Thursday, August 31, 2017

Beyond Compars

Scaling Card for Carl Compars Herrmann
Carl Compars Herrmann (1816–1887) was the older brother (by 27 years!) of Alexander Herrmann, and one of fifteen children of Samuel Herrmann, a physician and amateur magician.  By the age of 30, Compars was widely recognized as Europe's premier stage conjurer.

To get there, however, he pulled a few fast ones.
He became well known for his performance of illusions such as the Inexhaustible Bottle, Second Sight and a production item known as "The Portfolio," less well known is the fact that he pirated these items from Robert-Houdin, a one-time friend of Compars. He also used the title "The Premier Prestidigitateur of France and the First Professor of Magic," which proved particularly irksome to Robert-Houdin. As a compromise, Compars dropped the first half of the moniker, performing only as "The First Professor of Magic." 

As a long-time collector of throwing cards, I'd long believed that Alexander Herrmann's card was probably the rarest and most desireable of them all (In a magazine article, published years ago, collector and historian Byron Walker identified Alexander's card, and that of Buatier de Kolta as the two most valuable pieces he'd seen). Well, thanks to our friend Magic Christian, who shared this amazing throwout card for Compars Herrmann from his collection, it seems that the brothers are once again in competition.  Although I have not inspected the original, this seems to resemble a "cabinet card," but Magic Christian assures me that it was used as a throwout and business card.  The back of this amazing piece, also seen here, contains handwritten notes from an overly-enthusiastic collector who had the card sometime before Magic Christian (one legible handwritten date seems to indicate 1892). Interestingly, though Compars was known for his work in Europe, the reverse has a production stamp from a firm in New York City.

Studying this area of ephemera demonstrates that the amount of information on a magician's advertising piece is inversely related to the fame of the performer. Compare, for example, many of Howard Thurston's cards, which bear only his surname and portrait, to that of, say, the little-known Harry Alpigini, who can't seem to squeeze enough descriptions about his programme onto his pasteboard. 

Against that backdrop, take a look at this wonderful piece for Compars: it bears a cartoon image. Period. Neither front nor back of the card even contains his surname (except as added in handwriting by a collector).  Given that this card dates to an age before television or widespread photography, this says something: Compars must have been a supremely recognizable figure in his day.  

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