Graphic design & Page layout

The primary function of a magic book, of course, is to teach magic secrets.  It’s the contents and clarity that are usually the focus of the reader. But sometimes, the form is interesting, too.

I think I first began paying attention to the form of the book – the layout and design of the words and pictures on the page – when I laid eyes on Jim Steinmeyer’s The Magic of Alan Wakeling. In the unorthodox layout of this book, a full three inches of whitespace lie atop of most pages between the header and the start of the text.   Roughly 1/3 of the every page is unused.  What a strange and interesting design choice, I thought at the time. Now, I cherish its uniqueness of the design among a sea of Times New Roman, header-to-footer volumes.

There are many others with unique looks as well. Rather than list my favorites – how about a game…With just a few inches around the page number – how many of these authors/volumes/publishers can you recognize?  Scroll down for a list of titles if you need a hint.  Answers at bottom.  Enjoy!

The Samples

How many can you name?

How many can you name?

Books & Authors

  1. Booth, John. Creative World of Conjuring. Los Alamitos : Ridgeway Press. 1990. 264 pp. Cover | Full Title
  2. Carney, John. The Book of Secrets: Lessons for Progressive Conjuring. NP : CarneyMagic. First edition. 2002. 367 pp. Limited, signed edition of 100 copies.  Cover | Full Title
  3. Dawes, Edwin A. The Great Lyle. Pasadena : Mike Caveney’s Magic Words. 2005. 298 pp. Limited edition of 1,000. Cover | Full Title
  4. Erdnase, S. W. The Expert at the Card Table. Chicago : The Charles T. Powner Co. 1902, 1975. 205 pp. Cover | Full Title
  5. Goldston, Will. Will Goldston’s Exclusive Magical Secrets. London : The Magician, Ltd. [1912]. Numbered edition, with locking hasp. Cover | Full Title
  6. Karr, Todd, ed. The Silence of Chung Ling Soo. Seattle : The Miracle Factory. 2001. First edition. 488 pp. Cover | Full Title
  7. Rice, Harold R. The Encyclopedia of Silk Magic: Vol. 1. Boston : ESM Publishers. 1948, 1986. Fourth Printing. 520 pp. Cover | Full Title
  8. Steinmeyer, Jim. Technique & Understanding: New approaches for stage illusionists. Burbank : Hahne. 2009. 304 pp. Cover | Full Title
  9. Tarbell, Harlan. The Tarbell Course in Magic. Vol. V. New Jersey : D. Robbins & Co., Inc. 1927, 2005. Eighth Printing. 417 pp. Cover | Full Title
  10. Wonder, Tommy and Minch, Stephen. The Books of Wonder: Volume I. NP : Hermetic Press, Inc. 1996. 327 pp. Cover | Full Title


A – 10. The single color blue dingbats surrounding page numbers were the give away for this influential book.

B – 3. A tough one, for sure.  Though consistently quality in subsance, the thing most inconsistent in Mike Caveney’s Magic Words publications has been their style. The fonts and layout have changed from  book to book in the “Magical Pro-File” series, but never quite settled. It has improved considerably over time, but reached it’s pinnacle – in my mind at least – here with Lyle and Dawes’ excellent history.

C – 1. The Booth books. Their constant, nonsensical use of “10-point Palatino Bold” in the body text, as proudly proclaimed in the Colophon (itself, a rarity in magic texts).  What to use for the headers when the text is all bolded already?  Well, Garamond bold, to be sure! They design was apparently dictated by John Booth himself.

D – 4. Nothing special in the layout here. Typical of any turn-of-the-century text.  However, as arguably the most studied text in magic, I thought it would be interesting to see how recognizable it was in excerpt.

E – 2. A tough one here – the oval photograph cut-off at bottom might have been the only clue. I’ve never felt this John Carney masterpiece got the distribution or reception it deserved.  The number of artistic choices made in this book is staggering – from delicate font, the chapter heads, the processing of the photos to near-illustrations and their placement in-line. The book approaches perfection in teaching – and a book that can be returned to again and again as the student progresses.

