The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: The Second Foot

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Here’s the second installment of the Five Foot Shelf of Magic. You can read the first installment here.

I’ll assume you’ve  learned enough about basic sleights and presentation so that now I’ll recommend books that explain more advanced techniques or books that offer a broader scope of action. I also include more books that give a more intimate look into aspects of the history of magic.

Bound to Please by Simon Aronson is a collection of three smaller books by the author. The first is a collection of early card effects of  Aronson’s, the second is a description of his memorized deck, and the third is devoted to a single card effect called “ShuffleBored.” Aronson, by training a lawyer, was one of the best writers of magic around. His writing is thorough, detailed, engaging, and some of the cleverest card magic you’ll ever encounter. You will fool yourself.

Let’s take the three sections from back to front (and it’s probably the best way to read the book!) : ShuffleBored is not only the best “self-working” card trick in the universe (and I’ll back that up with money if need be!) it’s stronger than 90% of most other card tricks as well. (Hot tip: do John Bannon’s version from Dear Mr. Fantasy. His ideas with the eye covering and shuffling procedure are great improvements.)

The second section is  an extensive tutorial on Aronson’s memorized deck: how to learn one, and the specific features built into the Aronson stack. You’re not going to acquire a memdeck overnight, but it’s not as hard as many think. If you’re serious about this stuff, you might as well start now, and you’ll get it down long before you get your pass or strike double to where you like it. You’ll have an incredible tool in your kit.

The third section is a collection of card magic, some of which uses the memdeck. My favorite trick here is “Some People Say,” which has a very simple plot, but the conditions are so stringent that it seems a complete impossibility. Very good for driving your analytical friends crazy.

BTW, if you’re skeptical about learning a memdeck or just want to know more, Aronson wrote a booklet for those contemplating learning  a memdeck and graciously offered it for free here.

Simply Simon, by Simon Aronson. More card magic from a great thinker of card magic. There are some wonderful routines, including my favorite memdeck routine, “Past, Present, Future.” But it’s not just a book of memdeck effects—even if you never want to remember another card in your life, there’s great material here, somewhat challenging to learn, but not overly difficult.

Stars of Magic: This thin volume consists of the original Stars of Magic pamphlets that were originally printed separately but are now offered as a bound collection. And a stellar collection it is. There are effects by John Scarne, Dr. Daley, Francis Carlyle, Dai Vernon, Slydini, and more. This is professional level magic and a career could be assembled from learning all these effects. They’re not necessarily easy, and they do contain some advanced sleight of hand, but these are classic routines that have stood the test of time and probably every professional magician working today has one of these effects in his or her repertoire. Even if you don’t master all of these routines, you should be aware of them.

Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: I wrote at length on this book here and here. One of the big hurdles for performing for people you’ve known for years is that they find it hard to swallow that you are suddenly endowed with superhuman powers. How do you perform for friends and family without coming off as a narcissistic jerk? Well, Jerry Deutsch has an approach which really resonates with me. In this style of presentation,  the performer is as surprised by what happens as the spectator is. In fact, even when the performer tries to do a trick, the trick goes wrong (that’s the Perverse part)—but with a stronger effect than what was first expected, much to everyone’s surprise.

There are hundreds of tricks here with cards, coins, balls, dinnerware, all with scripts and detailed explanations. The book does assume knowledge of some basic sleights, many of which you will have picked up by the time you reach this foot of the shelf. It’s great if you want to perform for family or friends at the dinner table, or for casual business associates at lunch. [And I’ll put in a little plug here, since I helped to put this book together. All proceeds go to charity, and can be found at]

Dai Vernon: A Biography by David Ben. The most influential magician of the twentieth century, Dai Vernon, was essentially an obsessed amateur for whom the art of magic was more important than business, family, or just about anything else. “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” created some of the greatest close-up effects and techniques in magic and was also a consummate teacher. Because Vernon did little documentation of his own work  (although he was an endless storyteller), this first volume of a projected two volume set about his life is a valuable detailed look at the trajectory of Vernon’s domestic and magic lives.

Tricks Every Magician Should Know by Al Schneider. This is a fun book filled with, well, stuff. The kind of throwaway novelties that some magicians seem to know, but aren’t necessarily written down anywhere: How To Shoot Rubberbands, Making a Handkerchief Rabbit, How To Tie A Knot Without Letting Go Of The Ends, How To Push A Cigarette Up Your Nose—you get it, the essential things.

The Phoenix, edited By Bruce Elliott. I’m a magic magazine junkie, and it was a toss-up whether to list Hugard’s Magic Monthly or The Phoenix. I went with the latter for now, because The Phoenix has more of a close-up focus than stage, and it’s much more available.

The Phoenix was the offspring of Ted Annemann’s The Jinx, and like The Jinx it eschewed sleight-of-hand effects for those using subtle and clever principles. There were some wonderful contributors, including Vernon, Marlo, and Paul Curry (“Out of This World”) who had a regular column. Bruce Elliott was a writer by trade who kept the magazine lively with his strong opinions and commentary on the magic scene of the 40s and 50s. Yes, you can find pdf files of this, but the bound collection is so much more fun to read.

Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott. I first read this book as a teen-ager when it was issued in paperback. It covers a dozen or so classic close-up effects of magic. This is not meant as an expose book, but a serious book of teaching magic. The book, much of it drawn from articles in The Phoenix, covers effects like the Cups and Balls, The Four Aces, The Miser’s Dream, The Ambitious Cards and others.

The methods given for these tricks are not always the most sophisticated, but they are meant for advanced beginners and they will get the job done. A warning—this book is not for children. There’s a version of the Swallowing Razor Blade Trick that’s not at all suitable for young people, and there’s another trick involving corncob pipes that has a good chance of seriously harming the performer (both ammonia and hydrochloric acid are involved here. Ah, the 50s!). But the rest of the book is very good, and the Dr. Sachs dice routine, which is not easy to find elsewhere, is an excellent impromptu item to know.

