Showing posts with label Dobler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dobler. Show all posts

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The ULTIMATE Hofzinser Books - Review

The books are called Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser Non Plus Ultra, Volumes 1 & 2. Volume 1 is subtitled Magic of the 19th Century. Volume 2 is subtitled Hofzinser's Card Artistry. They have been written, researched and compiled by Magic Christian. Volume 1 originally was published in German in 1998. The second Volume followed in German in 2004. They were translated into English in 2013 and these are the books I proudly own and am carefully reviewing.

Non Plus Ultra. Interesting title for a book. It's Latin meaning Nothing Further Beyond, in other words, the Ultimate. I'd say, it's a fitting titled for these three books. What? Yes, I said three. There are 3 Volumes of Non Plus Ultra. The third was published in German in 2012 and covers all the apparatus and non card magic of Hofzinser. It is listed as 'forthcoming' so the English translation is being worked on and we will one day get to enjoy even more of Hofzinser's magic.

For now, there is much to learn about Hofzinser. Apparently, much of what has been written about the man biographically in the past was incorrect. Magic Christian has painstakingly set the record straight by correct every detail possible. Right off the bat, we find the correct date for Hofzinser's birth June 19, 1806.

Then we begin to learn of the rather larger Hofzinser family. It turns out that one of the siblings, Franz-Xaver Fidelis, was so famous in Austria that he is still recognized today in books on the most famous Austrians. His claim to fame was writing a very influential set of books on Light and Heavy Cavalry for the Military that had a profound effect on how horses were treated during military service.  There were several other siblings but they did not have note worthy lives.

Ludwig Doebler
One thing that does seem to remain true from previous histories of Hofzinser is his relationship to Ludwig Doebler. It is assumed they were cousins and more than likely Doebler was the inspiration for Hofzinser's interest in magic. Born in 1801 in Vienna, he was a few years older than Johann. Doebler was certainly a magic celebrity in his day. He even finds his way into many magic history books, where Hofzinser is often sadly neglected.

Doebler was an apparatus magician, as were many of his time. He also used the occasional automaton. The opening of his show was breathtaking, as he walked out and fired a pistol, instantly lighting 200+ candles. Another of his famous effects was producing hundreds of flower bouquets from an empty hat. One particular routine that intrigued me by Doebler was making borrowed objects vanish and reappear tied to the roots of plants and flowers. This very effect can be found in the beloved Tarbell Course, though it is attributed to someone who was born many years after Doebler had passed away. One other interesting note about Doebler that I found. One site claims he was referred to as The Father of Moving Pictures because of his unique use of multiple still images that would turn off and on to create the appearance of movement. THIS is something I'll need to look into for another article.

No doubt, the magic that Doebler performed was enough to spark the interest in his young cousin, Johann. Volume 1 clearly states that the very early years of Hofzinser's life are unknown or as yet uncovered. But they do an incredible job of tracing his life once he get's into school and then into job as a civil servant in the Viennese Government. Job records still exist on Hofzinser's work life right up until his retirement and Magic Christian did an amazing job to uncover them. But I wish to skip this section and get to the meat of things, The Salons.

The first revelation you'll find is that Magic Christian has uncovered information showing the Hofzinser was not the first magician in Vienna to open a magic salon. There were two prominent magi who beat him to it and you must read the book to find out who they were. It was interesting to read that the whole idea of the Salon was used by many more artists and entertainers than just magicians and was in fact, an important place for prominent individuals to attend and to be seen.

One of the first things we see in regards to the Hofzinser Salon shows was that his wife performed in the show as well. Johann presented card miracles while she presented clairvoyant demonstrations. The papers of the time noted how advanced their magic seemed as compared to those who used mechanical devices. But remember, the mechanical automaton and gimmicked apparatus were signature routines from this time period. So the Hofzinser's were offering something very different in the eyes of the public.

J.N. Hofzinser
His early show had the title of "An Evening of Deception". A rather ordinary name for today, but as Magic Christian points out, Hofzinser was the first to use it. And he kept this name for his show as he later left the Salon performances and took his show in the road, after his retirement from his government job. The book goes into great detail about his travels and follows with many reprints of newspaper articles. Most of the reviews are kind and generous but one in particular stood out at me. The review though complimentary at first changed it's tune due to the high admission price charged and then further went to calculate the amount the Hofzinser made at a performance and how this price was far more than a conjurer should be making. And again, as Magic Christian points out, the same sort of mind set can still be found today.

