Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Night at a Seance

Halloween is approaching so I thought this story might be interesting. It's an account of a dark seance. One full of mysterious phenomena including rappings, a flying spirit trumpet, a moving table and a dead dog. This came about because years ago, when doing some research for a TV show, I met Norman Knight, a psychic healer in the UK. He eventually invited me to attend one of his 'dark seances.' It was certainly an evening to remember.

I originally published my account of the event in Stan Allen's Magic magazine. But given the season I thought it deserved a rerun.

It is too large to post here so I've posted it on How appropriate?

Here's the link:

Image credit is Elaina Morgan at Pixabay

Monday, September 02, 2019

Malini's Dead Chicken

In The Vernon Touch column in Genii, Dai Vernon mentioned another trick that has become associated with the Malini name:

...Malini did these things that make reputations. It’s possible to hypnotize a chicken by putting its head under its wing and rocking it back and forth. Well, Malini was at this dinner party, and he had a live chicken plucked, and he hypnotized it and put it on a platter, and it was served like a chicken that was cooked. When the host went to carve the chicken, naturally, it jumped up and ran around the table, and everybody thought that Malini brought it back to life again.

Ricky Jay gave a more cautious account of the story in Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women.

Jay said Malini:

was fond of relating the stunt he supposedly performed for a well-known English duke. Invited to an elegant dinner party, Max managed to sneak into the kitchen with a live chicken which had had all its feathers plucked. Rocking the fowl under his arm, he hypnotized it, laid it on a platter, and covered it with a paste that made it appear roasted. He also garnished the plate with potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. He then returned to the table and waited for the bird to be served.

Just before the duke was to carve the chicken Malini said, “Meestaire Duke, I show you a leetle trick.” He gestured mysteriously at the chicken just as the duke poked the bird with his fork. The chicken woke up, jumped off the plate, and ran squawking down the table.

On YouTube, David Blaine tells a similar story about Malini, except this time the venue is The White House and the bird a duck. You can watch it here:

As Ricky Jay pointed out, this magical scenario had been described in eighteenth-century conjuring books. You’ll find it in Breslaw’s Last Legacy under the title A Droll Trick Played with a Fowl. In some editions of the book there is an illustration portraying the trick. The plate is titled A Droll Trick by a Cambridge Scholar, this time the venue for the performance was Cambridge and the trick was not an impromptu stunt but an advertised performance.

The method involved plucking the feathers from a live chicken, covering it in sauce and having it lie still on the serving plate. Breslaw explains that the chicken has been trained to lie motionless. Subsequent explanations, like that of Dai Vernon, elaborated on this by claiming the chicken has been ‘hypnotised’ by tucking its head under its wing, an action that often sends a bird into a state of tonic immobility. Plucking a live chicken sounds horrendous but, as Breslaw’s Last Legacy points out, it was common practice until the 18th century in the production of down feathers. According to reports from PETA it still goes on in certain parts of the world today.

Ricky Jay was cautious about accepting that Malini had actually performed the trick. Vernon had only heard the story from others. But, interestingly, two years before Vernon saw Malini, which might account for Vernon only hearing about the stunt, there is a report of Malini performing this trick.

The stunt took place at The Golden Gate Assembly Banquet at Hotel Bellevue in San Francisco, on December 12th 1919. 120 people attended and must have been disappointed when they were shown into a small room in which found a ‘table set with torn table cloth and paper plates.’ But not to worry, Malini said a few mystic words, waved a wand and the doors to the real banquet room opened where a feast was to be had.

At the dinner Malini, spoke on the way many great thinkers of the world had turned to magic as their hobby. And at the end of the evening Malini took to the stage and gave a performance of card tricks and his cups and balls routine. Then, he did something special:

‘…while as a climax to his act he called to the chef to bring him a roast dove which he promptly transformed into a living one.’

Not sure roast dove sounds like a meal you’d find at a banquet but this could well be the trick that gave rise to the Malini legend. So the story of the chicken resurrection precedes Malini but Malini did more than talk about it.

You’ll find the report in the MUM magazine (January 1920, Vol 9, No 82) and also The Sphinx January 1920, Vol 18, No 11).

