Jon Racherbaumer

As you may have guessed, I am fond of quotations—the athletic idea, the sleek and seductive phrase, the consummate statement. Several of these remain mnemonically locked, only to be evoked by a key word or situation. For example, whenever thinking about books, Samuel Butler's remark is often evoked: "The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them." My mind reels when standing within the wall-to-wall-to-ceiling repository of Jay Marshall's library. (Actually, it is not a library. It is a foci of amassments: a habitable, semiprivate sepulcher: a magic bibliophile's heaven.) Jay's amassments are everywhere. Old books, new books, used books, manuscripts, pamphlets, scrapbooks, notebooks, newspaper clippings, letters, notes, fragments, bits, pieces. Jay once remarked, "You see? There's no end to secrets!" And there seems to be no end to magic books! Three books on card magic have been published recently: Dai Vernon's Ultimate Card Secrets, Expert Card Conjuring, and The Complete Illustrated Book Of Card Magic. Three new books!

Until a standard of excellence is established, anyone may bluster about a given book. Without a mandate or criterion to guide us, the Hierophant can only offer its own blustering. The reader, however, will find our remarks detailed, honestly subjective, and warmly candid. Since Butler's remark has been aroused, we keep thinking about Expert Card Technique and Hilliard's Card Magic. Newness and novelty are nice, yet for the most part, as we study new books, we wonder about the quality of advancement. We hear echoes of Devant and his statement (now jejune) about "eight tricks."

A book's most blatant aspect is its physical condition. The Complete Illustrated Book Of Card Magic by Walter B. Gibson is beautifully produced. Doubleday has the money and facilities. The book is big, glossy, and professional-looking. It has the fragrance and weight of a "gift book" more suited to lie on a coffee table than upright on a shelf. Those who judge books by their covers will be overwhelmed. The faithful and knowledgeable will be, to quote George S. Kaufman, underwhelmed; however, they are likely to buy it! The Gibson book is big (200, 000 words), superficially impressive (just read the ads), imminently readable(clear, simple language—enough to bring tears to Clifton Fadiman's eyes. There are enough photographs (379) to make the 379,000 words it supplants unnecessary. It is a book clearly fluid enough to be drunk with thine eyes: a status book you show friends, fondle occasionally, riffle its pages (inhaling the mintiness of the new pages), and weighing the specific gravity of its bargain price: $12. 95 (plus tax).

Alton Sharpe's Expert Card Conjuring is well-wrought. It has the weight and compactness of a field manual and conjures up memories of slim volumes of verse, prayer missals, or a literary concordance. Yet its compactness should not imply abridgment or brevity. Sharpe's book has 141 pages, 136 photographs, and 63 titled items (according to its Contents). Each page is filled with clear, fine print (almost legalistic)—print small enough to reflect the exclusivity, distinctiveness, and secretiveness of the book itself. This modest, exacting, unimposing print induces the reader to move closer to the pages; to become involved; to experience a sense of privacy and special ownership. None of its photographs are superfluous. Each amplifies the text, reinforces it, without lapsing into the incidental or drugging the reader with pictorial splendor. Finally, there is a certain smugness that accompanies buying a twenty-dollar book!

The Stanley-Ganson-Vernon book, physically speaking, is initially good: Nice dust-jacket, an adequate, ersatz, red morocco cover, and good paper stock. The actual printing, however, is third-rate and unprofessional. The photographs are well-planned and instructive, but their reproduction is very poor. They lack delicacy and clarity. Dennis Patten's line drawings are slightly redeeming, but they are not sufficient to save a printing job that is a botch. Dai Vernon's

Ultimate Card Secrets contains 242 pages, 126 photographs, and 46 line drawings. There is something odd about the pages! If you examine the blank space on each page, noting whether this space is entire (a full page) or fractional, after a little arithmetic, the amount of white-blankness comes to 61 pages. There are actually 44 completely blank pages. This is padding. The reasons for "padding" any book are unclear, unless it concerns marketing psychology? Another cogent point is made (concerning the changing economic publishing scene)if you compare Dai Vernon's Ultimate Card Secrets with Routined Manipulation Finale.