F – 6. Unlike the Caveney books, Todd Karr has had the same template design for his books since the beginning of The Miracle Factory books. That includes the design of his e-books and even book tests. The design is simple, subtle, and places the focus on the contents – which generally need little assistance in shining.

G – 9. No bastion of layout here, but with eight volumes forming the core of most magicians’ education, hopefully the Tarbell course was somewhat recognizable here.

H – 8. A specific book and, with a high price tag, probably not one in wide distribution (unfortunately for Jim, but fortunately for the purchasers…) I’ll bet  all those who owned it, though, instantly recognized its design. The ink of the subsequent page’s diamond logo seeps through the page forming a subtle, magical afterimage of the right-hand page numbers – a perfectly suited complement to Jim’s early theme of “reminding and deceiving.”

I – 7. Francis B. Martineau’s hand-lettered 3-volume masterpiece (not be sullied by that computerized fourth volume typographical monstrosity…) should be instantly recognizable.  A genius testament to is dedication, unlikely to be equalled again in this lifetime.

J – 5. The key here was the diagram. Often of a barely-thought-through explanation of another performer’s work; one that passes muster for the minute or two you are reading, but fails miserably in practice. I am writing, of course, to the works of Will Goldston.


Could this be the first QR code on a magic book?

Book w/ QR Code

QR code on the back cover of the Davenport Vol. 4 dustjacket

Earlier this week, I received in the mail the final volume in the Davenport series. My eye immediately was drawn to the back cover.

Could this be the first QR code ever printed on a magic book? It sent me in a scramble to other recently published books, but I could not find another.  It’s all the more impressive considering Volume 3 didn’t even have an ISBN barcode.

(In case you were wondering, the code takes you to the Davenport’s homepage.)

Please shout if you know of an earlier one.

  • Roy, Fergus. The Davenport Story / Volume Four / Will Goldston / The Man the Legend. London: Lewis Davenport Limited. 2012. 463 pp. Cover | Full Title

The Best Magic Essays of 2011

One of my favorite parts of the New Year is downloading the best non-fiction “longreads” of the previous year.  I don’t keep up with all the reading I’d like to  throughout the year, so it’s a treasure trove of good reading material, all saved up in one nice package.

Most magic articles aren’t available on-line, and we’re well past the New Year – but I thought it still might be fun to compile my thoughts of “The Best Magic Essays For 2011”.  Here’s my take:

  • “Siegfried, Roy, Montecore, Penn and Leather Pants” in Jillette, Penn. God, No! Signs you might already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2011. 231 pp. Cover | Full Title

Far and away, my favorite part of the 2010 release Siegfried & Roy: Unique in all the world  was the essay/interview “Standing Naked” by Penn Jillette. I excerpted part of it in my review last year.  Whether Penn was already working on this piece, or the interview prompted him to do so, I do not know.  However he delivers here another touching tribute to Siegfried & Roy.

And while you’re at it, read “What’s the G on the Joint?”  Together, the two articles provided the best lessons in magic, for me at least, written in 2011.

Siegfried and Roy would walk onstage to huge applause (beefed up by prerecorded applause over the loudspeakers) in their goofy, sparkly, rhinestone-skin coats and leather pants with codpieces. Their hair would be perfectly frosted and layered and they’d be wearing almost as much makeup as Bill Maher. They looked out at their audience, and we could see deep into their hearts. They were completely naked onstage.


Mr. Demarest lays out the case for Wilbur Edgerton Sanders as S. W. Erdnase, the long-hunted author of The Expert at the Card Table.  Despite the criticism that followed, notably from Erdnase-ist David Ben at Magicana, it’s a fascinating, compelling read.

There aren’t too many secrets left in magic. Steinmeyer laid out Houdini’s Elephant vanish. His Conference on Magic History seems to knock off another long-lost secret each year.  Just the knowledge that someone knows the secret of theHooker Card Rise is enough to lose some of it’s luster for me.  And so it came as a shock out of the blue to me, when Genii arrived in September purporting to tell me the secret of Erdnase’s identity.  Better yet…Mr. Demarest may just have gotten it right.

