<<< Continued from previous page

But, if you are interested in antiquarian magic books and yet don't have the necessary means to collect or deal in the classic rarities mentioned above, there is no need for despair. The best collectors (and the dealers who help them) don't give up that easily. What it does mean, though, is that you may have to substitute time and knowledge for money: You will have to seek out uncommon, unknown, or otherwise overlooked material in the field - set out on, what John Carter called, "new paths in book collecting."

One veteran magic book collector who did just that was Ray Ricard, who described his methodology in a lecture originally delivered in 2002 on "Unusual Sources of Legerdemain," fortunately available online.

Ricard's lecture is incredibly valuable for the magic collector, but even for other subject-matter collectors it is useful in suggesting strategies for finding books in one's area of interest that might not be obvious to professional bibliographers, collectors, or anyone else. For example, Ricard shows how nineteenth-century "Boy's Own" books - that is, books on amusements, science and natural philosophy, jokes, and so on, often and unexpectedly included extensive coverage of magic, legerdemain, and conjuring.

Where else can one look for unpredictable sources of magic books? It helps to know a bit about the history of magic (hence last time's recommendation of Milbourne Christopher's Illustrated History of Magic). From its origins, magic was associated if not allied with juggling, and many of the earliest magic books are also juggling books. Sophisticated collectors have long known this, and modern juggling has diverged significantly from its magical origins (or vice versa) - but there's still the chance of coming upon some magic material in juggling publications.

There's also a good chance of finding magic in material on spiritualism. Spiritualism was a late-nineteenth-century religious movement that professed belief in direct contact with the dead through the use of sťances and spirit mediums. Spiritualism first surfaced and grew up together with the Golden Age of stage magic. They shared many techniques and effects: disappearing cabinets, spectral projections, trance states, and miraculous escapes. There were even direct connections - for example, the great Harry Kellar (1842-1922) developed a magic act out of feats performed by the Davenport Brothers, renowned spiritualists for whom he had worked. But because their motives differed so radically there was little love lost between magicians and spiritualists. Magicians feared being tarred with the brush of fraud aimed at so many spiritualists, culminating in the great anti-spiritualist crusade of Houdini. Still, Houdini did assemble a spiritualism book and paper collection as impressive as his magic collection, and there is much spiritualism material that would be of interest to magic collectors, as Milbourne Christopher documented in his Mediums, Mystics and the Occult (1975). Spiritualist material may be increasingly hard to find, but it's out there. It has recently become a subject of renewed academic (and bibliographic) interest. John Buescher's "Spirit History" website has a lot of good information for the spiritualism collector

If spiritualism is where magic meets religion, mentalism is where it meets science - or perhaps more correctly pseudoscience. Mentalism is the performance side of ESP, where practitioners demonstrate apparent feats of mind-reading, clairvoyance, and other para-psychological effects. The literature on mentalism is vast and ranges from pamphlets to multi-volume tomes, notably from the first half of the twentieth century. BookThink's Science Fiction Editor Tim Doyle once rescued a large cache of magic books, pamphlets, and catalogues that were on their way to a local thrift store's dumpster. Among the more saleable items were several related to mentalism, featuring such titles as Mental Magic and Allied Arts, Tony Corinda's "Thirteen Steps to Mentalism" pamphlets, and Lewis Ganson's Magic of the Mind. I would never pass up such material if I came across it (if, that is, I were as lucky as Tim was!).

The more one thinks and digs, the more obscure material related to magic one can find. There is the history of science, which is intimately bound up with the history of magic, more on the alchemical side than the performance side, though. The work to start with there is Lynn Thorndike's History of Magic and Experimental Science (8 volumes, 1923-1958). Libraries often deaccession this classic work, which, even in an ex-library state, will fetch $300-$500 on eBay, but it may also serve as a valuable reference work for the nascent collector or dealer. Then, there is hypnotism, which has long had a disreputable side not unconnected to stage magic. Hypnotism books are not to be passed up. Or one can look at "black magic," the history of witchcraft and occultism (see, e.g., Craig Stark's two-part series on Aleister Crowley, "The Most Evil Man in the World?").

The Most Evil Man in the World? Part I

The Most Evil Man in the World? Part II

And on it goes. To paraphrase the Good Book, of the making of magic books there seems to be no end. It's up to the ingenuity of collectors and dealers to find and develop other interesting areas of magic book collecting.

 Subscribe in a reader