Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Theodore DeLand's Got Your Back!

Deland's "Watch the Dice, 6 or 7," on the backs of throwout for J.W. Wilson, Puzzling Pierson and Lightner

As part of our continuing study of throwing cards, we have often stressed the importance of examining a card's back to provide added insight as to it provenance, manufacture, and approximate age. And if you look a enough magicians' cards, it will not be long before you notice one or more with this intriguing design, produced by Theodore DeLand, an eclectic, prolific magic card manufacturer in 1907. It's called "Watch the Dice, 6 or 7," and it's a terrific negative space illusion: Rotate the card 180 degrees and the number of dice in the stack appears to change.

Another unusual aspect of these cards is the manner in which they were created.  Unlike the various cards we've discussed which were sold as blanks, such as the Roterberg Stock Card and the Bamberg Magic Card, or cards that were professionally printed on both sides, to create these backs, DeLand sold printing blocks to allow magicians to create them on their own. I was fortunate enough to be able to add one of these rare printings blocks for the "6 or 7" back to my collection.   That block, seen here with a Puzzling Pierson card back, is in beautiful condition, and I suspect it was never really used.  It bears the emblem of the S.A.M. embedded in the design.

Gary Frank was able to provide me with one of the ad cards that DeLand used to sell these printing blocks.  The "Advertise Yourself" copy was printed on the face of playing cards with printed images of the three backs for which they were available.  Price: three printing blocks for $1!  (I paid much, much more for mine, even when adjusted for inflation.)  One of those three designs, obviously, was the "6 or 7" back.  In addition, I believe a second one was the "Dollar Deck" back, seen below as well as on the reverse of the promotional card used by McDonald Birch.  The third may have been the Daisy Deck back, though we have been unable to locate a throwing card with that particular design.

Jay Hunter was able to turn up something else: The M. Lewis Company, the work of which will be discussed in another post, advertised the DeLand "6 or 7" printing plate in the Sphinx in 1907.  Interestingly, as seen in the ad reproduced here, Lewis sold them for $1 each, offered with or without the S.A.M. emblem engraved in the circles in the design.  Lewis suggests having the corners rounded like a playing card, or square like a business card, and notes that it had a "large supply on hand."

Jay also kindly prepared an array of cards sporting the "6 or 7" back, printed in four different colors, both with and without the S.A.M. emblem as well as with rounded and square corners:

So who was Deland?  Well, according to Magicpedia, "Theodore DeLand (1873-1931) created the phenomenon of packet tricks between 1906 and 1915, during which time he marketed almost 100 tricks using gimmicked cards and decks, many of his own unique creation. DeLand was a clerk at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and died in an insane asylum in Norristown, Pennsylvania."   That snippet hardly captures DeLand's unusual story; for many years, Richard Kaufman has been working on a biography, DeLand: Mystery and Madness, which is expected to be released soon.

And while DeLand did not have a throwing card, many of his decks and effects included signature aces, which are quite interesting.   Several are seen below, which Mr. Kaufman helped me identify.

Ace of Spades from original Deland Dollar Deck
(later printed by S.S. Adams)

Ace of Spades from Deland's "Twister" trick

Ace/Three from a DeLand effect called "Pickitout"

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Harrison Greenbaum's Stuck on You!

greenbaum.jpegharrison greenbaum.jpeg

There's just one problem with Harrison Greenbaum's magic performances: he's just so funny that you're likely to forget -- or miss -- the subtlety and sophistication of his conjuring.  

But more on that in a moment - first I need to cover today's unusual offering.  The item depicted here is not a throwing card.   It is is business card-sized, but it is not a business card.  As its purveyor would likely shout in a mock-enraged stage rant "It's a sticker!"  And so it is.  For collectors, such an item should be highly sought after, as it is so very ephemeral (fans tend to apply and discard stickers, making them rare).   Showcasing a sticker is unusual without being unprecedented here:  we featured a sticker on the Bamberg page.

