Disneyland Magic Shop windows

Houdini Magic's
Disneyland magic shopI recently revisited the
Disneyland Magic Shop in California and snapped some photos of the
gorgeous window display that Houdini
has erected. Ostensibly an exploded view of
Houdini’s traveling trunk – the focus is on Houdini memorabilia.
However, conjuring books comprise a good portion of the
display.  You can spot copies of titles such as:

  • Jasper
    White Magic: The Story
    of the Maskelyne’s
  • Hoffmann’s
  • Houdini’s Book of
    Magic and Party Pastimes
  • Hopkins’
    Magic: Stage Illusions
    & Scientific Diversions including Trick
  • Henry
    Ridgely Evans’
    The Spirit World

Other nice touches I

  • A
    handkerchief, tied and awaiting performance of The Dancing
  • A
    hidden mickey subtly created
    from an Ace of Clubs
  • One
    volume eponymously titled “Munari” after store owner (and likely
    display designer) Geno Munari 

The Orange County Register included a brief history of
the Disneyland magic shop in this
article written shortly before Houdini Magic Shop’s

Magic shops have a long
tradition in Disneyland. The first one — Merlin’s Magic Shop —
opened near the Sleeping Beauty Castle on the park’s first day
in 1955. The Main Street Magic Shop opened two years later. After
Merlin’s closed in 1983, the Main Street location remained. Actor
Steve Martin got his start at Merlin’s and briefly worked at the
Main Street shop. While Disneyland has run the Main Street shop
since 1965, it was previously run by an outside operator. Houdini’s
was selected because of its strong reputation and the fact that it
holds rights to key magic tricks, said David Gill, a Disneyland
spokesman. Plus, Houdini’s will employ certified magicians to do
tricks for guests inside the shop.

article with additional photos can be found here.
The photos Disneyland MS 7 Disneyland MS 6 Disneyland MS 5 Disneyland MS 4 Disneyland MS 3 Disneyland MS 2 Disneyland MS 1


“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).

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


Fujari, Gabe. Rare Posters.Auctions abound this month. First up, the new Potter & Potter auction catalog for their March 26, 2001 “Rare Posters” Sale arrived early last week (Full PDF here).

  • Fujari, Gabe. Rare Posters: Conjuring, Circus and Allied Arts. Chicago: Potter & Potter Auctions, Inc. 2011. 55 pp. Cover | Full Title | Complete Text

I don’t have the wallet to be a poster collector, but a few things things caught my eye:

1 – Introductory Essay.  An “adapted reprint” of the Introduction from 100 Years of Magic Posters from the late Charles Reynolds and Regina Reynolds appropriately starts off the catalog.  It’s great to see these Potter & Potter take a page or two, as they consistently have over the years, to honor the subject or collector at auction.

Their January auction Card Table Artifice & Legerdemain was no different, and cleverly paid homage to Erdnase (the cover auction) in the catalog title page and also in the preface.  A side-by-side of the auction catalog (left) and Erdnase:

At left, Fujari's auction catalog preface. At right, Erdnase's classic text.

2- Full color publications seem to have finally become cost effective for the low print runs of conjuring books over the past year (think the Taschen book, Beating a Dead Horse, Classic Correspondence I…) but gets put to no greater use than here with full color reproductions of every single poster in-line with the lot descriptions.  I believe that’s a first for magic auction catalogs.

3 – The now-customary final page previewing the next upcoming auction.  In this case, “Tom-Foolery, the personal property and collection of Tom Mullica, including memorabilia from his legendary Tom-Foolery magic bar in Atlanta, the tricks that made him famous, and the props from the Nicotine Nincompoop cigarette act that took him around the world.” Tom briefly discusses auction his gear towards the end of a Dec 2010 Magic Newswire interview

4 – The cover image of Houdini’s “Ehrenklärung! Im Namen des König’s Wilhelm II. Kaiser v. Deutschland” (misspelled here in the lot description) has always been a favorite of mine.  It’s been reprinted before – you’ll find a black & white reproduction in 100 Years of Magic Posters and a very poor reproduction on page 45 of Milbourne Christopher’s Houdini: A Pictorial Life, but here enlarged and wrapping around the cover with full bleed – it looks fantastic!  Too bad, as the lot commentary claims, only five copies are known to exist and the estimate is $15,000-$20,000!  John Cox discusses the poster a bit more over on his blog Wild About Harry

