Inventors in the World of Magic
What is the difference between a general inventor and a magical inventor? All inventors are magical in so far as all inventions are magic.
There is one difference between the two - once the general inventor gets his product patented and launched on the market he can tell everybody how it works. Not so with the magical inventor. When he or she invents a new trick or illusion, how it works is kept top secret as far as the general public is concerned. The reason why magicians endeavour to keep the workings of their props secret is to preserve the art of entertainment so that families can enjoy this art form for generations to come.
Magical inventors invent tricks, illusions and routines. Some of these date back many years. In 1966 when the Nile reclamation venture commenced construction, people discovered wonderful drawings of the 'Cups and Balls' trick which is so very popular today. The drawings dated back to 2500BC and were on the wall of a burial chamber at Beni Hasan in Egypt - the site is now underwater.
Peter D. Blanchard
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It is thought by many that John Henry Anderson (1814-74), the 'Great Wizard of the North', invented the system of producing a Rabbit out of a top-hat. The Frenchman, Robert Houdin, was a great innovator, and so was the Viennese magician Ludwig Leopold Doebler. To understand just how great an inventor Houdin was, one must visit the Robert Houdin Museum in Blois, France.
John Nevil Maskelyne's famous mechanical human, called Psycho, played whist - and won! This was only one of the great illusions and tricks he invented and we have him to thank for the entertainment they give us today. I understand that 'Psycho' can still be seen in the London Museum. John Nevil was also a general inventor. He came up with a cash register in 1869 which won him a top award in Paris. He had forty or more patents covering numerous inventions including the coin- operated lock for toilets, wireless telegraphy and railway signalling. His typewriter can be seen at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London. On a final note about John Nevil, in 1867 he invented a 'Levitation of a Woman' illusion. Later his son, Nevil, improved on it by devising a method of placing a hoop around the suspended body, which really astounded the audience. Invention continued in the family, Jasper Maskelyne, John Neville's grandson, was famous for inventing methods of camouflage during World War II when he was Major Maskelyne.
David Devant was Maskelyne's partner - known as, not surprisingly, Maskelyne & Devant - at the famous Egyptian Hall in London. Devant is often described as Britains greatest magician . He was deeply involved with animated pictures and was famous for his 'Magic Mirror' and 'Artistes Dream' - not forgetting his never-ending stream of eggs from a bowler hat.
Coming nearer to the present day, the late Robert Harbin was a leader in the field of magical innovation. One of the worlds most prolific inventors, he was famous for his 'Zig-Zag Girl'. In this illusion, a girl steps into a cabinet, her stomach is pushed over to the left and the audience see right through where the stomach should be - then she re-appears intact.
Oh...how much more entertaining this article would be if I could tell you how all these things are done. But, if I did so, I would be drummed out of the Magic Circle of which I am an Associate Member of the Inner Magic Circle (Silver Star).
However, back to the inventors... The great Chung Ling Soo invented his own presentation of catching a bullet in the teeth; but his method let him down and he was fatally shot on March 23rd 1918, at the Woodgreen Empire in London.
In his time a man called Tibbles was a most famous magical inventor. He hated his name so he took out one letter 'B' then reversed the letters to form SELBIT. The name Selbit is revered throughout the world of magic for being a highly successful inventor. His illusions include: 'Sawing through a lady'; 'Walking through a wall'; 'Body Crushing'; 'Stretching the body'; and so many more.
Horace Goldin - the 'King of entertainers and entertainer of Kings' - invented a method of buzz-sawing a woman in half which is widely used today by modern magicians. A national glossy magazine in the USA exposed his secret, but Goldin stood no nonsense and sued them for damages. The magazines were withdrawn. Goldin was very popular with Royalty in many countries and they gave him expensive jewellery as presents.
Harry Blackstone (USA) shook the magical world with his 'Floating Light Bulb'. It floated over the audience whilst lit. He also invented his own version of the 'Indian Rope Trick'. However, no one has ever come forward to claim the £10,000 offered by the Magic Circle to anyone who can prove they have seen it performed in the open air (the offer is now closed).
Coming nearer to home and the present day, in February 1996 we lost that great personality and inventor of magical effects - Peter Warlock. He was also an author and lecturer. The world of magic mourns his departure from the magical scene; he will always be remembered.
Another important magical inventor who many see as a genius is Alex Elmsley. World famous for his 'Elmsley Count', a method of counting cards in such a way as to leave the audience incredulous. Elmsley has leactured in Las Vegas on his innovations in the field of card sleight of hand.
A man I often meet at Magic Circle functions in London is Harry Devano who invented the 'Devano Rising Cards'. This is an ingenious method of commanding a chosen card, or cards, to rise up out of the pack. Someone has now invented a method of getting a jumbo-sized playing card to rise up from the pack, take a bow and then, when the audience applaud, it says thank you.
There are so many magical inventors, who are general inventors too, it would take a book to describe them all. The writer is more of a general inventor than a magical inventor. For me it was the 'Space Race' game in 1970, then in 1982 the 'Volcano' game (as seen on TV). I have also invented a Blindspot Mirror for motor cars. Now I have a new game being looked at by the biggest toy firm in the world, and I have an illusion in the hands of a young illusionist called Danny (Big Trick) Hunt from Co. Durham, who is planning to perform it in his act.
So, when you sit in your comfortable theatre seats or in front of the television, watching magic, do spare a thought for the magical inventors who made it all possible. Many of whom are resting in their unkempt tombs all over the world. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the Magic Circle's Memorial and Heritage Scheme is now looking into their condition and hopes to bring them all up to scratch (the writer is the Registrar for Memorials & Heritage and is handling the operation).
Above and Left: Inside the Magic Circle, London
Peter Blanchard Performs
The 'Great Wizard of the North' John Henry Anderson
Beni Hasan 'Cups & Balls'
Ludwig Leopold Doebler
John Nevil Maskelyne with Psycho
Poster for London's famous Egyptian Hall and (below) the facade
(Left) David Devant (Below) Performing and (Right) Vintage Video
Robert Harbin with his 'Zig-Zag Girl'
Chung Ling Soo (Right) and (Left) Vintage Video
P T Selbit and (Below) performing
Harry Blackstone Sr.
Alex Elmsley and (Above Video) performing
Video (Above) - the 'Devano Rising Cards' Trick
The Devano Trophy -awarded by the Magic Circle for best 'close-up' work
The Author, Peter Blanchard, with his Volcano Game and Blind-Spot Mirror
Editors Note: Sadly, Peter Blanchard is no longer with us. His enthusiasm for invention, both in general and magical, is much missed.
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