The Art of Magic

The Art of Magic

by T. Nelson Downs

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Indispensable book for magicians, containing many methods and sleights not found in other standard books. 68 illustrations.See more details below


Indispensable book for magicians, containing many methods and sleights not found in other standard books. 68 illustrations.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Magic Books
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By T. NELSON DOWNS, John Northern Hilliard

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15659-0



The effects described in this chapter belong naturally to the juggling order of sleight of hand, albeit they are none the less interesting for all that. Considering the recent craze for manipulation it is rather surprising that writers on magic have not made more of a specialty of this fascinating branch of the conjurer's art. From the time of Robert-Houdin down to the present day the elucidators of the arts and artifices of the craft have contented themselves with describing such simple flourishes as springing the cards, throwing the cards, one-hand passes, and turning the cards over on a cloth-covered table. There are a score or more ornamental sleights, however, that have never been explained in a treatise on magic, and which may be made valuable, to the manipulator and the card magician. We say "valuable" advisedly; for we do not believe in carrying manipulation and mere juggling dexterity to excess as many modern performers have done. But we earnestly advise the student to devote a modicum of his leisure moments to the acquirement of a series of fancy sleights and flourishes; for a mastery of these difficult movements will assist him materially in becoming proficient in the sleights. There is no limit to the degree of dexterity that can be attained by practice. In magic, as in other professions or vocations, there is no royal road to proficiency. Excellence is attained only by long years of arduous endeavor. Practice and practice only will bring the desired results. And after the desired degree of dexterity is attained the student should not, in the vanity of his achievement, exhibit his dexterity and boast of the rapidity with which he can execute the various movements. It is not quickness of the hand that deceives the eye, as the spectators so fondly imagine. The modern conjurer depends for success on a more adroit and more permanent foundation—psychology. The cunning hand works in harmony with the active mind, and by means of both mental and physical adroitness the spectators are deceived and mystified. The really expert performer, however, does not prattle of his dexterity. He lets art conceal art. This should be the motto of every earnest student and exponent of magic.

This is the first treatise on the magic art in which a serious attempt has been made to collect and explain the various fancy movements with cards, and the student will find a variety of manipulations that, at first trial, he will consider impossible of achievement; but we hasten to assure the neophyte that nothing herein described is either impossible or impracticable. With the necessary practice even the most difficult drop catches with cards will, in time, become easy of achievement. Before entering upon our explanations, however, it will not be out of place to say a word or two concerning a very important consideration in conjuring, namely:

THE CARDS.—For superior work in manipulation, or in the presentation of tricks, good cards are necessary. Cheap cards are clumsy and difficult to handle with finished effect. "The adept at sleight of hand should accustom himself to the use of every description of cards," was Professor Hoffman's advice in "Modern Magic." When, however, the choice of cards is open to the performer, this authority recommended the use of smaller and thinner cards. Furthermore, the student was advised to use a piquet pack of thirty-two cards (the twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes being removed), the "complete whist pack being too bulky for sleight of hand purposes." This advice seems rather absurd in this day; for the twentieth century conjurer prides himself on his ability to handle or manipulate any kind of card, and the "Juniors" and the "Tankervilles" are relegated to the limbo of the obsolete. While we believe in the facility to use any make or pattern of cards, it is our experience that there is one ideal card for conjuring purposes. We have in mind the card known commonly as the "Angel Back," which meets all the demands of card conjuring. These cards are strong, flexible, and highly polished. The student who is not accustomed to handling "Angel Backs" will find them rather difficult to manipulate at the outset; but with patience and perseverance the difficulty will be overcome. These cards come in two colors, red and blue. We advise the amateur conjurer to select cards with blue backs, for the reason that when a card is palmed there is not so much danger of a keen-eyed spectator catching a glimpse of its polished back in case there is a slight opening between the fingers. For backhand manipulation a cheap, uncalendered card is more desirable. The pasteboard known as the "Steamboat, No. 999" is the best for this purpose. The card being soft and pliable does not "talk" as it is shuttled between the fingers.

