So you know that book you’ve read five times and you don’t get tired of? Or that movie that whenever you’re flipping channels and you come across you watch the entire thing because you NEVER get tired of it? Since the moment I could read that’s how I’ve felt about two specific, awesome and unusual, books: My 1978 Tannen’s Magic Catalogue and my 1987 Abbott’s magic catalogue. For the sake of time, today we’re going to focus on one, the catalogue from Louis Tannen’s magic shop in New York City. Let’s clarify the term magic catalogue first shall we?
A magic catalogue is the same as a catalogue of products for any other retail company. It’s a large book showing every product with a short explanation of exactly what each product is and does. What makes the magic catalogue different is that they describe what happens in the trick and leave it up to you to wonder how. You have to buy the trick in order to know how it really works. Every year Tannen’s would release a new one; hardbound and thick as an encyclopedia. The book is a very simple format. Every trick gets a description of the effect and a hand drawn image. and some of them were AWESOME. I used to lay in bed at night and flip through it and fall asleep imagining what the tricks looked like from their descriptions. The descriptions always emphasized the impossible and because you only had a picture your imagination went crazy picturing these things in your head.
“If you want a real mystery here it is! Performer uncoils a piece of rope. With a few mystic passes the rope is rigid… Then it begins to rise above the performers head! It’s real spooky!… Performer grabs the rope and it slowly rises up-Up-UP out of his hand! And you don’t even have to be on the stage to do this effect! – $3.75
That’s right people. The actual price for that in 1978 was THREE DOLLARS AND SEVENTY FIVE CENTS. C’mon! Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that at a party!
I would lay in bed and comb through these catalogues over and over making lists in my head of what tricks I would one day be able to perform. (The ones I wanted usually involved fire, swords, or both.) What I really loved about the Tannen’s catalogue were the hand drawn pictures. Check out this pic for The Cannon and Crystal Box Illusion.
For only FIVE dollars you could buy the plans. (the secret and instructions for building it) But if you bought it, and believe me they would sell it to you, If you bought it did they send you a cannon?? YES. YES THEY DID. Do I know this for sure? No.
I’ve always loved this illustration for a trick called The Television Card Frame. The performer shows two square pieces of glass before placing them back to back on a small wooden stand. A spectator picks a card, remembers it, and then tears off a corner and returns the card back in the middle of the deck . The performer now HURLS the pack of cards toward the glass frame and the chosen card appears stuck to the glass. That by itself is a great trick….but wait…there’s more! As the audience looks closer they see that the chosen card is actually SANDWICHED between the panes of glass! The card is removed and the spectator with torn off corner holds it against the glass showing it to be a perfect match. CUE THE APPLAUSE PEOPLE
Look how dramatically the illustration shows the magician throwing the cards. Man that got me excited when I was a kid. Magicians could throw things?! And shoot cannons!? Somebody SIGN…ME…UP.
Wanna know one last rad thing? After all these years Tannen’s Magic shop is still in business. And next time you’re in New York City go visit them. It’s filled with amazing old memorabilia and my friends behind the counter would love to show you a trick or fifty. Ask em how many times someone’s bought that cannon!
Here’s a few more of my favorite tricks from my catalogue for you to look at while you…..while you…..(yawn)….fall…….asleeeeeeeep……..