“I think you will admit that my fish are intelligent.”

In one of this blogs’ inaugural posts (“Goldfish, Part IV”),  I excerpted a line drawing from Fleming Book Company reprint of Devant’s “The Educated Fish” in Our Magic.   I regret that I don’t have an original edition of Our Magic, which contains photographs instead of the line drawing here. From Paul Fleming’s introduction to this edition:

“The illustrations,

The Educated Fish - MASKELYNE, Nevil and DEVANT, David. Our Magic: The Art in Magic / The Theory of Magic / The Practice of Magic. - P. 284

The Educated Fish – Maskelyne, Nevil and Devant, David. Our Magic: The Art in Magic / The Theory of Magic / The Practice of Magic. – P. 284

however, are very different from those in the original edition, which consisted of photographic halftones. The line drawings which have been substituted for the original illustrations were made, with infinite patience by Jeanne McLavy, from halftone prints which often failed to reveal details mentioned in the text. They seem to me to be a welcome gain in clarity over the original halftones.”

– Paul Fleming in his introduction to Maskelyne, Nevil and Devant, David. Our Magic: The Art in Magic / The Theory of Magic / The Practice of Magic. Berkeley Heights: Fleming Book Company. 1946. Second Edition. p. xii. Cover | Full Title

Regardless, the picture of the stage setup had always caught my eye as intriguing.  Devant’s setup to the illusion is similarly inviting:

…”Fish spell words”Sharpe_Devant_180 is our plot for the illusion we are about to describe, and the title we give it is “The Educated Fish.”

The appliances visible to the audience are a bell-shaped glass aquarium, set in a slender three-legged stand in the center of the stage. The bowl is nearly filled with water, and in the water are four gold-fish. On the top of the glass aquarium is laid a sheet of glass, upon which are placed, in little piles, twenty-six small wooden tablets, Upon each of these is painted a letter of the alphabet. A current copy of the daily newspaper, a small landing net, and a black-board upon which are printed the words: “Paper, Page, Column, Line, Word,” complete the equipment.

– Maskelyne, Nevil and Devant, David. Our Magic: The Art in Magic / The Theory of Magic / The Practice of Magic. Berkeley Heights: Fleming Book Company. 1946. Second Edition. pp 283-284. Cover | Full Title

Of that blackboard and newspaper, Jim Steinmeyer added an important insight into the in the opening words of one of his book tests:

 Ironically, “The Educated Fish” isn’t a book test at all. The word is freely selected. As modern performers, we’ve been trained to turn up our noses at this sort of production value. Why bother carrying newspapers or a blackboard? Why not just have a word called out? It’s a much more miraculous effect! But, of course, Devant understood the important beats of the routine, and sought to bolster the effect through these steps. He knew that the trick was better with additional apparatus; it is the actual pages of the newspaper and the chalk on the board that visualize the selection process, making it real (instead of intellectual) for the audience.

– Steinmeyer, Jim. “The Three Book Experiment” in Genii. Vol 74, No. 2 / Feb 2011. P. 26.

Devant introduced “The Educated Goldfish” at St. Georges Hall in December of 1908.  By September of 1909, Gustave Fasola was advertising for sale the necessary knock-off apparatus in The Wizard:

Gustave Fasola Magic ad

Selbit, P.T. [Pseud. Percy Tibbles]. The Wizard. Vol. 5, No. 49 / Sep 1909. p 786. AskAlexander (Login required)

A year later, Will Goldston published an unauthorized explanation of the trick without even crediting Devant as the performer as “A New Fish Trick” in the 1909/1910 Magician Annual

Goldston, Will. “A New Fish Trick.” in The Magician Annual 1909/10. A. W. Gamage, Ltd: London. 1910. P. 66. Cover | Full Title

Goldston, Will. “A New Fish Trick.” in The Magician Annual 1909/10. A. W. Gamage, Ltd: London. 1910. P. 66. Cover | Full Title

Years later, in Secrets of Famous Illusionists, Goldston claimed to have received the secret thusly:

On one occasion [Houdini] was in my office when I was making up the pages for a number of The Magicians’ (sic) Annual. Press day was near and I found myself sadly lacking in material…Somehow or other our conversation turned to the new programme which Devant was presenting at St. George’s Hall. In it there were four extremely original illusions : a hand in a glass case which picked up a mysterious card ; a mysterious kettle which poured out any drink selected by the audience ; goldfish swimming in a bowl, and spelling out a chosen word ; and some glasses of stout which disappeared and reappeared on a tray held in Devant’s hand.

