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Risk and Reward

reviewed by David J. O'Connor
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Wednesday 25 January, 2006)

Risk and RewardIf you are searching for something outside the envelope of normal effects, you may very well find that something within these pages. The material here is clever subtle, and for the astute performer could stimulate further exploration of often neglected principles and notions.


Risk and Reward

reviewed by Kenton Knepper
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Wednesday 25 January, 2006)

Risk and RewardRisk and Reward is a collection of underused principles and unusual presentations. It is not for the novice. The title says a great deal about this manuscript. If you are a thinker, and are willing to ponder and apply unusual and rarely considered concepts, then this could be just the thing to set your mind in gear. Dale Hildebrandt nearly downplays these major notions, waiting for the sharpened brain to catch the real power in his seeming simplicity.


Artanis Bottom Deal

reviewed by John J. Crimmins, Jr.
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Saturday 14 January, 2006)

Artanis Bottom DealAn unusual release including a series of photos and a 78 RPM Recording describing the sleight. Issued by Sid Weissman. Available at your magic dealer's shop. Price $5. According to information supplied to me, Artanis is a gambler and is not a magician. He is reputed to be one of the greatest card dealers and this release bears this out. With the packet you receive a set of mimeographed directions which explain in complete detail each of the twelve fine glossy photos of Artanis' hands in action with a deck of cards. Actually they are step by step photos from the time the deck is picked up until the bottom deal is consummated. By beveling the packet of photos slightly, and then riffling them you can actually see the mechanics of the sleight in movie-action. For those who find it difficult to follow through on a sleight from the written text, a two-sided record is provided which explains in clear, concise language exactly how the sleight is to be done and points out every detail of each of the 12 photos. Between the two, I can't see how you can miss mastering the bottom deal providing you give it the necessary practice. For those who want to know how this Artanis deal compares with other methods, all I can say it that the author made his living with this and other gambler's sleights - so it just has to be perfect! We're looking forward to Artanis' second deal and any other sleights that may be published from time to time.

(This is a review from Hugard's Magic Monthly, September 1958, p. 40.)


The Sphinx

reviewed by Richard Hatch
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Saturday 03 December, 2005)

The SphinxA complete file of "The Sphinx" is probably the greatest single resource in English for research on 20th-century magic. From the first issue in March 1902 till the final one in March 1953, it documented the golden age of magic with a profusion of tricks, reviews, photos, playbills, tour routes, letters, and gossip. About four years ago, Christoph Wasshuber of Lybrary.com purchased a near-complete file of "The Sphinx" to scan the pages for this digital project. After he finished, about two years later, the 'digital facsimile edition' was released in 2003, and I received a copy. While the facsimile version came with a searchable index of articles (more on that in a moment), there is a huge difference between searching the index and searching the actual file. Searching the index would tell me every time 'Vernon,' for example, was mentioned in the title or as the author of an article or trick, but to find the many 'Vernon' references in the body of the text you need a version where the digital images have been subjected to high-resolution optical character recognition software, converting the images to reliably searchable text. Essentially, the facsimile edition was page, after page, after page of "The Sphinx" on two DVDs. It wasn't easy to use. This summer Lybrary.com completed and released a searchable version.

The product, "The Digital Sphinx", comes on two DVDs, organized into 54 PDF files, one for each volume, plus one for the index and one containing introductory essays by Wasshuber and Gabe Fajuri (both an expanded version of his March 2002 "Magic" article commemorating "The Sphinx" on its 100-year anniversary and a Power Point presentation he gave at that year's Yankee Magic Collectors' Weekend), and an article by magical scholar Bill Kuethe on "The Lore of The Sphinx", and another on longtime editor/publisher Dr. A. M. Wilson by his great granddaughter, Mary F. Syphus. The latter two were especially prepared for inclusion in "The Digital Sphinx" and have not been published elsewhere. There is also an html file with a hyperlinked version of the index, allowing you to jump to the article of interest by clicking on its indexed entry.

While you can access and search the DVDs themselves, Wasshuber recommends that you copy the files onto the hard-drive of your computer, which will both protect your DVDs and speed up access to the files.

Okay, let's give it a 'test drive': If we want to find the earliest reference to Dai Vernon, we don't want to miss possible references to him under his birth name of David W. Verner, so let's search for every time the consecutive letters 'vern' appear in "The Sphinx". As the search runs, you can see each 'hit' as the Adobe Acrobat reader finds them. Fortunately, you can view them in context without needing to jump to each entry, so it is easy to dismiss the numerous hits on 'Vernelo,' the first publisher of "The Sphinx," the vaudeville act 'Ziska and Vernon,' the ventriloquist Vernon, Harry Vernon of Glasgow, references to 'Mt. Vernon,' as well as any use of the terms 'cleverness,' 'government,' 'cavern,' and so on. When you do want to take a closer look at an entry, clicking on it takes you to the page on which it appears, and the search word is highlighted in context. Within a matter of minutes, we find on page 27 of the April 1916 issue (Volume 15, number 2, page 27, henceforth 15: 2: 27), under the heading 'Broadway Chatter' by 'One of the Boys,' the following quote from, 'Verner (fresh from Canada)': 'You're all a bunch of pessimists. The man with the goods will make good.' In the very next issue, our suspicion that this is indeed the 22-year-old Vernon is confirmed when we learn that 'Dav [sic] W. Verner' and his friend Cliff Greene were elected members of the Magicians' Club of New York on April 25th and showed the others 'some of their work, which is truly wonderful...Verner does second sight and mind reading with cards. He showed us several which are wonders.'

