Archive for the ‘ephemera’ Category

Chris Charlton - photo from the collection of Marco Pusterla - smallmagicollector.wordpress.com

Chris Charlton

If I were to say the name “Chris Charlton,” it would probably not mean much to many people. Today that name is quite common, but none of the “Chris Charlton” you can find on the Internet is the magician I want to talk about. If you had been a British, American, French, German, Australian or New Zealander theatre-goer in the 1920s and 1930s, you may have had the opportunity to witness his magic act.

Christopher Henry Charlton was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1885 (although the date is often wrongly reported as 1887 or 1883), and began to perform magic at the beginning of the century. He was not a “superstar” of magic, somebody who toured the world with his own show, instead he was a vaudeville magician, performing around the world as an act in the variety bills of small and large theatres. A few times, he was the star attraction on the bill. (more…)

Harry_August_Jansen,_known_as_DanteI often think about the hard life touring magicians had at the turn of the century, with tons of material packed in heavy crates, to be loaded on trucks or ships, driven to the back of a theatre, carried in the wings to be unpacked and prepared for the evening show, and all this repeated week in and week out, with the constant fear that the audience would not accept the illusionist, that the publicity was not enough, that inclement weather would keep patrons away.

I have already talked about the weight of magical apparatus, something that had to be considered not only when the illusionist was travelling, but also when he was stopped in a city, waiting for the next engagement. Sometimes, the engagement would not arrive: the illusionist would be rejected by a theatre. We rarely have a view of any missed engagement, but in this article, for once, we will be able to add a small bit of information – inconsequential as it may be – to the life of one of the great magicians of the 20th century.

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cl017-james-bond-bracesA good magician is a keeper of secrets. Secrets are at the base of magic: it is only because the magician knows the secrets behind his tricks that he can fool you. A good magic trick contains many different layers of secrets: there may be the mechanical secret that operates a box; the hidden sleight of nimble fingers that causes cards to fly from the pack; the psychological secrets that cause the audience to look in a different place just when the “secret” maneuver happens. All these elements must be coordinated to ensure the magic trick is successful.

Magicians are not the only keepers of secrets: since antiquity the practice to hide information of knowledge from another party has been used by governments, groups of people and individual to both protect themselves and to get some kind of advantage over another party. Espionage is documented to ancient civilizations and what is not often known is that some spies had a public or, more often, private attraction to the Art of Magic. I have already mentioned Hieronimo Scoto as a spy for the Duke of Parma in the European courts of the XVI century, but only recently I acquired an unknown magic manuscript of a modern spy…

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Issue 49 cover smallA few weeks ago, I received an email from Mark Leveridge, the editor of MagicSeen, a magic magazine for the younger and cooler side of the magic profession. Mark wanted to publish an article about magic collecting and, having found my blog interesting, decided to interview myself and Fergus Roy, the noted collector, organizer of magic collecting events, scholar, magic historian and part of the well-known Davenport family, on why magic collecting is important. (more…)

Linga Singh – the Indian Conjurer

Every collector of antique memorabilia has a dream, a single dream common to all those whose passion for a subject has turned into an obsession: the dream is to find a large amount of material that has lied untouched and forgotten for years. It doesn’t matter what the subject of your collection is: cars, photographs, stamps, old masters’ paintings, magic tricks… every collector daydreams about finding a dark attic, a barn, a cellar, filled with unheard-of treasures, dusty but potentially unique.

There are many stories of finds just like that: a couple of years ago, in a barn in the town where I live, was discovered a fleet of luxury cars which hadn’t seen the light of day in twenty years (this is not the hoax of the fleet of cars in Portugal, which, while existing, has not actually been “found”). Magicians are well aware of how the show of Charles Carter re-surfaced after forty years in a barn, or how a large collection of magic posters was recently found in a downtown attic, including a rare Houdini poster.

However, this is for most collectors just a dream. For most collectors, indeed. But sometimes, just some times, dreams may come true…

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P. T. Selbit's "Sawing in Half"One of the most enduring magic tricks is the one where a woman is apparently sawn in half. Quite a gruesome effect, a murder effected publicly on a theatre’s stage, twice daily, thrice on a Saturday. Of course, this is just an illusion, not a real murder… it would not have achieved this popularity if it were murder. However, the suspicion this illusion may horribly go wrong or that a murder was to be enacted is something that existed in the mind of the audience since the first performance of this illusion, or is it?

This magical effect is not as old as it may seem: while previous performances of apparent dissection of a human being are recorded, the effect as we know was invented by P.T. Selbit only as recently as 1921, and presented on the London stages.

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Louis Nikola's Nine of Hearts photo

One of the mysterious photos of Louis Nikola

One of the oddest items from my collection is something I acquired many years ago for a very low price… The price was actually what made me buy this item. It is a worn and moth-eaten folder which contains some belongings of Louis Nikola, today remembered for his Nikola’s Card System, the first example of memorized deck. These items are twelve photographs of playing cards, as mirror images, and six notices to be hang in the wings during Nikola’s performance asking other performers to refrain from standing in the wings. The photos are quite odd, what were they for?

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Ephemeral Programme - 1906 Sharpsburg PA

Programme for Magic Performance on New Year

At the end of November 2008, while idly browsing eBay, my eye was caught by a programme of an Italian magician, one Prof. Prete, offered for sale. I managed to buy it and it’s quite interesting. The programme is quite big, 27 x 35 cm (10.63 x 13.78 inches) and it’s full of adverts, some in Italian, some in English.

The programme was for a show at St. Joseph’s Hall in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the “Madonna of Jerusalem” Church. The show was held on the evening of Monday, Jan. 1. The year is not specified in the program, but it can be dated to 1906. (more…)