Sunday, October 17, 2021

Book: David Copperfield's History of Magic


(photos by Homer Liwag, used with permission)

My readers and listeners to my podcast tend to already be magic history fans. Some however are new to magic history, others are just interested in history and they enjoy the stories of magicians. Whichever category you are part of, please pay attention to the next few paragraphs.

I remember listening to the radio on my way to work. A news report came on about a strange collection of magic that was in need of a buyer. It must have been an article in a newspaper that some radio personalities picked up to talk about. At any rate, I remember them saying it was called The Mulholland collection and it was worth 2.3 million dollars or somewhere in that price range. I also remember talking so some friends of mine and trying to figure out just how to come up with 2.3 million dollars to buy this thing, LOL. Needless to say, we didn't come up with the money. Instead, another person did. Encouraged by his friend Mike Caveney, David Copperfield purchased the Mulholland Collection. That alone was pretty exciting news. The most popular magician of the day just purchased the biggest collection of magic known to exist. What exactly was IN the collection was not known to me. I imagine some folks in the magic history world had a good idea, but I was not yet in that group, neither was David, yet. 

Over time, David would purchase numerous collections. Eventually it would become 6 times the size of the original Mulholland Collection. And slowly overtime, this new curator and his crew would create the most amazing museum of magic. The official name is the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, it is located somewhere in Las Vegas and is not even open to the public. If you were part of the latest Magic History Conference that Bill Smith put together, you had the rare fortune of getting a tour of the museum. (I was not among the lucky participants)

The book, David Copperfield's History of Magic is a journey into David's World of Magic and frankly our world of magic. It's his enormous collection that is lovingly shared in breathtaking photos throughout the book. The photos taken by a magical artist in his own right Homer Liwag. Every single photo is a work of art. In fact, ALL of the photos in this article were taken by Homer and are used with permission (please do not copy them).

The book begins with what I believe are the two most perfect words for a book of this nature. Two simple words, "Magic Matters." As historians we know it. As performers we know it. As fans of magic we know it. And in this crazy world we live in, it's time we let others know and remind those of us who have forgotten, Magic Matters!

There are 28 Chapters in this book and they are basically in chronological order. The first being a chapter about the first english language magic book, Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft of 1584. I have seen one of these treasured books in person at another historian's collection. I would not even touch the book, knowing of it's age and it's fragile state, I only looked upon it with awe. This marks an ideal way to begin the history of magic. 

Next we have a chapter on Robert-Houdin the Father of Modern Magic. I think he needs a new title, as He was more the Father of 19th Century Magic. The images included in that chapter show the Pastry Chef of the Palais Royale, numerous posters, cornucopias used to produce items in the show, and numerous Houdin Mystery Clocks. The chapter covers a brief history of Robert Houdin and it wonderfully illustrates the importance of Houdin in the history of our art.

I'm not going to cover every chapter, but I do want to mention the next one, which is on Wyman the Wizard. Readers of my blog will know of my interest in this gentleman. In fact, the chapter also covers a magician who I've written about a lot, Harry Cooke. Both of these artists have ties to Abraham Lincoln which is why they appear in the same chapter. Within David Copperfield's collection are the very coins that Wyman the Wizard used to magically pass through the hand of Mr. Lincoln. That might be one of the most incredible pieces in the collection.

Chapter 9 focuses on the Queen of Magic, Adelaide Herrmann. Take a look at this stunning image of her dress. It has a beautiful yet haunting effect to it. You can almost see her standing there in that very dress. Being able to see the actual costumes from these old time performers is to me, more exciting than seeing the various posters. The costumes really bring the artist to life. Playbills, posters, and such are two dimensional records of a performers life and career. But when you have a costume on display its a three dimensional representation of that person. To me it is even better than seeing their props (though I do love that too) but a costume is something they wore, it was in essence a part of them.  

On Sept 7th, 1926, the warehouse where Adelaide Herrmann was storing her show, burned to the ground. All was lost. So the fact that there are still items of hers to view is astonishing! Before I move on, take one more look at that costume. So much more interesting than the costumes worn by magicians today. THAT is the costume of a true superstar of her art.

Chapter 10 is another personal favorite. This time David explores Martinka's Magic Shop. They have created a replica of Martinka's Stage with an ornate proscenium and a huge Herrmann poster that once was displayed in the shop. The photos, like all the photos in the book are impressive. The area is filled with antique Card Stars, and Spirit Dials built by the Martinka Brothers. Included in the display is an illustration of the little theater from way back in the early 1900s. There are even antique theater chairs. One can almost imagine Kellar and Houdini and Frederick Eugene Powell and others gathered around talking shop. 