Vernon does not get mentioned again until nearly six years later, when the February 1922 issue notes the presence of 'D. W. Verner of Ottawa, Ontario' as one of 98 participants in Chicago's Houdini Night at the Crystal Room of the Great Northern Hotel, a post-performance celebration that began at 11:30 p.m. and did not disperse until 3 a.m. Could that have been when Vernon famously fooled Houdini?

His first entry as 'Vernon' comes a few months later, in the July issue (21: 5: 171), where Leslie Guest of Cincinnati reports: 'Vernon was in town for a few days recently, and those of the boys who called on him saw some card work that smacked of black magic.' The next issue notes the presence of 'Dallas [sic] W. Vernon, pasteboard expert and magical enthusiast of Ottawa, Canada' at a show in New York City (21: 6: 206). A few pages later in that same issue (21: 6: 211), Leslie Guest reports that he and Stewart Judah had 'each showed some of the card mysteries entrusted to them by Vernon on his recent visit' at the July 11th meeting of the Queen City Mystics.

One of the pleasures of such browsing is finding things you weren't looking for. Just above this last mention is a notice of Blackstone performances in Holyoke, Massachusetts on July 13-15, at which 1,000 people were turned away at each performance. The reviewer notes that, 'Adding the horse to his Ku Klux illusion is sure marvelous.' Does anyone know the nature of that illusion?

Well, we could go on with the many increasing Vernon references, but you get the idea. I literally spent the entire first weekend I had this finding the answers to many things that had long puzzled me, while opening many new avenues for further exploration. Obviously, the same kind of search can be done on Houdini, Kellar, Drs. Elliott, or Daley, Thurston, Blackstone, Malini, etc., or on a particular trick or sleight. The possibilities are literally limited only by one's interests and imagination.

In order to access "The Digital Sphinx," you need a computer with a DVD drive, AcrobatReader 6.0 (available as a free download), and nine gigabytes of space if you want to copy it to your hard drive. Because of its large size, searching the complete file is not instantaneous, and the time will vary greatly depending on the search parameters and the capacity of your computer. I conducted my test drive on an ancient three-year-old home computer and the initial search took nearly three hours to find the 2,538 occurrences of 'vern' in all 54 PDF files. Wasshuber, with a newer, faster computer, can search his 'entire digital library' in just 25 minutes, 20 of which he estimates are due to "The Sphinx." He has a number of recommendations for streamlining searches, such as increasing the size of the Acrobat cache setting, which will speed up subsequent searches, or using one of the emerging third-party desktop search utilities, many of which are available as free downloads and are rapidly improving their indexing capabilities. Adobe Professional (as opposed to the free download) also has an indexing capability, he says, which would make searches virtually instantaneous.

Wasshuber estimates that he and his staff spent 3,000 hours preparing this product, the equivalent of nearly a year and a half of 40-hour work weeks, so he will have to sell quite a few of these at this price to get a decent return on his investment. I hope he does, because this is a terrific product for anyone interested in magic history.

For those who already have a file of "The Sphinx" and just want an index to facilitate their non-digital searching, Lybrary.com's PDF file index to "The Sphinx" is available as a stand alone product, either as a download or on a CD for just $20. The index has nearly 14,000 entries covering tricks (indexed by category), articles (with the exception of monthly columns of local news, such as club reports), obituaries, and even photographs (indexed by caption). This file alone runs 540 pages and is a fantastic resource as well as a way to find out what is available on the complete file. Quick searches on it (each took less than a minute on my computer) produced 29 hits for 'Vernon,' but just 21 on the complete word 'Dai' (to eliminate hits for 'daily,' for example). Given the hundreds of hours Wasshuber estimates it took to prepare the index alone and the fact that the $20 is applicable toward later purchase of the complete file should one decide to upgrade, this is an outstanding value.

[With permission from Magic Magazine, September 2005, p. 38-39. While Magic Magazine does not rate products, Richard Hatch personally gave the five star rating below.]


Sealed Mysteries of Pocket Magic

reviewed by Jim Schuyler
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 29 November, 2005)

Sealed Mysteries of Pocket Magic"Sealed Mysteries of Pocket - Magic by Jean Hugard" was an interesting down load.

Every item in the booklet has been a long-standing friend of mine. The routine as given is a nice, trouble free one, and a (just about) sleight free one.

However, I don't believe that the booklet was written in the 1930's. I think it probably was written in the 1950's by Julien J. Proskauer as a "tribute" to his teacher, Jean Hugard. It may also have been written with the idea that funds derived from the sale of the booklet would go to Jean Hugard to "help him out". As I remember it, Jean Hugard was blind and not too well off toward the end of his life. The booklet was probably never really put on the market because there may have been some "property" rights in dispute about the tricks contained in the routine.

If Jean Hugard had had an idea in the 1930's that routining of tricks was something that was really needed by the amatuer magicians, he would have concentrated on writing routines such as the one in this booklet. He would not have published one booklet and then dropped the subject. His Hugard's Magic Monthly Magazine is full of nice tricks, but I don't recall that it had a lot of routining with different objects in it. I think that Mr. Proskauer did not remember his association and talks with Jean Hugard too well when he wrote "For years, Jean Hugard and the undersigned (one of his humble pupils) have discussed the necessity of putting before the amateurs a complete routined magical act." As I remember it, Jean Hugard was a super teacher of magic tricks and he would not have talked for years... he would have done it!

