Henry Ridgely Evans provides an account of the history of conjuring, from ancient Egypt through the Middle Ages and into the 20th century. He develops biographical portraits of many well-known magicians and includes descriptions of their acts. Perhaps the most unusual feature of the work is that at the very end he includes photos of the hands of many famous magicians.
With the passing of so-called genuine magic or sorcery we see the rise of natural magic and conjuring. In the Middle Ages conjurers were mere strolling mountebanks who exhibited their feats at fairs, in barns, and at the castles of the nobility. Things were little better in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but with the dawn of the eighteenth century we behold magic rising to the dignity of a stage performance, shorn for the most part of charlatanism, Pinetti, Torrini, Breslaw, Fawkes, Comus, Gyngell, Flockton and Lane were the particular exponents of conjuring during this period. The nineteenth century produced a brilliant array of modern magi; such men, for example, as Bosco, Philippe, Robert-Houdin, Comte, Robin, Anderson, Frikell, Compars Herrmann, Alexander Herrmann, Döbler, Robert Heller, Bautier de Kolta, J. N. Maskelyne, Cazeneuve, Félicien Trewey, and Harry Kellar. With the opening of Houdin’s bijou theatre in Paris, on July 3, 1845, a veritable renaissance of conjuring was inaugurated. Robert-Houdin undoubtedly was the Father of Modern Conjuring, for he was the first performer to enunciate the psychology of magic and lay down the fundamental principles of the art. Others have taken up the subject since his day, and given us some really brilliant dissertations; such authors, for example, as Angelo Lewis (our beloved Professor Hoffmann), Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant, Prof. Brander Matthews, and last, but not least, Dr. Harlan Tarbell, whose Course in Magic goes to the very bed-rock of conjuring.