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Mr. Smith's Guide to Sleight of Hand

by Wilfrid Jonson
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Mr. Smith's Guide to Sleight of Hand by Wilfrid Jonson

This guide is written in an unusual style, a conversational style, where each lesson starts with "Dear Mr. Smith", like a letter to a fictional student. This feature makes it a very readable and valuable course. In the introduction Jonson writes:

The guide is presented to the reader in the form of a course of personal instruction and the majority of the sleights and tricks are described according to the manner in which I have myself performed them. A number of individual touches and personal inventions have been introduced which I consider to be improvements on previously published methods. I have tried throughout to imagine that I was speaking to the reader as to an actual pupil, believing with Tristam Shandy that "Writing when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation."

Paul Fleming wrote:

This unpretentious little volume consists of a series of lessons designed to teach the reader enough about sleight-of-hand to enable him to perform successfully the ten excellent "routines" which are also explained here. The "Mr. Smith" of the title is, of course, any Tom, Dick, or Harry who would like to mystify his fellow creatures with conjuring tricks, but has had no training in the ways of wizardry. The author starts, therefore, at the very beginning and gently but firmly leads Mr. Smith through the principles and into the practice of magic.

The first four chapters (or "lessons," as Mr. Jonson calls them) deal with the basic subject of palming and related sleights, which must be mastered before the student is ready to tackle a complete feat of conjuring. In the 23 pages allotted to this important task, and illustrated with 21 drawings, Mr. Smith is taught the flat transfer, the palm proper (subdivided into the flat palm and the edgepalm), the regular palm transfer, the Jonson palm transfer, the tourniquet, the finger palm, the finger palm transfer, the roll palm, and the palm steal. Most of these sleights are performed with coins, but some are applicable to match-boxes, cigarettes, balls, corks, and other objects commonly used by magicians. A distinctive feature of the author's instruction is his frequent comments (sometimes adverse) on the orthodox methods of performing these sleights, and his friendly counsel on what not to do or how not to do it.

Having laid the necessary foundation, the author proceeds to explain, usually with a wealth of detail, The Melting Coin, which goes back to the days of Robert-Houdin; The Six Coin Trick, in which coins pass singly from hand to hand; The Cap and Pence; A Test of Nerve, a trick with a shilling and a halfpenny, made famous by our own Jarrow of dollar-and-lemon fame; The Cups and Balls (10 pages, 10 illustrations); The Torn and Restored Cigarette Paper; a similar feat with a sheet of tissue paper; The Multiplying Billiard Balls (11 pages, 10 illustrations); a Handkerchief Color-change, followed by The Handkerchiefs and Soup Plates (11 pages, 19 illustrations); and The Four Coins (6 pages, 9 illustrations), which consists of coin production, the "coin roll," and the magical transfer of four coins, one by one, from one hand to a glass held in the other.

Explanations of practicable routines by experienced performers are always of value, and the information given in this book has been written with care, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor. There is nothing startlingly new, but the material is really good and can be read with pleasure and profit by experts as well as beginners. Some of the author's "asides" give genuinely sound advice, and all are highly diverting. Mr. Jonson's expressed hope - "that he who knows nothing more than is here taught will be competent to present an excellent performance of sleight-of-hand" - is pretty sure to be realized if the reader does his share toward making this cooperative undertaking a success.

Mr. Smith's Guide to Sleight-of-Hand is a booklet of 95 pages, size 6 1/4 by 8 1/2 inches, well written, well printed on only fair paper (which is still a scarce commodity in England), well illustrated with 80 original drawings by the author himself, and bound in soft boards. The price may seem somewhat high for a volume of fewer than a hundred pages, but it is a book which (because of the unusual width of the type-page) contains more material than is apparent at first glance. We believe that many American magicians will regard it as a worthwhile addition to their libraries.

  • Lesson 1: On magic in general and sleight-of-hand in particular - some definitions - how to vanish a coin - the Flat Transfer
  • Lesson 2: The Palm-proper - the Palm Transfer - the Jonson Palm Transfer
  • Lesson 3: Le Tourniquet
  • Lesson 4: On Palming and Apparent Transfers - the Finger-palm Transfer - the Palm Transfer - the Roll Palm - the Palm Steal
  • Lesson 5: The Melting Coin - on Patter
  • Lesson 6: List of Properties - the Six Coin Trick
  • Lesson 7: The Finger-palm Fall - the Cap and Pence
  • Lesson 8: A Test of Nerve
  • Lesson 9: The Cups and Balls
  • Lesson 10: The Torn and Restored Cigarette Paper
  • Lesson 11: The Torn and Restored Paper
  • Lesson 12: The Billiards Ball Trick and its sleights
  • Lesson 13: With a silk handkerchief - the Roll palm - the Colour Change - the Soup-plate Trick
  • Lesson 14: The Four Coins - the Back-palm and the Coin Roll
  • Lesson 15: Conclusion

1st edition 1945, 95 pages; 1st digital edition 2018, 75 pages.
word count: 30657 which is equivalent to 122 standard pages of text


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Magic

Magic / [for Beginners]