Portrait of Trewey from "How it is done", 1893

Fashion fades, style is eternal, (Portrait of Trewey from "How it is done", 1893).

One of the delights of the WG Alma Conjuring Collection is a collection of magic pamphlets. They cover a wide array of conjuring techniques from training doves and showmanship to mesmerism and card tricks. Some of this wisdom has stood the test of time and some has yielded to more compelling arguments. Either way the contemporary and popular voices captured in these ephemeral publications offer vivid snapshots of conjuring, entertainment and “modern” life in the late 19th and early 20th century. Here is a tasty morsel describing animal magnetism, from Secrets of Clairvoyance [189-?]

“The origin of Animal Magnetism is coeval with the creation of Eve. The extremely subtil and invisible fluid, which when in contact with the animal brain, is capable of performing all the phenomena of this wonderful science, had existed millions on millions of years anterior to the creation of man, and is probably coeval with the birth of the trilobite, or even with creation itself.” p.42

I do like the confident scientific tone and also the implication that not only trilobites but women, existed millions of years before men.

Some pamphlets appear to have been self published. The opportunity for self-promotion was not always overlooked. How it is done is an instructional booklet intended for the general public. It deals with the art of shadowgraphy, interpreted by one of the giants of the form, Trewey. After some preparatory notes and diagrams of hand positions one encounters a modest heading “A few words about Trewey” (p.4). The ensuing article introduces the reader to “MONS. TREWEY, the original Fantaisist Humoristique”, and fills the rest of the booklet, alternating full pages of text with charming illustrations of hand shadows. Generously larded with praise and hyperbole one suspects it may have been written by his mum, if not the artist himself.

So how does one peruse these treasures? Thanks to the extaordinary wonders of the 21st century they are already at your fingertips. The collection has recently been digitised and you can view them online using the catalogue. Search for the term alma bequest and choose Digitised and electronic items from the adjacent drop down menu. Click search and Hey Presto! 470 vintage magic pamphlets to choose from.

”]”]Aunt Kate's Conjuring and Parlor Magic

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