Cards were everywhere in Montana during the late 19th century. As one first-hand observer remembered, “Books were rare; the stage coach and the saloon were our forum, our Johns Hopkins University, and someone remarked a year or two later that the Territory of Montana was organized around a gaming table in a saloon.” The author of this statement was Wilbur Fisk Sanders, and the “someone” he quoted was himself.



  • Lax, Rick. “Keeping secrets in the age of oversharing: How the Internet is transforming the business – and philosophy – of magic.” in Feldberg, Sarah, ed. Las Vegas Weekly. Dec 8-14 2011. Pp. 20-23. Cover | Full Text

A Theory11 trick creator explores magic on the internet, the escalating availability of secrets, and it’s impact on the art – to the general public no less.  With commentary from Johnny Thompson, Stan Allen, Marco Tempest, Jim Steinmeyer, and Jonathan Bayme.  Not bad for a free Vegas Weekly.

Dai Vernon was a young father, and he needed money. He wasn’t broke, but he sure wasn’t rich. He wanted to perform magic, not get a proper job. And back in the 1930s, proper jobs were hard to come by, anyway.

In 1932, Vernon teamed up with fellow magician Faucett Ross, and together they penned a booklet of Vernon’s best tricks. Mind-blowing tricks. Tricks that still fool professional magicians today. Vernon wrote individual letters to 50 prospective buyers. He promised them he’d only sell 12 copies of the booklet—each typed by Ross’ girlfriend and hand-illustrated by Vernon himself. The selling price: $20—the equivalent of about $319 today.

Still, the book sold right away. Professional magicians and wealthy amateurs jumped at the chance to learn such well-guarded secrets.

It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening today.


  • “Eye of the Last Dragon” in Stone, Tom. Maelstrom. Seattle: Hermetic Press. 2011.Pp. 97-107. Cover | Full Title

Tom Stone takes on the Multiplying Billiard Balls.  While the essay raises many more questions than it attempts to solve (as with most of the book, actually), I found that Mr. Stone was saying all the things I have come to believe in about this trick.  The concept of billiard balls as a blank canvas, bringing with it no baggage or association, and the value of the trick for just this very reason – is something that has resonated with me for some time, but I wasn’t able to articulate well until completing this essay.

As the balls themselves don’t say anything, I must do it for them, through my stage persona. This is a great opportunity. I can charge the balls with anything I want, and use them to amplify my stage character. But what do most of us do? Pluck the ball from behind an elbow. Make the balls vanish or reappear in a pocket or your mouth. Even though we have the chance to make something central for our characters, we use routines that force the audience to stare at the balls, even when no value has been projected onto them, when the balls are still meaningless objects.  Odd.

(I should point out, I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read Jamy Ian Swiss’ Devious Standards, which I’m certain would have had contenders as well.)  Feel I missed your favorite? Tell me about it in the comments…

The Most Expensive New Book?

The Essential Robert-Houdin Elegance EditionTodd Karr and The Miracle Factory have announced the Essential Robert-Houdin Elegance Edition. Limited to 12 copies, advertised as “One of the most lavish magic books ever created!” and “A sound investment for your library.”  Price tag…just $1500 for a few more days, before the price goes up to $1800.

So the questions is – is this the most expensive new book ever offered for sale?

I recently reviewed the Siegfried & Roy book.  Price tag – $695 & Still available

  • ZIMMERMAN, Diana and GOULD, Robert. Siegfried & Roy: Unique in all the world. Los Angeles : Noesis Publishing. 2010. 249 pp. In custom case, with additional materials. Cover | Full Title

That’s not going to beat it.  How about

  • Marshall, Alexander “Sandy”. Beating a Dead Horse: The Life and Times of Jay Marshall. New York: Junto Publishing. 2010. 526 pp. Standard edition. Cover | Full Title

Sure, you can buy the book for $69.95, but why would you do that when a Platinum edition is available for just $1000? Clay H. Shevlin gave a great review of the Platinum edition in Magicol, No. 176 (Aug 2010), saying…well, that the Deluxe edition might not be “worth it”.