A second aspect of this keepsake also renders it unusual for its inclusion here: it makes no mention of magic.  Accompanying the genial portrait, the front reads "This is Harrison," followed by two notations "He does comedy" and, on the reverse "He likes you too."    The reverse lists a variety of social media references which have become so very important for contemporary performers, (which we'll examine in a subsequent post about Jeff McBride) particularly one that, like Mr. Greenbaum, offers more than 600 performances per year.  

And just like this collectible, Harrison Greenbaum defies easy categorization.  As a visit to his site,, confirms, Harrison defines himself primarily as a comedian, which is where, unquestionably, he developed his performing chops. According to his bio, he began performing stand-up comedy while studying psychology and English at Harvard (a fact he often cites self-deprecatingly as part of his performances). A summa cum laude graduate, Harrison was the co-founder of the Harvard College Stand-Up Comic Society.  And he is a superlative comedian, featured on NBC's Last Comic Standing and America's Got Talent.   

Make no mistake, though, his conjuring skills are equally impressive.  Clues to his magic pedigree can be discerned from his bio -- he won an award at Harvard for his magic book collection.  Indeed, he maintains a separate magic website which includes the following magic credits:
Harrison offers his vision of the Mental Epic by Hen Fetch.

As a magician, Harrison was named one of "today's best" by Newsday and tours around the world as one of the stars of The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway, the biggest selling magic show in history. The most requested performer at Monday Night Magic, the longest-running- Off-Broadway magic show in New York, Harrison has also performed at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, the Mystery Lounge in Boston, and was one of only 30 magicians chosen to perform at the International Festival of Magic, Illusion, and the Unusual in Louisville, Kentucky.  He is also the proud winner of the Senator Crandall Award for Excellence in Comedy, given out annually at Abbott’s Magic Get-Together in Colon, Michigan.  Harrison is a counselor at Tannen’s Magic Camp and has been an advisor to the Society of Young Magicians in Boston and New York for almost a decade.

At a recent performance at which he was the headliner, Harrison offered sophisticated, complex and beautiful magic pieces, accompanied by his frenetic comedy.  His set included some classics, such as his unique twist on the Mental Epic, a flawless and funny newspaper tear, a bizarre and hilarious add-a-number routine and a celebrity prediction that still has me scratching my head.  His effects were thematically linked in a nuanced way that nearly escaped my notice amid his razor-sharp wit, performing energy and gales of laughter.

At one point,  Harrison unleashed a sticker upon a particularly quirky audience volunteer (a man who claimed to be from Australia, Los Angeles and New York, and who proved incapable of describing his very strange job).  The spectator was clad in a tee shirt featuring a portrait of a snarling tiger.   The performer produced a sticker, peeled it and pasted it over the tiger's face.  "There, see, now it's not so scary!  My sticker helped," he quipped, in a tone of faux-derision, but belying the performer's efforts to not break out laughing.  "It's a picture of me, not of that scary tiger!"

After the show, Harrison let me in on his plan -- which he has since shared with his fans via a posting -- to have his fine portrait made into a lapel pin, and was choosing between the following designs:

Harrison explained that these can be produced at a modest cost.  When they come out, I'll want one!

I first encountered Harrison at Monday Night Magic, a permanent magic venue founded by my friend Michael Chaut.  In creating Monday Night Magic, Chaut was able to accomplish what others -- including top performers from magic's heyday like Houdini and Carter the Great -- could not: he established a permanent venue for magic in New York City.  Monday Night Magic has been running for more than two decades, powered by the energy of performers like Greenbaum.  Just a note to those in or around New York City, and those planning a visit -- go see Monday Night Magic.  If you check the schedule, you might catch Harrison Greenbaum there!  You won't regret it!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Mahatma Mystery Solved!

