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Tarbell Course
by Harlan Tarbell

#3 Comedy Magic author

(5 reviews, 32 customer ratings) ★★★★

Tarbell Course by Harlan Tarbell

The Tarbell Course is without a doubt the most comprehensive and most encompassing magic literary work in existance today. It has almost 1300 pages and nearly 2900 illustrations. It covers practically every form of magic: sleight of hand with cards, coins, thimbles, cigarettes, silks, ropes, ..., up to mentalism and illusions. It goes beyond the mere technique and teaches patter, routining, marketing and other often neglected facets of being a magician. There is no other book which comes even close in breadth and depth of the material covered. It is amazing that since the late 1920s nobody has written anything as comprehensive as the Tarbell Course. This course has lost very little over time and is still a wonderful reference work and study aid. Most would agree that the Tarbell Course should be part of any magician's library.

David Bamberg (Fu Manchu) credited the original course with making him the success he was.

You will get the original correspondence course of 60 lessons. (For an additional lesson see the one post graduate lesson Tarbell Post-Graduate Service in Magic No. 1). These 60 lessons are not identical to the later published anthologies (book volumes 1-8 of which only 1-5 were actually written by Tarbell himself; the other volumes were added later under the Tarbell Course name mainly for marketing purposes). For the most part, the 60 lessons can be found under different lesson numbers and sometimes different headings in the volumes 1 to 5 of the books. The post graduate lesson was reprinted in book volume 8. There are some parts from the original 60 lessons that you will not find anywhere in the eight book volumes.

The 60 lessons are laid out with a lot of thought. You learn not just the moves and principles, but the history of magic, ethics, how to market yourself and patter to each trick. In one sentence a unique book sitting at the peak of the pile of magic literature.

[Another similar course, in some ways quite a bit better than the Tarbell Course, but not as comprehensive, is the Rupert Howard Magic Course.]

