Harrington Grand Quick Step

Well, the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

While I will return to my history of Card Magic literature at some point (it’s mostly written); I got distracted by other things.

In the meantime, I have been performing at Jonathan Harrington (1811-1881) for at least six years. Last year I presented a talk on Harrington at the Magic Collector’s Weekend in Montreal and was asked to turn that into an article for MAGICOL (which I am currently procrastinating from finishing).

When researching historical topics, you never know when you are going to discover something new.

Like today. I stumbled upon a piece of sheet music that was composed for the opening of Harrington’s museum in Boston in 1840.

Yup. Sheet music.

It was written by Irènèus J. Solomons and published by Henry Prentiss who resided at #33 Court Street in Boston (Harrington’s Museum was located at #76 Court Street).

So… I fired up Finale (might as well use my music degree), transcribed the piece, and then recorded it using sampled instruments.

This has likely not been heard for nigh on to 178 years.


Piano with solo clarinet and piccolo sections:


Piano only:


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Research Tips & Techniques

I originally wrote this for a meeting of the New England Magic Collectors Association (of which I am a member and Editor of The Yankee Magic Collector), but it might be of interest to some of my readers. Since, I have been remiss in posting in the last couple of months (I will make up for that this fall), at least this provides something new for my loyal subscribers. More anon!


For whatever reason, you have a passing interest in an area has been fanned from passing fancy to obsessive fascination. I can’t pretend to understand why people first get involved in research of a topic, but I hope I can help those of you so infected with some thoughts on chasing the will o’ wisp without getting lost in the process.


The biggest tip I can give about research is to not be shy about your area of interest. Spread the word by any channel necessary about the subject you are interested in. If you broadcast your interest by every possible means, you will find others who either share it or have a related interest that overlaps with yours. These people will share leads with you if/when they come across them, but only if they know what you are looking for. Reach out to others and be sure to reciprocate.


A subject area is about primary and secondary sources. While secondary sources are great for leads, they can be inaccurate or even tainted with bias by the source. Whenever possible, try to gather primary sources to back up the “story.” Some of the best primary sources are legal documents (deeds, court records, etc.) and newspaper advertisements/articles. Take “autobiographical” sources with a grain of salt as they often are embellished.


I’m sure others have gone over the big online resources, both general (loc.gov, google, archives.com, newspapers.com) and specific (conjuringarts.org, nemca.com, magicana.com). A few lesser-known ones might be of use as well. I have found abebooks.com and archive.org to be surprisingly helpful (and that don’t always show up in google). Both ebay and google have tools that you can set up to receive notifications of new postings that relate to your subject matter. This is particularly helpful, freeing you up to research in other areas without being too concerned about missing something.

If you or your spouse/partner are enrolled in college, you might be surprised that you have access to an enormous number of online databases and interlibrary loan opportunities by logging into your educational account. If you are not currently a student, you can still take advantage of the search capabilities by visiting your local university library and searching onsite. Many local libraries can get the resources through interlibrary loan (you will have to have a library card) and most good-sized university libraries have microfiche on file from the Library of Congress. I have found scripts


Remember what I said about reaching out? That includes by phone. If you read an article online or in a publication and the author looks like they might have some acquaintance, call or email them and see what they didn’t include that might have some bearing on your interest. You might be surprised at their response. Established authors are thirsty for more information about their subject and often deeply passionate about sharing their acquired knowledge.


If your subject is connected with a particular town/city, contact their local library, historical society, county registry of deeds, or town/city clerk to pull records associated with a property or individual. Telephone and email are less effective in these settings, often it will take a personal visit. In some instances, you will not be able to borrow materials through a library and you will have to travel to visit their special collections or the collection of a private collector.


Over time, you will find you have collected a lot of information on your subject. Not only is the information important, but the source is as well. I generally scan all of the primary resources and create a chronological PDF that I can quickly and efficiently refer back to. I organize and categorize my research in an Excel file where I categorize the source, the date gathered, the date referenced (show dates, census data etc.) any specifics/highlights of the source and a “query” column where I jot down thoughts about other possible leads associated with that citation. Some day, someone will ask you to support your statements. Best if citations become part of your research process and you are ready to send them to the source you unearthed.


