Monday, October 16, 2017

Howard Thurston on a Bicycle!


We have, elsewhere on this site, sung the praises of Howard Thurston's beautiful throwout cards, some of the most fabulous ever made.  Indeed, one of the hallmarks of his cards are the interesting things advertised on the reverse side, either by attracting sponsors (such as Wrigley's Gum or Miller Tires) or, even more interestingly, his promotion of his own acts or odd speculative investments and inventions (like the "Perfect Sleep" anti-snoring device).

Bicycle Expert Back
In other posts, we have examined the intersection of magician's promotional cards with the massive advertising campaign aimed at drawing attention to gorgeous card backs manufactured by U.S. Playing Card Company, among others.   These cards, apparently subsidized by USPCC and others companies, dominate the field.  Leave it to master collector Jay Hunter to discover the intersection between these two apparently disparate threads.   And that intersection is found, here, on this single, fabulous pasteboard.  

The face of this card depicts a young, tuxedo-clad Thurston, famous enough that he need not say that he's a magician.  The card simply reads "good luck, Thurston."   And the back is a Bicycle "Expert" back, one of the company's original designs.  

Many thanks to Jay for another amazing contribution.






Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Thurston Artifact from the Goulet Collection

Special Postscript - hours after this post first appeared on October 8, I learned the terrible news that Ray Goulet had passed away only the day before.  The timing was coincidental -- indeed, I had written this draft months ago, intending to post it on Howard Thurston's birthday.  I first had the pleasure of meeting Ray Goulet a little over a year ago.  In that time, I twice visited his shop and fabulous museum, and had the pleasure of attending the NEMCA conference in 2016 at his kind invitation.   That conference led to the creation of this blog, as Tom Ewing, Gary Frank and I, all attendees at the event, crafted the idea for creating this site shortly after thereafter.   And perhaps this post can serve as an early tribute to Mr. Goulet, who brought this treasure into my life, as he brought so much magic to countless others. 

Readers interested in learning more about Mr. Goulet's extraordinary life and career may wish to seek out a copy of Ray Goulet Recollections of a Renaissance Man by Frank Dudgeon and Ann Goulet. 

In this post, we examine a special memento of the career of the great Howard Thurston.  On a visit to Ray Goulet’s Magic Art Studio in January 2017, I was able to persuade him to part with this curious treasure -- a Steamboat playing card bearing the following hand inscription:

"This Card Was Used By Howard Thurston in connection With the Back and Front Palm, Boston, 1931, Tremont Theater." 
Being particularly interested in Thurston memorabilia, it was exciting to obtain this item for my collection.  

Of course, the provenance of such an item always presents a question.   That someone took a playing card and wrote this upon it does not necessarily make it so.   But there are several factors that can provide a high level of confidence about the bona fides of this particular piece.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fox Lake Playing Cards

Vintage Fox Lake Playing Cards:
During most of the 20th Century, most magicians were familiar with the promise of this box and its logo.  It could contain any of a variety of treats: a Svengali deck, marked cards, a stripper deck, a forcing pack, etc.   Indeed, at a time when a gaffed bicycle card was nearly (or even entirely) unheard of, Fox Lake produced almost every gimmicked deck available along with a wide range of packet tricks, like the famed Wild Card.

Where did these cards come from?  Here's some history from the Haines House of Cards website:

Friday, September 15, 2017

R.W. Hull: Crooksville, The Tuned Deck and the Essential Nature of Being


R.W. Hull Green Ace Playing Card - this is actually
the back design of a full deck of cards.
The most amazing benefit of working on this blog comes from the astonishing things you learn while developing the history of a small piece of cardstock.  The human elements make these historical detours so very interesting. Today's subject, Ralph W. Hull, is a case in point. Printed in green ink, this throwing card sports a groovy elf conjuring up a profusion of cards.  And while it appears to be the face of an ace of spades, the green side is actually a back design of an entire deck of cards.  The reverse of this marvelous specimen features a handsome Ace of Spades by the Russell Playing Card Company. Gary and Tom both found another, printed in red, with a playing card back, seen below.  In the red deck, it seems that the ace of spades design is a single card from a deck, rather than the back design.


Delving into Hull's history, I found a rich biographical record: Ask Alexander produced nearly 1,000 references in magic books and periodicals, and the Internet revealed still more.  There is far too much material for a detailed biography, so a few highlights will have to do:

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Man Known as Ace -- and Other Names






Continuing to work through the treasures from the Swedish Magic Archives and, as promised in the post about Öberg's Playing Cards, I turned my attention to this wonderful piece, featuring another nice Öberg back.   Unfortunately, the card portrays an Illusionisten (Swedish for magician) identified only as "Ace."  As any magic historian can tell you, trying to search the word "ace" in a magic literature is a fool's errand.   So, I turned to Christer Nilsson, curator of the collection for more information.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Earl Lockman – “Locks Don’t Lock Lockman”






Earl Albert Lockman was born on June 12, 1893 in Chicago, Illinois. He got a taste of the entertainment world at an early age. His father was employed to pull Buffalo Bill’s Circus

Beyond Compars

Scaling Card for Carl Compars Herrmann
Carl Compars Herrmann (1816–1887) was the older brother (by 27 years!) of Alexander Herrmann, and one of fifteen children of Samuel Herrmann, a physician and amateur magician.  By the age of 30, Compars was widely recognized as Europe's premier stage conjurer.

To get there, however, he pulled a few fast ones.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Frederick Eugene Powell: Dean of American Magicians

I have been fascinated with Dean Powell since I first lectured on him at a 1986 meeting of the Magic Collectors’ Association. At that time I produced some cursory lecture notes that hardly did him justice as the Dean of American Magicians, a position bestowed upon him by both the National Conjurors’ Association and the Society of American Magicians. I have just completed a comprehensive biography of Powell scheduled for publication in 2018. For purposes of this posting, I will touch briefly on his career and in particular, the scaling cards he used throughout his lifetime.

Powell was born in Philadelphia on March 1, 1856. When he was just a child his father took him to see Signor Blitz, Robert Heller and other magicians of the period. His early interest in magic was sparked by a series of magic tricks published in a general circulation children’s magazine called “Our Young Folks.”

Over the course of his lifetime he performed magic

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dean Carnegie, The Magic Detective & Steampunk Illusionist


In the past, I have written about my friend Dean Carnegie, known professionally as The Magic Detective, based upon his fascinating and popular blog of the same name, as well as "Carnegie, Artist of Mystery," and "The Steampunk Illusionist," his stage monikers.   Dean has proven to be most helpful in supporting our efforts on this blog as well as assisting me develop some magic effects.  A few months ago, he shared this fine card featuring Dean along with his charming and thoughtful stage assistant Denise.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Keystone State Federation of I.B.M. Rings


The benefit of having a large, representative accumulation of magic memorabilia is that it provides you the opportunity to excavate your collection and uncover hidden gems. One such is the subject of this blog, a spread of lovely playing cards that chronicle an important organization that began small and spread across the eastern seaboard.


The spread of ten cards above are held together with