Table of contents: Lessons

  1. The History Of Magic
  2. The History Of Sleight Of Hand
  3. Necromancy And Divination
  4. Development Of Superstitions
  5. Magic And Religion
  6. Magic And The Science Of Medicine
  7. The Rope And Tape Principle
  8. The Relation Of Magic To Other Sciences
  9. The Principles Of Card Effects
  10. Confidence And Enthusiasm
  11. The Penetrating Ring; The Jumping Rubber Band; Thumb Tie With Rubber Band; The Japanese Thumb Tie
  12. Cards That Pass In The Night; The Cards Up The Sleeve
  13. The Regular Pass; The Card Stab; The X-Ray Knife; The Magnetic Knife
  14. The Force; Producing A Card From A Whole Orange; The Card And The Banana; The Bewitched Banana
  15. Guide To Card Positions; Various Principles Of Palming And Shifts; The Conjurer's Touch; A Mysterious Discovery; "Marvello"; Cards, Envelope, And Hat
  16. "Tack It"; New Era Version Of Card Through Handkerchief; Three Cards Through The Handkerchief; Rising Cards Through Handkerchief
  17. "Snap It"; Flash Card Production; Mystery Of The Glass House
  18. Rising Cards
  19. The Enchanted Cards And Envelope; Bewitched Rising Cards And Envelope; Rising Cards From Book; A Book And A Card; Rising Cards Through Hat; Rising Cards Out Of A Hat
  20. How To Please Your Audience; Keeping Up With The Times; Making An Impression; Maintain A Healthy Attitude Toward Magic; The Vanishing Wand; King Solomon's Marriage Bands; Arrangement Of Programs
  21. Sleight Of Hand With Coins
  22. The Homing Coins; Invisible Money Transit; The Coin In The Magical Envelopes
  23. The Miser's Dream; The Coin, Envelope, And Handkerchief; The Passe Coins And Glasses; The Passe Coins From Hand To Hand; The Phantom Coin
  24. Humpty Dumpty Outdone; The Egg Bag
  25. I Am Saving You Money; Effects With Rabbits
  26. Simplicity Is The Key-Note Of The Tarbell System Of Magic; The Cut And Restored Ribbon; A Card And Ribbon Mystery; The Ghostly Ribbon; A Spirit Communication; A Wandering Ribbon
  27. The Famous Needle Trick; A Thimble Act
  28. Silks; The Egg, The Glass, And The Handkerchief; The Wandering Handkerchief; The Silk And The Flame; The Candle, The Silk, And The Paper Tube; The Educated Knot
  29. Divisions Of Modern Magic; Unlimited Opportunities In Magic; Specialization; Presentation; Creating Of Effects; Experiments Of Super Mentality; The Chess Knight's Tour; A Mind Reading Act; The Yogi's Prediction; The X-Ray Cards; Telepathic Pictures
  30. Making Money With Magic; Wand From Pocketbook; Cigar From Pocketbook; Wand From Card Case; Silk Production From Hat; A Rabbit Traveling Bag; De Luxe Silk Production From Hat; Production Of Rabbit From Silks; Chinese Box Vanish For Rabbit
  31. A Modern Crystal Gazing Act; Rapid Mental Transference; A Good "One Man" Mind Reading Act; Distant Mental Communication; Blindfold Card Reading; A Mystic Discovery
  32. Your Relation To Other Magicians; Ethics At A Magic Performance; Silk Handkerchief Magic; Mystic Knots; The Dissolving Single Knot; The Speedy Single Knot; The Fade-Away Double Knot; Quick Release Double Knot; Leg Tie And Release With Handkerchief; The Magical Bow Knot; Repeat Handkerchief Vanish; An Eggs-Traordinary Eggs-Planation; A "Sucker" Handkerchief Vanish; A One-Man Handkerchief Vanish; The Sympathetic Silks; Elusive Silks
  33. Cigarette Magic; The Burning Cigarette And Silk Handkerchief; The Phantom Cigarette; The Vanishing Cigarette; The Dollar Bill In The Cigarette; Catching Cigarettes In The Air; An Odd Cigarette Vanish; Cardini's Floating Cigarette; To Produce Lighted Cigarette From Box
  34. Twelve Impromptu Effects With Cards
  35. Sleight Of Hand With Cards
  36. More Card Magic; Production Of Cards From The Mouth; Cascade Production From Boy's Nose; Easy Methods For Forcing Cards; The Circus Trick; False Counting; Four Ace Effects; Card Fountains
  37. Oriental Magic; Chinese Color-Changing Coins; Chink-A-Chink; The Phantom Knot; The Mystic Knots; Chefalo's Knot; Mysterious Japanese Tie; The Chinese Burning Tapes; Hindu Cut And Restored Turban
  38. Oriental Magic; Jap-O-Tie; The Mystic Smoke; The Chinese Sticks; The Climbing Balls; The Disappearing Grain; The Hindu Jar Of Grain; The Productive Japanese Lantern
  39. More Handkerchief Magic; The Handkerchief Ball; The Soup Plate And Handkerchiefs; Two Soup Plates And Handkerchiefs; The Twentieth Century Silks; Tarbell's Color Changing Handkerchief; Double Handkerchief Color Change; The Dyeing Handkerchiefs; The Birth Of Old Glory
  40. Character Analysis As Related To Magic
  41. Billiard Ball Manipulation
  42. The "Clean Cut" Color Changing Handkerchief; The "Vice Versa" Color Changing Handkerchiefs; Handkerchief To Billiard Ball; The Elusive Rainbow; Spot The Red; Watch The Lemon; The Magic Chocolates; Popping Corn In A Hat; Nursing Bottle From The Hat
  43. Coat And Hat Productions; Comedy Egg Production; A Master Hat Production; Rabbit Productions; An Unexpected Rabbit Production; Rapid Production Of Rabbit From Hat; Silks And The Rabbit; Rabbit Production From Paper Ribbon; Rabbit Production From Gentleman's Coat; A Chicken Produced From Gentleman's Coat; Production Of Bottle Of Milk Or Liquor From Gentleman's Hip Pocket; Changing Rabbit To Box Of Candy; Sausages From Boy's Coat
  44. Chemical And Mechanical Magic; A Novel Transmission Of Smoke; Wine And Water; The Wandering Glass And Bottle; A Magical Transformation; A Cooking Lesson; The Welsh Rarebit
  45. Spiritualistic Magic; The Living And The Dead; Spirit Photography; The Psychic Paper; Spirit Slate Writing; A Parlor Seance
  46. More Spiritualistic Magic; The Dark Seance At The Table; The Dark Circle; Gysel's Mysterious Lights; Dr. Bridges' Thought Projection; The Siberian Chain Escape; The Cabinet Seance; Another Good Tie; The Throw-Away Coat Tie
  47. Chinese Linking Rings; Weber's Emergency Routine
  48. More Oriental Magic; Tarbell's Mysterious Firecrackers; Kolar's Balloon And Silks; Ching-A-Ling Chinese Lantern Production; The Hindu Mango Tree Growth; Tarbell's Hindu Plant Growth; Comedy Flower Growth
  49. Specialty Chinese Magic; Production Of A Large Bowl Of Water; Production Of Stack Of Four Bowls Of Water; Chinese Production Of The Four Bowls; Production Of A Child; Modern Production Of Bowl Of Water On Table; Chinese Production Of Doves; The Mysterious Self-Filling Lota; Ching Ling Foo's Magic Water Can; Mystery Of The Paper Ball, Egg, Frog, And Baby Chicken
  50. The Tarbell Rope Mystery
  51. Illusions; The Mystery Of King Tut; Who And Which
  52. Building Illusions; Black Art Illusions; The Elusive Hindu; A Daughter Of The Sun; The Mystery Of The Girl In The Trunk; The Phantom Flight
  53. Escape And Substitution Illusions; The Substitution Trunk Mystery; The Canvas Box Mystery; The Packing Box Escape; The Paper Bag Escape
  54. The Black Art Table; The Treasure Chest; The Chinese Pigeon Production; Thayer's Super-Vanish Of Doves
  55. The Egyptian Mummy; The Mystery Of The Dancing Girls; The Doll House Illusion
  56. The Sword Box; The Penetrative Steel Bars; The Indestructible Girl; Sawing A Woman In Half
  57. The Chinaman, The Ghost And The Cat; The Mystery Of The Three Ghosts
  58. The Phantom Of The Circus
  59. Making The Box Office Pay
  60. Advertising And Publicity