Nothing exists in a vacuum. The subject of our research exists in a broader milieu; the context of their time and location. When I researched Jonathan Harrington and began preparations for performing as him, I developed another spreadsheet with a timeline of his life and then researched aspects of the culture of the time. I included large-scale cultural and political events (the Civil War, the development of technology such as the light bulb) as well as more personal ones (what was it like to live in his community, what types of clothing did he wear, food did he eat, books did he read, how much did it cost to own property, how long did it take to travel ten miles), etc. Context helps to ground your subject in the broader world and aids in bridging the gap when communicating about your interest.

I hope these thoughts are helpful in your pursuit. Remember, don’t be shy about expressing your interest. By the way, if you come across anything related to troublewit, Jonathan Harrington (1811-1881) or the three shell game, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I might have something of interest to share about your obsession…

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RESPECT (Thanks to Scot Grassette and Aretha…)

My buddy, Scot Grassette, owns a performing arts venue up in Rumford, ME and has been performing for decades. 49 Franklin Reception Hall and Mystic Theater (http://www.49franklin.com/) was a former church and has been lovingly transformed into a cultural center with all manner of entertainment for its local community.

Scot has been heavily involved in promoting magic and magicians in Maine, and his SAM (Society of American Magicians) Assembly hired me for one of my first lectures almost fifteen years ago. Scot continues to give back to the magic community and recently posted a response to a prompt on SAMTalk (an email message list) for the five best things to teach young members. As a former leader/adviser of an SYM (Society of Young Magicians) Assembly (#1), I thought his response was perfect and he has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here (the information is valid for all the performing arts, not just for magicians):

* RESPECT OTHER MAGICIANS – Good, Bad or Indifferent. Treat other magicians they way you would like to be treated no matter what their experience is. Don’t embarrass, or call out another magician in public or in private. Don’t perform when another magician is performing, keep it at bay. Don’t chit chat while another magician is preforming and never reveal their secrets. It will make you look good if you maintain a positive attitude toward them.

* RESPECT YOUR AUDIENCE – They paid good money to see you/they took time out of their busy day to give you their attention, respect them by being organized and prepared. Give them a good show free of dead time, with a good script, free of umms and ahhs.

* RESPECT THOSE WHO INSPIRE YOU – Learn the history of the effects you do. Give credit to those who came before us. Be inspired by them and don’t be a copy cat of someones personality.

* RESPECT THOSE WHO HIRE YOU – Give the people who hired you a reason to hire you back. Return calls promptly, be polite and professional. Do what you say you will do. Be on time and ready to go. Be flexible and accommodating when possible. Give a good value, make them look good for hiring a magician and good chances are they will ask you back.

* RESPECT YOURSELF AND YOUR EQUIPMENT – Keep your props in good working order, replace ripped, stained or faded silks. Use clean rope. Clean your props. Iron your clothes, brush your teeth, bathe and be presentable. Be yourself. Be prepared. Be professional. Be amazing!

Thanks to Scot for letting us reproduce this. It is a great reminder for all performers.

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Magical “Talent”?

Much moaning and wailing has been made on the “magic” interwebs of late on the success of a British magician on Britain’s Got Talent who performed commercially available (as opposed to commercial) effects with the implication that this might be, at worst, a form of cheating, and, in the least, not a demonstration of *their* talent in magic.
One must quantify what is meant by “talent.” In magic, there are many forms and approaches; some have talent in: creating original plots/effects, creating original methodology, adapting existing material, developing novel presentations, connecting with an audience in a novel way, realizing alternative conceptual approaches to classic plots, etc.
To simply say “if the talent being demonstrated isn’t magic” reveals a diminished appreciation for what a performance of magic can be.
I like to look at “magic” as a performance experience with any number of possible goals: to shock the audience through the demonstration of a contravention of the known laws of the universe; to explore the limits and potential of human perception; to move audience emotionally; to explore broader themes of human nature; to celebrate the myriad and varied ways human beings experience the world around them; and to reveal the universality of the human experience that is shared across cultures, genders, and stages of human development.
All are worthwhile goals and all demonstrate different aspects of “talent”. While these shows are purported/branded as being about “talent”, what they truly reveal is accomplishment and capability, regardless of the medium. Those who connect the best using their particular medium are deemed to have the most talent…
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An Incomplete History of Card Magic Literature: The Early Years