Advertisement appearing in Mahatma in 1895.
From 1895 through 1906, Mahatma, the first U.S. newspaper catering to magicians, was published at Martinka's magic shop in New York City.  Another thing Mahatma published, as indicated in the print ad seen here, were "Playing Cards With Your Advertisement Printed on Them," at a rate of $1.50 per thousand or $6.00 for 5,000.   These ads appeared from time to time in the periodical's decade-long run, but alas, without ever including any images of the cards.

Ad from 1905
The first reference I encountered about cards printed by Mahatma was the June 1944 article by John Mulholland, which is excerpted on our Back Story page.  "Scores of magicians had cards made with a back design, 'The Mahatma' magazine had
drawn," Mulholland wrote. "This design pictures a number of different pieces of magical apparatus." Mulholland did not provide an image of this unique back design created by the folks at Mahatma.   I began thinking about the dozens of cards we had posted here on Propelled Pasteboards, but it was difficult to think of any that fit Mulholland's description . . . except for maybe one.

Indeed, my leading suspect was the back that I've referred to as the Roterberg Stock Card  as they were sold by dealer August Roterberg.  Examination of the back, as reproduced here, proves consistent with Mulholland's description: a custom-drawn back picturing various magical apparatus (including fans, birdcages, funnels, wands, hats, etc.)   And given that the ad for these cards appears in Roterberg's catalog circa 1915, the timeline seemed to fit.

But that was just a suspicion.  Before I acted on it, I decided to consult our friend, Jay Hunter.  In what seemed like minutes, Jay responded with an email containing images of throwing cards featuring the Mahatma backs in two colors.

How can be be sure that Jay is right?   Well, just look closely at the design -- there's a signature: it says "Mahatma,"  As for the faces of these cards, they bear advertisements for magicians named "George Heller" and "M. Roberts."  Their stories will await another day.

But a third Mahatma card from Jay's collection sheds just a bit of light on another mystery.  Regular readers may recall the elusive Geo. Heir from our discussion of Bamberg Throw-Out Cards.  If you'll recall, Heir was one of our dedicated Men of Mystery, about whom we have been unable to locate any data even with the help of Ask Alexander.   Well, Jay found another Mahatma card, this one featuring Mr. Heir:

So, with that card, we add another data point to Mr. Heir's profile: he hailed from Jersey City, N.J.  That may lead to more....

Of course, only after Jay cracked the case, I found an ad for Mahatma cards with an entirely different "Mahatma" card back.   See below:

But before we leave the issue of magic magazines printing throwing cards, there's one more thing I'd like to cover.  In researching this piece, I happened across another ad -- this one in an old copy of The Sphinx from 1902, featuring nearly the exact same ad, this time attributed to The Sphinx rather than Mahatma:

Apparently, Mahatma wasn't the only magic magazine moonlighting in the throwing card business.  And if you'd like to see one of these backs on a card, check out the Leon Herrmann posting!

Postscript: After reading this post, my co-contributor Gary Frank dove into his wonderful collection and turned up three more of these wonderful cards.  The story of these performers will await another day... but meanwhile, now appearing on Propelled Pasteboards are the magical styles of M. Roberts (whose back design appears above), Marvill and Burton the Magician.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Loring Campbell

Alexander Loring Campbell was born on March 19, 1905 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma where in just a few short years, the senior A.L. Campbell and his wife Byrd closed the drug store, packed up their belongings, and had their son comfortably set up in the back seat of the family car for the long trip to Southern California. Loring’s first exposure to magic was watching a group of Japanese performers known as the Ten’ichi Troupe of magicians. It wasn’t long after that Loring tapped by the “Goddess of Magic” and she didn’t let go.

  Whether it was entertaining classmates, or working a summer performance in full make-up in a polka dotted suit being billed as “Cambello the Clown”; Loring was fulfilling his destiny to become a full-fledged, professional magician.
After his schooling, Loring captured the attention of the managers of the Redpath-Horner Chautauqua circuit. He was contracted to work a twenty-five week tour. The only condition he had to agree to was being billed as magician Jack Gwynne. Gwynne wasn’t able to complete his contract and it was too late for the management company to alter the advertisements that were in the hands of every place Loring was to perform. So, taking everything in the old adage “the show must go on”, Loring Campbell was “Jack Gwynne”.

