Modern Mystic League
Blackburn & District  Society of Magicians
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December 2020
Ian Keable
The Art of Trickery

The MML made its first successful foray into the world of ‘Zoom’ for the December meeting, welcoming special guest Ian Keable with his talk on The Art of Trickery.  The multi-faceted Mr Keable has been on our ‘wish list’ for some time, so it was good to be able to take the opportunity afforded by current circumstances to have him with us virtually.

Ian began with the now-discredited hieroglyphic image from the Tomb of Beni Hasan, circa 2,200 BC, sometimes purporting to show two magicians engaged in a presentation of the cups and balls trick.  It is now believed that the Egyptian pair are actually involved in a domestic task, such as baking.

The first clear illustration of the cups and balls in action came with De Sphaera in 1479, making this the most pictured effect in history, although it is occasionally confused with the three shell trick.  The next step forward was The Juggler/Conjuror picture from the school of Bosch, which was analysed in detail.

There were a lot of Breughels; some younger, some older, some with an ‘h’ and some without. In 1565, Pieter Breughel came up with his picture of the Fall of the Magician, or Wizard, packed with details concerning recognisable magic tricks, some prefiguring images to be seen later in Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, such as the Decollation of John the Baptist and a knife penetration through a hand.  There are also some remarkably sophisticated renditions of the good old cups-and-balls.

It was then but another short step to Hogarth’s representation of Southwark Fair and the celebrated Isaac Fawkes (or Faux), apparently able to produce a hundred eggs from a bag. A method for producing a large quantity of eggs was published later in the Tarbell course.  Surprisingly, Fawkes was credited with the card on ceiling, but the claim in his publicity of having a full pack on the ceiling with named cards falling from it one by one stretched credulity a bit too far.

We then had a look at the only two magic illustrations of the otherwise prolific George Cruikshank.  His representation of a card being fired at a wall as a frontispiece to The Complete Conjuror betrayed a basic lack of understanding of the trick when compared with a much more accurate version in The Conjuror Unmasked.

Sir John Tenniel, the illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books who reigned as a major contributor to Punch magazine for half a century, often employed  magical themes in his cartoons. One (cleverly amended by Ian for his own publicity) depicted Disraeli as a conjuror, making a political problem disappear by means of the ‘Extinguisher’ trick using a giant candle snuffer.

We then came to the amateur conjuror Charles Dickens, around whom Ian has woven his own one man show.  We read on his playbill of the many ‘wonders’ Dickens performed, in the guise of the Indian Rhia Rhama Rhoos.  Ian performed an up-dated ‘Leaping Card Wonder’ and let us into the secrets of the popular bonus genius.  For good measure, and making the afternoon a veritable tour  de force, he also included Bank Night (a contemporary trick by Harry De Cruz) and practised his Zoom version of the chop cup, asking for advice and comments.

A description of Ian’s up-coming book on the birth of the hoax in eighteenth-century Britain rounded off a splendid afternoon, none the worse for being on-screen and encouraging us in further Zooming ventures.                                                                                                   

Brian Lead