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.


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.

Goldfish, Part II

Barehand Fishbowl Productions

In “Chapman’s Corner”, Vol 5, #3 ; Nov. 1940 of Genii (p. 87), Frank Chapman writes:

Two of the most spectacular fishbowl productions I’ve ever seen . . . were made possible by the use of ‘the flowing robe’ . . . The first—Ching Ling Foo’s Giant Bowl . . . suspended between the legs by aid of a special harness . . . The second—a feature of the Long Tack Sam troupe . . . An empty foulard—an acrobatic flip- over—and the bowl produced in mid- air . . . Applause guaranteed.

So let’s start digging…

  • ALBO, Robert J., LEWIS, Eric C., and BAMBERG, David.  The Oriental Magic of the Bambergs.  San Francisco: San Francisco Book Company.  1973.  229 pages.  Limited edition of 1,000 copies. Cover | Full Title
ALBO, Robert J., LEWIS, Eric C., and BAMBERG, David.  The Oriental Magic of the Bamabergs. P. 3

ALBO, Robert J., LEWIS, Eric C., and BAMBERG, David. The Oriental Magic of the Bamabergs. P. 39

Even after having been supplemented by The Ultimate Okito and The Ultimate Okito Addendum, this book – the start of the Albo “brick” – still is the definitive source for the performing magician.  “This is without a doubt the greatest production of a single bowl of water ever performed,” the chapter begins. It  (and a later chapter, The Mat Trick, utilizing a similar principle) are loaded with fine performance details – which represent “the real work” if one were to attempt to recreate the production of a 16.5” by 12” bowl filled with water.  Discussed are the tempo of movements, appropriate attire, even walking technique. Much of this detail stems from a letter from Okito himself, but Lewis’ and Bamberg’s first-hand performance knowledge really shines throughout this Albo volume. Later volumes prepared only by Albo are clearing lacking this performer’s point-of-view.

DESFOR, Irving. Great Magicians in Great Moments. P. 59

DESFOR, Irving. Great Magicians in Great Moments. P. 59

A wonderful photo by Irving Desfor of Okito at the completion of this production with this very Albo apparatus in hand, can be found in:

  • DESFOR, Irving. Great Magicians in Great Moments. Pomeroy: Lee Jacobs Productions. 1983. 208 pp. Cover | Full Title

The second source of real working knowledge of this illusion is that old workhorse Tarbell

  • TARBELL, Harlan. The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 5. Cranbury: D. Robbins. 1927, 2005. Eighth Printing. 417 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • TARBELL, Harlan.  BURTON, Steve and KAUFMAN, Richard, ed. The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 8. Brooklyn: D. Robbins. 1993. 434 pp. Cover | Full Title
TARBELL, Harlan. The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 5 - P. 379

TARBELL, Harlan. The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 5 - P. 379

Lesson 69 in Vol 5- “Magic with Bowls and Liquids” – shows the foot and body work necessary to accomplish the effect.  “Production of Stack of Four Bowls of Water” (2 methods) follows.  A must read for those attempting the production of bowl on ground.  For the smaller bowl-in-hand productions, don’t miss an improtant tip in Vol 8, Lesson 94 “Further Unique Mysteries” displaying the right and wrong methods of retrieving the bowl.

As is customary with Goldston explanations, the one you’ll find in –

  • GOLDSTON, Will. Will Goldston’s More Exclusive Magical Secrets.  London : N.p.. N.D. 490 pp. Cover | Full Title

– Offers nothing in the way of details, besides the broad stroke of the secret by way of illustration. He also has diagrams a self-releasing hook, which I can’t imagine is practical and would add considerably to the overall weight of the bowl.

Moving on to Chapman’s second example, that of Long Tack Sam (1885-1961) and his somersaulting fishbowl appearance.  You can find you more about Long Tack Sam in

  • MULLHOLLAND, John. Quicker than the Eye.  New York: Junior Literary Guild. 1932. 259 pp. Not in collection.
  • FLEMING, Ann Marie. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. New York: Penguin. 2001. 170 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • GOLDSTON, Will. Will Goldston’s Who’s Who in Magic. London: Will Goldston Ltd. N.d. 114 pp. Cover | Full Title
FLEMING, Ann Marie. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. New York: Penguin. 2001. 170 pp. - P. 179

FLEMING, Ann Marie. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. New York: Penguin. 2001. 170 pp. - P. 179

Theo Dore claimed in Abracadabra magazine, Vol. 40, #1032 that ”He did a somersault across the stage without using his hands, which he had first covered with a small shawl. When he landed on his feet you saw that he had a bowl of water in his hands.”  I also found a description in the Linking Ring of him performing this stunt at the age of 70!  Unfortunately, I think you’ll have to experiment with the somersaulting all on your own!