While magic books have always included sections on card magic (call them “general books” on magic) – going back to Reginald Scot‘s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), it was likely that one of the first dedicated solely to card tricks written in English did not arrive until the end of the nineteenth century. While the 1876 Modern Magic (originally serialized in Every Boy’s Annual magazine) by Professor Hoffmann (Angelo John Lewis) contained many pieces with cards, it was in 1889 that Herrman’s Tricks With Cards and Tricks With Cards was published. In 1894, the performer and author John Nevil Maskelyne published Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill. In 1897, August Roterberg published New Era Card Tricks, one of the first books dedicated solely to card magic. S.W. Erdnase‘s Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table: A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Card which became known as The Expert at the Card Table (thanks to the stamp on the original binding) was published in 1902. While it is true that this volume has never been out of print, it has not always been the “bible” of card magic and it took many years of advocacy from one of its primary students, before it was studied intently. More on him later.

One of the earliest performers of “modern” card magic is Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser (1806-1875). If not for the work of fellow Austrian Ottokar Fischer, Hofzinser’s significant contributions to card magic might have been lost. Even though many of Fischer’s solutions to Hofzinser’s work may not be 100% accurate, the book Kartenkünste (1910) was translated into English by S.H. Sharpe (1931) and in a volume by Richard Hatch (2008). Magic Christian published work on Hofzinser in German in 1998 with a two-volume edition of Non Plus Ultra translated to English in 2013.

Another significant early text was Elliott’s Last Legacy (1923) written by Clinton Burgess (and edited by Harry Houdini). Dr. James William Elliott (a trained physician) became a professional magician and was legendary for his skill with cards. He toured as Bosco with the Le Roy, Talma and Bosco show for a decade before returning to medicine. It has been recounted that, when he traveled, Elliott would engage two adjoining hotel rooms and have one of them stripped of all furniture but a table and chair to be used solely for his practice. Another notable book of this period is Card Tricks You Will Do (1928), by Rufus Steele. While not a prolific author, Steele, who was a professional gambler, teacher, and card expert, produced books on card magic at least once in each of four decades including: Card Tricks that are Easy to Learn (1935), 52 Amazing Cards Tricks (1949), and The Last Word on Cards (1952). While the latter may have been Steele’s last word, it did not prove to be the last word on cards.

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An Incomplete History of Card Magic Literature: Intro

An article of this type is destined for failure. I started this endeavor as a response to an online poll of card books with status similar to J. B. Bobo‘s New Modern Coin Magic (1966), itself a revised and expanded edition of Modern Coin Magic (1952). I was hoping to address a few “significant” titles on card magic over the years that were not the immediate and obvious answers and ended up digging deeper than intended.

I initially dug out books from my library and started to compile a list of works, authors, and publishing dates. Each volume pulled off the shelf reminded me of three others and I soon found myself surrounded by stacks of books with seemingly no end in sight. The list of authors rapidly expanded from five or six to dozens, most of whose work was worthy of consideration. I put out a call and had two wonderful conversations with some good friends: Stephen Minch and Jon Racherbaumer. While I have worked with both of them on projects, I have yet to meet either in person and truly look forward to the opportunity. Both brought some remarkable insight into my task and helped to crystallize my approach.

The topic is vast and looks like it will have to become an ongoing project. After this broad introduction, I plan to tackle the contributions by decade. In the process, I have limited myself to cover influential texts. In order to be influential, the work had to be widely disseminated. While there are several examples of either extremely limited editions of books, unpublished manuscripts, or “lost” or obscure texts, I have necessarily omitted them.

