Comments on the items in my collection most prized by me — Item 2: A near-fine copy of “The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic,” by Robert-Houdin, translated by Professor Hoffmann, published by Routledge, 1878 . . . also, a few observations on Jessel . . .

Note:  As stated in the first post in this series, “In this series of posts, I hope to mention briefly some of the top ‘treasures’ of my (rather small) book collection, without making any effort to confine myself to items that relate to the subject of this blog — although some of the items do, at least indirectly.”

When Frederic Jessel produced his 1905 bibliography, he included a large number of conjuring books.  Just how many, I do not know.  His book had 1,733 entries in all.  Under “Tricks with Cards,” the index lists forty-four works, and that is probably the number, or close to the number, of magic books (loosely speaking) he listed.  This included works on card tricks, certain magic books in which card tricks were included, and a number of antiquarian books (such as Scot) that were not necessarily true conjuring books, but which did include conjuring tricks.  Trevor H. Hall, in his Old Conjuring Books, makes a fairly positive assessment of Jessel’s bibliography, and notes that Jessel’s collection included a number of conjuring rarities.

In his Preface, Jessel says:

Among books on Conjuring, I have of course included all books on Tricks with Cards; in addition to these however, the many hundreds of works on Conjuring and Recreations in general all make more or less mention of card tricks. Of these I have described only those which are interesting on account of their antiquity or importance.

There are a few books that I can think of which probably should have been included in Jessel, but were not — at least from a 2012 perspective. Specifically, those works are:

Modern Magic, by Professor Hoffmann, first edition 1876 (undated)

The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, by Robert-Houdin, translated by Professor Hoffmann, first edition 1877 (but dated 1878)

Sleight of Hand, by Edwin T. Sachs, first edition 1877 or 1878 (undated)

All three of those books are considered among the greatest books on magic ever written, especially if one limits his or her consideration to books published before, say, 1930.  I would not necessarily disagree if someone said that they are the three greatest books on magic ever written.  However, I am not trying to defend that thesis in this post.  But if they are as important as I think they are, I don’t think anyone would have objected if Jessel had included them.

Anyway, that leads me to “Item 2” in the category of items in my collection that are most prized by me:  an 1878 The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, by Robert-Houdin, translated by Professor Hoffmann.

I may be exaggerating a little by calling my copy of the first edition “near fine.”  But it is an extremely beautiful copy.  Adding to the “magic” is the fact that all edges are gilt on the copy under discussion.  The book bears the date 1878 on the title page, but abundant proof exists that it was published in 1877.

I was formerly more interested in the nuances among various copies dated 1878.  I do believe that not all are of the same printing.  I discussed this concept a little in my Victorian-Age Conjuring Books:  A Guide for Collectors and Bibliographers, which I published many years ago.  At the moment, I am not claiming that my 1878 copy is definitively a first edition — but as far as I know, it probably is.

Routledge reprinted the book several times, I believe, but the book overall (without regard to editions) is not at all as common as (say) Modern Magic, which was reprinted many times, not only in England, but in the United States.  On eBay at this moment there are (at least) perhaps six Routledge or McKay copies of Modern Magic.  Of Routledge printings of The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, I see none.

Here is a scan of the front cover of my 1878 copy:

And following is an enlarged portion:

The book pictured is not necessarily my second-most prized item, even though I have designated it as “Item 2.”

—Tom Sawyer

November 27, 2012

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