Chapter 14-HOUDINI. I would imagine that this section of David's museum has been the most photographed. I can recall seeing images of this section many times in the past. And every few years the photos change because the display grows. Looking over the photos in the book, I see some of the hottest items in recent magic auctions. It is no wonder they went to this collection and frankly, it's great to see them all together. As David Copperfield has said in numerous interviews, "If Houdini were alive today, he would see his whole show right here."  That's pretty accurate. At least, the main pieces. Much of the Houdini show has been lost to time. Yet, there are items here that have never been in a collection until now. Houdini's bathtub, straight out of 278, and his bookshelf also from 278. The way the bookshelf has been set up allows a visiter to get a photo recreation of one that Houdini himself took oh so many years ago. 

In the midst of all the authentic Houdini items is a bust of Houdini from Spectral Motions Studio, a testament to the quality of their work. I believe every major Houdini poster is on display. This section of the museum alone is worth millions. IF you are a non-magician and you're reading this chapter on Houdini and viewing the images, there is just no way to walk away without being hugely impressed with this man.

Chapter 23 is called 'Blood on the Curtain'. Of course this is Richiardi Jr.. Here was a gentleman whose style inspired countless 20th Century magicians. I remember reading on Levent's Facebook page about bringing the Richiardi cases to the Copperfield museum and opening them for the first time. According to the chapter, these rare items, props, illusions, costumes and more had been in storage in Brazil since Richiardi died back in 1985. He died young, at only 62. The world was robbed of his artistry and his majesty. But to see it on display here and to read about the life of Aldo Richiardi is a real gift. 

I could go on and on about each chapter of the book, but I am going to stop here. Let me just say that each chapter contains several photos and a fine overview of the life of the performer being discussed. As a magic historian, I would have preferred longer chapters, but this is a book for the public and I believe those chapters are exactly the right length. Also, thankfully, this IS a book for the general public, because of that, it means we are not paying hundreds of dollars for the book. It is worth hundreds of dollars easily. 

Every category of magic is covered in this book: The Manipulators, The Close-up Performer, The Mentalist, The Stage Performer, the Comedy Performer, the Illusionist, the Escape Artist and more. If this were just a history of magic, it would be great to have these various images and stories in one place. But knowing that this is all together in one collection, that makes it all even more special. 

The final chapter of the book is on David Copperfield himself. I'll be honest and tell you that I have not read this chapter.  Is there any way to share his story and  do justice to a man who has done so much for the art of magic? Award Winning TV Specials, cutting edge illusions, brilliant magical presentations, touring shows that sold out more theaters than anyone on the planet, ISLANDS, his own museum and much more. I'm almost afraid to read that last chapter because I don't want the book to end...

And here is the little secret, it won't end. Sure the book will, but not the history of magic. David's place in the history of magic is as a living legend. And as magic continues so does the history. What was live and new today, is part of history tomorrow. In 10 years from now, I'd love to see an updated version of the book with more legendary performers from today. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the co-authors Richard Wiseman and David Britland. Richard is a reader of my blog and has been very generous to me in the past. While reading the chapter on Wyman the Wizard, I recalled the email I received from Richard sharing with me an audio track, of some of the music from Wyman's show, that he had specially made. The narrative throughout the book is wonderful and very cohesive considering there were three amazing authors. And this book would not be the same without the photographic genius of Homer Liwag. His ability to capture the beauty of magic in his photos is beyond compare.  

By the way, there is a Special Edition of the book available through Barnes and Noble which has an additional chapter on Orson Welles. There is also an autographed copy available through TalkShop.Live. I've included all the links you'll need to get your copy(s).

Let me end with this. If you have not ordered a copy of the book, please do so. Do yourself a favor and get this book. Use it to learn about the history of our cherished art. Use it for inspiration. Use it to understand that, as David Copperfield said at the beginning of the book, Magic Matters!

Exclusive Addition:


Autographed Copy:

Saturday, October 9, 2021

I Survived Book w Magic References


There are a series of books called The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis. They are published by Scholastic and the books have been a New York Times Bestselling Series. Her latest book covers the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. That is where I come in. Mrs. Tarshis contacted me a few months ago because she wanted to include Harry Kellar in her story. I was more than happy to provide her with information regarding the famous illusionist. Originally, he was going to play a key part in the story. 

Fast forward several months, and now the book is out. I quickly purchased a copy to see who she included Kellar in her story...except he wasn't there. Mrs. Tarshis has decided to not include Kellar but instead use her own fictional character, Antonio Meraki, instead. But to my delight, she still included several pages in the back about Kellar and mentions yours truly!

