For 100 years, magicians’ assistants have been feeling a little “saw”!
Sunday 17th January 2021 was the centenary of possibly the most famous magical illusion of all – Sawing a Lady in Half.
First performed in public in 1921 – just 12 years after the founding of The Order of The Magi, by P.T. Selbit at Finsbury Park Empire theatre in London, the illusion has since been adapted countless times.
Some magical historians have suggested that the illusion is much older than PT Selbit’s performance, citing the famous French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin’s Memoirs, written in 1858, where he described a sawing illusion performed by a magician named Torrini. However this description of the illusion is sometimes considered to be a piece of fictional writing.
Unsurprisingly, after 110 years, our archives hold many interesting items, many of which have a great historical value to magicians, that may have been long forgotten, if it wasn’t for the foresight of the committee to save them.
Several documents within the collection refer to the forming of an affiliation between various Magic Societies in the U.K. (and around the world) with one of the most famous magic clubs – The Magic Circle.
The affiliation was active between 1921 and 1944, before becoming The National Association of Magical Societies (N.A.M.S).
Five years after the formation of N.A.M.S. The Order of The Magi hosted a weekend-long event in Manchester, for representatives of other Magic Societies consisting of Dinner, Committee Meeting, Shows etc.
In 1949, the National Association of Magical Societies included the following clubs as members:
In “A Message from the Chairman of the Committee of Management” at the back of the N.A.M.S. Souvenir Programme, Robert Edmanson wrote:
On 7th June, 1952, Magic Magazine “Abra” reported that The National Association of Magical Societies was to be liquidated, with the remaining funds to be distributed amongst the thirty six member societies.
Further Images from the Souvenir Programme of March 12 – 13th 1949:
Few professional magicians in the U.K. can deny that they have heard of “The Supreme Magic Company”. It is doubtful there are more than a handful of those who grew up reading the company magazine “The Magigram” or carefully reading through the thousands of effects for sale in their extensive catalogues, that haven’t heard of Edwin Hooper – founder of The Supreme Magic Company, and inventor of many tricks.
One of Edwin and Supreme’s most iconic magical effects had to be “The Rainbow House”. There couldn’t have been many Children’s Entertainers who didn’t own, or long to own this fantastic “mini-illusion”.
For those who don’t know the trick, whilst presentations would vary, the effect went along these lines. The performer would display a large model of a white house with black line details. A sort of 3D version of the illustrations found in colouring books.
This would then be placed inside a square tube bearing a colourful rainbow motif. Then the magician would use his favourite colouring routine by-play. Perhaps using a number of coloured silks which when placed into a bag would magically turn white, or one of the various other colour effects sold by Supreme.
Eventually the tube would be lifted to reveal that the model house was now brightly painted!
If this wasn’t magical enough, it was then time to find out who lived in such a small house. On lifting the house, a live rabbit would be shown to have appeared!
All in all it was a fantastic effect, and a great show closer for many magicians around the country. But why are we sharing this today?
It has come to light recently that Edwin Hooper first discussed his ideas for The Rainbow House at a magic lecture in Manchester for Order of The Magi in 1984, as mentioned in this website’s text. I wonder if on that evening, 35 years ago, he (or any of the magicians who attended) had any idea how popular and iconic the trick would become?