NOTES: If you are considering resurrecting this resurrection, you’ll be please to know that you won’t need to pluck a chicken. Science has now given us the featherless chicken. I look forward to seeing it on the next Netflix magic special. You can check them out the featherless chicken here:

Monday, August 05, 2019

Malini's Forgotten Card Trick

Max Malini made his reputation by performing seemingly impromptu miracles. One of these involved making a card disappear and reappear elsewhere.

It’s described many times in reports of Malini performing. Eric de la Mare, who knew Malini well during the 1930s, said it was his third most performed trick. And yet it’s not mentioned in the one book devoted to Malini, Dai Vernon’s book Malini and his Magic (1962).

Here is a description from a 1902 newspaper, the year Malini came to public attention:

‘Select a card from this pack said, Malini, offering a deck of cards to Senator Hawley. The gentleman from Connecticut did so.

‘Now tear it up,’ commanded the wizard. The card was torn into shreds.

‘Give me all but one piece,’ said Malini.

He folded the shreds of torn card in a newspaper: opened the newspaper: nothing there. Seemingly all that remained of the destroyed card was the torn piece, about one inch square, held by Senator Hawley.

‘Go into the next room,’ said the wizard to Senator Dubois. ‘Climb on the bookcase and on the top shelf of all you will find a volume, number ten in the row. Open the book and turn to page 108. Then bring in the card you find there.’

Senator Dubois departed, amid breathless interest. In a few minutes he returned, bearing the six of hearts, intact, except for a ragged piece torn from one corner. Senator Hawley, amazed, recognised it as the card he selected and torn into shreds.

‘Fit the torn piece to it,’ ordered Malini.

The card was complete when the shred of pasteboard held by Senator Hawley had been fitted in the corner. The ragged edges fitted perfectly.

The trick was not new when Malini performed it. It’s described in Sachs’ Sleight of Hand (1877) under the title of The Missing Link:

This is another very telling card trick, and one that  has  made  the  fame  of  more than  one  amateur conjuror.  A card is chosen from the pack and torn into shreds.  The pieces, with the exception of a single one, which  is given  into  the  custody of  a  spectator, are  then put into a little box, piece of paper, &c., and made to disappear.  The card is then found restored in some part of  the  audience, but  it is noticed that a small portion  of  it  is  missing.  The single piece, which  was  given  to a spectator to hold, will be found  to  be  of  the very size and  shape  required, thus proving that the performer restored the actual card that was destroyed.

Sachs performed the trick himself and gave some advice on reproducing the torn card:

This mutilated card must then be secreted in some out-of-the-way place in the auditorium, or, what is still better, in the pocket of one of the audience, of course some time before the performance begins. I once had it sewn up in  the  lining  of  a  coat,  and  on  another  occasion inserted in the sole of  a boot;  but, in such  instances  as these, care  must be taken that the article containing the card  is to be worn  on the evening of  the  performance  or  a  fiasco will result.

Today we have devices like Gaetan Bloom’s Intercessor or ruses like Daniel Madison’s Angle Zero to make the effect possible. But it still takes guts and preparation to turn a trick into a miracle the way Malini did. I can’t recall where I read it but someone suggested that wherever Malini went he hid corners of playing cards, in books, behind clocks and picture frames. Anywhere they wouldn’t be discovered until he visited again to give a performance. Should you ever find an old corner of a playing card in a place it should not be, it’d be nice to think that maybe Malini was there.

Michal Kociolek alerted me to a new device that will also facilitate the Malini effect. I haven't tried it but it looks promising and you can see demo online. It's Juan Pablo's Torn Corner Machine. Take a look:


Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Irishman's Impossible Card Effect

The 1920s was an era of impossibilities, at least if you go by the advertising in magic magazines. One of my favourite ads appeared in The Sphinx (May, 1928). It said that an ‘Irishman’ wanted to sell you an impossible card effect. Failure is impossible. So is detection. Everything else is ‘dead easy. No sleights or palming. Use your own deck. This effect has fooled every Magician who has seen it.’

