Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Magical Copycats on World Intellectual Property Day

Today is World Intellectual Property Day, an annual commemoration instituted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, known as "WIPO," (a branch of the UN which coincidentally employs my best friend).  According to WIPO:

"Every April 26, we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day to learn about the role that intellectual property rights (patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyright) play in encouraging innovation and creativity."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, among magicians, intellectual property rights have often been disrespected, much to the chagrin of magical inventors, innovators and manufacturers.  I will not explore that serious problem here.  In commemoration of this day, however, I thought I would highlight a few of the throwing cards which, though they may not technically violate intellectual property rights, certainly constitute bold imitations of the work of others.

The Men Who Know: Shine and Alexander Face Off
The first is a playing card for "Shine," who bills himself, on the back of this beautifully executed and
fairly modern ( I would guess 1990s or later) playing card as "The Man Who Knows." I have no idea who "Shine" is, as the absence of distinctive identifying information about this person -- presumably a mentalist -- has rendered research unavailing.  But whoever he is (and I'd love to hear from anyone who knows), he is not the original "Man Who Knows." Indeed, as readers of this blog are probably well aware, the moniker and most of the artwork on this pasteboard is derived from a one-sheet lithographic poster, printed circa 1920, for Claude Alexander Conlin, a world-famous vaudeville era mentalist.   The images are nearly identical, but close examination reveals that the facial details have been altered somewhat, presumably to look more like Shine, and some coloring has been added to enhance the piece.   To be fair, the Alexander graphic is long in the public domain, and the Shine card is a very well done tribute to the original.   But when I first came across this item (acquired from a playing card trader on eBay for $5), it made me laugh aloud because of its unabashed similarity.

The second card featured here is another favorite of mine, but for completely different reasons.   As has been discussed elsewhere on this forum, Howard Thurston produced a profusion of throwout cards, arguably the most beautiful examples of this art form, including this, the Howard/Jane card.   Enter France the Magician, for whom the good folks over at provide the following biography:

"France, Edwin D. (1906-1992) American magician from the Baltimore area who billed himself as the "Del-Mar-Va Magician" and "France the Magician". He performed some spectacular stunts such as driving a car blindfolded. Also ran a mailorder magic shop, specializing in inexpensive tricks, jokes and novelties. An energetic and enthusiastic self-promoter, France took one of Howard Thurston's scaling cards, pasted his own photo over the face of Thurston, and reprinted the cards with his own name on them."
" of the worst paste-up jobs one
could imagine...."
Indeed, France took one of the most beautiful cards ever made, and executed one of the worst paste-up jobs one could imagine.   Plastering his mug over that of the Great Thurston, France "embellished" the card with a poorly handwritten rendering of his name, an awful superimposition of a sloppily-drawn wand, and a substitution of his initials for those of Thurston's at the apex of the portrait frame.  He made no effort to conceal the rough edges of the paste-overs.  And the silliness of this piece does not end there: on the reverse, France substituted a bizarre collage of grainy images including some photos and irrelevant drawings in place of the graceful portrait of Jane Thurston.   Among this flotsam, France makes the most outrageous of claims:

"Creator and perfector of 'The Rocket' Playing Card, thrown from the stage into the balcony."

Reverse of the France Card
Since Alexander Herrmann (among others) exhibited this feat long before France's birth, it seems a dubious contention.

Not Really Houdini
And before we leave the world of paste-overs of Thurston cards, I must mention a very similar (though more artfully executed) black and white, knock-off card featuring Harry Houdini. While I don't own an example because the pervasive belief that the paste-over is an original Houdini piece tends to inflate the price of this pseudo-Houdini collectible, our friend Jay Hunter has one, which is reproduced here.   Reports attribute the production of this item to Al Flosso. The theory makes sense: Flosso frequently promoted the fact that his shop was once owned -- for a very short time -- by the Great Houdini.  And one can easily imagine Flosso, a carny to the core, passing off these tribute pieces as originals: "You're in luck! Look what I have here.  An original Houdini card!  Oh, this is a museum piece, I tell you ..."

Faux Houdini Back

But Jay Hunter, not content merely to provide me with an exemplar of the Houdini card, also took the time to dispel the Flosso creation myth.   He provided me with a copy of an ad from M*U*M published in 1976 offering the Houdini cards for $10 each (at least I think that's the price, though the ad copy is far from clear) offered by none other than France the Magician!

Happy World Intellectual Property Day!

1 comment:

  1. It's always hard to fight legally. This type of intellectual property.