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.
- First, the acquisition of this piece from a collector with the standing of Mr. Goulet provides one with a certain degree of assurance. I personally removed this card from a collection binder brimming with items of similar age and of equal or far greater value. This first-hand experience imbues the piece with a legitimacy that far exceeds that which may be derived from, say, a purchase from an anonymous eBay seller.
|Ray and Ann Goulet at the Magic Art Studio|
These factors seem to support the facial representation on the card. But, to help confirm, we need to do a little research.
- Second, physical examination of the piece tends to corroborate the representation made upon its face. The writing appears to be consistent with the use of a fountain
One question is whether Thurston used Steamboat cards when performing front and back palms. It seems logical, as the cards were cheap, thin and light, and while Thurston had a plethora of throwing cards at his disposal his heavyweight scalers could never be used for the magician’s famed card manipulations. But we need not rely on speculation alone.
Invoking the power of the mighty Ask Alexander search
engine, I quickly turned up an article by none other than Professor Hoffmann (a highly reliable source) in a 1911 issue of The Magic Wand. In the article, entitled "Some Useful Card Sleights," the good professor notes:
"The actual originator of the back palm is unknown, though many have claimed the credit of the invention. . . Mr. Howard Thurston . . . made the sleight in question peculiarly his own, and brought its execution to an extraordinary pitch of perfection. . . To be able to execute the continuous palm to perfection, it is essential to have suitable cards. These should be (for hands of normal dimensions) of full size, thin and flexible, not highly glazed, and their backs should be of a quiet greyish tint, as being the least conspicuous. The cards recommended by Mr. Howard Thurston as best answering the above conditions are those known as Steamboat No. 999. They are of American make, but can be procured at any leading conjuring depot, at a cost of about one shilling per pack. They work all the better after a moderate amount of use."
So clearly we have the right kind of card. The last question revolves around the purported engagement. Ask Alexander again provides the answer: an obscure magic journal called The Seven Circles reported in a 1931 issue that "Thurston opens at the Tremont Theater April 13th for a two weeks' engagement with his big full evening show." The Sphinx for May 1931 carried a similar report.
In sum, this seems to be the real thing, a card manipulated, onstage, by Howard Thurston, nearly a century ago. It’s kind of thrilling. I think I’m going to go put this in a protective case . . .