The Irishman did not elaborate on the effect but one of the magicians who had seen this one dollar miracle was Max Holden. In his column in The Sphinx (June, 1928) he wrote about John Scarne who had impressed him with a four ace trick, Annemann and an envelope reading mystery and Dave Vernon who had a trick so good he wouldn’t sell it. The Irishman found himself listed in this illustrious company when Willie Meyenberg performed the Impossible card trick for Max Holden. ‘I want to say,’ said Holden,’ that this trick is very clever. A card chosen, now a card is removed but is not the card, so it is initialed and placed inside pocket. Chosen card is now named and removed from pocket and the card which was initialed is back in the back.’

Not the clearest of descriptions but it sounds like a card transposition. Thanks to Ask Alexander I found some information on the trick and it is kind of unusual. The solution to the trick was outlined in a letter from Tom Bowyer to an unnamed friend. To be fair the handling seems a little odd but maybe Bowyer left out some details. However, I think the method is interesting and I’ll comment more on that later.

To clarify, the effect is that a card is selected and lost in the deck. The performer attempts to find the card but produces the wrong one. Someone calls out their initials, the performer writes them on the card and places it in his pocket. The deck is placed into the card case. In a moment of inspiration the performer suddenly names the selection. He’s correct. He then reaches into his pocket and pulls out the card he placed there. But on turning it around it is not the initialled card, it is the selection. The initialled card is now back in the cased deck.

The method involves a Si Stebbins stack, a duplicate card, a little bit of wax and a card case with a large square hole cut in the back. You’ll also need a Sharpie. Not quite the impromptu miracle we'd been hoping for.

The duplicate is a wide card so it can easily be located but I suppose any other method of locating it would suffice. The handling Tom Bowyer describes is a little awkward, or perhaps incomplete, so I’ve cleaned it up a little as follows.

There is a set up for the trick. The wide duplicate card, let’s assume it is the five of clubs, is on top of the deck. It has a smear of wax on the back. You can use any modern substitute such as a Glue Pen. The real five of clubs is in the card case, its face against the cut out window.

Begin the trick by spreading the deck face-down between the hands and having a card selected. Square up the deck but take a little finger break at the point from which the card was removed. The spectator looks at and remembers his selection.

Now give the deck a spin cut at the break. This results in the former upper half of the deck being in the palm up left hand, the bottom half in the right hand. Have the spectator drop his noted card on the left hand packet. It’s going on top of the sticky duplicate. Drop the upper half of the deck on top of all and square everything up, giving the cards a little squeeze so the selection sticks to the duplicate.

Hand the deck to the spectator but as you do so glimpse the bottom card. Because of the Si Stebbins stack you now know the identity of the selection. Ask the spectator to give the deck a shuffle. This shouldn’t separate the selection from the duplicate but if you’re nervous about it just ask him to give the cards a few cuts. I do like the idea that the spectator shuffles the deck. It seems very fair.

Take back the deck, maybe give it a shuffle or two and in a suitably impressive manner produce the sticky double from the deck as if it is the selection. It shows as the five of clubs and the spectator tells you it isn’t the selected card. Feign defeat, pick up the card case and rest the five of clubs on the window side. Don't expose the window. Pick up the Sharpie and ask the spectator for his initials. Write the initials on the face of the visible five of clubs. You also write the initials on the five of clubs that is in the card case. You do this by writing through the window cut into the case and directly on the card inside. Sounds tricky and it probably is. Maybe this is the impossible element referred to in the title.

Show the initials on the face of the double card and then put the card(s) into your pocket. Drop the deck into the case manoeuvring it so that the duplicate already in the case is forced into the middle of the deck. Place the cased deck on the table and you’re almost done.

You can now reveal the name of the chosen card. You reach inside your pocket, separate the double and pull out the selection. Take the deck from the case, spread it face-up on the table, locate the five of clubs and push it out of the spread to reveal the initials. An impossible transposition. Or at least that’s what the Irishman would have said.

NOTES: I’m not sure you really need a wide card for this trick. The fact that the two cards are stuck together makes them easy to locate. I don’t think you need the stacked deck either. You can probably work out a way of glimpsing the selection that is stuck to the back of the five of clubs. I haven’t found it easy to write through the window in the card case onto the card inside. Maybe the deck could be placed inside the card case first. The deck presses the five of clubs inside against the window. Now you rest the sticky double on the cased deck. This makes it easier to write on the card. But to finish you’re going to have the remove the deck from the case and execute a pass or give it a cut to centre the signed five of clubs.

