If you are a New Yorker of a certain age, you remember the fabulous Christmas windows of the now defunct carriage-trade department store B. Altman, on tony Fifth Avenue. The memory of that upscale firm need not concern us any further for our purpose except to notice that at one time, the President of B. Altman was a fellow by the name of Lewis Kaufman. And Lewis Kaufman is on our radar screen only because he was the father of arguably the most important and influential non-professional in the history of contemporary magic, Richard Kaufman.
Kaufman’s name is well-known to magic fans, but I think sometimes the really remarkable, irreplaceable extent of his contributions to magic has been overlooked. In a sense, it was Kaufman more than anyone else who dragged magic kicking and screaming into the latter part of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and made it respectable. Especially with regard to close-up magic, his writing, illustration, and publishing brought a new professionalism to the publication of magic materials. It set a standard to which all magic books and magazines in the future would have to live up to. The announcement of a new publication from Kaufman was, and is, a guarantee that a quality product was being produced.
Kaufman started off as a magic prodigy, illustrating Harry Lorayne’s Afterthoughts for 75 cents a drawing at the age of sixteen. The two continued to have a love/hate relationship over the years (now reconciled) and it was Kaufman who designed and produced the first year of Apocalypse, the monthly magazine he co-edited with Lorayne. After breaking with Lorayne, he put out his own magazine for three years called Richard’s Almanac, which he later published in a hardbound collection called The Collected Almanac. He then went on to write and illustrate books of his own, introducing and highlighting the work of such important magicians as David Roth, Jay Sankey, Ron Wilson, Gene Maze, Derek Dingle, Dr. Sawa, David Williamson, Brother John Hamman, Gary Kurtz, Steve Draun, Tom Mullica, Larry Jennings, Rene Levand, Criss Angel, and David Berglas. If we add to the list the books that Kaufman was involved in publishing as well, the roll becomes truly breathtaking: Jon Racherbaumer, Tony Andruzzi, Darwin Ortiz, Eugene Burger, Jeff Sheridan, Eugene Burger, Michael Weber, J.K. Hartman, David Kaye, John Bannon, Chris Kenner, and really, at this point it almost becomes easier to say who he hasn’t published than to keep listing names. The names are impressive in themselves, but in a world where many magic secrets had been self-published in awkwardly photocopied manuscripts bound with plastic spiral comb, and illustrated with murky photographs or illustrations with two left hands, the Kaufman books were always superbly turned out.
But perhaps the greatest achievement of Kaufman’s may be his stewardship of Genii magazine since 1998. Genii was a magic magazine with a long history, run by several generations of the Larsen family. Like so many magic magazines, it didn’t always come out on time, and the quality was erratic. The Genii of my youth—for some reason my local library carried it—seemed very clubby to my young eyes. There were only one or two items of interest to me per issue, with seemingly large sections devoted to the likes of reports of Ring 234 in Plano, Texas. Kaufman upgraded the contents of the magazine substantially, gave it an international flavor, and produced years and years of an excellent on-time and timely magazine.
Kaufman was the first magic publisher to produce, along with the print version of his magazine, a digital one which boldly incorporated video content and access to digital archival material.
But my favorite part of the magazine is Kaufman’s introductory column where he not only introduces the issue, but more amusingly shows us the latest magical toys that have crossed his desk. There you see his true enchantment with magic, and you see the boy who at the age of five received a set of magic tricks from his uncle and has taken boyish delight ever since.
Magic is famously an art where the amateur has contributed as much as the professional has. No professional amateur has contributed more to the art of magic than Richard Kaufman. The clarity of his writing, the relevance of his illustrations, the taste and foresight he has brought to his choice of publications has been a standard that no one in the field can ignore. I am going to have a very happy holiday curling up with his Collected Almanac.