In 1902, William J. Hilliar produced his Modern Magician's Hand Book by bringing together, in a single volume, verbatim extracts from Hoffmann's Modern Magic and More Magic, Howard Thurston's Card Tricks, Roterberg's New Era Card Tricks, Downs' Modern Coin Manipulation, and Selbit's The Magician's Handbook. It was not a good book. Forty-seven years later, Henry Hay (who, under his real name, Barrows Mussey, translated Ottokar Fischer's Illustrated Magic in 1931 and wrote a little book called Magic in 1942) has repeated Mr. Hilliar's performance, with relatively unimportant modifications, in his latest book, Cyclopedia of Magic. In addition to drawing upon all of Hilliar's sources with the single exception of Selbit's Handbook, he has also had at his disposal almost a half-century of more recent works - Hoffmann's Later Magic, Downs' The Art of Magic, Maskelyne and Devant's Our Magic, and others - and from these books (the copyrights of which had expired) he has helped himself liberally to both text and illustrations. To these extensive borrowings, Mr. Hay has added a 10-page article on Stage Settings (of very doubtful utility to a magician) by a Columbia University contributor; a 6-page survey of The Literature of Magic by the late Leo Rullman, with special emphasis on very early works; short pieces on such subjects as Business Methods, Comedy, Night Club Shows, Programs, Psychology, Publicity, and so on, written by himself and others; and a series of biographical sketches of magicians.
The most puzzling thing about this collection of conjuring scraps is why in the world it was ever published. It is clearly no book for the serious student, for he will have seen practically all of it before, and in a far better setting. Mr. Hay wisely observes, in his introduction, that the book "does not pretend to make magicians," and certainly it never will. But he then suggests that it "steers the user to the classic and indispensable books that do make magicians"; and on this point we must differ most emphatically, for we incline to the view that, on the contrary it is more likely to steer him away! No reader will get from the Cyclopedia of Magic any real notion of the merit of Hoffmann's great trio - Modem Magic, More Magic, and Later Magic - for their ability to capture the interest of the potential student and teach him how to become a magician lies largely in their author having started at the beginning and followed through to a definite goal. The extracts Mr. Hay has given in his book of readings are not even mildly suggestive of the greatness of the Hoffmann works; and this is equally true of Sachs' Sleight-of-Hand, Maskelyne and Devant's Our Magic, and other magic classics. To hack individual sleights or tricks from these marvellous textbooks and then reassemble them on a purely alphabetical basis smacks too strongly of desecration to be at all palatable to us; and it is particularly objectionable because it cannot possibly lead to any genuinely useful end.
We have heard that books are sometimes produced, not so much for the enlightenment of readers as for the enrichment of the publisher. But this is scarcely a plausible explanation in the present instance. Indeed, anyone even slightly acquainted with present costs of production and the possible market for books on magic will surely not charge Mr. Hay or his publisher with getting out this book for profit. The plain fact is that there is only a very limited market for any $7.50 book in the "trade field," in which sales are made to the general public through the bookstores, and practically no "trade" market at all for a magic book at so high a price. Within the "fraternity" - that is, among magical enthusiasts - a book at $7.50 or even $10.00 may sell a thousand or so copies, though it is exceptional for books at such figures to sell more than two or three thousand copies. The few exceptions, moreover, must be exceptional books, in the sense that they have something very special to offer the reader, as was true of two books about which this reviewer has first-hand information - Gaultier's Magic Without Apparatus and Kaplan's The Fine Art of Magic. But there is little of the unique about the Cyclopedia of Magic except its peculiar and not particularly convenient arrangement of material. On the contrary, it is a collection of items culled chiefly from old books, most of which are already in the libraries of those who might be prepared to pay $7.50 for a conjuring book. It should be clear, then, why the publication of the Cyclopedia of Magic is a deep mystery to us. Since it had no great mission to perform, and since it seems more likely to lose than to make money, its appearance in the already overcrowded field of magic books leaves us in what The New Yorker refers to as the "Department of Utter Confusion!"
Puzzling, too, is the physical make-up of the book. It is a well-bound volume of approximately 500 pages, well printed on satisfactory paper. The type-setting has been well done, too, but the illustrations (of which there is a great abundance) form a hodge-podge that is anything but pleasing. Mr. Hay points with pride, as well he may, to the excellence of Audry Alley's photographs, which he pronounces "perhaps the most brilliant ever taken to illustrate magical manipulations," a claim that might be challenged by the publishers of the "Stars of Magic" Series, which is being illustrated with magnificent photographs by George Karger. In any event, Mr. Alley's fine pictures are partly spoiled by their unduly largely reproduction and exceedingly poor grouping, as may be verified by reference to pages 15, 128, 129, 138, 139, 140, and others. The drawings taken from Hoffmann's Later Magic are excellent, of course, but those salvaged from his earlier works (Modern Magic, 1876; More Magic, 1890), good as they were in their day, show definite signs of antiquity. When jumbled together with the weird pictures that illustrated Howard Thurston's Card Tricks and Downs' Modern Coin Manipulation, the total effect is little short of awful. Particularly painful is the placing of these halftones and line cuts. We have seldom seen poorer groupings of illustrations than appear on pages 44, 88, 136, 150, 153, 166, 240, and so on; we tremble for the sanity of that lover of good magic and good composition, Bel Dalgin of The New York Times, if his eyes should ever light upon them. The appearance of the book would have been improved immeasurably if only these illustrations of many varieties had been redrawn in a single style and the cuts placed with some slight regard for accepted standards of good bookmaking.
The biographical sketches, too, which at first glance gave promise of interesting possibilities, proved a disappointment. One might suppose that a series of this kind would include all, or nearly all, of the well-known names in magic over (say) the past hundred years. But we have looked in vain for sketches about Annemann, Dante, Dunninger, Germain, Hugard, Maro, Raymond, Rouclere, Sachs, Tarbell, or Valadon, though space has been found for many others of far less significance. These omissions mystified us greatly. So, also, did the information that Harry Kellar's real name was Harold Keller and that Frederick Eugene Powell was once an instructor at Virginia Military Institute. (Since there can be no doubt that Powell taught at his alma mater, Pennsylvania Military Academy, we shall await further evidence before accepting "Harold" in place of "Harry" as Mr. Kellar's given name.) It is surprising to note, too, in the article on Flower Productions, the absence of the most beautiful of all flower tricks, Karl Germain's Visible Growth of the Rose Bush; and to find the three pages on the Jap Box given over wholly to explaining the "production box" of ancient vintage, with no reference whatsoever to the small, lidless box with removable bottom, which is what the name "Jap Box" signifies to magicians at the middle of the twentieth century.
There is much more that might be said about the Cyclopedia of Magic, but we haven't the heart to say it. Here is a book which, as we see it, cannot possibly do anyone - compiler, publisher, or reader - any good. Here is a lot of typesetting, press-work, and binding that could have been put to much better use. Once upon a time, Henry Hay wrote a very good little treatise on conjuring, which he called Learn Magic. If we were Mr. Hay, that book - and not the Cyclopedia of Magic is the one by which we should hope to be remembered.
The ebook starts with a User's Guide which describes the purpose of the book, and an index to the contributing authors.