The piano card trick is a fine old effect, pretty much public domain at the time this booklet was written.

The rope from the card case was an item from a Milbourne Christopher booklet, not credited to Christopher.

The rope cutting routine is the Panama Rope Trick by Ted Collins, not credited to Collins.

The Chefalo knot at the end of the routine was the invention of a European street performer named Chefalo. It was not credited.

I don't think that the Cords of Phantasia was invented by Jean Hugard. But there is no mention of where this marvelous trick came from. I don't think the use of a cigar rather than a chopstick or a magic wand is an improvement to this trick.

Jean Hugard would certainly have mentioned where the tricks in his routine came from if he had actually written the booklet.

I am quite sure that Christopher and Collins would have raised some hell if the booklet was placed on sale as written.

Having said all that, I still like every item in the routine and I am going to do it as written to see if Mr. Proskauer had a good idea or not.


Tarbell Course

reviewed by Chris Bays
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 08 November, 2005)

Tarbell CourseAn excellent buy. Not only searchable but highly portable. I've used this version more than the volumes that came later. For anyone in magic you can't go wrong with Tarbell.


Modern Coin Manipulation

reviewed by Miguel Martin (confirmed purchase)
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Thursday 29 September, 2005)

Modern Coin ManipulationI'm new to coin magic and to sleight based magic. When I found this book, my main hope was that it would give me enough basic information to start with, but after reading most of it, I've found that it wasn't written for a beginner. I also got Jean Hugard's Coin Magic and JB Bobo's Modern Coin Magic - both are better for beginners. Modern Coin Manipulation is often very difficult to read, as the English sounds dated now. There are some really good sections that would probably be very interesting to anyone curious about past magicians/acts. Downs was obviously a master at his art - back palming 40 half dollars should be proof of that - but the passages don't really come across as simple, clear teaching. The most frustrating aspect of this book was that the illustrations were usually 4 + pages after the text that referenced them. Flipping back and forth gets kinda old fast in this case. All in all, a great deal for 4.50 - but it wasn't the be-all, end-all I secretly hoped for.


Tavern Magic 2

reviewed by Steve Dusheck
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 16 September, 2005)

Tavern Magic 2I finally got a chance to read your new book. You have discovered your unique talents and methods of creativity. You ARE NOT the typical magic clone. I think it's worth much more than you will ever charge for it.


Tavern Magic 2

reviewed by Bill Palmer
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 16 September, 2005)

Tavern Magic 2Bar Magician by Mike Wild and Todd Diamond represents the collective wisdom of two fellows who have spent a lot of time working in the bar environment. It is chock full of excellent material that is tailor-made to entertain the customers and get you plenty of tips. Nothing is left out. They tell you how to handle the obnoxious drunk, and how far to go with the customers. Not only that, they tell you when to do the magic. All of these are important. Some of the material is bluer than I work, but all of it is practical, and I can't fault them for having material that fits their performing styles and their venue. If you want to work as a bar magician, this is the book to get.


Tavern Magic 1

reviewed by Chris Watson
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 16 September, 2005)

Tavern Magic 1You'll hopefully be pleased to know that Totem has seen the light of day over this side of the pond (UK). I saw a friend of mine to day who is an excellent card magician. He asked if I had been working on anything new magic wise. I told him I had recieved a great manuscript the day before and proceeded to show him "Totem". ... you know that look you get from other magicians who are trying to stay cool and not look too amazed... Job done my friend, job done...great routine....thanks mike for sharing that one. This is a really good manuscript the writing is clear and concise and I like the way that the effect, preparation and methods are broken down into seperate parts along with a few performance notes at the side of the page. The other thing I found useful was the fact that the pictures are on a seperate page. I printed the document to read it and having the pictures in order at the side as I read the routines was a great help to understanding how the routines go. The routines themselves are well thought out and have the feel of being tried and tested by the author.


Tavern Magic 1

reviewed by Jonathan Townsend
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 16 September, 2005)

Tavern Magic 1...Very powerful ideas there. Just finished reading the China Changed routine. very good. Got thinking back to the Kaps Chinese coin trick with the lager coins as production items. Great text!


Tavern Magic 1

reviewed by Curtis Cam
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 16 September, 2005)

Tavern Magic 1Thanks very much. I have had the oppportunity to read and be impressed by Tavern Magic 1, and am looking forward to reviewing the next installment tonight. I am happy to say that I found the material in One refreshingly well thought out, and well explained. You have succeeded in elaborating on some fairly fine points regarding scripting and psychology without becoming pedantic or presumptious. You state your case and let the piece speak for itself. I must say that you have published more on the "half transposition" effect than anyone else. You do seem to understand this odd effect (where a coin transposes with another that is nonexistant or out-of-play a moment prior) and that's rare. The applications seem effective. I had expected to see the ususal abuse of gaffed coins, and was delighted to see that your routines recognize and exploit the unique advantages of the gaffs. They all pass the "could you do the effect without the gaffs without changing the routine?" test, since the answer in each case seems to be "No." As I noted on the Café, I liked the patterline for "Appreciation of Silver" and find it to be quite convenient for explaining the last coin in a hanging coins routine. Before I forget, congratulations on the look of the materials. The pages were well laid out, very readable, and the addition of the "Presentational Notes" in a side column was a very nice idea. Again, thanks and props, dude.