 A little known fact in magic history was when in 1929, Howard Thurston was searching for “one more traveling company” to take another one of his sponsored shows out along with his own show, and the Dante and Tampa show; Loring was also in the running. He readily declined, just as McDonald Birch, Werner "Dorny" F. Dornfeld, George Marquis and  Jack Gwynne. This time, Thurston has decided the name for the magician under the Thurston banner would be "Faust the Magician". All declined for the similar reasons; they wanted to keep their name and they their own performance style. When the International Brotherhood of Magicians was founded, Loring joined and was member number twenty-two. He did all that he could to find more members to join this newly established society of magicians wherever he traveled. Loring wasn’t alone in this life adventure, his wife Kathryn was at his side working in the show, on the show, and keeping the show going for many years. Kathryn kept the bookkeeping details kept the rabbits fed, and made sure Loring was on top of his game wherever they performed.

They toured throughout the United States dozens of times. Audiences and managers alike praised their magic shows. Loring included numerous effects from sleight of hand, to a presentation of the guillotine, and he would also include escapes. Their two-hour show would change every year and Loring would keep in touch with magic dealers and include whatever the latest effects were popular. He would also update his brochures and posters making sure he would keep the attention on the idea of fun for the entire family. 

How could you pass up
seeing this show?
       Whether Loring was performing his noted ventriloquist act with his sidekick, Johnny Applewood, or he stepped up to the artist’s easel and created wonderful rag pictures for all to enjoy; Loring had found his life’s dream and it did come true. He was a member of Los Magicos of Hollywood, Society of American Magicians, and he was a member of the Hollywood Comedy Club. 

           Loring wrote a column for the Tops Magazine titled “The Campbell Caravan” that was enjoyed by all its subscribers. He was elected into the Society of American Magicians Hall of Fame. Loring wrote two books This is Magic in 1945 and Magic That Is Magic in 1946. He retired from the stage in 1955. Kathryn passed away in 1958. Loring continued his interest in magic always there helping other performers and keeping in touch with magic friends he had met for the many years he was on the road. Loring passed away on January 11, 1979.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Cards by Martin

Meandering through the “M’s” in my scaling card collection, I came upon two colorful examples produced by a master magic card maker identified as Neil Lester. I knew I had to find out more about this gentleman and so, I did. 

The front of one features “Martin the Magician” while the other promotes his “Cards By Martin” business. The reverse of these cards incorporate four different back designs – two U.S. Playing Card and two Tallyho. The upper left corner shows the Red Rider back while the upper right shows the New Fan. The lower left features the Tallyho Fan back while next to it is the Tallyho Circle back. 

Checking on the Internet revealed that Lester had died at the age of 79 on September 16, 2009 at his home in Lancaster, California. He was a retired U.S. Army/Air Force Korean War veteran who had been fascinated by magic since the age of nine or ten. He even performed magic and hypnotism in the service and he told one friend this interesting story. In the early 1960’s he was stationed in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and was performing magic inside the canteen. During the performance his C.O. busted into the place and ordered everyone to report immediately to the 38th Parallel. Everyone rushed out and later, he and two friends turned up at the checkpoint but were held there because they had arrived fully armed but still wearing their dress tuxedos. Eventually they were cleared to proceed and, we must assume, allowed to get back into uniform.

Neil Lester splitting cards

After he retired from the service he opened the Cactus Rabbit Magic shop at 509 West Avenue in Lancaster, which he ran until 1981. He opened another shop at 24261 San Fernando Rd. in Newhall, California where Jack Hurlbut (1928-1982) served as manager. Hurlbut billed himself as the “World’s Greatest Magic Fan.” He was totally devoted to magic and eventually served as the host, manager and performer at the Magic Castle. 