Discussing a book's substance is more difficult. It requires reading, re-reading, and study. First, some incidental history: This year the Vernon book won an award as the best card book of the year. We consider a card book (or any book on magic) by the material it divulges and whether it advances and supplements our existing literature; whether it sets an example of scholarship and tradition; whether it encourages readers to follow its example.

We do not think the Vernon book is the Card Book of the year. Speaking pragmatically and unevenly, as of the Year (1969). We do agree that the Academy of Magical Arts was justified in awarding Vernon as lavishly as it did. Vernon is a legend. His image is inspirational. His devotion and example in magic is a rare phenomenon. Hence, the Academy was formally acknowledging a man, not a book.

In a forthcoming issue we will review Dai Vernon's Ultimate Card Secrets in-depth, which is the only way to properly reflect and review. Basically, most of the material comes from many sources. Most of the so-called Vernon material is rechauffe, having appeared elsewhere at a previous time-most of the time in The Gen. Chapters 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31 were all previously recorded in The Gen. The newer, supplemental material from newcomers like Larry Jennings, Bruce Cervon, and Roger Klause add an aura of newness. Still, the knowledgeable card man will find nothing resembling the ultimate. Beginners ill appreciate having all the material bound within common covers. The book is worth buying and reading, even though many of us expected something more as an apparent finale.

The contents of the Gibson book is easily appraised: It is the kind of compilation that should have been published twenty-five years ago. The range and quality of its subjects make it an ideal beginner's book or experienced hand's reference book. If one combines this book with Scarne's 1950 compilation, Scarne On Card Tricks, he has an all-time, handy-dandy collection of card tricks that are easy to learn. In any event, regardless of your bent, level of proficiency, and income, you should purchase the Gibson book. It is a good investment.

The Sharpe book, the most expensive of the lot($20), was not reviewed extensively, won no awards, was purchased by the faithful, and viewed by a highly discerning minority as the best card book published in a decade. Expert Card Conjuring does advance and supplement our existing literature. Alton Sharpe has taken over the late Rufus Steele's mantle. He has become a collector, compiler, and anthologist of discriminate magic, particularly in the field of card conjuring. He is nearly internationally ambulatory: he gets around, by hook, crook, or jet. He hobnobs with select professionals, experts, and innovators. In a sense, he is a Johnny Appleseed of Information, a super-pamphleteer, and runner for the Magic Mafia.

Sharpe will never be as prolific as Gibson. He has wisely chosen to be selective and his eclecticism has been refined by his long experience in the field of magic. In his first card book he has come up with a remarkable coup: 62 pages of the book's contents consist wholly of new material from Edward Marlo. Since Marlo is recognized as one of the world's leading experts and perhaps Card Magic's most original and prolific creators, Sharpe could not miss with this first book.

The frontispiece of the book says, "With Contributions by Leading Card Men." In the contents it says, "Contributions from World-Renowned Experts." On the fly page of Part Two it says, "New and Different Magical Effects by Internationally Known Card Experts." Well, despite the questionable repute and contents of the center section, this volume is clearly Marlo's. His sections account for 104 pages, 131 photographs, and 39 titled items. Statistically, as well as artistically, Marlo has taken nearly three-fourths of the pages, practically all of the photographs, to describe almost two-thirds of the book. Therefore, a non-partisan student studying this book can be reasonably assured of getting a fair picture of Marlo's style and caliber. The other contributors receive only cursory representation and unless the one or two effects described exemplify the contributor's style and caliber, then some of our leading cardmen have been sadly portrayed. Or have they?

Sharpe's writing style is pedestrian. This is forgivable if it was succinct, without the interjections of superlatives, show-biz emotionalism, mutual admirations, press-agential ego boosts, and other verbal excesses. Sharpe in his enthusiasm or excitement abuses words like brilliant, clever, beautiful, greatest, ingenious, excellent, and a host of other jaded adjectives already ruined by advertising. He tends to editorialize and hype the effect, rather than permitting the effect itself to be its own best advertisement. Rufus Steele had this knack. He wrote something like, "This effect was given me by Rosini after he had fooled a crowd of magicians up in my room." That is all. Just a sentence or two.

New Orleans, 1969

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