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The Modern Conjurer

by Charles Lang Neil
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The Modern Conjurer by Charles Lang Neil

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This is my favorite magic book. The reason for this is that it was a groundbreaking book at the time it appeared and its contents is excellent. It was the first magic book that had photos instead of drawings or engravings throughout. And the contents is fantastic. It is one of the few books with a large chapter on chapeaugraphy. Add to this great chapters on shadowgraphy, plate spinning and paper folding. A large part is devoted to card magic, magic with coins, balls, and handkerchiefs, and much much more. If I would have to select one book this would be it. It is a book not many people know about. But you will not be disappointed.

"The Modern Conjurer," by C. Lang Neil, explaining the tricks of such masters of conjuring as Maskelyne, Trewey, Bertram, Patrice, Kennard, and others is published by the J. B. Lippincott Company. Four hundred pictures from photographs of actual tricks are included in the book. The same firm publishes "Romance of Modern Invention," an account of airships, submarines, sun-motors, dirigible torpedoes, mono railways, telautographs, together with many anecdotes, by Archibald Williams, illustrated.

From the Notes and News section of the New York Times, Nov. 22, 1902.

Paul Fleming wrote:

The 1937 American reprint of The Modern Conjurer, which is the subject of this review, is substantially the same in content as the first edition which was published in England in 1903. It was then hailed as one of the most important works on magic ever published, and it remains just that today. It was produced with the cooperation of such notables as J. N. Maskelyne, Felicien Trewey, Charles Bertram, Paul Valadon, T. Nelson Downs, Ellis Stanyon, and several other accomplished performers who posed for the hundreds of photographic reproductions which illustrate the text. Incidentally, we believe that this was the first book to make extensive use of photographs to show the actual presentation of tricks by expert magicians-though T. Nelson Downs' Modern Coin Manipulation, published in 1900, included a few dozen pictures of this kind.

The last hundred pages of this book are not likely to appeal strongly to readers who are interested primarily in conjuring. About a third of this space is used to explain parlor tricks and puzzles, and the other two-thirds are given to expositions of Plate-Spinning by Mr. Maskelyne, Chapeaugraphy and Shadowgraphy by M. Trewey, and Paper-Folding by Mr. Stanyon. Persons who think of these "arts" as being in some way related to magic may value this part of the book for the information it imparts, but others will probably be interested chiefly in the many pictures of these three men whose names are so well known in the field of conjuring.

But of magic itself, there is enough and to spare, and it is magic of a rare type. So far as we know, there is no other place in the literature of conjuring where one can find detailed explanations of the pet tricks of Charles Bertram, who performed for British royalty so often that he was known as "The King's Conjurer," or of the sleights of Paul Valadon, who co-starred with Kellar for several seasons and was announced by him as "the greatest exponent of pure sleight-of-hand in this or any other age." Bertram's contributions to this book include what we regard as unquestionably the best descriptions in print of "the pass" and "card palming," and detailed instructions for doing The Cards Up The Sleeve, The Diminishing Cards, The Four-Ace Trick, The Aerial Mint, The Cups and Balls, and The Billiard Ball Trick - 55 pages and 87 illustrations in all. Fourteen pages and 34 halftone cuts are employed to explain the fine card manipulations for which Valadon was rightly famous.

But we have told only part of the story. There are explanations of The Rising Card Trick, The Thurston Rising Cards, The Cards from Pocket to Pocket, The Sun and Moon Trick, The Handkerchiefs and Soup Plates, The Chinese Rings, The Mutilated Parasol, and other first-class feats which are described interestingly and thoroughly with scores of illustrations.

Before us, as we write are the first and last editions of The Modern Conjurer. The American reprint is less handsome than its English predecessor. We understand that it was printed from the original plates which are now, in certain instances, somewhat the worse for wear, so that the impressions are less perfect than when the plates were new. However, the publisher has used excellent paper and good ink, and the result will satisfy anyone who is not unduly fussy about perfection in printing. Also, this 386-page volume is plainly but substantially bound in cloth. We ourselves are happy to own a copy of the first edition because it is a finer piece of bookmaking than the 1937 edition. But the latter should be in the library of every serious student of magic who cannot secure a copy of the earlier edition, which is now exceedingly scarce.

This book was rated one of the ten basic books for a working library of conjuring by H. Adrian Smith, historian, collector and owner of the largest private magic library in his time. Other books in this top 10 list are

1st edition, 1902, Lippincott; reprint, 1937, David Kemp & Company, New York; 386 pages.