Tavern Magic 1

reviewed by Steve Dusheck
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 16 September, 2005)

Tavern Magic 1I was very impressed by the e-book itself, the layout, the art work etc. You write very well also. ...Very good routining. ...Well thought out. ...I can tell it must play very strong. The routines flow. I am very impressed by your thinking.


Learn How to be a Handcuff King and Mystery Man

reviewed by Timothy Arends
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Saturday 10 September, 2005)

Learn How to be a Handcuff King and Mystery ManThis is a charming book. It was originally published by the Johnson Smith Co., which published a large number of "pulp" reprints of older books in the pre-war years of the 20th century. In book form, this seems to be a Johnson Smith original. However, some of the secrets were sold separately by magic companies as early as the 1920's.

It could be argued that this book is one of many that "tells the reader how something is done, not how to do it". All of the explanations are brief, and suffer from a lack of illustrations. Some of the explanations suffer from an almost humorous lack of details, such as the Crack Marksmen Act, which suggests that, in the effect of disrobing the assistant with a rifle, shooting birdshot at the assistant eliminates all danger. However, the effect of the Siberian Chain Escape is clearly explained and was worth the price of the book if one did not know it already. Most likely this book was sold merely to satisfy buyer's curiosity, rather than to actually teach them how to be a "Handcuff King and Mystery Man".

There is also an article on "Locks, Their Construction How to Pick Them, Lock Breaking," which appears to have been added in later, perhaps in the late 1930's or early 1940's, while the earlier part of the book was written in the early part of the century.

Johnsons Smith's book reprints typically had a catalog section in the back that, in many cases, doubled the overall size of the book, and are as interesting to peruse as the book itself.

Some of the interesting advertisements on the inside front and back covers are for "Magic cards" (DeLand marked decks), "The magician's box of tricks" (a $1 magic set), and "Card miracles, containing 12 sets of magic cards, with which it is possible to perform a complete act in magic, no skill, no palming, no practice, no apparatus".

The contents of the book are: The Great Handcuff Trick, Escape From a Safe or Vault, The Vanishing Assistant, The Crack Marksmen, The Marvelous Levitation Act, The Excelsior Rope Tie, The Wonderful Trunk Escape, The Escape From 75 Ft. of Rope, The Siberian Chain Escape, The Japanese Thumb Tie, Escape from a Chair Tie, The 20th-Century Escape, Escape From a Sack Trick, Escape From a Chair Trick, and The Dangerous Rope Tie Trick.


Signed Card in Spectator's Pocket: SCISP

reviewed by Sungmin Kim
Rating: ★★★★ (Date Added: Saturday 10 September, 2005)

Signed Card in Spectator's Pocket: SCISPI give this effect 1 star out of 5. Gutsy? Yes. However, when I define gutsy, I refer it as a level of risk the performer is willing to take in his own ability to perform a certain effect rather than relying on the careful participation of the spectator. There are two big moments that is completely out of performer's hands that can easily risk ruining the effect... all you need is a spectator that's either clumsy or fidgety. Although the instruction on the ebook is well done, the approach to the effect is down right horrible and extremely inefficient. I don't care if the handling of three cards are flawless to appear as two or vice versa, if the "gutsy" part of the effect is ruined, everything is ruined. Even if you know the method inside out, this is definitely NOT one of those sure-fire tricks that you can have a complete confidence on. It is not easy, and the risk related in order to achieve the effect is hardly worth it... knowing that there are better ways to do this. I do not recommend this at all. In fact, if I could, I would rather market my own version of a even better routine that's much more reliable and sure to create a reaction.


Best of Osmosis

reviewed by Hal Barlow
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 09 September, 2005)

Best of OsmosisBoy is this good! More usable material than in many larger more expensive volumes. This is commercial, practical,staightforward stuff. The 3 cards to pocket routine is an absolute delight!


Close-up Ex-Perry-ence

reviewed by Tora the magic Entertainer
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Friday 09 September, 2005)

Close-up Ex-Perry-enceThis young man is probably one of the candidates to be the greatest magic authors in the future. His little ebook is not as little as it may seem. It is a well prepared and detailed work. If Drew would sell the items one by one as manuscripts, he could earn several times more money. I am a proffessional of 20 years from Turkey and I say: Do not pass by this little ebook, it contains information worth gold by the weight.


Miracle Mongers and Their Methods

reviewed by Dustin Stinett
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Wednesday 07 September, 2005)

Miracle Mongers and Their MethodsA Magician’s Thoughts on "Miracle Mongers and Their Methods" By Harry Houdini

Those of you who read my thoughts on "Why EBooks" may have noticed that I cite Harry Houdini’s "Miracle Mongers and Their Methods" as a book I consider worthy of reading (and not just owning—a profound difference). You might, therefore, be wondering why I think that. After all, it’s easy to understand why someone would want to own a "real" copy of "Miracle Mongers": It was written by the most recognizable name in the world of magic. It would be an admirable piece in any book collection and an absolute "must have" for Houdini collectors. But why would a magician want, or in fact need, to read a book about a bunch of geeks? "I can understand," you might say to yourself, "why I might want the ‘real’ book. But why would I want to plunk down a few bucks to acquire just the text?"