To explain a bit more, the author takes real life tragic events and creates a fictional story around them. In this case, the characters are fictional, the story is fictional, but the overall event, The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 really did happen. She also includes additional historical facts about the Hurricane in the back of the book. And she includes a short piece on how to survive a hurricane. 

Other nods to magic include, the main characters name is Charlie Miller, whether that was accidental or on purpose, I don't know. But it's fun to think of our own Charlie Miller as being the 11 year old main character in this book. Also, Houdini is mentioned a couple times in the story. And the name of a popular method to make a coin vanish, The French Drop. There's also an interesting twist of Kellar's Floating Lady, but'll have to read the book to find out. 

I totally enjoyed the book! It was a gripping story, with moments of fun, drama, tragedy, and bravery. I can understand how the books are so popular. After you read one book, you want to find out what the next one is about. And there are 20 books in this series!

The I Survived books are for young readers 3rd-5th graders and they are at a 4th grade reading level. The books are available at your favorite bookstore or on and other online book retailers.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

David Devant All Done By Kindness


(Devant painting by Dean Carnegie)

To say it took longer than normal to finish this podcast, well that is an understatement. I was working on this for weeks. And in the end, had to pull so much content from the podcast to keep it within my normal range. I've got enough material for a second podcast on Devant at some point. Very quickly though, there were a couple minor mistakes, which will be corrected in the podcast transcript below. I mentioned his book Woes of a Wizard as Woes of a Magician, and there was another book that I got the title wrong. Everything else was right on the money. There will be some links in this article to previous pieces I wrote, so enjoy those along the way. Below is the transcript from the Oct 4th podcast, with minor alterations.

Today’s feature was born David Wighton in London, on February 22, 1868. We would know him by his stage name, David Devant. His family moved around a lot in his early age. In 1878, when he was a mere 10 years old he saw his first performance of magic presented by a man named Dr. Holden.  He was a local performer who had the rare treat of having performed before the Queen. According to his book, My Life of Magic,  Devant was impressed with the magic, but it had not yet taken hold of him as it would in a couple years.

Young David had many odd jobs in his youth, like:  being a pageboy, next was running a refreshment stand, next was as a telephone operator.  And along this journey of jobs he also became fascinated by magic. He would often practice his magic in leu of doing his job, which got him fired or reprimanded more than once. 

He had local magic shops that he frequented like Joseph Blands Magic and Herr Proksauers. David had a chance meeting of a magician named Kasper the Great Court Conjurer who was performing in town. David discovered besides performing magic he also had tricks he sold. So David was there every weekend to buy something new from Kasper. Then, at some point, Kasper made an offer that was impossible to refuse. He said, “If you can get your friend the artist to paint a picture for me, I shall show you how to get all the secrets of magic! ….actually what he really said was, “Why, I’ll teach yer all the blooming tricks there ever was, is or could be” 

The story takes up several pages in his autobiography. Kasper wanted a painting of himself performing for the Queen, with the Royal Family responding with oohs and ahh and surprising looks on their faces.”  

The painting was eventually done. David paying the artist and in turn he could get ‘All the Secrets to Magic.’  Well, all the secrets to magic turned out to be a copy of the book, “Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann, and a copy of Houdin’s Masterpieces by Robert Houdin”. And he didn’t even give him the books, he just told David to get copies and you’ll have all the knowledge you’ll need. David doesn’t seem to be the least bit upset about this, as the information contained in the books was beyond eye opening!

His early life would benefit from 3 important things. One I just mentioned, the book, Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann. The next was visiting Egyptian Hall where Maskelyne and Cooke produced countless magical programs. The last was another book, Sleight of Hand by Edward Sachs. Here was all the education a young budding magician would need.

The day would eventually come when young David would present his first public show. The year was 1885, David was a mere 17 years old. He was performing at a bazaar, a sort of an outdoor fair on Kentish Town Road. He would not be performing as David Wighton, but rather as David Devant, his new stage name.  Where did this name come from? According to the book, Devant’s Delightful Delusions by S.H. Sharpe, Quote, “Devant decided on his very attractive stage name through seeing a painting by a french artist of David and Goliath, named, “David Devant Goliath”, which means “David in front of Goliath. This caption caught his imagination, and he at once decided to adopt the name David Devant to help him to keep “in front” as a magician.”

This next story is recounted in numerous books, chief among them, My Magic Life, his autobiography. David was about to present his final performance at the bazaar when he spotted two friends in the audience. Both of them were magician friends and an elderly gentleman sat between them. David does not mention what he presented in his show, but he does say that the three gentleman stayed following the show. They approached him and introduced the stranger among them. The man turned out to be none other than Professor Hoffmann himself!!! Devant was so thrilled to meet the Professor, he went on to credit him for all the material in his show and even gave him a pat on the back….which turned out to be so hard he almost knocked the poor mans glasses off!!! I can’t really say I blame him for his enthusiasm. It was probably good that they waited until the show was over for the introductions. Nerves have a way of wreaking havoc upon a performer.

