Thursday, December 7, 2017

Phantom Base Ball: "The Finest Magicians' Advertisement Ever Known"

Ad from the Sphinx, 1908
One evening, while searching for something completely different in AskAlexander, I came across this wonderful advertisement from the Sphinx published in 1908.  In that ad, a Philadephia firm called the M. Lewis Company, exhorting magicians to purchase "the finest magicians' advertisement ever known."  Hyperbole aside, M. Lewis was attempting to entice practitioners to acquire, at the cost of $3 per thousand, blank faced playing cards bearing this interesting illusion-back design.  The card offered the possibility of spinning the card to make the "Phantom Base Ball," printed slightly off center, appear to jump to the center of the disc.

Since the "Phantom Base Ball" ad appeared, to my knowledge, only once in a single magazine, and I had never seen such a card, my hopes for finding one (if one ever existed) were slim.  Of course, in discounting these chances, I once again underestimated the remarkable collection curated by, in the aggregate, the contributors to this blog and their many kind friends and associates.   This time it was Gary Frank to the rescue, searching his extensive holdings to produce a gorgeous exemplar:

While M. Field's claim that the illusion back is "the finest ever known" cannot be fairly evaluated, it is certainly a fine, striking back. Like many throwout cards, the vivid, intricate back design is of a far higher quality than the face.  The card promotes Marque, a magician about whom we've been able to uncover nothing, other than to note that like many traveling performers of the period, Marque used The Billboard as a permanent mailing address.

I'm not sure what to make about the manufacturer's concerns about "Bugheads" claiming to have invented this illusion, or the biblical references that follow, other than to conclude that, even in 1908, the illusion was nothing new.  But we certainly can speak to its staying power.

The illusion featured here is one of many "spinning disk" illusions that were and remain popular ways to distort visual perception.  Similar designs can often be found on grafted onto spinning tops or yo-yos.

While there are all kinds of variations of this illusion, a very similar design appeared on the face of several throwing cards, including one for Manfred Scholtyssek as well as another card for the magician Topper Martyn.  Manfred Scholtyssek (1927-2008), publisher of “Zauberkunst”, the magic magazine of the former GDR, which Scholtyssek produced after political change in Germany. The Martyn card, seen here, has an aviator back which may have been produced by Haines House of Cards. The Scholtyssek card came as part of the collection of the Swedish Magic Archive.

Package for Tenyo Moonspinner Illusion

While discussing this card with enthusiast Lee Asher, he pointed out the similarity of this illusion to that incorporated into Tenyo's Moonspinner paddle illusion.

1 comment:

  1. I've been sitting on this comment for over a year, but since Kaufman's Deland book is out now, it's no longer a secret. "M. Lewis" is a pseudonym for Theodore Deland.