Archive for the ‘magic’ Category

Collecting magic memorabilia and ephemera is a strange but pleasant hobby and there are so many ways to approach this pastime. Many collectors specialize in a subject, or a range of collectibles, be them posters, memorabilia of some magician, more or less known, magic tricks made in wood or metal, or made by a selected number of manufacturers; still more seem to accumulate all sort of antique (or not-so-antique) magic paraphernalia they may happen to find…

While I specialize in collecting memorabilia pertaining to Raffaele Chefalo – as I have already written more than once – I also like to add to my modest collection some unusual items, the stuff that you don’t often see. Only recently, I come across an unusual poster, of a forgotten illusionist, somebody whose image I had never seen, showing an illusion of which I was aware, which I remember seeing performed in the 1970’s – 1980’s.


Bartolomeo Bosco (1793 - 1863)

Bartolomeo Bosco (1793 – 1863)

It is thanks to Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin that the name of Bartolomeo Bosco and his artistic legacy has come down to us, that we know his repertoire and that we are aware of his importance and of his popularity. It is also from Robert-Houdin that we learn that Bosco was a murderer, committing every night one or more assassinations in front of the eyes of a paying audience, without ever having to justify his actions. In addition to his powerful and exceedingly skilled hands, a sword was his favourite instrument, and it is this sword, now in front of me, that I want to discuss today…


Time is an ephemeral concept: by the time we have realized what it is, it is gone. When you will have finished reading this phrase, your time will already be gone, this exact moment will be in the past. Time can be measured: past can be just a few seconds ago, or it may be some centuries ago. As collectors, we are keepers of time, holding, in the present and – hopefully – preserving for the future, items and memories of a time long gone. Magic is a performing art, it exists only when someone performs a magic act for others to enjoy: magic itself cannot be preserved and, once the magic performance is finished, magic is already in the past, leaving just a memory but, sometimes, an ephemeral item too.

In my previous posts, I have been discussing about a past that is not so far, being only slightly more than one hundred years ago. In this post, I would like to go way back, presenting what – at the moment – is the oldest item in my small collection: the medal with the image of Girolamo Scoto, the first magician whose effigy is known to us…


The Locked Books of Secrets

Magic books with so many secrets that have to be kept locked

When author J. K. Rowling described, in the third volume of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a most vicious and magical book, the Monster Book of Monsters, she was maybe thinking about magical books that, in years gone by, were deemed to contain such secrets that needed to be kept away from privy eyes, books for which methods were devised to keep them closed, locked away to the non-initiated.

While the idea of a “locked book” of secrets may seem something from a fairy tale, in the history of conjuring we have some books that have actually been published with a padlock and a key to keep them closed, in order that the casual observer could not learn the mystical secrets in the volume. These books were produced in the country of Harry Potter: England.


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.


The Magic Table

"Hoffmann" Magic Table, for the discerning Victorian Performer

As a small-time collector of magic items, especially books, I tend not to accumulate apparatus, as it is not my area of interest and because it tends to take too much precious space, better left to books. However, from time to time, I find some interesting item that would simply be a pity to leave to rot. This post is about a really nice item, with an interesting story behind.

Let’s start at the beginning. Some years ago, the famous British illusionist, Paul Daniels, decided to downsize his collection: books, posters, apparatus, illusions, ephemera went out for sale, in the capable hands of Tim Reed. In about a year a warehouse outside Doncaster was almost empty, with collectors from all over the world pleased with their acquisition. While browsing the collection’s catalogue, I once saw a “Victorian magic table” being offered for sale. (more…)

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…)