Professor Hoffmann was kind to the young man stating, “if you go on as you have begun, one day you will become a great conjurer.”  So we can assume he did a reasonably good job. At least he didnt get one of these so called complements, “well I can say, you’ve never been better!” OR the classic, “your set pieces are fantastic!”  lol

Years later, Professor Hoffmann would write about his first meeting with Devant in the pages of The Magician Annual 1908-09. He described the encounter, and pointed out how pleased he was that Devant kept a copy of Modern Magic with him. He felt that even though Devant was a teenager at the time of their first meeting and performance, he, Devant did deliver a fine performance. And then he points out when they met a second time, David Devant had become the most popular magician in England.

In his autobiography, Devant talks a bit about the fact that no one was doing illusions in music halls, until DeKolta. Bautier presented the Vanishing Lady. Now, I’ve done a podcast on Dekolta, which is episode 31. But Devant proceeds to give a very in-depth description of DeKolta’s Vanishing Lady. And it makes the modern adaptations seem like feckless knock-offs.

“Bautier walked forward with a newspaper in his hand; this he unfolded and spread out in the centre of the stage. He then picked up a light, ordinary looking chair, of which, by the way, he showed all sides, and placed it in the center of the newspaper. He then brought a lady in and she seated herself on this chair. Bautier proceeded to cover her  up with a piece of purple silk, pinning it round her head and shoulders, dropping the rest and draping it to the floor. No part of this silk was allowed to lie outside the newspaper. There was a pause…Bautier came down the stage, looked at the draped figure, took hold of the silk with two hands—-one about the waist and the other at the head—and threw the silk up into the air ; it seemed to leave his hands in a flash. Both woman and silk utterly disappeared. Again the chair was lifted off the newspaper, and in doing so Bautier showed it back and front. He then picked up the newspaper and folded it together."


The reason there is such an emphasis on Dekolta and others is Devant was being educated in the many approaches to magic. He saw these illusions in Egyptian Hall. He would see countless conjurers in this iconic location and he learned something from every act. 

He mentions Dekolta one more time, this time in regards to the Vanishing Birdcage. Apparently Dekolta’s first cage was oblong in shape. And it was ripped off by many a performer. So he created a round cage which he held in his upright hand. He tossed it upwards where it simply vanished. THEN, he tore of his coat and threw it into the audience to have it inspected. No trace of the cage could be found. Upon taking back the coat, DeKolta reproduced the cage. Again, so very different from what we know today.

This was also the time when many conjurers were doing the Vanishing Cage and killing birds in the process. Devant points out that Bertram had a clever solution. He allowed the bird to fly free. Then he said, “You have flown way, have you? Well, take the cage with you.” and then he caused the cage to vanish. I should point out that Robert Heller did a similar thing by having the bird fly away, then having no use for the cage, he made it vanish.

But lets get back to Devant…

In his book, My Magic Life, he describes a funny incident that occurred in his early days as a magician. He wanted to present DeKolta’s Vanishing Lady, but he did not want to do it the way DeKolta did. So Devant devised his own unique method. To that he also added his own unique presentation, the highlight of which was causing the Vanished Lady to suddenly appear in the back of the Hall or theater. For this new method he would require two women that had a similar appearance. Devant describes the difficulty in finding two women that were alike. He said that sometimes he would find them, but one would have light hair and the other dark hair. So he’d try to convince the women to either darken or lighten their hair as the case may be. And in every case he was turned down and likely told off. 

Just about the time he was ready to give up, he saw two very beautiful twin sisters walking down the street. They were both dressed alike and had the same hair styles and such. But now he had a new dilemma, ‘how to approach them?????’.  He tried many different things, even considered hiring some friends to intervene, but in the end, his frustration led him to simply stop the ladies on the street and proclaim, “Would you care to become vanishing ladies?” LOL

There’s a pick up line if I ever heard one, lol. And their response was something along the lines of you are a crazy beep beep beep…..and he quickly apologized and tried his best to explain himself. Amazingly the women believed him……believed that he was a conjurer and in need of some women to assist him with a trick. They fought over who would be THE vanishing lady, and they told him they would only do it if they Both were involved. Well, that’s exactly what Devant wanted, so he heartily agreed. 

This next part of the story….oh my it rings so true. It was true then, true today…..After 2 rehearsals the women proclaimed they got it and didn’t need to rehearse any more. Devant struggled to get it through their heads that continual rehearsal was the only way they were truly going  to be proficient at the illusion. 