Max Holden says he saw the trick performed. But I wouldn’t describe it as easy as the advertisement made out. F Jackson, of Belfast, the originator of the trick, contributed many different ideas to the magazines of the day including Restless Colours which appeared in The Jinx (Issue 48, 1938) and is an early version of Follow The Leader. Another notable item was his Eff Jay telephone test published in The Sphinx (November 1929). Because of the coding method it could only be performed in the evening.

Having proposed a psychic test, you have a card selected and placed face up on the table. Everyone looks at it and concentrates on it. You turn the lights off and everyone sends their thought waves out into the universe. Nothing happens. So you turn the lights back on and begin to talk about some other psychic matter. Suddenly, the phone rings. Scary eh? Someone in the room picks it up and a voice on the other hand tells them the name of the card they’ve been concentrating on.

The method is clever. You and your secret assistant, who back then would be standing outside the building, trying not to look shifty, have synchronised your watches. He is also not far from a public phone box. Switching the lights on and off codes the name of the card to him. First you code the suit by switching the lights off as the second hand of your watch hits a certain quarter of the dial. Later you code the number by switching the lights on. You can code twelve possible cards if you allocate 5 second intervals for each of them. Jackson suggested not using the kings.

Jackson wore his wristwatch with the dial on the inside of his wrist and held a crystal ball to cover his looking at it. I also assume that there was some light to see by and that he wasn’t sat in the pitch dark. Oh, and the business of the experiment not working and the phone call coming unexpectedly is something I’ve added. I think it might feel more authentic and offers a stranger experience than playing it as a standard telepathy test.

The synchronised watches idea was later rediscovered by Graham Reed and described in Step Ten of Corinda’s Thirteen Steps to Mentalism where using a pack of ESP cards (not invented at the time Jackson wrote up his trick) considerably simplified matters.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Mysterious Hypnotised Card

A good story arrives at the most appropriate time. This story arrived in 2015 when I was with Luis de Matos in Portugal working on the latest DVD album in the Essential Magic Collection. The subject was Finn Jon, a performer I’ve admired since I first saw him on television in the 1970s. I still have the notes of his performances in my diaries. And now, here he was, sitting opposite me and telling stories. And one of them was about the card on the wall, a trick very much on my mind.

The story took place at Christian Fechner’s luxury apartment in Paris. Fechner was a magician and movie producer. I’d watched him win the Grand Illusion category at FISM in Brussels in 1979 with a series of technologically advanced illusions all later explained in his lavish 1988 book, Soirees Fantastiques. But what Finn was about to explain was in a way much more baffling and it was performed by a magician in that room who used no technology whatsoever in his act, Slydini.

Slydini handed Finn a deck of playing cards and asked him to go over to the other side of the apartment, take a playing card and place it flat against the wall. And then to take his hand away from the card. To Finn’s astonishment the card did not fall to the floor, it stayed there as if magnetised.

‘Put another one, said Slydini. ‘It also sticks.’ Finn took another card, placed it on the wall and, as Slydini had promised, the card mysterious stuck there.

‘The next one will fall,’ said Slydini. Finn tried a third card and sure enough it didn’t stick, simply falling to the floor.

‘Now go to that wall,’ said Slydini. Finn walked across the room, took another card from the deck and it too adheres to the wall. So did a second card. ‘That card will fall,’ said Slydini pointing to one of the two cards. Weirdly, it did just that. It was one of the most unusual tricks Finn had ever seen.