If you tire of these oriental robes, or prefer not to hang heavy objects in your crotch area, “The Naomi Goldfish Bowl Production” appears on page 255 of the All Baker book mentioned earlier.  Dispensing with the chinese robes of the past, it represents a way to produce a small water bowl while wearing a regular suit.

Performing the trick in evening wear was not new to Baker, however.  Gibson (see Aerial Fishing) informs us that (Carl) Herrmann the Great performed “the production of fishbowls while wearing evening clothes” in 1848, as did John henry Anderson, “The Great Wizard of the North”, in the same year.  Robert-Houdin, concludes his first work with a detailed explanation of the effect in The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, reprinted in

  • KARR, Todd, ed.  Essential Robert-Houdin. N.p.: The Miracle Factory. 2006. 664 pp. Cover | Full Title

And also in

  • SHARPE, S(am) H. Conjurers’ Hydraulic and Pneumatic Secrets. N.p : Hades Publications. 1991. Cover | Full Title

The latter also includes a reprint of Phillippe’s 1832 methods from Sharpe’s earlier Ponsin on Conjuring.


The Linking Ring. Vol 33, #10; Dec 1953.

The Linking Ring. Vol 33, #10; Dec 1953.


Goldfish, Part I

The recent outrage (Associated Press, BBC News, The Guardian, Daily Mail, BoingBoing, iTricks) around a goldfish act performed on China TV celebrating the lunar new year festival misses one important point: Fu Yandong’s full act is quite good.  His posture throughout, his hand motions (5:22 in particular) all confirm a formal theatrical training.  What I’m guessing is his magic phrase – “Ba Didda Ba Da Babba” (0:37, 3:45, 5:04, and 6:05) – is quite catchy, even though I have no idea what it means.  He seems to yell at the female host as she approaches the table (@1:00) and again as she gets a little “touchy”at the easel (5:22) – signs that he he’s been around the block performance-wise.  And of course – the simple fact he’s performing with water and live fish tells me he’s a professional, willing to suffer the hassle in order to differentiate himself with pet effects.  We’ll see more of Fu Yandong; the publicity from this stunt will ensure it.

Goldfish effects, of course, are nothing new.  The literature of magic is filled with fish related effects.  Here’s a sampling:

The Aerial Fishing or Angling Trick

The trick of catching live goldfish by means of swinging a fishing rod over the heads of the audience is, of course, best associated with Chung Ling Soo (William Ellsworth Robinson, 1861-1918).  The best, most poetic description of the illusion, as well as its working, lies in

  • GIBSON, Walter. The Master Magicians: Their lives and most famous tricks. Garden City: Doubleday. 1966. 220 pp. Cover | Full Title

Pages 118-119 are also reprinted in

  • KARR, Todd, ed. The Silence of Chung Ling Soo. Seattle: The Miracle Factory. 2001. 488 pp. Cover | Full Title

Instantly, a squirming goldfish appeared upon the hook, glittering in the spotlight, struggling to get away as Soo swings the end of the line towards himself.  The Chinese wizard deftly plucked the goldfish off the hook and dropped it into a glass bowl of water held by Suee Seen.  There, the fish swam about excitedly while the magician again baited his hook and made another cast above the heads of the audience.

  • ALBO, Robert J. The Ultimate Okito.  Piedmont: Doug Pearson. 2007. 162 pp.  Limited edition of 400 copies.  2 Volumes in slipcase: 1 Book and 1 foldout containing 8 DVD’s. Cover | Full Title
Albo performs The Aerial Fishing with Okito's Rod

Albo performs The Aerial Fishing with Okito's Rod, Disk #5 of The Ultimate Okito

Albo claims “The aerial fishing was invented by Professor Mingus and first performed in 1893,” though the addition of live fish from the rod is Okito’s.  Okito’s personal apparatus for performing is shown in on pages 83 and 139 and demonstrated by Albo on DVD #5.

On the topic of famous Aerial Fishing poles,

  • KLOSTERMAN, Ken, with FUJARI, Gabe. Salon de Magie. Loveland: Klosterman. 2006. 381 pp, with DVD. Cover | Full Title

Shows Thurston’s Aerial Fishing pole.  Klosterman also adds to Albo’s description of the invention of the effect: “Professor Mingus (Walter Mingus Hopler) conceived the trick circa 1902.  However, others, including Frank Ducrot, the well-known New York magician; William J. Hilliar, first editor of the Sphinx, and ‘Dr. Nix’ (John B. Nix), apparently unknown today, also laid claim to the creation of some version of the trick.”