Lester’s forte was creating customized gaffed playing cards for professional magicians. According to his son Curtis Martin, his dad always said, “There are three parts of a playing card – the front, the back and the core and I can use each of them.” Lester took standard cards, split them apart, inserted shims and gimmicks, trimmed them, cut them and even printed up special orders.

One trick that he designed was called “Slippery Spots.” In this effect the magician forces the five of clubs on the spectator. Losing it in the deck and shuffling the cards, the magician slams the end of the deck on the table. Looking through the deck the five of clubs is found but all the pips have slipped to the bottom of the card. Shuffling the cards again, the magician now slams the side of the deck on the table. Looking through the pack the pips on the five of clubs are found to have all congregated on one side of the card. 

Lester was good friends with all the top card men including Dai Vernon. Lester frequented The Magic Castle and while there, hung out with Vernon and also sold gaffed cards and decks from his briefcase.

When Lester was first starting his custom crafted cards he was searching around for a name and Vernon suggested “Cards by Martin.” Lester liked it and that’s what the business was named.

In March 1978, Vernon wrote of Martin in his “The Vernon Touch” column in Genii:

Some of the cleverest tricks in card magic, as far as effect is concerned, are being brought to life by one of the Castle member s under the name of "Cards by MARTIN." He manufacturers absolutely beautiful trick cards including a Marlo effect (I think it's Marlo's) wherein a poker hand (say four aces and an odd card) visibly changes into a Royal Flush. I only wish my friend Arthur Finley were alive to see the beautiful cards that "Martin" manufacturers. He makes all the trick cards used in Bro. Hamman effects, or the Deland tricks, etc., out of ordinary cards. I understand that these are made to order and that you have to prove you bought the trick originally. "Martin" is an expert at ''splitting a card". It is quite remarkable to see him do this, especially if you have ever struggled over the task of splitting a card for a certain trick. 

Lester used to work at Phil Thomas’ Yogi Magic Mart in Baltimore many years ago. According to Lester’s son, Curtis Martin, his father was working on a book about his cards and card magic with a close friend. Apparently the book was done except for taking photographs. Lester never seemed to get around to doing it but perhaps it will happen in the future. Among the tributes on The Magic Café were these messages:

“Neil Lester was a class act and so very helpful to anyone who asked. In addition, a great loss to the magic community.”

“The magic world has lost an important and wonderful person.”

“…a wonderful person to deal with…thank you Neil…you will be missed.”

“He always got me what I needed and always so helpful. Another great one gone…he will be sorely missed.”

“We’ve lost an irreplaceable friend to magic.”

Lester was a member of the Magic Castle from its earliest days and recognized as a master craftsman by all of the insiders of magic as well as enthusiasts worldwide. I am pleased to have examples of his cards in my collection and pleased, as well, to share it with other enthusiasts.

Tom Ewing

Monday, October 16, 2017

Howard Thurston on a Bicycle!

We have, elsewhere on this site, sung the praises of Howard Thurston's beautiful throwout cards, some of the most fabulous ever made.  Indeed, one of the hallmarks of his cards are the interesting things advertised on the reverse side, either by attracting sponsors (such as Wrigley's Gum or Miller Tires) or, even more interestingly, his promotion of his own acts or odd speculative investments and inventions (like the "Perfect Sleep" anti-snoring device).

Bicycle Expert Back
In other posts, we have examined the intersection of magician's promotional cards with the massive advertising campaign aimed at drawing attention to gorgeous card backs manufactured by U.S. Playing Card Company, among others.   These cards, apparently subsidized by USPCC and others companies, dominate the field.  Leave it to master collector Jay Hunter to discover the intersection between these two apparently disparate threads.   And that intersection is found, here, on this single, fabulous pasteboard.  