One great example of the latter is the booklet Tyler Wilson recently unearthed – The 52 Wonders: Cards Manipulated by Science – a thirty-two page booklet reprinted in the Winter 2015 issue of Gibicière. While some of the descriptions of card handling predate Erdnase by twenty-five years, it is not influential by my definition. [For those interested, Tyler’s article and a facsimile of The 52 Wonders was made available for free by The Conjuring Arts Research Center and can be found here.]

I intent to only cover published works that feature mostly card magic (85% or more). That being said, I am certain that I have missed authors and texts and look forward to readers suggesting additions. Near the end of the twentieth century, I found that there was an explosion of both authors and books that will likely pose a significant challenge to my definition of “influential” works. Also, more and more efforts are being released only on video (either on DVD or streaming) Despite my likely failures, I hope students of card magic will find it of some benefit and use it as a jumping off point for additional discussion.

In preparing these “briefs,” I have taken advantage of a significant magic research resource: MagicPedia. This online “wiki”-like encyclopedia of magic just celebrated the publishing of its 8,000th article and is available through the generosity of Genii Magazine and its publisher, Richard Kaufman. It is maintained and expanded (like Wikipedia) through a group of dedicated volunteers and is open to expansion by all. At the helm of this effort is Joe Pecore (who, as of this writing, is not represented by his own page, something that warrants addressing). I have incorporated links throughout the articles to external sources, most frequently to MagicPedia pages, in an effort to help dedicated students in their visits “down the rabbit hole.” Special thanks to everyone who has (and who will) help to expand this remarkable knowledge base.

I look forward to expanding the work over time and hearing your thoughts, so please don’t hesitate to contact me.


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Seeking advice

I participate (well, mostly lurk) in many online magic forums where “magicians help magicians” (more on that later).

This morning, I responded to a request from someone looking for information on a particular effect. Now they weren’t looking for the “secret” to a particular trick, they were looking to gather information about various approaches. I made a specific recommendation and they followed up with a request to a “link” to the product I recommended. It only took a couple of moments out of my day to follow through with this and I felt like I was contributing something (small) to their magical education.

The individual then deleted the thread and made another post shortly after clarifying some details about the request (the same effect with different equipment options) and seeking more input. Another poster made a recommendation which was almost immediately for a request to “a link”. This seemed to go further than simply asking for recommendations into the realm of asking others to do research. I posted the following:

“You keep asking for others to provide you with links. I might recommend you acquaint yourself with google and try doing some of the research yourself. You might find some amazing things on your own…”

Was I a little snarky? Perhaps. I did get a private message from the original poster informing me that when he requests a link that the search has already been exhaustive, using google, youtube, “and many other things”. Of course, the time code on the thread reveals that the exhaustive search took less than twenty-two minutes.

I realize that there are many things that can be located on the internet in a very short time, but sometimes the journey needs to take time and one should not dismiss a version of an effect based on the advertising copy. If you are interested in a magical plot, follow through and purchase/learn related pieces to see whether or not the thinking behind it could be adapted to your needs. My recommendation to anyone interested in studying an effect is to gather and learn as many versions that are available and invest the time in determining whether the piece was right for you. If not, at least then you would have the deeper knowledge to allow you to create a version that would be yours…

There was no malice in my posting, it was a legitimate recommendation on the process of learning magic (or music, or art, or dance, etc.). There is no shortcut to mastering a piece, just investment of time and resources coupled with a commitment to exploration. Don’t rely on others to do the work for you.

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The Vernon Companion – Review Part II

It has been many years since I have sat down and read a magic book from cover to cover in only a few days, but it just happened with Michael Perovich’s The Vernon Companion. The book arrived Saturday, I began reading that evening and finished the book this morning (Tuesday). I read it in fifty- to sixty-page binges and then finished with a push. My previous post documented my thoughts on design, organization and writing style, but I would like to follow up with comments on the content in the last section of the book.

In addition to the line art illustrations throughout the book (by Colin Fleming), there are eight pages of color photographs (11 images in total) that range from childhood images of Vernon and his brother Charles, to images of Vernon’s father and uncle, and then images of Vernon with contemporaries. The selection of images is interesting in that the early ones don’t necessarily connect with any particular stories and the latter ones are candid shots that reflect some characters in the stories. It seems to me that I have not seen any of these images before.