I was glad to hear this story because this very effect had been on my mind prior to visiting Portugal. I’d read a note in The Magic Circular (Sept, 1941) where the editor was taking a sceptical attitude to a trick that had just been published in February issue of The Sphinx. It was contributed by A. P. Johnson, President of the Reno Magic Circle. He called it Card Hypnotism and it went like this:

Here is a clever effect, as old as the Hills, yet I have discovered that very few magicians have the secret. Spectator is asked to select any card from a deck and stand close to the wall. He is now asked to place the card upon the wall and request the card to remain fastened there. He attempts the feat, but the card falls to the floor. Now the magician states he will hypnotise the spectator so that the card will do his bidding. He steps away from the spectator ten feet or so, and advances towards him, making the usual hypnotic incantations. Upon reaching the spectator he casually takes hold of his hand, and requests spectator to now place the card upon the wall. It sticks! And fast, too. Magician then says he will withdraw from the spectator the mystic power. He walks away, and with more incantations of his own choice, withdraws the power. Now spectator again attempts to stick the card upon the wall, but the power is gone. The card falls.

The secret was static electricity. The magician shuffled his feet on the carpet as he walked towards the spectators, generating a static charge. The charge could be conveyed to the spectator upon touch. Johnson went on to say that other articles such as packs of cigarettes could be stuck against the wall or side of a piano using the same method.

This improbable method generated, if you’ll pardon the pun, some discussion in the magazines. Wilfrid Johnson, writing in The Sphinx said he couldn’t get it to work. Group Captain P. G. Tweedie writing in The Magic Circular said that it worked for him when performing in Canada and that a dry atmosphere might well help the method.

Static electricity was the solution to Slydini’s effect too. The carpet at Fechner’s well-appointed apartment was thick and luxurious. That combined with the leather-soled, not rubber, shoes that Finn was wearing made for the perfect combination. Slydini directed Finn to far walls so electricity would build up and static would keep the cards in place. Slydini knew too how long it would take for the charge to wear off. Another trip across the room would build the charge up again. The demonstration came to an end when Slydini walked over to Finn, taking care to build up a very big static charge as he moved across the thick carpet. By way of a finale he touched the back of Finn’s hand, giving him a surprising electric shock.

One year before The Sphinx published Card Hypnotism The Jinx had published Ralph Read’s Animal Magnetism routine. It is in issue 118 and is worth checking out not only for Read’s use of static in a demonstration with paper strips but for a very clever twist on the magnetic cards trick in which cards stick to the performer’s hand. In Read’s version, the cards hang corner to corner from the ‘magnetised’ hand and the spectators can even pick them off. Have never seen anyone do this but it’s a plot worth reviving.

Friday, September 07, 2018

The Fifth Coincidence

Two and a half years ago I published Engel’s QuadrupleCoincidence on this blog, an epic You Do As I Do trick that really does baffle. Earlier this year Laura London, who has been doing the trick quite a lot since we discussed it at The Session convention, suggested that there might be room in the trick for a fifth coincidence. Having performed it regularly she realised that there was an extra beat to be had, perhaps two cards could be selected and pocketed and revealed to match at the end of the trick. I suggested the following handling.

Let’s assume you are using a red deck and a blue deck. From the red deck take out one card, let’s say the Queen of Clubs, and place it in your pocket.

The Queen of Clubs in the blue deck should be marked on the back so that you can easily find it if the cards are spread face-down across the table.

You’re now ready to perform the trick, which is done at a table or bar. Begin by having both decks shuffled. You shuffle the red deck but glimpse the bottom card before placing it face-down on the table. The spectator shuffles the blue deck.

You take the blue deck and spread it face-down on the table in front of you. The spectators follow along, spreading the red deck face-down in front of him.

You move your hand along the blue deck and push out the marked Queen of Clubs towards the centre of the table. You invite the spectator to push a card from his red deck to the centre of the table until it is alongside yours.

You gather up the blue deck and place it aside. The spectator does the same with the red deck.

Now you pick up the red backed card from the centre of the table (the indifferent card) and put it in the same pocket where you have the Queen of Clubs. The spectator picks up the blue backed card, the marked Queen of Clubs, and without looking at it, places it in his pocket.

If you have to, you can say, ‘You take care of my card and I’ll take care of yours.’ But I wouldn’t. This is a You Do As I Do trick and your theme should be that the spectator follows along and does exactly what you do. You move first. He moves second. I’ve seen video of Akira Fujii doing a totally silent presentation of You Do As I Do and it is very effective. It might be worth figuring out how to do it with Engel’s Quadruple Coincidence. However, I digress.

