 119; “Grant’s Chink Cans”, p. 276; “Chinese Bird Canister”, p. 366.
Supreme: “Chinese Wishing Papers”, p. 277; “China Tea”, p. 339; “Confetti Can”, p. 343; “The Hung-Too Card Prediction”, p. 457; “Soo Coin Trick”, p. 503; “Two Wongs Make a White”, p. 587.
You can see a small selection of images from these tricks at the top of this post.
As a questionable extra, take a look at “Eeny-Meeney-Miney-Mo!” presenting “four little black boys, amusingly depicted and beautifully printed”, on page 181 of the Supreme catalog:
Hm. I guess everybody who still produces magic catalogs, online or in print, is well advised to check their ethnic illustrations and at least do away with the most blatant ones. Sadly, even without these, a huge chunk of magic is and has always been stereotypical because of the time-worn tricks we choose and our uninspired presentations. Or, to quote a musician who once said to world-class manipulator and illusionist Topas after witnessing a magic gala, “This felt like Jimi Hendrix had never lived.” (From Topas’ funny book in German, Jungfrau gesucht, Säge vorhanden.)