Back to the written content. About halfway through the book is a collection of stories and observations from friends of Vernon. Most of these are “related by” in that they are in Perovich’s voice, but a few are in the contributor’s words. I really enjoy Perovich’s writing style and, thankfully, the contributor voices mesh pretty well. There are additional stories “related by” others in other chapters as well and Perovich has done a wonderful job of tying them in where they best fit the discussion at hand.

Looking back, Perovich has done a wonderful job of introducing the reader to aspects of Vernon (and early Magic Castle culture) that have not really been articulated in other sources. I admire the thoughtfulness of the approach as it is crafted to engage the reader in such a way that keeps the interest level high. A list of the chapter titles gives an idea of the approach: Introducing the Professor, The Grandfather Stories, Vernon and Company, Commentary, Observations, The Professor Himself, Stories and Observations by his Friends, The Raconteur, and The Urban Legends.

The final sixty-four pages consist of a series of appendices and an index that detail the physical experience of The Magic Castle as it was in the 1970s (I would have loved to see a floor plan and some photographs); an encapsulated history of Vernon described by the decade (this is a remarkably concise, while thorough overview of Vernon’s life); a chapter on “Vernon’s World” – those people (patrons, gamblers, magicians, etc.) who influenced him; a glossary of the “Magicians of The Magic Castle” (circa 1970-1980) who were significant parties in the culture enabled by The Magic Castle (founders and “family”). The book concludes with an Index of Names for easy reference (something we see too little of these days in magic books).

If I had to boil a characterization of this book down to one word, I would say, “Lore.” The author has provided a wonderful gift to the magic world – he has provided a glimpse into the people and culture surrounding Vernon which was enabled by The Magic Castle, its founders and habitués. While not a teaching book, there are many lessons to be learned. For those of us who never met Vernon and have never been to The Magic Castle, this book is the finest way to experience a time gone by: through the eyes of thoughtful observer and participant.

I truly enjoyed the ride and it gave me an appreciation for a place and time that have influenced (and will continue to influence) magicians for years to come…

Thanks to Micheal Perovich for sharing this with the world.

The Vernon Companion was published in a limited edition of 600 copies and may still be available through Hermetic Press (don’t wait too long to pick this up). 

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The Vernon Companion (with apologies for my absence)

It has been a busy fall, with magic of diverse varieties: the second season of my monthly show, Discovering Magic, has been graciously received; The Yankee Magic Collector #16 (I am the editor and producer) has come out with sixteen contributors including many notables in magic; The Yankee Gathering #15 occurred back in November; and I just finished a second season of Christmas at Canterbury performing as 19th-century magician Jonathan Harrington. Add to all that performance showcases, lectures, festivals, fairs and corporate and private one off work, and it has been a very busy ride. This, I hope, explains my absence of late on magicmatters.com. I have a couple of articles in the hopper (including my promised article on William Bagley’s book One Man Show), but I can’t help but gush about a recent acquisition: Michael Perovich’s The Vernon Companion. I am about a third of the way through the book, but I felt compelled to write a brief review to let my friends know that they should act quickly if they want a copy. Here is a revised version of the review I posted this morning on The Genii Forum:


Michael Perovich’s The Vernon Companion arrived yesterday (two days earlier than expected) and I took it with me to my performances yesterday to read while I awaited the opening of the event. I am about a quarter of the way through now and have to say that this is likely going close to the top of my book list of magic books. I’m not going to write a complete review (I haven’t finished the book and I don’t want to rush through it as I am savoring the experience).

The exterior of the book is designed to emulate The Expert at the Card Table (cloth cover, foil stamped, typeface, ruled box and ornaments). It looks and feels quite charming. The end papers are rich “marbled” paper (a facsimile) and there is a sewn-in ribbon to keep your place. I love the simplicity of the design. It is elegant, understated and evocative.

The title of the book employs a bit of word-play that I didn’t perceive on first reading. Now that I’ve broken the spine and gotten into the book’s content, I truly appreciate the title.

