Conchito_PosterWorld War II had, as it is well known, a huge impact on Europe, on its geography, on its political ideas, on the relations between different countries. And it also had a large impact on magic. When the war ended, in 1945, diffidence and mistrust was rife in all European countries. One of the few exceptions was in the world of magic: magicians are a friendly group, looking for contacts, friendship, novelties from other lovers of the art, anywhere in the world. While Europe was busy rebuilding trades, houses and families, a group of magicians from different countries made a significant step towards the reunion of magic lovers: the first international (actually, pan-European) magic convention. In 1946, three-hundred magicians from all around Europe descended to Amsterdam, Holland, for the first magic meeting after the war.

The following year, the event was repeated in Paris, France, with the attendance of more than five-hundred conjurers from Europe and abroad, and the base was set for the creation of FISM, the International Federation of Magic Societies that, since then, has been organizing regular conventions and, especially, the most prestigious magic competition in the World, which every three years crowns the best magician in the world. While in recent years the number of competitors has swelled, in 1947 only 70 magicians competed for a handful of prizes in only three categories: some competitors were also performing in the gala shows for the attendees! One of the categories was “Presentation” which was to recognize the most original performers of classic magic tricks. The first prize winner was Englishman Willane (William H. Lane), a popular author of magic books for the fraternity. The winner of the third prize was an obscure Dutch magician, a popular illusionist in Holland in the years after the war, and the subject of this story: Conchito.

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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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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.

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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…

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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…

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Who are these three magicians? Click to enlarge or read the post!

What do Bartolomeo Bosco, Ludwig Döbler and Louis Comte have in common? Well, they were the three greatest European magicians in the first part of the XIX century, exceedingly popular in central Europe and a source of respect and admiration for their skills and their understanding of magic. In my case, they are also the subjects of a rare piece of memorabilia displayed on my stairwell.

The photo at the side shows three small framed pictures (7″x9″ – 18×23 cm) of these three magicians and the rest of the article will give an idea of their importance in the history of Magic and of the scarcity of these objects for collectors.

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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.

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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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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. Read the rest of this entry »