The day came when they got it down! And their first presentation before an audience went something like this.  Devant had a chair sitting upon a raised platform. He had his assistant walk into the audience and then back onto the stage so they could see she was a real human.

She sat on the chair. Devant covered her with a cloth and then whisked it way and she was Gone! And then seconds later, the woman yelled from the back of the theater, “HERE I AM!!!”

Truly, a mind boggling effect for the time. 

Everything was going well until the Vanishing Lady or Ladies began receiving fan mail and gifts and proposals. One night according to the book, The Lady in the chair was covered, but when the cloth was yanked away, she was still there. And yet, only seconds later the other lady burst forth from the back of the theatre to yell, “HERE I AM!”   Apparently the two sisters were having a fight over some of the gifts. Eventually Devant let the sisters go as they became more trouble than they were worth. 

And if I might point out, Devant’s books are very enjoyable to read. He is an excellent storyteller.

By 1890, when he was just 22 he had already risen in the show business ranks to be working the best music halls in London and the surrounding areas. In 1893, he debuted one of his original illusions called Vice-Versa. Here is a description of the effect from the book, Devant’s Delightful Delusions by S.H. Sharpe:  “A man stood isolated in a simple cabinet which consisted of a top and a bottom with curtain sides and standing on legs about four feet high. Around his waist was tied a long ribbon, the ends being passed out to members of the audience to hold. Upon the four curtains being simultaneously lowered by a single string and raised a few moments later, it was seen that the man had been transformed into a woman, The ribbon was then cut from her waist, and tossed to the audience to examine the knots.”

This illusion actually played a very important part in Devant’s career. He was using Vice-Versa with great success. Audiences and theater managers alike enjoyed it. So he felt it was time to step up his game and invite no less than John Nevil Maskelyne to see a performance with the hopes of getting booked at the famed Egyptian Hall. 

Arrangements were made for Maskelyne to catch a presentation of Vice Versa. And to his delight, Maskelyne actually liked the illusion. However there was a problem. John Nevil Maskelyne recognized the size of the illusion was such that it would be impossible to play at Egyptian Hall, as the stage size was smaller than the venue they were currently at.  If only Devant could come up with something similar that might fit into the Egyptian Hall stage…and thus The Artist’s Dream Illusion was born. They were both based upon a similar method, but the effect was different and also the size of the props were smaller. Devant showed Maskelyne a proto-type and he loved it, and it was then built in the Maskelyne workshop.

In September of 1893, Devant debuted what would be his most popular creation, The Artists Dream. Here is a description of the illusion from Devant’s book Secrets Of My Magic:  “The Artist’s Dream’ was a pretty little sketch in which an artist was discovered working on a picture of his late wife. Over-tired, he covers the picture with a small curtain and falls asleep on a couch, when the Spirit of Mercy enters, mysteriously produced at the back of the stage. She approaches the picture, uncovers it, and it is seen to be alive, in fact the woman comes down and embraces her husband, then goes back and disappears in the same way. The artist wakes up and rushing to the picture, tears it down from the easel, and turning, sees the Spirit of Mercy. He approaches her, but the moment he touches her she disappears in a flash and the artist falls dead on the stage-a very dramatic finish.”

Maskelyne signed Devant to a 3 month contract. Devant’s wife would play the part of the woman in the Artist’s Dream. But much to my surprise, Devant was not in the routine at all. Many routines presented at Maskelyne and Cooke’s Egyptian Hall were done like mini-playlets. So they had a script, actors, music and the like. In this case, an actor was chose to play the part of the artist. Considering that the artist falls asleep on a couch during the routine, I guess that makes it all ok. 

The next illusion I’d like the mention is a piece that Devant created in 1895. It’s called The Birth of Flora. It began with a bowl of fire, or a vase of fire. Some rose petals were then dropped into the flames. This then turned into a huge vase of flowers and from within the mass of flowers a woman emerged. It sounds like a wonderful illusion.

In 1896, David Devant gets involved in a new medium…what was called back then ‘animated photographs.’ In other words, early motion pictures. He tried to purchase a machine from the Lumiere brothers but they weren't selling. After trying to purchase machines from others, he finally settled upon a kinetoscopic machine from Mr. R.W. Paul.  Devant had to go all in on this himself, as Mr. Maskelyne refused to see the lasting novelty of it. But thanks to Devant’s persistence, Egyptian Hall was the second theatre in London to show Animated Photographs to sold out audiences. The first exhibition being the Lumiere Brothers at the Empire Theater. 