I think that’s an excellent question and I am going to try to answer it. Whether the answer is worthy of the question is up to you, dear reader.

Let’s start with the obvious "kindred link" these sideshow/dime museum performers share with magicians. From a historic viewpoint, magicians should have at least a passing knowledge from whence they come. Like it or not, magicians are forever associated with the fair/circus sideshows, the streets and the dime museums of the not so distant past. These were our first venues: "legitimate theater" came later—much later—and even then our brethren still performed in those less than glamorous settings right along side the fire-eaters and resistors, stone-eaters, strongmen, sword-swallowers and frog swallowing poison resistors. Some still do.

Yep: those are my people. Learning about them is a fascinating and rewarding pastime for any magician. In fact, many of these sideshow artists also performed conjuring feats as part of their programs. Houdini became fascinated by them because he was one of those who performed, along side of several of those about who he writes, in those dime museums and circuses.

If your passion for magic history includes Houdini, then reading this book allows you a glimpse inside the man himself. His fascination with death makes more than one appearance. His renowned mother fixation appears as does his disdain for the mediums of his day. He also has scathing remarks for magicians who, by their performances, expose more secrets of magic than do the so-called "exposers" (all the while justifying his own "exposures" in the book). It’s quite interesting how little the "problems" facing the art of magic have changed in the ensuing decades.

We also learn that Houdini, not encumbered by today’s New Puritanism (read: being "PC"), had an appreciation for miracle mongers of the opposite sex that went beyond these ladies unusual talents. A small segment on female sword-swallowers is highlighted by Houdini’s observation regarding Mlle. Edith Clifford, who, he writes, "...is, perhaps, the most generously endowed." He also recounts the weakness his strongman friend John Grun Marx had for the gentler sex during a mutual performance in France: "...all a pretty woman had to do was to smile and John would wilt. And—Paris was Paris."

Houdini was passionately desperate to include himself in the world of the well-read intellectuals and academics of his time. He felt that, in order to do this, it would be necessary for him to publish something more than just the secrets of magic, and that meant presenting researched historical material. This book was one such attempt. It’s worth noting that Houdini pads this book with page after page (after page, in many cases) of transcripts taken directly from his source material. He makes few meaningful observations and fewer still interpretations of the material, instead forcing the reader to come to his own. This is not to say that is a bad thing, however, most true academics will present their conclusions as well as the source material for consideration. The lack of scholarship on Houdini’s part in this book is quite telling and thus important—in my opinion—for a Houdini enthusiast to reveal to himself by reading the book. Better than to take my word for it.

But this is still a scholarly work: There is some input from Houdini (notwithstanding the comment regarding Mlle. Clifford’s bosom), and source material abounds, taken directly from Houdini’s extensive collection, which spanned centuries. The reading can be tedious at times if you are not a fan of the rich language of these early centuries. If you are like me and find the cadence of such prose as fascinating as the material it describes, you are in for a double treat.

Even the language of the early 20th century is worthy of historical note for today’s magicians. Most of us know that magic was commonly referred to as "juggling" during the centuries preceding the 20th, but many may be surprised to know that magic—in fact any deception—was still referred to as a "juggle" during the early part of the 20th century. Houdini refers to the bullet catch as an "ill-omened juggle" and, during a passing reference, he comments about the, "...flimsy juggling of pseudo-mediums."

Secrets also are to be found within the text—though I am personally not tempted to test any of them (and wouldn’t recommend anyone to do so without proper guidance). Almost the entire first half of the book covers fire eating and resisting from the historic, scientific (of the times) and arcane points of view. The secrets of the "Georgia Magnet" (Lulu Hurst) are discussed (though not thoroughly) as are many other "techniques" used by these unusual entertainers.

However, the historic aspect of "Miracle Mongers" is obvious and an easy target upon which one can set his aim. More obscure within this rich text are the presentational opportunities the creative magician can find and exploit. Several such opportunities came to me as I read the book, and I wasn’t looking for them (but I still wrote them down—as should all performers when an idea, no matter how obscure, comes to mind). Who’s to say how many I missed? My guess is that there is plenty of gold still to be found in this old mine.

I am reluctant to share—after all, they are the fruits of my labor, both creative and academic—why should I deprive the reader of the joy of these discoveries? However, since it unlikely that escapology will ever find its way into my program, perhaps I can share one morsel as an appetizer. Imagine, while being buttressed in (say) 100 feet of rope, the escape artist speaks of Houdini (who wouldn’t?) and the time he was restrained by Billington, the official hangman of Bolton, England, in the same restraints used on his victims prior to their gruesome demise. During their encounter, Billington enlightened Houdini that, "...he hardened himself to the demands of his office by killing rats with his teeth." Ah yes, the things we will do for the sake of our profession!

I’m certain such a script would not fit everyone who chooses to escape from rope—or any kind of restraint for that matter—but hopefully the reader gets the idea. This book is alive with such memorable lines and anecdotes. Whether used directly (as above) or used in a developmental capacity from which a complete presentation can be adapted, the material—often the most difficult kind of material for many magicians to find, is there. Not to mention that the search is fun (and you might learn something along the way) and one need not invest in an expensive collectable volume to find it. I call that a bargain—and a valuable secret!