Volume 1 covers Hofzinser's entire life, his death, burial and then his students, his letter and his contemporaries. It is so comprehensive, I can't help but wish that every biography of a magician was so thorough.

Getting into Volume 2 however is just a mind bending affair. Whereas Volume 1 was history and mostly newly uncovered history of Hofzinser. Volume 2 gets into his card magic. I'm not even sure I can describe it and do it justice.

One of the first things I turned to when I was first just browsing through the volume was a section on what we know of today as the Electric Deck. It is a site gag used by poor performers basically and generally used for a cheap laugh. Or so I thought. Hofzinser's use of the Electric Deck is a huge wake up call to the modern magician. Here, Hofzinser shows how by switching a real Deck for an Electric Deck, one can create some highly incredible flourishes that all appear to happen with an ordinary pack of cards. OMG, it's BRILLIANT!

But there's more. Imagine my own surprise, shock even, to learn that one of Hofzinser's prized possessions resides only  25 miles from me. It's Hofzinser's Card Box, and again, if you think you know the Card Box, well, it's time you got reeducated like I did. The Hofzinser Card Box is made of metal, and it's round and it's INCREDIBLE! Oh, and it resides at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.. So I'll be making an appointment fairly soon to go check it out for myself.

The shear amount of card material in this Volume is just mind blowing. Magic Christian again, goes to great lengths to clarify the proper handling of card moves, the history of these routines, the back story, he covers it all. Magic Christian also has no problem with setting the record straight when it comes to what Hofzinser created and what he has been credited with creating but wasn't his. For example, Johann has been credited with discovering or inventing the Rough and Smooth Principle for cards. But Magic Christian shows how this technique existed before Hofzinser and even goes to show how he was mis-credited in the first place.

I must point out another effect that is in Volume 2 and that is the Card Star. I had heard that Hofzinser created the Card Star but as I read the description, I realized that his Card Star was very different from what I called a Card Star. His, was a metal star with points on the ends to which cards could be attached. Then a pointer was placed in the center of the star and spun and it would land upon the correctly chosen card. The reason I point it out is that I am adding a Spirit Dial to one of my shows. I've used it many times in the past and out of no where came up with what I thought would be a great final sequence to the routine. My idea was to add playing cards to the edges of the glass and spin the dial to have it land on a previously chosen card........YES, my idea was almost identical to the routine described in the book! In no way do I claim to have the mind or even the mindset of Johann Hofzinser, but it was a nice coincidence. Hofzinser's Card Star was more like the Spirit Dial in methodology. The 'other' Card Star was a five pointed star mounted on a pedestal. Five cards are chosen and returned to the deck and the deck is then 'sprung' towards the Card Star and the five selections appear on the points of the star. This apparently was not a creation of Hofzinser.

I'll be completely honest, I've not yet finished reading Volume 2. The richness of material in this book is just not something you can go through quickly.  Volume 2 has so much material, sleights, flourishes, gaffed and gimmicked cards, none gimmicked routines, card routines with apparatus and more. It's just overwhelming to try and go through it quickly. This material needs to be taken in slowly and carefully. I'll tell you this, you simply can never get this amount of detail in a DVD, ever! Johann Hofzinser was a genius. Magic Christian truly has created the Non Plus Ultra (The ULTIMATE) work on Hofzinser, and there is still a third Volume yet to come out!!!! If you love magic history you have to have these books. If you are a performer in search of killer material you have to have these books. If you call yourself a magician and you DON'T have these books, you might want to reconsider that title. Go purchase these books before they are gone! 900 sets will be sold. Don't wait, get them now. Conjuring Arts has a deal whereby you can make monthly payments on the books, so you don't have an excuse not to get them!!!!

The only thing I can add is the magic world owes a huge debt of gratitude to Magic Christian for these remarkable books! Thank you!!!!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Great Salon Magician Hofzinser

J.N. Hofzinser
I can't say I've been as nervous and unsure about a topic as I am with this one. I have been doing some research on Johann Hofzinser, the great Viennese Magician. However, during the course of my research, I've discovered that much of what I read was probably wrong. The early history of Hofzinser was recorded by Ottokar Fischer, but according to magic scholar Magic Christian, Fischer was wrong about a lot of his information. Because Fischer was wrong, many of the later biographies of Hofzinser are also incorrect. Houdini gets a lot wrong in his Conjurers Monthly Magazine about Hofzinser.

