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Sleight of Hand

by Edwin Sachs

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Sleight of Hand by Edwin Sachs

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This is an all time classic with 57 beautiful illustrations. It is one of the most complete books written on magic, because it teaches both stage and close-up magic (cards, coins, silks, cups and balls, etc.), technique, presentation, and all the peripheral skills necessary for great conjuring.

"I beg to say that it is far and away the very best work of its kind ever published" - Harry Kellar

"My den contains a large collection of books on magic, but none has a cover so worn as 'Sleight of Hand' by Edwin Sachs." - David Devant

The official byline read: The standard texbook on how to become a magician. Sleight-of-hand feats and tricks with apparatus for amateur and professional conjurers, and for both parlor and stage performance.

Paul Fleming wrote:

This is one of the real classics of magical literature. It was first published serially, but appeared in book form as early as 1877, only a few years after the publication of Professor Hoffmann's famous Modern Magic. It is not, as might perhaps be inferred from the title, a work on pure sleight-of-hand (as is, for example, Magic Without Apparatus), but a general treatise on conjuring - with and without apparatus - which covers much the same ground as Hoffmann's pioneer work. It may be said, however, to be more up-to-date than Modern Magic (which has gone through many printings, but without change in contents), and, indeed, includes some items that are found in Hoffmann's more recent works, More Magic and Later Magic. The present fourth edition of Sachs' work follows in general the text of the third (1900) edition, the last one published under the supervision of the author, who included it in a chapter which he quite properly called "Some Up-to-Date Tricks."

This new edition of Sleight-of-Hand is published as Volume II of The Fleming Magic Classic Series, under the editorship of the present reviewer. There has been no abridgment of the Sachs' material. His fine explanation of sleights and tricks, his personal observations on good and bad methods of presentation, his comments on the work of various types of performers, and his chatty, witty style have all been preserved in the current edition. It should be noted, however, that the spelling and certain English expressions in the book have been "Americanized" and the punctuation and paragraphing have been modernized. Other changes are the addition of a two-page bibliography, a three-page preface, a ten-page index, approximately 150 footnotes, and a portrait of Mr. Sachs in the form of a pen-and-ink sketch - the first picture of him we have ever seen in a book on magic. The illustrations, too, have been altered; the figures that appeared in the old editions have been redrawn, and additions have been made which bring the present total number up to 131 in place of the original 57.

As has already been said, Sleight-of-Hand covers the general field of conjuring, and deals with feats in nearly all branches of the subject. There are 53 pages of coin sleights and tricks, 80 of card conjuring, 18 of feats with watches and livestock, 27 of handkerchief and glove magic, 80 of miscellaneous tricks (among which are found many feats with apparatus); and smaller amounts of space are given to Chinese tricks, hat productions, impromptu magic, tricks with cups and balls, and so on. It cannot be said of the material presented here that it is new. Most of it, indeed, is at least a half-century old. But for the contents of Sleight-of-Hand something more important than novelty can be claimed - namely, that this material is basic in nature. Here are sleights and tricks which constitute the very foundations of modern magic. Here are the fundamental principles on which twentieth century conjuring has of necessity been built - for the good and sufficient reason that all of the truly vital "laws" of magic had been discovered and were in use at the time Sachs and Hoffmann wrote their great works. Indeed, it may be said with truth that a magician who has never studied such well-rounded treatises as those of Robert-Houdin, Hoffmann, and Sachs - which explain how to become a magician, and not merely how certain tricks are done - is in grave danger of overlooking the "real secrets" of magic. In this connection, we must not fail to cite Chapter XI of Sleight-of-Hand, which is, so far as we know, a unique collection of "sleights and properties for general use." We doubt that any magician, amateur or professional, could read this chapter for the first time without enlarging his fund of knowledge.

Though the basic principles of magic have undergone no significant change for many years, there have of course been numerous improvements in specific techniques. It was in recognition of this fact that the editor included in this edition the many footnotes which have already been mentioned. These footnotes are definite citations (with chapter and page) of more recent works in which later versions of given sleights and tricks may be found. Such titles as Neil's The Modern Conjurer, Hilliard's Greater Magic, Tarbell's Course in Magic, and Gaultier's Magic Without Apparatus are cited from twenty to thirty times each, the reference being now to a branch of conjuring (such as card tricks or mental work) and again to an individual trick (say, The Rising Cards, The Cups and Balls, or The Handkerchiefs and Soup Plates). It seems probable that these footnotes, together with the bibliography (listing 47 works on magic) and the unusually detailed index, will aid the inquiring reader in locating whatever information he may be seeking.

Few books on magic have received higher praise than Sleight-of-Hand, and yet few great conjuring works are so slightly known by the present generation of wizards. The explanation lies, of course, in the inaccessibility of this book over a period of almost fifty years. Those who delight in good bookmaking will undoubtedly be interested in comparing the fourth edition with the earlier printings of the book. The first three editions were printed in unduly small type, were inadequately illustrated, and were not very attractively bound. As Volume II of The Fleming Magic Classic Series, the present edition of Sachs has been manufactured in the format adopted for the Series, and is therefore similar to Magic Without Apparatus in make-up. It is a book of 416 (xvi+400) pages, size 6 1/4 by 9 1/2 inches, set in large, clear Baskerville type, printed on watermarked Warren's Olde Style White Wove paper, bound in red Bancroft buckram, and gold-stamped (from special dies) on front cover and spine. It is a handsome, durable volume.

Because we had a part in the production of this fourth edition of Sachs, we have tried in this review to write as objectively as possible, setting forth verifiable facts and letting them speak for themselves. However, we cannot refrain from quoting in abridged form two comments which were made, a good many years ago, by the leaders of magic in this country and England. Harry Kellar, the greatest of American magicians, wrote of this book: "It is far and away the very best work of its kind ever published. It embraces about everything in the art I love so well, and I consider it indispensable, not only to amateur or beginners, but also to advanced professionals." And David Devant, the foremost British conjurer, expressed his appreciation in the following words: "The student who is ambitious to become a performer is likely to be a creditable one (through studying Sleight-of-Hand), for you not only tell him what to do and how it is done, but teach him how to do it and what not to do .... My den contains a large collection of books on magic, but none has a cover so worn as Sleight-of-Hand, by Edwin Sachs."

Sachs' articles on sleights were first serialized in the Exchange & Mart magazine and later reprinted as the book Sleight of Hand.

2nd edition, 1885, L. Upcott Gill, London; reprint, 1980, Dover Publications, New York; 399 pages.

  1. Preface to the Second Edition
  2. Introduction
  3. Chapter I - Palming
  4. Chapter II - Tricks with Coins
  5. Chapter III - Tricks with Common Objects
  6. Chapter IV - Tricks with Cups and Balls
  7. Chapter V - Tricks with Handkerchiefs
  8. Chapter VI - Chinese Tricks
  9. Chapter VII - Tricks at Table
  10. Chapter VIII - Tricks with Cards
  11. Chapter IX - General Remarks
  12. Chapter X - The Table and Dress
  13. Chapter XI - Sleights and Properties for General Use
  14. Chapter XII - Tricks with Cards
  15. Chapter XIII - Tricks with Handkerchiefs and Gloves
  16. Chapter XIV - Tricks with Coins
  17. Chapter XV - Miscellaneous
  18. Chapter XVI - The Cornucopian Hat
  19. Chapter XVII - Tricks with Watches and Live Stock
  20. Chapter XVIII - Sham Mesmerism, Clairvoyance, &c.
  21. Chapter XIX - Final Instructions

word count: 139596 which is equivalent to 558 standard pages of text

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Magic / [1800-1899]