PS: I will be appearing here from time to time, and while I cannot promise a response (though I will try), I would very much like to read your comments.

It’s important that you put something clearly relating to lybrary.com or this piece in the subject line so you may get past my indiscriminate method of SPAM deletion: don’t know him—click; don’t know him—click; don’t know him—click. You get the idea.

Thanks for reading!


Closely Guarded Secrets

reviewed by Dustin Stinett
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005)

Closely Guarded SecretsDuring my “magic lifetime” (a tad over 35 years) magic publishing has experienced two major paradigm shifts. When I started buying magic books in earnest (a nice way of saying “out of control”), most new publications were usually paperback. Generally octavo in size, perfect bound, stapled or comb bound affairs, many with questionable production values—but they were quite affordable ($5-$15). There was the occasional hardbound book (at premium prices, about $15-$25), and many of the older books (those not yet reprinted by Dover) were hardbound as well. But the majority of the new stuff was inexpensively produced (keep in mind that there were, of course, many exceptions).

Sometime in the late 1970s somebody got the wild notion that magic books could be better—a lot better: Quarto in size, quality boards and acid-free paper with prices that matched this premium level of quality. Pretty soon everyone was in the big-book, big-price ($35-$45) business. Hardbound books in the $25 to $30 range were bargains! Paperbacks at $20 were steals since that’s how much lecture notes were beginning to cost.

Now books in this price range are cheap. We had become accustomed to paying $40 to $50 for a good book when the next change occurred: bigger, better, “deluxe.” Somebody else decided that we would be prepared to pay $100 (give or take a 20) for a quality book—sometimes more. “Trade” editions routinely sell for $50 to $100 while their deluxe, slip-cased and signed/numbered counterparts—the “must have” editions—sell for at least twice the price. Some of these books are mammoth in size; many hundreds of quarto size pages with color plates and work-of-art dust jackets worthy of framing. And the publishers were correct: we shelled out the cash—willingly, sometimes wantonly.

There are, of course, reasons for this major price escalation, but one in particular stands out: For centuries, the only way magical information could be disseminated (beyond a personal relationship with a teacher) was through the printed word. Video changed all that and DVDs have made videotape nearly obsolete. Simply put, books have become a hard sell. Publishers are producing and selling fewer units, therefore they have to price their works higher and in order to justify that, the books have to be perceived as high-end in terms of production values, size and/or content. Most of the time they are and some of the time, well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Somewhere during the “big” era and into the transitional period to “bigger,” desktop publishing snuck in. Anyone with a PC could publish their “contributions” to magic. Much of the time we would wonder why they bothered. Other times we thanked our lucky stars they did bother (with some of us privately wishing they hadn’t).

We are lucky when someone like Michael Close is compelled to share his contributions with us. It’s widely known that one of the reasons Mr. Close released his Workers series was to get his work into the printed record before someone else chose to do it for him. It’s quite possible he really didn’t want to do it: it’s just that he realized that he had to do it. So we become the beneficiary of this paradox. But we are also very lucky that Michael Close’s character and his love of—and sense of responsibility to—the art of magic prevented him from taking the low road of simply publishing his tricks (effect and method only). This would have satisfied the “printed record” issue and, frankly, he probably would have sold just as many books. But this would not have satisfied his sense of duty. Since he had to do it, he chose to do it thoroughly: every possible aspect of the magic shared in the Workers books was offered up; nothing was held back. Included with the magic are some of the most lucid essays ever written on the myriad of subjects that he covers. Combined, the five Workers books may very well be the most focused lessons in magic ever published. Closely Guarded Secrets takes up where Workers left off—and then some.

The Times They Are A-Changin’.

It would have been very simple for Michael Close to call his latest work Workers Six and then publish it with the same production values as the previous five. However, to do so would have meant that Mr. Close would have chosen the low road and he has already shown us that this is not in his character. CGS is as much about evolution as it is about Mr. Close’s latest performance pieces and this evolution touches every aspect of this book: the effects, the thinking; the production values and the medium in which they are all captured.

In regard to that medium, the book purists out there, though perhaps a bit miffed by the necessity to print it themselves, will be very pleased with the final product. Those with the pragmatic (and I believe correctly held) belief that video can be a valuable subsidiary tool when learning sleight of hand will be pleased with the amazing imbedded videos. For those who think they can learn only from video, well, bummer. You’ll have to wait and see if Mr. Close releases this material on DVD. In the mean time, the rest of us will benefit from the lessons and the material included in this EBook. But keep in mind that since not everything shared here in print could possibly be included on a DVD, you will short-change yourself. That would be a shame since there is so much here that can enrich the growth of any student of the art. Even in the case, like me, that you cannot find one trick (out of the many very good ones) here that you plan to add to your repertoire (and this is perhaps the highest complement I can give any book) you will find that the true value of this book is not the tricks, but the substance that is behind every one of them.

Reading through each piece is requisite if you wish to garner everything you can from this book. Skipping an effect because it doesn’t interest you or is beyond your level of expertise could mean missing valuable lessons on multiple levels of magical thinking that can be applied immediately to the magic you already do. Years of experience on what to do in many given situations which are common to many magic tricks are offered here—One simply cannot put a price on that, and all the reader has to do is recognize those given circumstances and apply the lessons. For example, should you skip any one of the first three effects you will miss a lesson in the construction of a “set” of tricks: The blending three individual effects into one cohesive performance piece without ever saying “And for my next trick” (or anything even suggesting that vulgarity).

