Comments on bibliography — Part 1: Some thoughts on “bibliography” in general, and “magic bibliography” in particular, and, by extension, “playing-card bibliography” . . .

I thought I would jot down some of my thinking on the topic of “magic bibliography.”  (The word “magic” here refers to sleight of hand, magic tricks, illusions, and related matters.)  I’ll mention some background, so that, even if I am pretty wrong on a lot of it, you may have some idea of what influenced me into thinking these ways.  Now, I don’t really consider myself that much a part of the mainstream magic-collecting world. And, needless to say, my opinions as stated in this post are only based on my own experiences.  But even if I am wrong on certain things, I would think that there is at least a grain of truth to be found buried in here somewhere.

First, though, I’ll say a few words on why it is appropriate that I discuss magic bibliographies in this blog, which deals not with magic, but with card games.

If you are looking for a connection between “magic bibliographies” and “playing-card bibliographies,” well, connections exist.  Frederic Jessel dealt with books of card tricks as well as books on card games.  And if one is talking about cards, as opposed to card games, then I suppose that books on conjuring with cards are ipso facto relevant.

There is also the fact that Professor Hoffmann wrote a great deal on (a) conjuring [non-card], (b) card conjuring, and (c) card games, as well as many other subjects, so that seems to be an argument that the two fields (conjuring and card games) are somewhat related.

David Levy devotes a post in his blog on Hoyle to “the seven best bibliographical sources for the writings of Edmond Hoyle.”  He lists Marshall, Horr, Jessel, Hargrave, Rather & Goldwater, Depaulis (in French), and Zollinger (in German).  I well understand that David is talking about Hoyle, but, still, that seems like a small number of bibliographies.  Three of those (e.g., Jessel) are somewhat “general” bibliographies, so it is interesting that so few bibliographies had enough information on Hoyle to merit their inclusion in David’s list.

Anyway, over the past 45 years or so, I would say that I have gained at least a nodding acquaintance with the levels of bibliographical expertise on the part of magic-book collectors as a whole. And I think that level of expertise could be higher.  In fact, if there were a Young Turk out there who became interested in magic books, and who had a ton of time (and, helpfully, money), and a true obsession with bibliographical niceties, he (or she — unlikely, but I guess it could happen) could take the magic-collecting bibliographical world by storm and could make almost everyone else look like small potatoes.  But then, that might be true as to most fields.

A corollary to this is that, in the magic world, the bibliographical “bar” has been set somewhat low.  Most magic collectors probably believe that you don’t need any special knowledge to create a bibliography.  And actually, I can understand that.  That notion has its genesis in circumstances that for the most part are outside of the scope of the present post.  But personally, I think that in the magic world there is a sieve that filters out certain kinds of people, including most of those with the “bibliographical gene.”  The magicians and the magic-collectors make it through the sieve quite easily, but the true bibliographers don’t make it through (other than rarely).

Looking at it another way, the personality traits of many magicians and magic collectors are antithetical to the attributes of the typical “true” bibliographer (where a bibliographer might be, as examples, exceedingly careful in his or her examination of books, meticulous in striving for accuracy, cagey in knowing what is important and what to look for, and willing to work alone on projects for extended periods).

Yes, things can get a little hazy here and there.  I do not know to what degree Roland Winder was a magician,  but it does appear that did not have the bibliographical gene, or even the slightest trace thereof.  The Hoffmann section of his checklist was a shambles.  Also, when Findlay sent Winder a copy of the first edition of Professor Hoffmann’s Conjurer Dick, Winder returned it to Findlay, basically saying that he already  owned a copy of the book.  The thing that Winder missed was that the copy Findlay sent him was inscribed by Hoffmann to his wife.  (That is what Findlay told me in a letter.)

Raymond Toole Stott had the bibliographical gene, but I then again I think he approached “magic bibliography” from the standpoint of someone who was primarily a circus man. Remember, he ran Ray Stott’s Circus, and created the circus bibliography, as well as bibliographies relating to W. Somerset Maugham.  So he did not enter into doing magic bibliographies while having his start in the magic world.

That is very different from probably more than 90 percent of magic bibliographers (using the term loosely).

Upon reviewing the foregoing, I don’t think it is very clear.  To put it bluntly, and crudely, most magic bibliographers (historically) — and I name no names at the moment — have been primarily magicians.  And as I have said, the personality traits and capabilities that are essential to being a magician are mainly inconsistent with the personality traits and capabilities of bibliographers.  Maybe I have overstated this, but I am trying to be clear.

I will list below the names of some people who stand out in my mind as outstanding bibliographers in the magic field.  I may add to this list if I think of others.  And by the way, I am not at all familiar with even the majority of magic-related bibliographies.  So, this list is only based on what I am more or less familiar with. And I am only including the names of people who are deceased. So, here’s my list, in alphabetical order:

J.B. Findlay

Trevor H. Hall

Edgar Heyl

Robert Lund

Raymond Toole Stott

I may return to the above list in the future, because I think it might be interesting for me to say a few words about why I included those people in the list.  I think some knowledgeable collectors would say, about one or more people on the list, “What’s he doing on this list?”  But I have reasons, and I think good reasons, for including all of them.

(Additional note, 11-26-12:  I want to be clear that if I were not limiting myself to persons no longer living, there would definitely be more people on the list.  There are definitely people now alive who can do, and have done, impressive bibliographical work in the magic field.)

I cannot say for certain, but I believe that four of those people were magicians first, and then bibliographers.  The exception is Toole Stott, who was a bibliographer first, and I imagine that he became interested in magic books mainly during the course of his compiling of his circus bibliography.  All of them managed to do at least a decent job of producing bibliographical work.

But if we assume that some bibliographical work in the magic field is rather shoddy, one naturally wonders why or how this came about.  To be a “magic bibliographer” is not necessarily a claim to fame.  In my next post, I will address that issue, and I will title that post something along the lines of “the unimpressive rise of the magic bibliographer.”

—Tom Sawyer

November 21, 2012

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