This next part I found fascinating. Devant claims he sold several machines to George Mellies of the Robert Houdin Theater and Mr. Mellies then began a business of manufacturing films and machines. Devant further goes on to say that HE was Mellies sole agent  for selling his films and machines in England. This all from Devant’s book, My Magic Life. Devant also made films of his own that we know of. And in 1897 he was showing films by the Lumiere Brothers and even Thomas Edison.

According to the book, Devant’s Delightful Delusions, the Animated Photographs was more of a side business, but a very lucrative one. It turned out to be more work than he could handle and soon he had several troupes in the provinces  showing Animated Photographs. The time came when he had to chose between magic and films, and Devant chose magic.

The Provincial tours would feature the films as well as magic, mentalism, hand shadows and illusions. By 1898, John Nevil Maskelyne decided to get on board, so he partnered with Devant. In fact the full partnership would be, Devant, John Nevil Maskelyne, G.A. Cooke, and Nevil Maskelyne.

They called this, The Maskelyne and Cooke Provincial Company and it would include David Devant’s Entertainment. Even when Devant wasn’t in the show, it was still listed as “David Devan’t Entertainment.”

I discovered several paragraphs that I think help to put us into the head of David Devant, the way he thinks of magic and frankly it’s practitioners. It’s from the book, Magic Made Easy by David Devant. The same information can also be found in Chapter 9 of his book, My Magic Life.

A Man can study every work on conjuring or magic which has ever been published, he may take lessons, work hard, and achieve a certain manual dexterity, but at the end of it all he may still possibly be ignorant of what magic is. His knowledge of secrets will not help him to discover that secret. Magic is an art, by means of which a man can exercise a kind of spell over others, and persuade them into believing that they have seen some natural law disobeyed.

I do not hold the opinion that any man who can get up and do a few tricks—even though he may do them well enough to entertain his audience—is necessarily a conjurer, because it is quite possible that he may be a mere exhibitor of tricks.

I regard a conjurer as a man who can hold the attention of his audience by telling them the most impossible little fairy-tales, and by persuading them into believing that those stories are true by illustrating them with his hands, or with any object that may be suitable for the purpose. 

I want to show that a good actor who has the knowledge of a very few secrets of conjuring can be a very good conjurer, but that a man who has learnt all that can be learnt from books about conjuring may never be a good conjurer if he be an indifferent actor.

HE goes on….. “The presentation of the trick is everything; the little secret round which the performance has been woven is comparatively unimportant.”

I think I agree with most of that, though I don’t agree with the part about the actor having a few secrets can be a good conjurer. As we all know there are so many aspects to being a good magician, manual skill, speaking ability, acting ability, and on it goes. A few secrets doesn’t give an actor enough knowledge to become a very good magician……unless they have a background in it already. IN MY OPINION

In 1904, Maskelyne began alerting his patrons that Egyptian Hall was to be torn down. They would relocate to a new property called St. George’s Hall. And upon relocating he was going to introduce them to something that Maskelyne had only dreamed about, producing his own full length magic play. And sure enough Maskelyne was true to his word, The Coming Race, the name of the production began at St. George’s Hall on January 2, 1905, having missed the Christmas rush by a week.  The reviews for the play were not so great. Folks went to a Maskelyne and Cooke production to see magic, and this play had very little of that.

IF that wasn’t bad enough, in February of 1905 Maskelyne’s partner George Cooke passed away. Maskelyne had gambled heavily on The Coming Race.  But audiences did not take to the full production the same way they did the smaller sketches or playlets.  I suppose sometimes they just wanted to see the trick! Something needed to be done, and done quickly because they were loosing a lot of money.

David Devant to the rescue. Maskelyne needed Devant in more ways than one. The company was in a financial mess, so part of the agreement was for Devant to help them out of that in exchange for partnership in the company. Now the shows would be produced by Maskelyne and Devant!!! One of the first things they did was swap roles. Maskelyne went out to play the provinces as Devant had been doing, and Devant now came in to run and perform at St. Georges Hall, The New Home of Mystery. 

Among the items Devant brought with him was his Mystic Kettle. This was a routine that he toured the provinces with since 1902 and made a great showing of. It was the old Inexhaustible Bottle, with an updated method and updated looking device, a tea kettle. Yet he was still able to pour virtually any drink or liquid called for. It was a huge hit then, and it still is a huge hit today in Steve Cohen’s Show in NYC.

Devant also included a routine he called The Sylph, which was the Aga Levitation. He made one change to the routine, rather than have the girl rise up from a casket, he replaced the casket with a couch, thus giving the routine a very modern feel.