The face of this card depicts a young, tuxedo-clad Thurston, famous enough that he need not say that he's a magician.  The card simply reads "good luck, Thurston."   And the back is a Bicycle "Expert" back, one of the company's original designs.  

Many thanks to Jay for another amazing contribution.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Thurston Artifact from the Goulet Collection

Special Postscript - hours after this post first appeared on October 8, I learned the terrible news that Ray Goulet had passed away only the day before.  The timing was coincidental -- indeed, I had written this draft months ago, intending to post it on Howard Thurston's birthday.  I first had the pleasure of meeting Ray Goulet a little over a year ago.  In that time, I twice visited his shop and fabulous museum, and had the pleasure of attending the NEMCA conference in 2016 at his kind invitation.   That conference led to the creation of this blog, as Tom Ewing, Gary Frank and I, all attendees at the event, crafted the idea for creating this site shortly after thereafter.   And perhaps this post can serve as an early tribute to Mr. Goulet, who brought this treasure into my life, as he brought so much magic to countless others. 

Readers interested in learning more about Mr. Goulet's extraordinary life and career may wish to seek out a copy of Ray Goulet Recollections of a Renaissance Man by Frank Dudgeon and Ann Goulet. 

In this post, we examine a special memento of the career of the great Howard Thurston.  On a visit to Ray Goulet’s Magic Art Studio in January 2017, I was able to persuade him to part with this curious treasure -- a Steamboat playing card bearing the following hand inscription:

"This Card Was Used By Howard Thurston in connection With the Back and Front Palm, Boston, 1931, Tremont Theater." 
Being particularly interested in Thurston memorabilia, it was exciting to obtain this item for my collection.  

Of course, the provenance of such an item always presents a question.   That someone took a playing card and wrote this upon it does not necessarily make it so.   But there are several factors that can provide a high level of confidence about the bona fides of this particular piece.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fox Lake Playing Cards

Vintage Fox Lake Playing Cards:
During most of the 20th Century, most magicians were familiar with the promise of this box and its logo.  It could contain any of a variety of treats: a Svengali deck, marked cards, a stripper deck, a forcing pack, etc.   Indeed, at a time when a gaffed bicycle card was nearly (or even entirely) unheard of, Fox Lake produced almost every gimmicked deck available along with a wide range of packet tricks, like the famed Wild Card.

Where did these cards come from?  Here's some history from the Haines House of Cards website:

Friday, September 15, 2017

R.W. Hull: Crooksville, The Tuned Deck and the Essential Nature of Being

R.W. Hull Green Ace Playing Card - this is actually
the back design of a full deck of cards.
The most amazing benefit of working on this blog comes from the astonishing things you learn while developing the history of a small piece of cardstock.  The human elements make these historical detours so very interesting. Today's subject, Ralph W. Hull, is a case in point. Printed in green ink, this throwing card sports a groovy elf conjuring up a profusion of cards.  And while it appears to be the face of an ace of spades, the green side is actually a back design of an entire deck of cards.  The reverse of this marvelous specimen features a handsome Ace of Spades by the Russell Playing Card Company. Gary and Tom both found another, printed in red, with a playing card back, seen below.  In the red deck, it seems that the ace of spades design is a single card from a deck, rather than the back design.

Delving into Hull's history, I found a rich biographical record: Ask Alexander produced nearly 1,000 references in magic books and periodicals, and the Internet revealed still more.  There is far too much material for a detailed biography, so a few highlights will have to do:

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Man Known as Ace -- and Other Names

Continuing to work through the treasures from the Swedish Magic Archives and, as promised in the post about Öberg's Playing Cards, I turned my attention to this wonderful piece, featuring another nice Öberg back.   Unfortunately, the card portrays an Illusionisten (Swedish for magician) identified only as "Ace."  As any magic historian can tell you, trying to search the word "ace" in a magic literature is a fool's errand.   So, I turned to Christer Nilsson, curator of the collection for more information.