Magic Magazine Junkie



I’m a magazine junkie, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, magazines are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s a precarious business. And magic magazines historically have been even more precarious than most other categories of periodicals. It’s not unusual at all for a magic magazine, first announced with the boldest of intentions and good will at the beginning not to make it through even a year. The subsequent cancelling of subscriptions, unreturned money, late and missing issues are the stuff of legend and also often enduring acrimony in the magic world.

And yet new magic periodicals are announced all the time, and folks plunk down their dollars, hoping to get their latest magic fix in measured doses. But to a true magazine junkie, there’s nothing sweeter than pulling down a bound volume of ancient magic magazines from days past and thumbing through it. There’s a saying that if you want to hide the secret of a magic trick, write about it in a book. My corollary to that is if you want to fool the book readers, do something from a magazine. That’s where you’ll find your really obscure effects.

But the pleasure of reading the old magazines is not just to find another magic trick, but to get a sense of the smell and taste of the time, the ads, the news of who was playing in what theater, which dealers were pushing which effects, what the in-group gossip and backbiting was, but most gratifyingly, the imprint of the editor. Because really that is the most important factor in my enjoyment. I love a rag with a voice, an opinion, a personality, a sensibility, even if it’s not one I share with the editor.

Here is a list of five of my favorite classic magic magazines of the past, all of which can be found in bound volumes.

The Sphinx has had a long, long publication history. It ran from 1902-1953,  quite a feat in a field where it’s often a wonder when a publication makes it to issue #2.  I’ve written a series of posts about this magazine, but even that only scratches the surface in describing its wonderfulness. It is filled to the brim with great stage magic, photographs, and feature articles on famous magicians of the day. The complete print run costs thousands, but the entire number is available on CD for a ridiculously low price.

The Jinx was the newsletter started by Ted Annemann, which ran from 1934 to Annemann’s suicide in 1942. The magazine’s name was a play on its predecessor, The Sphinx. Annemann was a clever inventor of tricks who preferred subtlety over sleights: unlike The Sphinx which focused more on stage and apparatus magic, The Jinx was oriented more to close-up and parlor magic. The Jinx specialized in particular in mental magic, and the bible of mental magic, Annemann’s book Practical Mental Effects, was drawn from effects first printed in The Jinx. Annemann’s honest editorials in every issue managed to offend many, but his observations were often quite sharp.

The Phoenix, which ran from 1942 to 1954, was writer Bruce Elliott’s tribute to Ted Annemann’s The Jinx. In format it was much the same: a newsletter every two weeks or so with some featured tricks and then a column of observations by the editor. Elliott had more outside interests than Annemann, which gave it a bit of a more varied texture than The Jinx. There were lots of contributions from the great names of the day, including Paul Curry, Dai Vernon, Ed Marlo. Like Annemann’s periodical, Elliott’s taste ran to the kind of thing you could show to the boys after the poker game without too much practice. The first Phoenix volume was the first I ever bought from Tannen’s as a youngster, and it holds a special place in my affection. Elliott gave it up in 1954 after 300 issues, and it was succeeded by The New Phoenix for 100 issues with different editors. The magic content of the periodical remained high, but without Bruce Elliott’s savvy Back Room columns, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read.

Hugard’s Magic Monthly had a run from 1943-1964, basically contemporaneous with the two Phoenix publications, but it had a very different flavor about it. The individual issues had a higher page count, and in its stride it had a number of regular columns and features by contributors in each issue. There were regular book reviews, listings of the latest stage shows, excerpts from books,  and historical features. Although it was printed on newsprint like The Jinx and The Phoenix, and illustrated mainly by line drawings, it had a larger sense of worldliness than those two publications. Because Jean Hugard and Milbourne Christopher, the two main editors and often pseudonymous contributors, had extensive experience in stage magic and the world of show business, their magazine combined the more professional, international feel of The Sphinx with the  magic clubbiness of the other two periodicals.

Apocalypse was a monthly magazine put out by Harry Lorayne from 1978 to 1997. Richard Kaufman, the current editor of Genii magazine, started it with Lorayne when he was a young man, but by its second year, Lorayne was the sole editor. The magazine featured close-up magic effects from the top magicians of the time, with many contributions from Lorayne himself in the field of card and coin magic. Lorayne was a tireless self-promoter and writer, and managed to get great material from his contributors. Lorayne also always provided yearly trick and author indices with each volume, a welcome addition, especially in a day and age before digital searches were possible. Harry famously would include his “Afterthoughts” to many effects including his own, which were short paragraphs of variations and additions to a given effect, sometimes useful, sometimes not. While there’s no doubt that Harry had (and still has in his 90s) a distinctive voice and take on magic, for many, including myself, his narcissism and pettiness make it hard to enjoy the more newsy items he reported on. Still, the magic contained within (check out all the great contributions by David Regal over the years) make this a nominee for desert island reading.

Some of my other past favorite periodicals were Karl Fulves’s publications: Chronicles, Pallbearer’s Review, and Epilogue, though they don’t have the voice or editorial content that the others mentioned above have. Another favorite of mine, too, is Steve Hobb’s more recent periodical Labyrinth. It, also, has little editorial content but contains lots of very clever card magic and sleights.

And, finally, if you don’t find something appealing here, you might take a look at this list of magic periodicals:

Magicpedia estimates there have been over a thousand different magic periodical publications since 1895. So magic magazine junkies take heart—you have plenty of choices to keep you busy for a very long time.





The Professional Amateur


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.