However, for the definitive info on the lineage of this effect, one has to turn to the inaugural issued of The Sphinx, Vol. 1, No 1 for March 1902.  Writes John Hilliar:

No trick of recent years with the possible exception of Downs’ back hand palm has created such a furore as the fishing trick and in my humble opinion it is without doubt the most ingenious and novel trick ever conceived, Most of the magicians perform- ing the trick lay claim to its being their own invention and as there has been much discussion on the subject among the fraternity

I beleive [sic] it will be of interest to end all arguments by giving its history.

The trick in its original form was invented by Prof. Mingus and performed by him some four or five years ago at Tony Pastor’s Theatre, New York City, where he played one week. In that week he gave to the profession one of the greatest tricks since the days of Robert Houdin. I here reproduce a cut of Mingus’ letterhead, which he was using in 1895, showing the fishing trick. Among those who saw it were W. E. Robinson and Horace Goldin. The former at once fore- saw the possibilities the trick afforded and with the fishing trick, Ching Ling Foo’s bowl etc. etc., tripped across the Atlantic and under the “nom de theatre” of Chung Lung Soo made a great hit’ Although the remainder of his act was first class it was the fishing trick that made him. In the meantime Horace Goldin was working the trick in America with great success.

I saw Robinson’s first appearance at the Alhambra Theatre, London and was greatly struck with the trick. I immediately set to work on the trick and was the first one to per- form it in Europe after Robinson. I had adopted the bait method before I saw anyone else use it, but I believe Goldin invented it in this country.

Kellar’s Wonders –

  • CAVENEY, Mike and MEISEL, Bill. Kellar’s Wonders. Pasadena: Mike Caveney’s Magic Words. 2003. 584 pp. Cover | Full Title

– makes that claim that Kellar may also have received one of Prof. Mingus’ poles.

  • WALKER, Barbi and SEAVER, Robert. The P&L Book. San Leandro: Published by Byron Walker. 1992.  277 pp. Limited edition of 1000 copies. Cover | Full Title

STEINMEYER, Jim. The Magic of Alan Wakeling. P. 85

Page 43 describes the P&L”Aquarium Goldfish Production” and claims “it represents the final evolution of a long-time classic in magic”, describing the the move of the fish from the pole handle to the lid of the bowl.  (AKA a Stull Goldfish bowl)

Oddly, the P&L book contains no reference to the infamous – and quite cool, in my mind – P&L Goldfish dropper. For that, we have to turn to p. 84 of

  • STEINMEYER, Jim. The Magic of Alan Wakeling. Burbank: Hahne. 1993. Second Edition. 345 pp. Limited to 1,000 copies. Cover | Full Title

In the same trick comes with an hilarious suggestion (for me at least) by Al Wheatly of dispensing with the dropper and simply lining one’s pocket with rubber to more easily house a fish.

  • TAYLOR, Granville. John Martin: The Master Magical Mechanical / A Genius at Work. N.p.: Granville Taylor Publications.  2004. 105 pp.  Limited edition of 250 copies. Cover | Full Title

TAYLOR, Granville. John Martin: The Master Magical Mechanical / A Genius at Work. P. 63

P. 63 shows an Aerial Fishing apparatus made by master mechanic John Martin.

Curiously, the documented record shows quite a bit of apparatus, but very little in the way of care and handling instructions.  i.e. I suspect you can’t just “palm a goldfish”.  Two more references offer a bit, but not much more, in the way of fish-assistance:

  • KARR, Todd. The Secret Ways of Al Baker. Seattle: The Miracle Factory. 2003. 912 pp. Cover | Full Title

(First published in BAKER, Al. Pet Secrets.)

The first – on page 453, Al Baker reveals the production of two goldfish from a rolled up slip of paper in his “Goldifsh Production”.  “The fish have enough water that you do not need to use the trick as an opener but can spot it as second or third in your program.”

The second –

  • BOOTH, John. Marvels of Mystery: A Professional Magician’s Textbook of Conjuring Masterpieces. Kanter’s Magic Shop.  1946.  3rd Printing. 146 pp. (Not in collection)

Also reprinted in

  • Booth John. The John Booth Classics. Bideford: Supreme.  1941, 1953. 351 pp. (Not in collection)

contains Booth’s version of catching a goldfish called “Booth’s Miracle Production”.

David Copperfield performed something similar in to the barehand Baker effect in his “Tides” illusion.

And here is Mac King, performing a more classical Aerial Fishing (pole and all).  The ending makes the Fu Yandong’s performance look mild in comparison.