This book covers a mix of stage illusions, manipulations, and parlor tricks. It is very nicely illustrated even featuring a couple of photos.
Will Goldston has been writing books on magic for many years. He is probably the most popular of magical authors, judged by the number of books he has written and the extent of their sales; for his writings on the subject now number several dozen titles, and a good many of them have run through a number of printings. We are somewhat at a loss to account for this popularity, since we personally have never regarded Mr. Goldston as our best teacher of magic. Robert-Houdin's Secrets of Conjuring and Magic; Sachs' Sleight of Hand; all the Hoffmann books, Downs' The Art of Magic; The Tarbell Course; Hilliard's Greater Magic; Hugard's Modern Magic Manual, and some other choice works on magic actually show how to become a magician. The Goldston books, on the other hand, have seemed to us, in many instances, to do little more than tell how tricks are done; and this, as Professor Hoffmann pointed out many years ago, is quite another thing.
We feel, then, that the popularity of Mr. Goldston's writings lies largely in their strong appeal to the host of persons who take delight in reading explanations of tricks, but have little or no desire to put this information into practice. We think this must be the case because, in a good many cases, Mr. Goldston's directions are too brief to be entirely clear; because he often includes very old tricks in his books; and because so much of his material gives indications of having never been tried out before an audience. On the other hand, his books are always well written, they may be counted upon to have an abundance of really good illustrations, and they enjoy in general a high reputation for good printing and binding. It should be added that some of his ideas, which may not seem to be "practical" in the form in which they are presented, are often sufficiently stimulating to induce readers to get to work and develop tricks that find permanent places in their programs.
Tricks of the Masters is a typical Goldston book. It will be read enthusiastically by confirmed Goldston fans, whose name is legion, and with mingled feelings by others. The latter will wonder why the author uses the 15 pages of Chapter I to set forth his views on spiritualism and spiritualists; what has happened to the textual matter that is needed to give meaning to the diagrams on page 89; and why Mr. Goldston has seen fit to publish once again The Afghan Bands (still using paper instead of the vastly more effective Wobensmith cloth rings), the venerable white-to-black glove trick, the oft-described production of a bowl of water on a table, the Abbott Spirit Paintings (which demands the use of a stage trap), and other time-honored feats. But they will be grateful for a number of interesting and worthwhile items, some of which we shall note below.
The book is divided into eleven chapters. We have already spoken of Chapter 1. Chapter 2, an 8-page explanation of the tricks of fake mediums, will add little to the knowledge of the well-read magician. Chapter 3 (22 pages) is a first-class description of the "flourish" known as "card fanning" and the production of card fans by means of the "back palm." This chapter has 7 pages of exceptionally fine halftone cuts. Chapter 4 consists of 26 pages of card tricks, several of which are very good. Chapter 5 (16 pages), on "close-up magic" with string, matches, and other small objects, is not at all exciting. Chapter 6 (14 pages) describes six handkerchief tricks, the best of which is the production of silk handkerchiefs from holes punched in an unprepared sheet of newspaper. Chapter 7 (33 pages), entitled De Biere's Section, gives a short sketch of that performer's life, outline descriptions (which are both interesting and informative) of the tricks and illusions included in De Biere's "Maskelyne Theatre" program of 1928 and also of his later vaudeville act, and explanations of his Vanishing Bird Cage, Watch Box, Egg Bag, Handkerchief to Butterfly, Costume Trunk Illusion, and several lesser feats. This section is, of course, the highlight of the book, which, if it had been carried through as originally planned, would have been called The Secrets of De Biere and would have dealt exclusively with the life and feats of this famous magician.
Chapter 8 is the longest in the book, with 65 pages of miscellaneous tricks. Among the 35 feats described in this chapter are The "Real" Chinese Rice Bowls of Long Tack Sam; The Rising Wine Glass of Cardini; Louis Nikola's Changing Tray, for performing the very effective trick of joining separate metal links into a solid chain; U. F. Grant's Talking Skull; a clever Rope and Ring Trick, by Peter Warlock; the Max Sterling Egg Trick, popularized in this country by Tommy Martin; and several other good items. Chapter 9 (7 pages), on Publicity Magic, explains three simple tricks for off-stage performance, and a convincing blindfold through which the magician can see. Chapter 10 (9 pages) describes The Spirit Paintings, Walking Through a Ribbon, The Ghost House, and a Sword Cabinet. The book closes with a 5-page chapter (Chapter 11), entitled Let There Be Harmony, in which the author argues that "a more free exchange of ideas would be of great benefit to the art of magic, and to magicians themselves."
We are reviewing the American Edition of Tricks of the Masters, but we also have the English Edition before us as we write. The two are identical in content; but the American Edition is a much more attractive book, for it is printed on heavier paper and has a better cover. The seven pages of halftones illustrating "card fanning," which in the English Edition were beautifully printed on coated-paper inserts, are here reproduced somewhat less satisfactorily on antique book paper, but they are sufficiently clear for all practical purposes. The American Edition has the advantage of selling at fifty cents less than the American price of the English Edition. It is a cloth-bound book of 214 pages (207 pages of text, plus the 7 pages of halftone photographic reproductions).