Ephemera Magica
June 10, 2010 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Ephemera Magica: A Daily Offering of Vintage Magic: "I found some great and mysterious things in some old boxes my Mom passed on to me from my Father and Grandfather. I am scanning and posting a page, trick, letter, or booklet from a huge collection of vintage magic articles every day." Click on each of the pictures for larger versions, or check out the Ephemera Magica Flickr Feed. [via mefi projects]
posted by zarq (13 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, whew, for a minute I thought this was about vintage Magic the Gathering ephemera and I was about to freak out because wow, that stuff started when I was in high school and I'm not ready to feel THAT ancient yet.
posted by Windigo at 2:12 PM on June 10, 2010

These are fascinating. I used to buy little plastic magic tricks from the backs of comic books when I was a kid, not really because I wanted to learn how to do the trick, but because a lot of them had these oddball little occult designs on them; later I started seeing some much older mass-produced stage magic stuff, and they were even more dazzling in their representation of a supernatural world that can be accessed just by running a pencil through a piece of paper, or a slate and some chalk, or a mirror. I sort of miss the days when magicians pretended they were friends, or foes, of the devil, or that there were parts of the world where the unexplained was ordinary. The trickery never impressed me, but the meta-narrative, if you will, seemed pretty awesome.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:15 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love vintage magician posters too.
posted by twintone at 2:21 PM on June 10, 2010

Thanks for this! Terrific resource and I look forward to exploring more. There was a big interest in illusions -- especially mentalism/spirit/escape tricks in the late Victorian period but I also wonder about the magic of the ancient world -- Greece, Rome, China, Persia, Arabia. Do you know of any works on those?
posted by binturong at 3:10 PM on June 10, 2010

Dude, this is freakin' awesome. Thanks!!
posted by New England Cultist at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2010

This is great! My cousin sent the link to me a few days ago and I'd been enjoying it since then. I didn't know it was a MeFi project!

The Library of Congress has high res scans of many magic posters like Thurston, Alexander, Herrmann and others.

Binturong, I think the general knowledge of ancient world magic is spotty at best...for the obvious reasons of losing stuff to the mists of time + magicians/priests keeping close-lipped about such things. However, you may be interested in checking out the Conjuring Arts Research Center. They do some great research and publish a book-periodical called GibeciƩre that often has translations of really old texts...among other things. It is a bit pricey (45 bucks a pop!) but if you have the scratch and the interest, you could keep an eye on them to see if they're putting out something you like. You can also buy a membership for a hunnert bucks that lets you Ask Alexander.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 4:11 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Conjuring Arts Research Center looks to be made from 100% unadulterated awesome. Between that and the original link, it looks like I've got hours of niftiness pore over. Cool!
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:26 PM on June 10, 2010

Thanks everyone so much for checking out my site (and especially zarq for posting this!).

My Grandfather, who was the one who originally collected, clipped, and preserved all of this, would have been really happy to see others enjoying his hobby. When he was alive he always clipped articles & such from publications about random interesting subjects to send to me, but I had no idea about this treasure trove until it arrived on my doorstep a few months ago.

I have a few (then) unexplainable memories of him from when I was very young- he would show me cards and make them change color or suite right before my eyes, or he would make other objects vanish... I never knew it was because he had studied all of this so completely.

Being able to look through this collection, and learn about it, has really helped me with his and my father's passing (they both died just last year, only 4 months apart). I am so glad I can share it with people & they find it as interesting as I do :)
posted by haplesschild at 7:48 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love this kind of stuff. Magic is so cool. Thanks.
posted by Splunge at 8:07 PM on June 10, 2010

Oh, whew, for a minute I thought this was about vintage Magic the Gathering ephemera and I was about to freak out because wow, that stuff started when I was in high school and I'm not ready to feel THAT ancient yet.

Remember how old 1970s Topps cards were back when magic first came out? The Black Lotus is that old today.
posted by empath at 5:12 AM on June 11, 2010

haplesschild: This is a great site, and wonderful testament to your grandfather. I'm a professional magician (previously), and I really enjoyed looking through the site. You'd be amazed how many of those old tricks are still being republished today, pretty much in the same form, aimed at the children's market.

But I have a serious request for you: would you please reconsider publishing the information on HOW the tricks are done? I know they're old and corny, but pretty much the one iron-clad law of magic is that you never publicly reveal the inner workings of an effect, no matter what. (I'm trying to think of a MeFi equivalent...maybe the prohibition on publishing MeFi mail in a thread?)

This is laughably old-fashioned to a lot of people--I assume someone will immediately post the "Alliance Of Magicians" picture from Arrested Development--and the argument could rage on in this thread for days, but my reasons aren't philosophical or polemic:

First, you've put a lot of time and effort into honoring your grandfather's life, and it deserves to be seen by everyone who's interested in magic. And trust me, no one's more obsessed with the history of magic than other magicians. Unfortunately, once the magic community sees that you're "tipping" tricks on your site, it just won't get the attention it deserves...or, worse, it'll be the subject of unnecessary vehemence.

Also...my grandfather was a magician as well. I didn't know your grandfather so I can't say how he felt about stuff like this, but I know that my grandfather and other old school magicians were very serious about secrecy. It was a point of great pride that they never revealed even the silliest tricks to the public. And their libraries were their most prized possessions, often locked away from even their spouses. Again, I can't speak for your grandfather, but I know that if I was putting together a tribute to my grandfather's library it would inappropriate if not disrespectful for me to publish the explanation of the effects from his collection.

I realize this probably isn't something you've thought about, so please don't read it as a lecture. It's just my two cents. You've done a wonderful job with the site, and I want it to get recognition without becoming mired down in exhausting debates about exposure.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2010

Ian- thank you for your thoughts and advice. I did consider the whole posting of tricks, and still do, as I scan and research. My simple rules have been this- if I can easily find instructions on the internet- and in most cases I have been able to within seconds, I don't mind posting how the trick is done.

Since the tricks that are revealed in my collection are mostly card tricks- and tons of which were printed with full instructions in widely circulated magazines & books in the 1940's- I think my footprint is relatively small, and if someone wants to spend time hating me when there are thousands of people on youtube explaining more in-depth tricks, I don't know if I can persuade them otherwise. I assure you if I had some huge apparatus blueprints and volumes of instructions that society had never seen before, I would be consulting a museum or a collector and not blogging about it :) As it is I just have boxes of cool stuff- 80% of it being ads for cool stuff my Grandfather could never afford to buy.
posted by haplesschild at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great stuff, Haplesschild.
posted by hoodrich at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2010

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