BOOKS BEFORE 1900
Discoverie Of Witchcraft Was Not The First
Ronald J. Dayton
Our present day world of magic, almost without exception, heralds the 1584 work of Reginald Scot’s ” Discoverie Of Witchcraft “ as one of the monumental dates in conjuring history. It is not the intent of this article to diminish the importance of his work. Quite the contrary. But from a historical point of view, it may be of interest and importance to I.C.O.M. members to find that other books came before. I am certain that there are many historians and collectors out there who are already aware of these facts, but the novice or casual magician may not be as informed.
The earliest written account on magic appeared in the form of an Egyptian text known as the Westcar Papyrus. This was dated about 1799 B. C. and purportedly detailed a magic performance before King Khufu, or Cheops approximately one thousand years earlier.
A book titled ” A Manifest Detection of Dice Play “, offered as an anonymous work but later credited to Gilbert Walker, appeared 1552. It gave an extensive disclosure of cheating at dice as well as card-sharping methods. A second edition appeared in 1580, and a final printing 1850.
Four years later ” Natural and Artificial Conclusions ” was written by T. Hill. It contained what would be known in modern terms as parlor magic and scientific oddities. Additional copies were released in 1570, 1581 and 1584. It seems it was quite popular. Of all copies…as of 1955, only one copy of the 1581 release was known to exist.
Possibly the best known and most highly lauded text, Reginald Scot’s ” Discoverie of Witchcraft ” appeared in 1584, a full twenty-eight years after Hill’s ” Natural and Artificial Conclusions.”
The first printing of Scot’s book angered King James to such a degree that he had almost all copies burned. As a consequence, it is an extremely rare book indeed for first edition collectors. Later editions were printed in 1651, 1654, 1665, 1886 and 1930. A new expanded edition is now available to magicians of the ’90’s.
Originally known as ” The Anatomie of Legerdemain, by Hocus Pocus Junior,” in 1634…known today as ” Hocus Pocus Junior “, became the accepted model for conjuring books for centuries to follow. In 1734 ( approximate ) the ” Whole Art of Legerdemain, or Hocus Pocus ” was released by H. Dean.
Beginning as a serial in ” Every Boy’s Magazine, under the pen name of Professor Hoffmann, Angelo Lewis created material which would later be assembled as the classic, ” Modern Magic.” This was followed by ” More Magic ” in 1890.
The French were also busy with printed works on magic. In 1784 H. Decremp offered ” Magie Blanche Devoilee.” The year 1853 produced a work by J. N Ponsin titled ” Nouvelle Magie Blanche Devoilee. ” Portions of this word were later translated by S.H. Sharpe and presented as ” Ponsin On Conjuring.” J. E. Robert Houdin wrote ” Confidences d’un Prestidigitateur ” in 1858. This was later translated into English as ” The Memoirs of Robert Houdin.”
Leaving the European front we also found magic alive and well in America. The earliest known U.S. book on magic was H. Dean’s Hocus Pocus, printed in Philadelphia in 1795. Close on its heels was W. Pinchbeck’s ” Expositor,” 1805. 1830 brought ” Hocus Pocus by Nickerson. “Ventriloquism and Legerdemain Exposed ” was an anonymously written book in 1834, and the ” Humorous Magician Unmasked ” was done by Engstrom in 1836. A large book on magic, illusions, automata etc. was released by A. A. Hopkins as ” Magic, Stage Illusions, Etc.” in 1897. This year also found the release of A. Roterberg’s ” New Era Card Tricks.”
All of the above information is historically accurate, gleaned from the minds of some of the finest members of Britian’s Magic Circle. Exerps taken and re-worked from Will Dexter’s 1955 work,
Famous Magic Secrets.II*