The writing is absolutely charming. The short chapters run the gamut detailing stories of Perovich’s time immersed in the community formed around The Magic Castle, and specifically his time spent with Vernon. This is not a heavy book of dry facts and numbers, but a series of stories by, of, and around Vernon (and the Castle); it captures the author’s excitement and enthusiasm for the characters and culture he experienced. This is not a detailed narrative or history, but a wonderful collection of stories that reveal much of the time and individuals who were drawn to what was becoming a mecca for magic.

The stories are brief (even terse) usually only encompassing two or three pages, but each has a specific perspective and a sense of whimsy that usually carries with it a bit of wisdom to be learned. This lesson is not presented as pedantic ramblings, rather as amusing anecdotes that a thoughtful reader might interpret in a way to better their perspective not only on magic, but also on life. Perovich’s choice of stories reveals much about the author without any of the usual grandstanding that oft accompanies this type of work. His writing has created a wonderful magic trick – the vanishing author. I found myself repeatedly engaged by this book in way that makes me feel like I am in the room listening to Perovich telling me the stories. He has a warm, unaffected style that really draws you in.

The illustrations (by Colin Fleming) add an additional layer of charm to the book. His style is amusing, and has a cartoon-like style (without be cartoon-y) that adds a contemporary sense of nostalgia to the proceedings.

Looking ahead, the book contains remembrances of other Vernon students (also Castle aficionados) that I look forward to reading as well.

Only 600 of these have been produced and I believe that less than 160 remain available (apparently Hermetic Press saw a flurry of orders this morning). I hope that you don’t miss the opportunity to add this to your library.

You can find samples of the book (and order it) here: Michael Perovich’s The Vernon Companion.

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Choices & Process

The summer of 2014 has been a remarkable one for me as a performer. I have traveled more frequently, presented more (and varied) programs and had the opportunity to work with people whose work I respect. Even though I post this on August 20th, summer is not over yet. I have a full ten days of performing and travel still ahead and the fall and winter calendars are rapidly filling up. It seems like the market is finally turning around and people are seeking out good magic experiences. Thanks to everyone who has supported me! Let’s hope the trend continues, but now on to the topic at hand…


In most of the arts, one can practice the art in solitary. A musician playing the piano in their living room is making music; an artist drawing brush against canvas is painting; a dancer doing a pirouette in the bathtub… should stop, as they could slip and hurt them self, but they are dancing. For magic to happen there must be a witness. The audience is an integral part of the equation.

This does not mean that a magician has to wait for an audience to prepare. Just as in any art form, there are many hours of solitary work to be done well before an audience is subjected to a performance. Dozens, even hundreds of hours of conception, development, composition, practice and rehearsal must occur for a piece to be effective. Sometimes those hours are done by the performer, but just as often they are done by the creator of a trick. Performers benefit from the creative and intellectual work of those whose material they perform. It is a collaborative process in which the performer and creator work together while often never meeting.

Once a performer chooses to perform a piece created by someone else (whether it is magic or music), the real work starts for the performer. They must evaluate the piece to determine if it fits their skill set. If it does not, then they either need to acquire the skills (or equipment) or adapt the piece to fit their particular capabilities. They must look at the dramatic context of the piece and determine if they wish to retain the script/presentation or reframe it. Part of the latter will depend on how well the original script fits their character.

I often recommend to beginning magicians that they learn magic by learning through imitation. Learn the pieces as created, with the technique utilized by the originator. This enables them to develop a healthy set of sleight-of-hand “tools” to draw from while developing an appreciation for the mechanical, compositional and psychological reasons for why a particular piece is perceived by audiences as “magic”. This process is vital, regardless of whether the goal is to become a creator of magic (one who values paying respect to those on whose shoulders you stand) or to the development of a well-rounded performer who seeks a unique voice.

Art is about choice. Choosing to respect the process, your predecessors and your audiences (by committing to the work needed for a good performance) goes a long way to earning the respect of your peers and your audiences.

Next time: Magic Appreciation

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