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.


“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).

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.