Looking for a few good party tricks? Perhaps pulling a card from your sleeve, or a smooth shell game, or even a captivating decapitation?
Harry Houdini had the book for you.
In 1927, at the bequest of Houdini, the Library received his personal collection of 4,000 volumes. In addition to documenting Houdini’s personal campaign against Spiritualism, the collection contains what you would imagine – magic books, playbills and many volumes of pamphlets on such topics as card tricks, mediums, hypnotism and handcuff escape methods. Before Houdini turned his attention to feats of escape, he rose to fame as a master of the sleight of hand. His collection carefully documents the history of that art form.
The earliest known English language work on magic, or legerdemain (as sleight of hand was then known) appeared anonymously in 1635 under the title “Hocus Pocus Junior: The Anatomie of Legerdemain.” A popular handbook of magic tricks, “Hocus Pocus” was the first illustrated book in English entirely about conjuring, and likely the first magic book written by an actual magician. UPDATE: An alert reader asks about “The Discouerie of Witchcraft,” published in 1584. That was the first book published on witchcraft, which was held as a thing apart from card tricks, slight of hand and stage tricks that constituted “magic.”