Closer…but the Elegance Edition still wins.  Hmmm….still not there.  Let’s try going back a bit.

The Jarrett Book at a steep $5 in 1936, would run you about $76 today, when factoring inflation. Vernon’s $20 manuscript in 1932 would be about $311 today. Jay Ose’s 1963 Hundred Dollar Book…well it was only sold for $5.  Until we get to:

  • Jay, Ricky. The Magic Magic Book. [New York]: Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art. 1994. Limited edition of 300 copies. Signed by 6 artists and Ricky Jay. Cover | Full Title

Which sold retail for $2500.  Bingo. We have a winner. One wonders if the Whitney 10% membership discount applied. Adjusted for inflation, that $3752.  7 years later, a copy (plus some extras) sold for $2750.  16 Years after publication, a copy sold at the Potter & Potter Herb Zarrow Auction (Lot 157) for $1200 + 20%.  The Lot description from that catalog:

157. Jay, Ricky. The Magic Magic Book. [New York], 1994. Two letterpress printed volumes in publisher’s embossed wraps, housed in a blue cloth slipcase stamped in red and grey. From a limited edition of 300 copies. 4to. Very good condition.


Contributors to this book include William Wegman, Vija Celmins, Jane Hammond, Glenn Ligon, Justen Ladda and Philip Taaffe. One volume is an extended treatise, written by Ricky Jay, on the history of the venerable “blow book”; the second volume is a functional blow book illustrated with artwork created by the contributors. Of the 300 copies issued, only 100 were sold to the general public by the publisher, The Whitney Museum of New York. Laid in to this copy are a prospectus for the publication, and an ALS from Ricky Jay to Herb and Phyllis Zarrow on Jay’s letterhead.

Worst Book Reprints

  1. Kessinger Publishing’s reprint of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin
  • HOUDINI, Harry. The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin. N.p.: Kessinger Publishing.  1908, 2007 (?).  332 pp. Kessinger edition. Cover | Full Title
Darkened pages

Inconsistent reproduction brightness

Kessinger Publishing appears to make a business of no-frills republishing of out-of-copyright material.  A search on amazon shows many not-quite-cheap-enough Houdini titles.  This one takes the cake, however.

I counted 10 pages with some sort of contrast/brightness error in the reproduction (see inset).

Ex-Library Markings

Ex-"Stanford Library" markings

The copy being reproduced clearly came from the Stanford Library as evidenced by the reproduction of library markings int the text.

Thankfully, it contains no new information.  They couldn’t even be bothered with a new title or copyright page. The only real work needed to be done by Kessinger was creation of a cover, by filling in a template they use in all their reprints…And in those 7 words unique to this book they managed to introduce a typo:

Kessinger reprint of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin

  1. Magico reprint of Herrmann the Magician

2 Burlingame Editions

  • (right) BURLINGAME. H[ardin]. J. Herrmann the Magician: His Life; His Secrets. Chicago: Laird & Lee. 1897. 298 pp. True first edition. Cover | Full Title
  • (Left) BURLINGAME. H[ardin]. J. Herrmann the Magician: His Life; His Secrets. New York: Magico. 2007. 295 pp. With a new introduction by Barrie Richardson and essay “A Bibliographic Study” by Byron Walker. Cover | Full Title

A frustratingly bad reprint of an old favorite.  No attempt was made to match the original binding size or cover ink color.  The text is filled with OCR errors.  But most egregious of all, as with the first example, Herrmann’s name is misspelled on the cover!  Unfortunately, Byron Walker’s 3-page essay “A Brief Bibliographic Study” with points of issue for each edition makes this a must-have.  (It’s the only reason I know that I own the “true” first edition.)

Have contenders to add?  Please describe in the comments!