We always hear of Harry Kellar taking things from Maskelyne, well here is an example of David Devant actually getting something from Kellar. Back in 1902, Devant was visiting the US and saw Harry Kellar perform his Demon Globe Trick. This was a ball that would roll down a plank, or up a plank or go down and stop and then continue, always apparently under the control of the magician. Kellar’s inspiration was seeing a similar thing done with a giant ball in a circus. But his method was crazy, he used electro magnets and it was complicated. Devant instantly saw the potential in the trick and spoke to Kellar about it. He asked him if he could take the idea, come up with a better method and if so, he would share it with Kellar, and of course, Kellar would give his blessing for Devant to do the effect. Sure enough, David Devant went back to England and developed a much simpler method. He called his version the Golliwog Ball. For some reason, I’ve always been intrigued by the images of both Kellar and Devant presenting this effect. But I believe that it has been recreated, with again, possibly a slightly different method, by Teller of Penn and Teller and it’s called The Big Red Ball. Tellers routine is far more elaborate and frankly quite magical.

Next we have a unique piece called The Problem of Diogenes. This begins with a barrel that is open on both ends. Two sheets of paper and two metal rings are displayed and placed against the barrel and the pounded in place. Once the first piece is put on, the barrel is spun around so the audience can see that clearly there is no one inside. Then a second piece of paper is placed on the opposite end, the ring pounded in place. At this point, a light on a cord is introduced and lowered into the barrel from the bung-hole. The illuminated barrel proves no one is inside. The barrel is again spun around and the light dropped inside. This time, a shadow figure begins to appear and breaks through the paper! It is Diogenes himself, the famous Greek philosopher! This is an early version of the Shadow Box.

The Trick Without A Title was a clever piece of marketing as well as a clever illusion. The price of 50 pounds was offered to anyone who could come up with the best name for the illusion. The winner was The New Page. In this unusual illusion a long upright box was brought out on stage and showed on all sides. Then the front was open and a fellow dressed as a page boy stepped inside. He was strapped to the inside of the box with metal bands or perhaps leather straps. The pageboy remains in a standing position, while 4 ropes are introduced through

four rings in the roof of the box. It is then raised several feet in the air. The doors are closed and a small doll dressed like the pageboy is introduced. The magician explains that whatever happens to the doll will happen to the pageboy. Slowly the magician turns the doll over on his head. The doors to the box are opened and there is the pageboy standing on his head, having somehow reversed his position, just like the doll.

I want to break for a moment from the bigger illusions to one that I just love from Devant’s extensive repertoire. The effect called simply, Boy, Girl and Eggs. The routine is fun and quite hilarious. A hat is shown empty, and yet the magician reaches in and makes an egg appear. This is done over and over. Each time one appears, he hands it to the young girl and she in turn hands the egg to the boy. He must hold the eggs in his arms, and before long, there are too many for him to hold and then the eggs begin to fall to the stage floor and crack open. Hilarity ensues as the boys predicament increases. This is one of those pieces that I believe won’t work for everyone, but it surely worked for Devant. Apparently also worked for Lance Burton on his first network special. There is a hilarious poster that was designed for Devant and the title of the trick is, The Egg Trick. The poster shows the boy with 30+ eggs in his arms, one having fallen to the ground. And amazingly, Devants name is not even on the poster, but everyone knew who it was for. (UPDATE: There appears to be more than one version of this poster, as I did find one with Devant's name as well as Maskelyne & Devant presents...)

The next piece comes from the pages of OUR MAGIC by Nevil Maskeylyne and David Devant. The Chapter is titled Chapter 10 With Fish and Letters, or The Educated Fish. I simply adore this premise. blocks of wood with letters painted on them are openly dropped into a fish bowl. 

Four so-called educated fish are introduced and dropped into the bowl. Next a word is chose from a newspaper. The magician states that inside there are 4 educated fish and they will now spell out the chosen word. One by one, a letter floats up to the top of water. As it comes up it’s set in a tray……until…….the fish spells out the entire word!

Next we have something called Hypo-TY-posis or The Magic Mirror. The description from Devant’s Delightful Delusions….”A spectator sees visions of his past and future in a large upright mirror.  In the reflection there appears a devil who changes places with Devant while he is at the spectators side.”. I believe this is the effect that appears in the movie The Illusionist with Edward Norton and Jessica Biele. 

Next is BIFF, the first vanishing motorcycle illusion in history. Here we have a motorcycle and rider driving into a large wooden crate. The doors are closed on the crate and the entire thing is raised into the air. Upon the command of the performer, the box falls apart with slats of wood falling everywhere upon the stage, but leaving an empty framework hanging in the air. The motorcycle and rider have vanished.