Houdini was greatly interested in my descriptions of these effects, but made no comment on them. Our thoughts turned to other subjects. As he turned to leave me, Houdini smiled and said reflectively : “You know, Will, every lock can be opened.” I have never been certain that I understood his meaning.

The next morning I received an anonymous package through the post. Inside were four beautifully drawn diagrams, and I saw at once they were the plans of Devant’s illusions. My editorial mind jumped at the opportunity of a “scoop”. I rushed the plans over to the printer, and within a week there appeared one of the most successful issues of The Magicians’ (sic) Annual ever published.

Devant was furious at the disclosure. One could hardly blame him. He sacked all his assistants on the spot, but, yielding to their protestations of innocence, reinstated them the following day. A little later, when our friendly relations were resumed, he asked me how I had come by my information, and in particular, how I had obtained the exact design of his wife’s buttonhook, which had an important part in the working of the “spelling Fish” illusion.

It was beyond me to give Devant an answer. The plans had been sent to me, why, and by whom ? Houdini protested that he had nothing to do with the business. And yet ? . . . When Houdini died, I felt the riddle would for ever remain unanswered.

– Goldston, Will. Secrets of Famous Illusionists. London : John Long. 1933. Pp. 158-159. Rebound Cover | Full Title

A storied history, indeed!  Certainly far more interesting than the dismissive line the trick written by S.H. Sharpe: “Really a novel form of “The Rising Cards””.

  •  Sharpe, S[amuel]. H. Devant’s Delightful Delusions. Pasadena : Magical Publications. 1990. P. 180. Limited edition of 1,000. Cover | Full Title

So it was still with great excitement that I read in this month’s Genii that Scott Penrose was taped for Steve Cohen’s recent “Lost Magic Decoded” special on the History Channel:

I engaged Scott Penrose to perform another “Lost Magic” trick, one that has truly not been seen in generations: the “Educated Fish” by David Devant. We filmed Penrose’s handling of this marvelous routine, and I was greatly disappointed that we couldn’t include it in the show due to time constraints. Penrose has rebuilt Devant’s apparatus exactly as shown in Our Magic (Maskelyne and Devant, 1911) but with some modern additions that make it more deceptive than ever. In performance, a school of goldfish swims inside a large tank of water and the fish pluck out letter tiles one at a time to spell a freely chosen word.

– Cohen, Steve. “The search for lost magic” in Genii: The Conjurors’ Magazine. Vol. 76, No. 1 / Jan 2013. Pp. 85-86.

Scott received a brief recognition in for this illusion in The Magic Circle anniversary booklet Circle Without End:

The Third Heritage Weekend was held from 30 May to 2 June 2003 and attracted an international attendance. The focus was David Devant and the integral Collectors’ Day incorporated a programme of Devant’s Delightful Delusions, of which Scott Penrose’s re-creation of The Educated Fish was the undoubted highlight.

– Dawes, Edwin and Bailey, Michael. Circle Without End: The Magic Circle 1905-2005.  London : The Magic Circle. 2005. p. 74 Cover | Full Title

A brief snippet of Scott’s Goldfish presentation can be found on his show reel –  jump to 0:18 – 0:21.

Finally, be sure to check out this most excellent article for The Magic Circle, in which Scott details his process of recreating the illusion for a modern-day audience:

  • Penrose, Scott. “Fish Spell Words” in The Magic Circular. Vol. 97, No. 1043 / June 2003. Pp. 190-195. AskAlexander (login required).