From this point on you can segue into Engel’s Quadruple Coincidence as described in the earlier blog post. You’ll find that here. The spectator selects his card from the red deck, the bottom card of which you already know.

Four coincidences later, when you reach the end of the routine, you raise your hand, show it empty, then slowly reach into your pocket. The spectator does the same, reaching into his pocket. Together you pull the cards from your pockets. You turn the card around, so does the spectator. Both cards are the Queen of Clubs.

NOTES: The Queen of Clubs can be marked in any way that enables you to find it. Instead of a mark on the back you can use a short card or Will de Sieve style embossed card (Greater Magic – Two New Locator Cards) so that you cut to it rather than push it from the spread.

Make a mental note of the card that you place in your pocket from the spectator’s red deck. This card is now effectively out of play. You might need to make an adjustment if its mate turns up in one of the key coincidence positions later on.

I'm not entirely sure who came up with the You Do As I Do plot. There is a chapter devoted to the plot in The Encyclopedia of Self Working Card Tricks. (1936) And the first item in that chapter is called A Peculiar Coincidence. There's a trick by that name in Burling Hull's 1932 Clever Card Collection. Same plot and method but a fuller description. Several other tricks from that manuscript appear in Encyclopedia of Self Working Card Tricks (later reprinted under Jean Hugard's name as Encyclopedia of Card Tricks) so I think we can be fairly sure this is where Glen Gravatt, the anonymous author at that time, got the trick from.

Johnny Thompson has now revealed his own much anticipated handling for Engel’s Quadruple Coincidence and you’ll find it in the recently published The Magic of Johnny Thompson. This is a wonderful book and it also contains Johnny’s handling of a version of the Koran Deck, The Pump Deck. Johnny performed The Pump Deck routine at this year’s The Session convention and for me it is one of the magical highlights of the year.

You can get The Magic of Johnny Thompson here.

The Session convention takes place in London on January 11th – 13th 2019 and can be booked here.

I've written previously about my fondness for The Encyclopedia of Card Tricks here

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Gentleman With a 100 Tricks in his Pockets

The Jerx blog recently published an interesting idea, The Magic Bucket List. A spectator chooses one of a hundred tricks from a list of tricks ‘I want to do before I die.’ You can read about it on Andy’s blog here.

The idea of a magic list put me in mind of Jean Poisson. I’d read about Jean Poisson, also known as John Fish, in Abracadabra magazine. He was a friend of the editor, Goodliffe Neale, who described him as one of his ‘favourite close-up exponents.’ Of his first meeting with Jean in 1948 he said, ‘I enjoyed meeting Jean Poisson, French magician – and very expert too – with a typical Parisian appearance and a delightful accent which made his quite fluent English as incomprehensible as his French.’ His heavily accented English was much commented up and Jean used it to comedy effect, for instance, when performing a rope trick he’d refer to using four hands to perform it with. ‘These two hands and these two ends,’ holding up the ends of the rope.

You’ll find much written about Jean Poisson in the magic journals of the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was born in Angers, France, in 1915, though later made Brussels his home. Gave shows as a semi-professional magician. Served in the army during WWII where he continued his interest in magic by doing shows for the troops. After the war he became a director of Cointreau, the liqueur firm. His work gave him many opportunities to travel across Europe, the UK, and to America where he lived for eighteen months in Trenton, New Jersey. He attended conventions and magic meetings wherever he went. And sometimes, to the delight of conventioneers, samples of the Cointreau liqueur went with him.

At magic conventions Jean was famous for his cut and restored tie. Magicians knew the trick used a stooge but Jean’s presentation was very funny and the trick became something of a running gag. Goodliffe Neale once stooged for him and apparently was incredibly convincing. Alan Kennaugh, writing in The Magigram, described an occasion when Jean asked for a volunteer and twelve men all wearing identical ties rushed onto the stage. But mostly Jean was noted for his ‘pocket tricks’ especially his unusual method of presenting them. As a result he was known by various names, ‘The Man of a 100 Gags,’ ‘The Gentleman with a 100 Tricks in his Pockets,’ or even ‘The Man of a 1000 Tricks.’