The final illusion I wish to cover dates back to 1905. It was developed into a sketch or playlet. The effect is famous, as years later it was recreated for the Broadway show MERLIN starring Doug Henning. In this wonderful illusion you have a woman dressed as moth who dances around the stage and then suddenly vanishes in full view!!! The method for the Mascot Moth, was complicated, diabolical, and involved several people. It also needed precise timing to execute properly. It is without question a beautiful illusion.

During his time with the Maskelynes, David Devant receives a great honor. The year is 1906 and a new magic organization is being created, The Magic Circle. David Devant becomes the groups first President! More on this in a moment…

Over the course of the next ten years, Devant creates an incredible amount of magical material which is shown at St. George’s Hall. Things like: The Homing Bells, The Magic Mirror, The Giant’s Breakfast, The Three Vases, Beau Brocade, Dyno, A Lesson in Magic, The Chocolate Soldier, Bogey Golf, The Window of the Haunted House, Ragtime Magic, and many more.

Now we come to 1915, June 14th to be specific. This is when David Devant officially retires from the Maskelyne and Devant company. Or does he? The truth of the matter is a bit stickier. It turns out the Maskelyne’s and Devant were not exactly getting along. Devant preferred the more straight forward approach to magic, as did modern audiences. The Maskelyne’s, John Nevil, Nevil, Archie and others, preferred the sketches and playlet approach. They were not seeing eye to eye. So the Maskelyne’s voted David Devant OUT! This according to the book, The Secret History of Magic by Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer. But all was not lost because David Devant has hugely popular at this time, so he went out and spent the next four years touring the variety theaters in Great Britain to enormous success.

From the book, The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher we have this story. “One December night in 1919 during his four week engagement at the Midlands Theater in Manchester, Devant told the small boy who volunteered for a “Lesson in Magic” routine, to hold a handkerchief and cut it exactly as he did—- just as the magician had done with  hundreds of other children. The boy followed the instructions and shook the handkerchief  from side to side. Devant looked down in horror at his own trembling hand and quickly brought the feat to a close. This signaled the end of his career. “ The book, MAGIC by David Price says, “Devant was forced to retire in 1920 on account of ill health and never returned to the stage.  He was only 52 when he was forced into retirement.

In his retirement he continued to write and give lessons. But in 1936, a particular article that he wrote for the Windsor Magazine caught the attention of The Magic Circle. Apparently, in the article Devant exposed some of his own secrets. He did this to entice readers to purchase his latest book. But The Magic Circle had a standing rule, known as Rule 13, and that was not to reveal magic to the public. They contacted Devant to see his side of things and then made their judgement, which read:  “Dear Mr. Devant, I submitted your letter of Dec 18th to the Council at their last meeting and after long and careful consideration, it was decided that Rule No13 had undoubtedly been infringed by the exposure of magical secrets in your article in the December number of The Windsor Magazine. The council has no alternative but—with the greatest possible regret—to ask for your resignation, Signed the Honorary Secretary William Minns”

So the organization for which he was their first President, now expelled him for exposing his own tricks. 

Getting back to his illness, What exactly was wrong with him is difficult to decide. Various books say things like, “progressive ill health”, “ill health”, “a nervous disorder”, “paralysis agitans”. There have been rumors that Devant had actually contracted Syphilis, but I can find no documentation other than a mention of it in a Max Maven Column from Genii Magazine October 2004. However, there are two sentences in the book, Paul Daniels and The Story of Magic by John Fisher that, well are curious. It reads, “After 1920 he(Devant) could no longer perform on stage and was eventually forced to end his days in the Royal Hospital for Incurables at Putney. Ironically, modern medication could easily have treated his disease today.”  As there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, this statement makes me wonder about the rumored diagnosis. 

However, I began to look into his symptoms. I discovered that the term Paralysis Agitans, was an obsolete term. The new word is Parkinsons Disease. Add to that, shortly after finding that I found a reference in the book The Secret History of Magic, which states the same thing, that Devant actually suffered from Parkinsons. 

For a time he lived in his own home but, as just stated, he was finally moved to the Home for the Incurables where he died October 13, 1941.

Over the course of his life he wrote many books including: Magic Made Easy, Secrets of My Magic, My Magic Life, Woes of a Wizard, Lessons in Conjuring and more. 

In regards to The Magic Circle. The incident is part of history and I wish to shed no amount of shame upon them. Clearly, whatever issues they had with Devant have more than been corrected over time. Though I am not a member, by all accounts they are a wonderful organization and still are thriving and growing in the 21st Century.

October 13th 2021, is the 80th Anniversary of the passing of David Devant. Let’s remember him on that day for all the greatness he brought into the world. His slogan, “All Done By Kindness” really speaks volumes.