Sid Lorraine Bookplate

Sid Lorraine's Bookplate

Sid Lorraine’s bookplate in my (dustjacketless) copy of

  • Lewis, Eric. C. Opus Thirteen. Goodliffe:Birmingham. 1951. 110 pp. Cover | Full Title

As book reviewer for TOPS & New TOPS magazines, Sid (Sidney Richard Johnson) had opportunity to review this very book.

From Goodliffe The Magician comes “Opus Thirteen” by Eric Lewis, a bound book of miscellaneous Magic that runs to 110 pages.

As the title indicates, this is the thirteenth work of author Lewis and if you like his type of trickery, you’ll find this to your liking. There is a great variety of Magic in this work and if you are the apparatus type, you’ll find a lot to make you happy.

There are novel tricks and gadgets, card tricks and stuff for the kiddies. We can’t possibly cover every effect but we’d like to mention a few of the things that appealed to us: The balls, the hat and the net. This starts out like the usual one where the little balls travel from the hand to the hat but what a finish! A cocoanut appears under the hat and it is presented to the helper . . . An electric heater that vanishes . . wow! . . . A color changing table that should make a hit with any act .. . and lots more . . . some two dozen items in all. Ingenious, unusual and entertaining. What more can you ask of a magical author?

In our estimation a very good buy at $2.75.

—Sid Lorraine

“Sid Lorraine’s Chatter” in TOPS: The Magazine of Magic. Vol 17, No. 1 / January 1952. P. 18.

A few year’s earlier, he reviewed Open Sesame – another of Eric’s books. Of that he wrote:

This, in my opinion, is one of the best books I’ve read in years! I read it through in one sitting . . . I just couldn’t leave it. There is more common sense in this book, more practical Magic, more real entertainment than you can find in dozens of other books published in the last few years. I have read the other books devoted to this subject and to my mind OPEN SESAME is so far ahead of them, there’s no comparison. If you entertain children, you’ll obtain a hundred dollars’ worth of information from this book.

—Sid Lorraine

“Sid Lorraine’s Chatter” in TOPS: The Magazine of Magic. Vol 12, No. 12 / December 1947. P. 5.

Sid Lorraine was also a contributor to one of Eric Lewis’ mimeographed “books” The Magic of 1936.

Finally, here is a warm letter to the editor of Lewis returning the compliments to Sid:

The October issue, which I received yesterday, was a delight, and I read it from cover to cover—something

I rarely do with a magic magazine. It was so nice to see Sid Lorraine featured. I knew him well personally and he is worth all the respect that you gave.



Snowden, Alan, ed. The Magic Circular. Vol. 77, No. 833 / March 1983. P. 66.

See also Sid’s entry on MagicPedia and at Magicana.

Willard on the Jersey Shore

This past summer, I ran into this original Willard ad for sale outside a Bay Head, NJ antiques store.

Advertising for sale in a Bay Head antiques store

Advertising for sale in a Bay Head antiques store

Not much to go on, but I had a hunch it was local advertising for a travelling magician at the turn of the century known as “Willard the Wizard“.

Unfortunately, I expect this advertising it has been ruined by Hurricane Sandy. I doubt the building itself even still standing.

Upon returning home from vacation (without purchasing), I turned to David Charvet’s 2008 Willard book to compare to that itinerant magician’s advertising.  Compare to this window card on p. 238.

P. 238 of Charvet, David with Frances Willard, Madeline Willard and Eugene Willard. Willard. A Life Under Canvas

P. 238 of Charvet, David with Frances Willard, Madeline Willard and Eugene Willard. Willard. A Life Under Canvas

It’s not quite the same. There are not many other examples in that book, or in Bergeron’s 1978 Willard book, for that matter.

So I dug up David Charvet’s e-mail address and showed him the sign. He quickly clarified the matter:

It’s Willard Warnkessel, who worked around the NE states as “Willard the Magician.” No relation to Harry Willard “The Wizard.”

