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.

No comments:

Post a Comment