Many of these lessons are in the application of timing patter with technique (Mr. Close is a devotee of the Erdnase admonition of “changing the moment”), but for him it goes beyond just saying “something” (or cracking a meaningless joke) at the right time to cover technique: It’s about meaning and logic. Some of the most powerful misdirection in magic is when that misdirection is something so natural that it is innocuous. The amount of thought and effort Michael Close puts into the seemingly ordinary (in the minds of the audience) is extraordinary and he is freely shares the fruits of that effort time and again in CGS.

To lift magic—all magic—out of the realm of puzzles, an emotional hook is needed. One of the things we learn here is that, besides something interesting about the trick (the story, the circumstances, etc.), the emotional hook must also be the performer—particularly in close-up situations. If your audience likes you and/or can relate to you, they will give you miles of latitude. This is exactly why good performers can successfully do card tricks for people who otherwise hate card tricks. Puzzles become magical and the “challenge” aspect of some effects goes unnoticed. Throughout CGS we see how Mr. Close hooks his audience. Though he uses gambits such as winning at gambling, these strategies are always bolstered by the audience’s interest in him.

Years of technical expertise and finesse is also revealed in CGS in the “On Sleights” section. Like most great performers, Mr. Close chooses the technique that gets him where he wants the effect to take his audience. If this means a palm or using a pass is the best tool, he uses it. But he doesn’t use a sleight just for the sake of using the sleight. In fact, one of his best pieces of advice in regard to learning sleight of hand appears early in the book and is a testament to one of the many subtexts that run throughout this book: this one being the subtext of “focus.”

A Michael Close book (‘E’ or otherwise) would not be complete without an essay or two. Though the introduction covers aspects of the medium he chose to publish the book, there is also food for thought in the reaffirmation of Mr. Close’s firmly held belief of what magic is to him (and thus to his audience). And while short, in “On Venue and Evolution” Mr. Close shares more valuable experience that could otherwise only be learned through personal trials (and if there is “trial” there must be “error”). Pay attention and you can save some of what is the most precious commodity we all have: time.

In keeping with the subtext of “evolution,” there are two sections in this EBook that are a departure for Michael Close: a section devoted to fooling only other magicians and a section of “Pipedreams”: untried ideas that have merit and might get your creative juices flowing. But a personal word of caution: If you do expand on any of these ideas and create something you feel worthy of dissemination, don’t forget where you got the idea and take the appropriate (and ethical) steps prior to doing so.

I must confess that the penultimate section on Dean Dill’s Box made my stomach sink. Not because it was included (I understand his reasons for doing so), but because of the similarity some of the introductory patter I came up with for the piece has with that given here (keeping in mind that I have never seen Mr. Close perform his version). The upside is that I cannot be accused of stealing (since his is now published), but the downside is that I will be seen as unoriginal and the very unattractive fact that others will be doing his piece; it’s that good. (For the record—for those keeping score—I talk briefly about the Fox sisters and the Davenports and their cabinet).

To close out the EBook, the author revisits (some briefly, some more extensively) several of the pieces that appeared in the Workers series. Two things in particular caught my attention. First, I am curious about how many magicians went running to their shelves to scour through 20 years of Apocalypse indexes (you’ll have to buy the EBook to find out what I’m talking about, as long as no one else spills the beans). Second, and most interesting to me, is that Mr. Close never specifically mentions any of the several superb essays that appeared throughout the Workers series. I see this as an affirmation of my belief that he “got it right” the first time.

Closely Guarded Secrets is a triumph in terms of content as well as medium. Though not the first of its kind, I believe CGS will be recognized as the rocket that propelled (from the launching pad of the e-version of Giobbi’s Card College 1) magic publishing into a new era. Yes, the times they are a-changin’.


Steven Youell Teaches Advanced Card Techniques

reviewed by Jeff Borden
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005)

Steven Youell Teaches Advanced Card TechniquesI give Mr. Youell top marks for his products. I don’t have this specific product but I do own Mr.Youell’s two CD’s. I can tell you that they are very well done. The beginner to intermediate card handler will not be disappointed. Clear video’s. Clear writing. Pleasurable to listen to and watch Steve teach. (Believe me folks, this does matter). Learn the skills Steve teaches and you "WILL" be performing miracles with the paste boards. No reason why you can’t gain a wealth of knowledge from this product. Very much worth your money. Buy it and get ready for your card magic to take to the sky.


Tarbell Course

reviewed by Jeff Suter
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005)

Tarbell CourseLet’s look at why this product impressed me.

Two words...SEARCH ENGINE

If you already own the books, this feature alone is worth the price of the CD. Looking for silk routines in Tarbell but don’t want to go through every book? SEARCH ENGINE baby! This is awesome. I’m still going through my coin search (I think it came up with 150 pages!)

Now, the other feature that I thought was extremely cool is the Digital Facsimile feature. What’s that? Let’s say your on a page in the HTML format...want to see what that page looked like in the original book? Hit the digital facsimile button. Now you looking at a digital scan of the actual page. Very cool for the folks who don’t own the books. It must have been a daunting task to scan all of those pages and is certainly worthy of an honorable mention.