So, here then are two books having absolutely nothing to do with this Willard sign (that likely no longer exists):

  • Charvet, David with Frances Willard, Madeline Willard and Eugene Willard. Willard. A Life Under Canvas. Mike Caveney’s Magic Words: Pasadena. 2008. 370 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Bergeron, Bev. Willard the Wizard. Lake Cane Publications: np. 1978. 156 pp. Cover | Full Title

Eng Bottles Everywhere!

Critics are (still) raving about Derek DelGaudo and Helder Guimarães’ show, now titled “Nothing to Hide”.  I’d love to see it – but its on the wrong coast for me.  I was, however, intrigued by a recent review of the show in the Los Angeles Times by Charlotte Stoudt.


Derek DelGaudo and Helder Guimarães’ in “Nothing to Hide”

 Firstly, that photo! Is that wall of Eng bottles being used as a backdrop?  My god, there photo shows at least 650 of them! And, just as amazingly, the reviewer is familiar with the term “Eng bottle”:

Even the set has a sense of humor. Lining high upstage shelves are dozens of Eng Bottles, narrow-necked glass flasks each containing a packet of playing cards. A magician’s version of a ship in a bottle, these Engs act as a visual wink at the audience, a reminder that astonishment is a meet-cute between the apparently impossible and a great deal of meticulous work.

Jamie D. Grant of sendwonder.com and creator/seller of the Anything is Possible bottle confirmed for me that he was the creator of all these bottles.  I believe the bottles are also sold in the lobby following the show.

I love the recent resurrection of the Eng bottle. Here are some more fabulous Harry Eng originals online here, here, and here.

Finally, some references for those who want to try creating one for themselves:

  • Allen, Stan. “Impossibottles!” MAGIC: The Independent Magazine for Magicians. Vol 6, #1 / Sep 1996. Pp. 50-51.
  • Foshee, Gary. “The Eng Coin Vise,” in Puzzler’s Tribute: A Feast for the Mind. Ed. David Wolfe & Tom Rodgers. AK Peters : Natick. Pp. 7-9. Cover | Full Title
  • Harris, Paul and Mead, Eric. “Eng’s Bottles” in The Art of Astonishment – Vol. 2. A-1 Multimedia. 1996. Pp. 303-308.
  • McCabe, Pete. “The Deck in the Bottle”. M-U-M. Vol. 91, #7 / Dec 2001. Pp 40-43
  • Setteducati, Mark. “Harry Eng: A Tribute,” in Puzzler’s Tribute: A Feast for the Mind. Ed. David Wolfe & Tom Rodgers. AK Peters : Natick. Pp. 3-5. Cover | Full Title

The Mystic Teakettle – for sale

A year ago, in my review of Steve Cohen’s Carnegie Hall show, I predicted an onslaught of copy-cat magicians performing his now-signature Think-a-drink routine:

I am shocked Owen Magic hasn’t advertised a teakettle at $899 each to fulfill the coming legions of copycats…

Well, it happened.  Today, Steven’s Magic Emporium announced in their weekly e-mail identical-looking apparatus for sale. Even the glasses look similar to those Mr. Cohen uses.  Yours for only $7000.Teakettle

This, fresh off his recent performance of the effect on History Channel’s Lost Magic Decoded special this past October.

The Hippodrome Today

The Hippodrome as it appeared on a 1907 postcard.

The Hippodrome as it appeared on a 1907 postcard.

…Indeed the Hippodrome was more of an amusement park than a theatre. It covered an entire city block on 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets. The enormous auditorium seated 5,200 people in two balconies and a dress circle. The stage, nearly the size of a football field, could hold 600 performers, or the stage flooring could be withdrawn hydraulically to show a gigantic tank of surging water suitable for diving displays, water ballets, or simulated storms at sea…The size of the Hippodrome made audiences gasp…

– Jim Steinmeyer in Hiding the Elelphant, pp. 261-262

 By 1939 the Hippodrome had succumbed to the wrecker’s ball and today a parking garage named “Hippodrome” occupies the site at 6th and 43rd.