The first flourish to be described is known in the vernacular of the card conjurer as


This is one of the elemental flourishes as well as one of the simplest, for which reason it is passing strange that but comparatively few performers accomplish the move with grace and artistic effect. The fan is made with a slight twisting movement of the fingers and thumb; but, simple as it is, the movement is almost impossible to describe on paper. With practice it is astonishing how wide a fan can be made with one movement of the fingers and thumb. There are some performers who can almost describe a circle with the cards. The fan is used to excellent advantage in a movement that is known as the "Vanish and Recovery." The cards are apparently placed in the left hand. In reality, however, they are palmed in the right. The right hand then produces the cards fanwise at the left elbow, or behind the right knee, while at the precise moment of production, the left hand is open and shown empty. The cards may also be produced from the inside of the coat, fanning them as they come into view. A good effect is produced by striking the skull with the left hand and immediately producing the cards from the nose, fanning them as usual. The fan method of production adds greatly to the effect, the fan leading the spectators to believe that it is impossible to conceal such a quantity of cards in the hand. It is also a good plan to produce cards from the backhand in a fan, the effect being that the performer actually plucks a half dozen or so cards out of the thin air. This move may be varied very effectively by producing the cards at the left heel.

While on the subject of the "Vanish and Recovery" it will not be out of place to describe a simple and artistic method of vanishing a deck of cards and reproducing it from the vest. There are many ways of vanishing a complete pack, including divers kinds of mechanical clips and pulls which the amateur performer will do well to eschew—the professional will not use such contraptions anyway, so the advice will be lost on him—but the following sleight of hand method is the most startling and illusive. Hold the pack in the right hand face downward, the thumb at the lower end, the second, third and little fingers at the upper end, and the first finger curled on top of the pack. Now exert a slight pressure on the cards with the fingers and thumb, which will bend the cards in this position The left hand is now extended palm upward, and the right hand is held so that the upper part of the pack just touches the fingers of the left hand at exactly the first joints. The lower end of the pack, which is held by the thumb, is raised about an inch above the left palm. The lower edges of the cards are now allowed to spring from the thumb, one by one, causing a sharp, crackling sound as they strike against the left palm. The instant the last card leaves the right thumb the left hand is quickly reversed, so that its back is toward the audience. The cards are really in the palm of the left hand. This method of palming is simplicity itself, because, if the directions for the ruffle have been implicitly followed, the pack will lie in the left hand in exact position for palming, so that it is only necessary to contract the fingers slightly as the hand is turned over. All these separate movements have been described at length, but in actual practice they coalesce, the effect being that the left hand is reversed simultaneously with the riffling of the cards. The left hand is extended, back toward audience, the performer's eyes fixed intently on the back of the hand, the index finger of the right hand pointing at the extended left. Maintain this position for a moment. Then relax, smile pleasantly, and remark, "Oh, no! I would not deceive you in that way. The cards are really in the left hand." While speaking the left hand is slowly and deliberately turned over, and the cards are revealed. The pack is now retaken in the right hand, exactly as described in the first movement, except that the cards are not curved. You now endeavor to imitate the first movement of placing the pack, with a riffling noise, into the left hand. This, however, is what you really do: As the right hand with the cards almost touches the left palm, instead of riffling the cards into the left palm, the fingers of the left hand grasp the deck, the left thumb in the exact center of one side, while the opposite side is grasped by the second, third and fourth fingers, the second finger being exactly opposite the thumb, while the little finger is at the lower end. The first finger of the left hand is curled under the pack. This position is important. The fingers of the right hand do not relax their grip on the cards. It will be remembered that in the first movement the right thumb produced the riffling noise. This time the left thumb obtains the same effect by drawing its tip rapidly over the left-side edges of the cards, the left first finger, which is curled under the pack, acting as a fulcrum. Now, the instant the cards are riffled the right index finger (which is curled on top of deck) is straightened and the pack palmed in the right hand. If the directions are implicitly followed it will be found that when the first finger is straightened the pack is in the exact position for palming. The cards are, in fact, propelled briskly into the palm, and at the same instant the left hand is reversed and elevated as if containing the cards. Care must be taken to hold the left hand exactly as at first, when the cards were actually palmed; and if the simulation is carried out (this effect should be practiced before a looking-glass) the illusion is perfect. The right hand may now grasp the lapel of the coat, or, better still, take the wand from under the left arm, and, touching the left hand, show that the cards have vanished. The cards may be reproduced in any manner the performer prefers—from the left elbow, from behind the right knee, from the left heel, or from a spectator's whiskers or nose. The reproduction, it is unnecessary to add, should be in the form of a fan. Perhaps the most artistic method of reproducing a pack of cards, however, is from the vest; and the effective and very simple sleight by which the cards are introduced under the garment has never been explained, to the best of our knowledge, in a treatise on magic. Hold the right hand against the abdomen and insert the thumb under the vest. Hold the thumb rigidly against the inside of vest and turn the hand over so that palm faces audience. The simple movement of turning the hand introduces the cards under the vest, from which they may be slowly produced, a few at a time.