Potter & Potter have developed quite the knack for auctions over the years and their catalogs are first-rate.  They appear to have effectively bumped Swann Galleries out of the business; presumably the pool of quality collections is too small for two companies to make a living.  We haven’t seen the once-annual October Swann Magic auction since 2007, the same year Potter & Potter scored their first Jay Marshall auction, though Swann’s website still lists Magic “specialist” Gary Garland on staff…

  • Christopher, Milbourne. Houdini: A Pictorial Life. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 1976. 218 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Erdnase, S. W. Artifice Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table: A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Cards. N.P.: Published by the author. 1902. 205 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Fujari, Gabe and England, Jason. Card Table Artifice & Legerdemain. Chicago: Potter & Potter Auctions. 2011. 60 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Reynolds, Charles and Reynolds, Regina. 100 Years of Magic Posters. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. 1976. 112 pp. Cover | Full Title

Spring 2011 Steinmeyer Newsletter Released

Steinmeyer, Jim. The Last Greatest Magician in the WorldOne of my favorite events – mostly because they tend to appear unexpectedly like magic – is an update to Jim Steinmeyer’s “public newsletter” section of his website.  Two days ago such a treat appeared.  In his essay, he defends the portrayal of Houdini in his new Thurston biography:

I draw the analogy to a bright light, pointed directly at you. Robert-Houdin is the “bright light” of European magic from the 1840s to 60s. His magic is distinctive and brilliant, and it is easy for us to recognize its importance. Unfortunately, that “bright light” prevents us from seeing anything else near him—or, more to the point, anyone else…Houdini is now the “bright light” that prevents us from discerning the figures in the shadows, standing near him. Writing from the perspective of 80 or 100 years, I think that some of these other magicians need to be saved from the darkness and recognized once again.

  • Steinmeyer, Jim. The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the battles of the American wizards. New York: Tarcher. 2011. 376 pp. Cover | Full Title

Bookplate – Virgil Anjos

The Bookplate of Virgil Anjos (??-1987), with Illustration by Ed Mishell (1896-1983)

Bookplate of Virgil Anjos

in my copy of

  • HOUDINI, [Harry]. Miracle Mongers and their Methods: A complete exposé of the modus operandi of fire eaters, heat resisters, poison eaters, venomous reptile defiers, sword swallowers, human ostriches, strong men, etc.  New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. 1920. 240 pp. Cover | Full Title | Google Books

The illustrator and owner lived near each other in New Jersey and it’s clear they were were good friends. In Genii Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec 1966), Ed Mishell writes “I’m glad my good friend Virgil Anjos was with me to attest this superb effect”.  Later in Genii Vol. 33, No. 3 (Nov 1968), Ed Mishell describes Virgil as “one of the best mechanics in magic” (In the context of an apparatus mechanic, not card mechanic).

Virgil's Business card in Jinx

Virgil's Business card in Jinx #15 (Dec 1935)

Virgil’s passing on May 23, 1987 is noted in The Linking Ring, Vol. 67, No. 7 (Sep 1987) in Ring #106 Report.

Ed Mishell was the primary illustrator for Tannen’s catalogs and for Tarbell 7, illustrated and authored Jack Miller’s Hold-Out Miracles, and other contributions.

  • LORAYNE, Harry. The Tarbell Course in Magic, Volume VII. South Brunswick: D. Robbins & Co., Inc. 1972, 2004. Ninth Printing. 490 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • MISHELL, Ed and TANNEN, Louis (ed.). Ed Mishell’s Hold-Out Miracles. New York: Tannen Publications. 1976. 66 pp. Cover | Full Title

Ed Mishell’s art is represented in Chuck Romano’s

  • ROMANO, Chuck. The Art of Deception: The affinity between conjuring and art. South Elgin: Chuck Romano. 1997. First edition. 406 pp. Limited edition of 500 singed and numbered copies. Cover | Full Title

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!