The Notebook,  or A collection of over eighty conjuring tricks with cards including those performed by Astley, Boaz, Breslaw, Maxwell, Reay/Rea, Rees and Walton written by an unknown author circa 1800
Published by Will Houstoun

128 pages, hardbound

Reviewed by Rob James

Will Houstoun has painstakingly transcribed, researched and annotated the text of a one of a kind magic book from the 18th century. The original belongs to The Magic Circle Library which is where Will discovered it. The text came handwritten without details of its author or date of publication. There are 81 different card tricks contained over 128 hardbound pages.

As an historical record, The Notebook is very interesting because, as Will points out, this is one of the very first books of card magic that was written with the intention that magicians would be able to study and learn from it. At the time, any book on magic was usually sold in the form of an exposť, with very brief explanations of the secrets rather than the detailed instructional texts that we are now accustomed to. Will has included a full facsimile of the original handwritten text but fortunately (as it can be a little hard to read at times) alongside each of those original pages he has also transcribed the text, complete with annotations in the form of footnotes and some new illustrations.

The text contains basic card techniques and tricks that have stood the test of time such ribbon spreads, card transpositions and the favourite performance piece of most non-magicians "the four burglars". Also included are some more technical items such as a detailed description of a four card switch from the palm. There are also a fair number of esoteric ideas that haven't endured the distance such as "A Card thought on, shot through with a Pistol Bullet" and "A Card conveyed into an Egg". I have a hunch that these will not make there way into peoples' current performances but it's still fun to read the descriptions.

As well as the full text of the original book, Will provides his own variations of some of the material. He takes time to explain how he dated the text and has also researched the performers named in The Notebook, providing us with a biography of each one. These make very interesting reading! He also provides extensive notes of further references for anyone interested in additional research into any of the material. In short, Will has done his homework and with The Notebook has made all of his hard work freely available to the magic community for the first time in about 200 years as a great-looking hardbound book. For this he is to be commended. This book is recommended for all magic scholars and card technicians!


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©  Rob James, March 2009