Overall, the quality is great, the technology is well done and what can I say about the search engine except brilliant! All of that for 37 bucks, and you have quite an impressive combination at a very affordable price.

Highly Recommended!


Tarbell Course

reviewed by Steve Vaughn
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005)

Tarbell CourseMost of you are familiar with The Tarbell Course in Magic and many of you, as I do, have the set of books put out comprised of the material found in the original course plus a couple other volumes put together after the death of Tarbell. For those not hip to Tarbell here is a quick history. Back in the 1920's a publisher wanted Houdini to produce a course in magic that would be mailed to students in increments. As often happens Houdini didn't mind having his name associated with the project but didn't want to do the work himself. The gentlemen behind the project then asked Harland Tarbell, a magician and artist, if he would produce the magic course for them. Harlan did as requested, Houdini was out of the picture, and the course was released as the Tarbell Course. The methods of advertizing and how the course was ran is very interesting in itself. The benefit of the Tarbell Course was the student would receive their work for the week and progress through the courses. The quality of the art and instructions as well as the routines themselves were very high and this is evidenced today by many request for information being followed with "It's in Tarbell". If you were to really get down to business and want to learn magic the Tarbell Course is, and I doubt anyone with knowledge will disagree, a must for the collection of any serious magician. I collected mine a number of years ago, 8 volumes at over $30.00 a volume. I've read the complete set a couple times and cannot count how often I've turned to them for information.

Tarbell wrote his course over a period of years and he had contribution from everyone from Houdini to Dai Vernon. Charlie Miller, Blackstone, Keller, Silent Mora, and more all represented in the original course. In the later volumes written by Harry Loryne (and NOT in the ebook version as you'll note later, which is no biggie) even has a routine by a young Davino, later to become David Copperfield. The course covers the obvious such as sleight of hand, cards, coins, rope, egg magic, chemical magic, silks, escapes, mentalism, and also has a good number of illusions that are often the foundation of those you see on stage today. You will find some of the material dated, some out and out unperformable (routine wise) with todays sensativities. That is not a bad thing because if you have some creativity, and you should, you can take and should take the routines and make them fit your performance style and character. The course also includes some excellent essays on magic history and presentation, some of the best I've read.

I think I've made it clear that I think Tarbell is a fantastic resource for the magician and I prize my set. Now let us look at the eBook version.

This is my first experience with eBooks, brought to you by lybrary.com, you may have heard of them, they preserve magic one book at a time you know. That is a good thing because they are giving new life to books that deserve to be read and used and in a format that is perfect for magic. I say perfect because these books, for the most part, are segmented and rather than reading line a novel you go to a certain item and review it and look at the illustrations. The Tarbell Course on eBook is based on the original correspondence course and not the books. The books are laid out a bit differently but the eBook is just as you would have received it back in 1932 when you were a magi in training. You get to look at the original text, meaning the bad font and all that, or the cleaner modern font version. All with Tarbells excellent illustrations.

I've never done the eBook thing before but after 10 minutes of hacking around the computer I got the ebook up and running. The course can be accessed in order (as mailed back in da day) or by title as broken down into catagory. I had no problem cruising around and looking at old gems. This is so nice to work with I think I'll be looking at the e version quite a bit. This version has all the original material including the essays. You will not be dissappointed. The cost for the entire Tarbel Course (excluding the later two volumes, which was really more like 1.3 volumes) on ebook is just a tad bit more than one of the 8 hard copies would cost you. That means it is one heck of a cost efficient way to have access to some great magic. I give the e version (as well as the hard version) a thumbs up. The benefits of the e version are ease of use and cost. Recommended at lybrary.com and I think that is the only place to find it.


Card College 1

reviewed by Michael Close
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005)

Card College 1Now here's a really good idea. To me, this is the perfect melding of old and new technology.


Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of The Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill

reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Monday 05 September, 2005)

Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of The Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and SkillJohn Nevil Maskelyne was a fighter for truth, justice, and the American—uh, sorry, make that British—way from virtually the beginning of his career. As an early opponent of spiritualism, he built early fame on his duplication of the Davenport Brothers' spirit cabinet act. Maskelyne's achievements were plentiful and varied, including his work with David Devant at the Egyptian Hall, and of course, his co-authorship with Devant of Our Magic, one of the greatest conjuring texts of all time. He also wrote books on spiritualism—one early in the battle, one late—which still make for remarkably good reading. And he wrote this classic treatise on crooked gambling, the "sharps" and "flats" in the title referring to the cheaters and their uninformed victims. ... There is an elaborate segment on hold-outs, including an illustrative plate depicting an anecdote in which the famous Kepplinger hold-out was first uncovered by some of the inventor's fellow sharpers and, apparently in this case, victims. Later in the book there is a reproduction of a then-current catalog of crooked gambling devices from an American mail-order house, which includes a Kepplinger hold-out for a price of $75.00 (the complete outfit could run as much as a hundred). Today, if you could actually locate the remaining individual or two that still makes a quality Kepplinger, you would likely have to pay between twelve and fourteen hundred dollars for it. Those were the days!


Tarbell Course

reviewed by Monk Chuck
Rating: ★★★★★ (Date Added: Tuesday 30 August, 2005)

Tarbell CourseThe greatness of this disk is threefold... 1. Conservation of bookshelf space 2. The searching ability 3. Access to effects that have been overlooked for years making them fresh today!

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