In the first part of this series, I talked about the quality and usability of the excellent Ultimate Sphinx CD collection—all fifty years of a landmark magic periodical. I also dipped into the contents of the first volume published in 1902. In this new installment, I’m going to jump fifteen years later, to 1917, and take a look at what the magazine looked like then.
On perusing the later volume, two things immediately jump out: the first thing to notice is the new editor, A. M. Wilson, replacing William Hilliar. Wilson replaced Hilliar early on in the run and went on to steward The Sphinx for decades afterwards. The second is how the magazine has entrenched itself as the official organ of the Society of American Magicians. There are many reports from around the SAM locals around the country, many filled with descriptions of famous magicians of the era.
The ads as always, are entertaining and instructive. Who would have thought to find this fellow at such an early juncture:
And here’s a large ad for a new book which illustrates some of the contemporary wonders inside:
But lest these wonders and announcements make you think the life of a magician is an easy one, take a look at this plea from the famous Theo Bamberg, better known as Okito:
For all the prior notices about his successes, Bamberg still needed to rustle up the capital to take his act on tour. Perhaps he was frustrated with his role at the time making shadows in the Thurston show.
Bamberg was a frequent contributor to The Sphinx during this period with some excellent tricks. In The Bewitched Blocks, a series of eight alphabet blocks are placed in cabinet in random order; with the firing of a gun at the blocks, the blocks are revealed to have re-arranged themselves magically to spell a spectator’s randomly chosen word. In Bamberg’s Envelope Mystery, another effect inspired by the Spiritualist craze of the day, a signed envelope, visibly suspended onstage by two narrow ribbons, is opened to reveal both the answer to a spectator’s previously asked question—and a handkerchief of a previously chosen color.
The prolific Walter Gibson writes about Dye Tubes, a Bow Tie that magically changes into a Four in Hand Tie, and a very efficient Card to Pocket. Ovette contributes a Wine and Water change, a Disappearing Egg, and a Silks to Flag stunt. And again, in line with the growing fascination of the time with all things to do with Spiritualism, David P. Abbott writes about the The Mystic Oracle of the Swinging Pendulum or Mind Over Matter.
But if there is anything that holds a magic organization robust, it’s the anti-exposure stance, and the SAM was certainly that. Here’s a limerick printed in The Sphinx that expressed that view:
There was an exposer named Rue
Who exposed the tricks that he knew;
He’s not here to blame
For he’s out of the game,
And the tricks that he knew were so few.
Next installment, I’ll jump ahead another fifteen years, and see what changes have been wrought.