The following is an effective vanish for a half dozen cards. The cards, which are first exhibited fanwise, are bunched together and held in the right hand, which makes a motion as if tossing the cards into the air, whereupon they vanish. The right hand is shown back and front, the fingers wide apart, and the cards are recovered back of the right knee. This effective sleight is accomplished by means of a minute piece of apparatus known as the "Excelsior Clip," which may be bought at any stationery store. This spring clip has two arms, one of them bent over in the form of a hook, and sharpened to a point, so that it can be hooked to any part of the clothing. The working of the sleight will now be clear. The cards are placed in a clip and fanned. The cards are then closed, and the right hand makes two up and down motions. When the hand goes down the second time the cards are hooked to the trousers back of the right knee. The hand of course must not hesitate an instant; it is immediately brought up and the cards, apparently, are vanished in the upward movement. It makes an effective interlude in a card programme.


The reader undoubtedly is familiar with an old trick known as the balancing card, in which a pasteboard is made to stand upright on a table without any visible means of support. This effect is accomplished by the use of a very small and simple apparatus, a strip of tin or brass, an inch and a half in length, and five-eights of an inch in width, bent at a trifle less than a right angle—say about eighty-five degrees, its shorter arm being one-third of its length. On the outer surface of the long arm is spread a thin layer of conjurer's wax, and to the inner surface of the shorter arm is soldered a small piece of lead, about an eighth of an inch thick. This little feke is pressed against the card in the act of placing the card on the table and thus forms a prop, or foot, the little lump of lead acting as a counterpoise to the weight of the card. This is an old trick (although a very good one and seldom seen nowadays) and the reason for referring to it is to introduce a new effect, namely, the balancing of an entire pack of cards on the fingers of the left hand. This trick is hardly of sufficient importance to be performed by itself; but as an incident introduced in the course of some more pretentious illusion produces a very good effect and serves to keep an audience interested and on the qui vive. As a matter of fact, the success of a conjuring entertainment often depends upon the performer's ability in introducing minor tricks that suggest spontaneity. The following experiment is of this variety: Hold the pack in left hand and show both sides of the right hand so as to convince the audience that no mechanical device is employed. Then transfer the pack to the right hand in order to show that there is nothing concealed in the left hand. In returning the cards to the left hand insert little finger of left hand under three or four of the top cards. Once more show that the right hand is empty. Place pack on tips of fingers of right hand at back, as shown in Fig. 1, and in executing this movement the cards above the little finger of the left hand are back-palmed into position between first and second fingers, as shown in at (B) in the illustration. This movement is completely covered by the left hand and the remainder of the cards. Do not prolong the effect, although some little time should be consumed in an effort to impress the spectators that the feat is extremely difficult to accomplish. In removing the pack all that is necessary is to relax the pressure on the backpalmed cards, allowing the pack (A) to fall on back of hand, the left hand immediately picking up the entire pack. If the performer desires he may hand the pack for examination, but a more effective method of proving that the cards are unprepared is



Excerpted from THE ART OF MAGIC by T. NELSON DOWNS, John Northern Hilliard. Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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