One fact that is clear, Johann Nepamuk Hofzinser was born June 19th, 1806 in Vienna Austria in the Landstra├če district. He was a cousin to fellow Viennese Magician Ludwig Dobler. It's possible that Dobler is the one who first sparked Hofzinser's interest in magic. Johan held a job within the Viennese government in the financial ministry from which he would eventually retire from in 1865.

Several years earlier he opened his first Magic Salon in 1857. He moved to 5 different locations from 1857 to 1865. Then after his retirement from the financial ministry it appears that Hofzinser took his show on the road. But it's his Salon work that is what is most important. Hofzinser was basically the father of Parlor Magic or Salon Magic. In his parlor presentations he presented both card magic, manipulation and apparatus magic.

According the Dai Vernon, Johann Hofzinser was the Father of Card Magic. I'm intrigued with his card magic but sadly am not quite as familiar with it as I would like to be. I know a bit more about his none card magic mainly because of the book 'The Magic of J.N. Hofzinser' by Ottokar Fischer.

The Rose Mirror
There are many intriguing pieces in his repertiore, but I am personally drawn to the routine known as The Apotheosis of the Rose.  

The effect begins with a hand held mirror which is shown on both sides. Then it's covered for a moment with a scarf and when the scarf is removed the image of a red rose is seen on one side of the mirror. As the performer speaks the rose grows paler and paler until it has completely lost it's color. The scarf is held in front of the mirror again and the image vanishes. The scarf is held over a glass vase and the white rose appears inside it. When he removes the rose from the vase it again changes color leaving the red rose.

And to that I say, WOW! I can't go into the workings, because I do not divulge magic secrets on this blog. But look at the photo to the left and you'll see the actual Rose Mirror used by Hofzinser, now in the collection of Ken Klosterman.

Fountain of Love
The next routine that I find really interesting is called The Fountain of Love. It begins with a glass goblet containing some sort of murky dark water apparently from the 'Fountain of Love'. A borrowed ring is tossed into the water to test whether the volunteer who lent the ring has true love, for if he/she does, the water will turn crystal clear. The performer covers the glass goblet with a scarf for a moment and then when it is removed the water can be seen to be clear and there are a a couple goldfish swimming inside the goblet. But the even more amazing part, one of the fish apparently has the ring in it's mouth! A net is used to retrieve the fish and the ring.

That is a fantastic effect, but according to the book, Hofzinser was not happy with it and changed the props and even altered the method. The later routine became known as The Ink of the Enamoured and it was basically the same general idea but Hofzinser added some additional beats to the routine to prove there was really ink in the vessel. He put a white feather into the liquid which came out black and used a ladle to remove some of the ink and pour it into a glass.  In the collection of Ken Klosterman is the original Fountain of Love goblet along with the Ink Ladle which can be seen in the image to the right.

Another interesting effect in Hofzinser's show was called The Card Automaton. It was a small box in which a pack of cards was inserted. Any card could be called for and it would rise out of the box. According to the book 'The Magic of J.N. Hofzinser', the prop is actually in the possession of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. I do know that Ken Klosterman also has a Card Automaton in his collection but it looks a little different than the one pictured in the Ottokar Fischer book. Still, Klosterman might very well own the original, I don't know. I was not aware that the Library of Congress possessed any Hofzinser items, but apparently they do.

The list of Hofzinser's original sleights, card effects and apparatus tricks is staggering. He was an incredibly inventive artist who not only invented many methods still used today, but improved on countless props that existed in his time. On top of that he wrote poetry that was used in his presentations and also composed music for his act as well. In the video below, you can hear one of the pieces that Johann Hofzinser wrote for his show and see a number of wonderful images of the great Viennese Conjurer. Enjoy!

According to Magic Christian's wonderful website on Hofzinser ( the final performance that Johann Hofzinser gave was New Years Eve 1875. He would become ill shortly after this and was sick for six weeks until he finally passed away on March 14, 1875. He is buried in Vienna Central Cemetery in Vienna Austria.

By the way, there is a wonderful tribute to Hofzinser in the Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants Show. Ricky does a version of Everywhere and Nowhere with a nice twist at the end.  The routine is at about 36 minutes the link to see the entire show on youtube.