And here is where the story of Jean Poisson intersects with The Jerx. David Berglas told me that Jean actually had an actual list of the hundred tricks he could perform. It was a kind of menu of magic which could be handed to the spectator so that he can choose his entertainment. It would be fascinating if someone out there had a copy of the list.

That the magic in Jean’s pockets consisted of more than a deck of cards and a few coins is perhaps shown by what he once told Goodliffe Neale, ‘I only give an impromptu show – it takes me half-an-hour to prepare.’ To discover what those tricks might be I scoured the archives (courtesy of Ask Alexander). Here’s what I’ve found.

Chief among them is certainly The Devil Cigarette. This was the continuous production of smoke from an unlit cigarette. An interesting idea that seems to predate the usual smoking thumb trick. It was said that he vanished a birdcage every minute. ‘It is his idea of a pocket trick.’ He performed Premonition, rope routines and had a ‘a delightful trick with two coins and a pretty girl.’

Billy McComb built a Close-up Card Sword routine for him and described it in Abracadabra. Jean Poisson marketed a device called Cigimmick through Harry Stanley. I think this was like a double-barrelled cigarette pull. You could push a cigarette into one barrel of the gimmick as it was held in the fist and pull out a feather flower from the other barrel to affect a transformation, the gimmick flying away up the sleeve. It had many different uses. Another marketed effect was Timothy the Trained Tortoise in which a toy tortoise found a selected card. Earlier he had what was considered a ‘very unusual effect where a mechanical bird located a chosen card which indicates that it might have been an early version of an effect that became more common post Don Alan.

At the 1949 British Ring convention he performed a trick with a robot swan. A toy swan dived to the bottom of a tank of water and came back up with a selected card. The trick was credited to Minar the Magician of Algeria and you can find it described in The Magic Wand (March 1950) and very interesting it is too. The basic method would work just as well today.

Flying Ring and Do As I Do Imp Bottles (See Ganson’s Close-Up Magic Volume 1) were also favourites. He told Francis Haxton he did not like card tricks but he did publish a couple including a nice self-worker called I Love Suzy in Abracadabra (January 4th 1975).

I wonder what ‘the amazing close-up trick with a miniature pagoda’ was that he performed at the IBM convention in Brighton in 1954.

Another intriguing item was his version of the inexhaustible bottle trick. Jean used a tiny kettle ‘about two inches high’ to pour an unlimited amount of drinks. It was used as a gag at a convention, rather than a major mystery, and was said to be a version of the Miraculous Wine Bottle described in William Robinson’s Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena and the method was presumably the same. I do like the idea of a tiny kettle producing a huge amount a liquid. Possibly shots of Cointreau. It feels very magical.

In the 1970s Jean’s interest turned to mentalism and he worked under the name of Jean Sonus. The 100 tricks list was dispensed with but an insight into Jean’s repertoire can still be found in the Triad he published in Abracadabra (June 26th, 1976). These included a gaffed ace assembly, a handling of the Martin Sunshine Color Vision and a paddle routine with paper matches.

In that article Jean talked about magicians ‘not having anything on them’ when asked to do a trick and listed the items he carried with him so that he would be ready at all times. They included, among other things:

  • Out to Lunch
  • T & R Cigarette Paper
  • Kaps Paper to Dollar Bills
  • Sheet of rubber for Coin Through Rubber into Glass
  • T & R Tissue Paper
  • Nail Writer
  • Milbourne Christopher’s Paper Money
  • Find the Lady
  • Gypsy Thread

In the right sleeve of every suit he had the elastic and nylon gimmick to perform the magnetic pencil or knife trick. The left sleeve was fitted with a pull for the Vanishing Key. He said he followed the Boy Scout motto of  ‘Be prepared!’

It would be fascinating to find the list that Jean Poisson used. The Devil Cigarette, the name of his smoke from nowhere routine, gives us an idea of how he titled the tricks so that the surprise was not revealed but I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone who has more details to share.

NOTES: I asked if anyone had anything to share and Chris Woodward sent along a photograph of Jean Poisson's Cigimmick which I mentioned earlier in the article. If you're curious as to what this double-chambered gimmick looked like. Here it is. Thanks Chris:

From the Nadine and Chris Woodward Collection