– Jim Steinmeyer in The Complete Jarrett, p. 191

But the story doesn’t end there.

Steinmeyer introduced me into the Hippodrome.  It’s played a prominent role in both Jarrett books, in Art & Artifice, and in Hiding an Elephant.  I’ve always been intrigued by this notion of the megalithic theater – just about the size of today’s Radio City Music Hall – forgotten in the mix of today’s midtown skyscrapers.  So I thought I’d take a peek at what it’s become following The Complete Jarrett‘s 2001 publication.

From the building’s current website:

After its life as a theater, the site spent a decade as a parking lot. The base of the current Hippodrome, from the basement level thru the eighth floor, was built during the 1950s. The building housed a large parking garage catering to the theater crowd, as well as office floors and a watch factory. It was one of the first post-war buildings erected on this part of the Avenue of the Americas.

The Hippodrome’s tower, rising from the 9th thru 21st floors plus mechanical levels, was added in 1962, effectively creating a building on top of a building as the two structures used different mechanical systems. The building became home to a variety of office tenants, including May Department Stores, Allied Department Stores, New York Telephone and Scholastic Magazines.

In 2004 & 2005 The Gottesman family, which bought the Hippodrome in 1978, undertook a total overhaul of the building. The repositioning included a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient glass curtain wall, a gorgeous two-story lobby finished in Italian marble, limestone and silver leaf, and updated mechanical systems. The Class A Hippodrome now houses a number of well-known tenants, including American Express Publishing, Macy’s International, Huron Group, Inc., the Direct Marketing Association and 5W Public Relations.

Here are some photos I snapped on a recent trip.  Note the giant photo-reproduction of the old Hippodrome hanging over the reception inside in the second photo – a not-so-gentle-nod to the previous tenant:


Hippodrome 1Hippodrome 2Hippodrome 3Hippodrome 4

You can poke also around the outside of the building in 3D using Google street view.  Also, a floorplan of the original Hippodrome stage is printed on P. 281 of Culliton’s Houdini-the Key.

  • Culliton, Patrick. Houdini–the Key. Keitan Press: np. 2010. 460 pp. Limited edition of 278. Cover | Full Title
  • Jarrett, Guy E. And Steinmeyer, Jim. The Complete Jarrett: The Classic 1936 Text on Magic and Illusions, Jarrett Magic In an Annotated Edition with Additional Material. Hahne:Burbank. 2001. 279 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Steinmeyer, Jim. Art & Artifice and other Essays on Illusion: Concerning the Inventors, Traditions, Evolution & Rediscovery of Stage Magic. Hahne:Burbank. 1998. Limited edition of 700. Cover | Full Title
  • Steinmeyer, Jim. Hiding the Elephant: How magicians invented the impossible and learned to disappear. Carroll & Graf:New York. 2003. 362 pp. Cover | Full Title

Crayola & Hopkins

I took the kids to The Crayola Factory in Pennsylvania month ago, a for-profit blend of Crayola advertising, factory tour, and kids museum. I was surprised to find a seemingly out-of-place behind magic installation built into a divider in their Activity Studio.

Compare to page 86 & 87 of

Hopkins, Albert A[llis]. Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions including Trick Photography. New York: Blom. 1967. 556  pp. Cover | Full Title | Google Books

Hopkins p. 86 & 87

Hopkins p. 86 & 87

It didn’t seem to work too well.  Lots of kids gave up turning the dial after no results.  After playing with it for a bit, I was able to suddenly see the lizard reveal, though not in the slow “morph” manner described in the instructions beneath.  My suspicion is that the unknowing maintenance staff replaced a dimmable bulb with a compact flourescent – the bulb simply going from off to on, instead of the slow dimming originally designed.

Of course, the most famous version of “The Platinized Glass” is the “The Hitchiking Ghost” in Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  If you missed it last year, be sure to check out last year’s ride revamp at Inside the Magic.