word count: 416455 which is equivalent to 1665 standard pages of text

Reviewed by Grandpa Chet
★★★★★   Date Added: Friday 17 October, 2008

Not only do I agree with previous reviewers, I think this - the original course - would be a better course of study than the hardback books. True, there is more in eight volumes of hardbacks - but they do not have the careful linear learning that the original course had - and still has. That is, everything builds on what precedes it. This course will start you off either teaching you the basics or correcting any bad habits you have. It entirely depends on where you are in your current knowledge and skill. And then it builds - and builds - and builds.

Lest you think this course is only for beginners, let it be noted that the great Fu Manchu (David Bamberg), disappointed by magic and not wanting to imitate his father, was about to quit magic when Dr Tarbell sent him a copy of this very course. David studied the course lesson by lesson, and built up an act from the early lessons. From there, he built up a larger act from the later lessons. Eventually, he received backing to put on a full illusion stage show -- and he built that stage show from lessons in this course. And he never forgot the lessons on showmanship, acting, publicity, advertising (He would later speak of how he took Dr Tarbell's samples and used them almost verbatim!), and audience direction that he learned from this course.

He had one of the most successful acts to date, and his name was synonymous with entertainment in South America.

Thirty-nine bucks? Each lesson is more valuable than almost every single item in the catalog. But even if one undervalued each lesson at $10.00 apiece, you would get something like $700.00 worth of working material from this course.


Reviewed by Chris Bays
★★★★★   Date Added: Tuesday 08 November, 2005

An 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.

Reviewed by Jeff Suter
★★★★★   Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005

Let’s look at why this product impressed me.


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!

Reviewed by Steve Vaughn
★★★★★   Date Added: Tuesday 06 September, 2005

Most 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, 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 and I think that is the only place to find it.

Reviewed by Monk Chuck
★★★★★   Date Added: Tuesday 30 August, 2005

The 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!

This product is listed under the following topics:

Magic & Conjuring

Magic & Conjuring / for Beginners