  • SLEIGHTS USED IN CARD TRICKS
    1. Two-handed Pass
    2. One-handed Pass
    3. To Palm Cards
    4. To Palm Cards from Bottom of Pack
    5. Continuous Back and Front Palm
    6. False Shuffle
    7. To Force Cards
    8. The Change
    9. Dealing Seconds
    10. Dealing Seconds from Bottom of Pack
    11. To Change Front Card
  • SIMPLE CARD TRICKS
    1. Telling Cards Cut by Audience
    2. Catching a Chosen Card from Pack in the Air
    3. Novel Discovery of a Chosen Card
    4. To Shake a Card through a Handkerchief
  • ADVANCED CARD TRICKS
    1. Manipulations with Cards
    2. Passing Twelve Cards up Sleeve
    3. The Diminishing Cards
    4. Back Palming and Recovery of Four Cards
    5. Discovering a Chosen Card Blindfolded
    6. The Three Card Trick (a new method)
    7. The Rising Cards
    8. The "Thurston" Rising Cards
    9. The Four-Ace Trick
    10. Passing Cards from Pocket to Pocket
  • SLEIGHTS USED IN COIN TRICKS
    1. To Palm
    2. To Pass
    3. The Continuous Back and Front Palm
    4. The French Drop
    5. To Change a Coin
  • TRICKS WITH COINS
    1. To Extract a Coin from a Pocket-handkerchief
    2. The Cap and Pence
    3. Disappearance of a Coin Wrapped in Paper
    4. Ten Coins Passed from Left Hand to Glass in Right
    5. The Aerial Mint
  • TRICKS WITH BALLS
    1. The Cups and Balls
    2. The Billiard-ball Trick
  • HANDKERCHIEF TRICKS
    1. Production of Hen's Eggs from a Handkerchief
    2. The Sun and Moon Trick
    3. The Handkerchiefs and Soup Plate
    4. Handkerchief, Watch, and Glass
    5. The Changing Handkerchiefs
    6. The Mysteriously Joined Handkerchiefs
  • MISCELLANEOUS TRICKS
    1. The Chinese Rings
    2. Coin, Card, and Paper
    3. The Mutilated Parasol
    4. The Flag Trick
    5. The Ring on Stick
    6. The Flower Trick
    7. The Tambourine Trick
  • PARLOUR TRICKS
    1. Two Corks
    2. Suspended Knife
    3. Safety Reading Lamp
    4. To Balance Plate on Needle
    5. Bottle Cannon
    6. Shark in Fish-pond
    7. Novel Soup Tureen Stand
    8. Simple Handkerchief Trick
    9. Dodge with a Sixpence
    10. Experiment with Corks
    11. Pins into Glass Full of Water
    12. Magnetised Paper
    13. A Simple Coin Trick
    14. To Pick up Floating Ball
    15. Home-made Cinematograph
    16. Egg and Bottle Trick
    17. Wineglass Puzzle
    18. To Pass Yourself through a Playing Card
    19. Perpetual Motion
    20. Housekeeper's Weighing Machine
    21. A Dangerous Trick
    22. Atmospheric Pressure
    23. To Lift Three Matches with One
    24. Cup of Tea on Knife
    25. To Balance a Pencil
    26. Brute Force Useless
    27. New Umbrella Stand
    28. Electricity on the Spot
    29. "Try-your-Lung Power"
    30. A Cheap Sprayer
    31. Cardboard Figure Blows Out and Lights Candle
    32. Superior to Spirit-level
    33. Objects Suspended without Support
    34. To Lift Four Straws with a Fifth
    35. A Ludicrous Experiment
    36. A Similar Feat
    37. Burnt Thread
    38. Dancing Bubbles
    39. Boring Hole through Halfpenny
    40. How Water Deceives
    41. Novel Way to Slice a Pear
    42. Japanese Ball Trick
    43. Magnetised Marionettes
    44. Bridge of Matches
    45. To Empty Glass of Water with Bottle
    46. Boring Hole through a Pin
    47. Egg Spinning
    48. Suspending Glass of Water
    49. A Scissors Puzzle
    50. The Travelling Egg
  • Plate Spinning
  • Chapeaugraphy
  • Paper Folding
  • Shadowgraphy

word count: 70794 which is equivalent to 283 standard pages of text

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Magic / Chapeaugraphy