A Visit to the NYC Houdini Museum

Last week, I visited Fantasma Magic Shop near Penn Station in New York City to see their new-ish Houdini “Museum”.  They’ve gotten a bit of press here in the city lately, following appearances on Fox & Friends and a write-up in the New York Daily News.  While Fantasma always had Houdini memorabilia on display, it was scattered throughout the store and not nearly as well-presented as in its current form.  Now it occupies two walls when you first enter of the store, along with a set of display cases in the middle.  The artifacts come from the collection of Houdini collector and Fantasma founder Roger Dreyer.

My personal favorites were:

  • A tiny photo tucked away in the back of the store of Charlie Chaplin & Houdini.  (I’m also a big Chaplin fan.)  The photo is also reprinted on p. 360 of The Secret Life of Houdini where it is attributed to Dreyer’s collection.

    Houdini & Chaplin

    Houdini & Chaplin

  • Next to Chaplin, photos of Bess in her younger years, looking quite attractive.  I’m accustomed to the photos of her later in life – and mostly after Houdini’s death.  I thought these  early photographs barely looked like he later her at all – which is to say she looked quite attractive, in my mind.  Not the usual too-much-lipstick toothy grin.  Of the 4 photo’s the prettiest of the lot can be found on p. 120 of Silverman’s Notes to Houdini!!!.
  • As a stage magician, I also appreciated the presence of Houdini’s “Birds of a Guilded Cage” and “Doves of Peace” props from his short-lived stage magic tour.  There is also one of his side tables on display.  It’s the second time, following last year’s Jewish museum exhibit curators have chosen to display tables with black art wells fully exposed – to see if anyone notices, I suppose.
    “Birds of a Guilded Cage" prop

    “Birds of a Guilded Cage” prop

    "Birds of Peace" prop

    “Birds of Peace” prop

  • There is also an animatronic display of Houdini coming from the ceiling over a substitution trunk which is “magically” levitating despite being chained down.  I mistook this display as a cheesy left-over from their kid birthday-party business…until I re-read Culliton and discovered that Dreyer also owned one of the last Metamorphosis trunks that Houdini used.  It must be the same one (!!).

    Richard Dreyer in the Metamorphosis Trunk on display, from p. 355 of Culliton's Houdini–the Key.

    Richard Dreyer in the Metamorphosis Trunk on display, from p. 355 of Culliton’s Houdini–the Key.

  •  New York shots.  After all, this museum is in NYC, so the items which featured it were much appreciated:
    • An upside-down straight jacket escape shot atop a subway excavation platform in Time Square (reproduced on P. 355 of the latest Culliton book, and attributed to Dreyer on p. 197 of The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare)
    • The 1976 S.A.M. replacement bust from his grave in Queens

      Houdini Grave bust

      Houdini Grave bust

    • broadside of a challenge being presented at the NYC Hippodrome. The straightjacket displayed in photograph underneath is also on display, which is a neat pairing.
      Straightjacket used in the challenge photograph

      Straightjacket used in the challenge photograph

      Houdini challenge at the Hippodrome

      Houdini challenge at the Hippodrome

More great photos of the exhibit are at the museum website.  The Penn Jilette video, in particular, gives you a good sense of the size and scale of the display.

It was definitely worth the trip.

  • Culliton, Patrick. Houdini–the Key. Keitan Press:np. 2010. 460 pp. Limited edition of 278. Cover | Full Title
  • Kalush, William and Sloman, Larry. The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. Atria Books:New York. 2006. 592 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Kalush, William and Sloman, Larry. With Cuiffo, Steve. The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare: Sources, Notes and Additional Material. Mike Caveney’s Magic Words:Pasadena and The Conjuring Arts Research Center:New York. 2007. 333 pp. Limited edition of 1,000. Cover | Full Title
  • Silverman, Kenneth. Notes to Houdini!!! Kaufman and Greenberg:Washington DC. 1996. 181 pp. Cover | Full Title