Friday, April 21, 2017

Karl or Carl? A Guest Post by Jay Hunter

Introductory Note: We're very happy to bring you this guest post authored by Jay Hunter, whose scholarly contributions were recognized on the Roterberg Stock Card post.  Jay is a noted magic collector who has invested a great deal of time and energy into assembling and curating an amazing collection.  His thoughtful contribution follows. - Judge Brown

This post features two throw-out cards for magician Howard Karl. Both cards took advantage of what appears to be a way to get your card made and to have someone else pay for it!  One card is on an early Bicycle red Cupid back and is part of the U.S. Playing Card Company promotion discussed elsewhere on this site.  The other card is an ad for Pluto Water, and the Bamberg Magic and Novelty Co. which Judge Brown has written about in his Triple-Promotion post.

In doing research on Howard Karl, it has been difficult turning up much. The Sphinx magazine in 1912 claimed he was “one of the leading attractions” in the town of Malden, MA.  But by 1915, we get a report that Karl is with the Chicago Stock Company, as mentioned in the inaugural post on E.J. Moore.  I found a few newspaper articles and it looks like Karl was with that theatrical troupe for many years working as their business manager.  As a side piece of trivia, the manager of the Chicago Stock Company was Charles H. Rosskam, a sometime manager of other magicians.  Rosskam’s son, Charles A. Rosskam was a former International President of the International  Brotherhood of Magicians.

Getting back to Howard Karl, The Sphinx in 1919, lets us know that Howard Karl is really Carl B. Sherred. Why he adopted a stage name is unknown, but it looks like he used his given name of Carl Sherred after he decided to explore other theatrical pursuits.

In 1941, The Billboard has a mention that Carl Sherred was working as an advance man for magician Will Rock.  In the biography of Will Rock written by Leo Behnke, there is a mention made for 1941 of a theatrical agent named Carl who mistakenly booked Rock in two places at the same time.  When Rock took the better paying date, he was then sued by the other venue for $25,000! I cannot say for certain that this Carl was Sherred, but the timeline fits.

I wish I could have found more on Karl/Carl’s career as a magician, but it looks like he performed as one just long enough to have these great throw-out cards made.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Ambigrammatic Pit Hartling: Guest Post by Bill Mullins

Regular readers will recall that Bill Mullins contributed a fine post about Allan Lambie (featuring the best terrier to ever grace a throwout card).  Well, Mr. Mullins has struck again with this excellent entry about Pit Hartling's card, which embeds an ambigram, a mind-bending form of rotational writing featured in Dan Brown novels. Here's Bill's discussion:

At the 1994 FISM in Yokohama, and then three years later at the Dresden FISM, the German magician Pit Hartling stood out for his card work.  In the years that followed, both as a solo performer and as a member of the “Flicking Fingers” group of magicians from Germany, he made quite a name for himself for his performances, his lectures, his “Little Green Lecture Notes”, and his books Card Fictions and In Order to Amaze (a treatise on memorized deck magic).

 I’ve been fortunate to see him perform once, at the Gathering for Gardner conference in Atlanta in 2008. He did not scale any cards that night, but did some really nice card magic.  Like many current magicians, he has designed a deck with a custom, personalized back.

The deck is from USPCC, the faces are standard Bicycle faces, and the stock is standard Bicycle stock.  The back design is a nice ambigram featuring Pit’s name.  There are a lot of shoddy ambigrams out there, many from automated websites, but this one looks very well done.  I had assumed that it was done by Scott Kim, who is one of the better ambigram artists and has done them of many magicians, but when I asked Pit about it he said he had done it himself!  So in addition to being a conjuror and author, he is quite the graphic artist.

Many of the treasures featured on this blog are quite rare and difficult to obtain.   Like those of Lee Asher and Harry Anderson, Pit’s cards are currently commercially available, inexpensively, from many sources on the Internet.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lee Asher & 52 Plus Joker

In an effort to bring Propelled Pasteboards to interested viewers and increase our knowledge base, I contacted the 52 Plus Joker American Playing Card Collectors Club.  The organization runs a fabulous website loaded with information about collecting cards, and issues a wonderful digital journal called Card Culture and a print journal called Clear the Decks.

Imagine my surprise when the return email came from the group's president, our own Lee Asher.  I use the possessive with respect to Lee because, as any magic aficionado can attest, Lee is an internationally renowned card magic exponent.  For those unfamiliar with his work, The Linking Ring for August 2012 reported that:

"noted card star Lee Asher presented his lecture to members of Ring 22.  Raised by a semi-professional sleight-of-hand artist. Lee states that he was born into the art of magic. Lee has been interested in the art of magic for over twenty years and has been performing professionally for half that time.When younger. Lee worked in every magic shop he could get into. This allowed him to interact with different types of people and form a solid foundation. Over the years. Lee has taken that knowledge and performed in every situation possible.Lee states that all this hard work finally paid off in 1991 and 1992 when he won first place at the IBM. Close-up Championships two years in a row. Lee loves to share his magic with the community and has published in all of the industry's leading magazines."

I hasten to add that the "semi-professional sleight-of-hand artist" referenced in that paragraph is Dr. Mark Horowitz, Lee's father, a magician and collector who proved of great service when I was writing The Coney Island Fakir.

Lee jumped right in to help with Propelled Pasteboards, trumpeting the blog, featuring several of our posts in Card Culture, and providing interesting historical detail about certain cards on the site.  By way of example, because of Lee's contributions, I have learned that Flosso's throwout card seen on the Backstory page is an Andrew Dougherty brand card using the Tally Ho Circle back design.   Additionally, he advises that the back of the E.J. Moore card featured on the site has a Bicycle Lotus back.

Of course, this is a blog about cards featuring magicians, and Lee does not disappoint in that regard, either.  Looking around his website, I was able to uncover the fact that Lee has designed his own playing card deck, manufactured by Spanish card maker Fournier, which features the outstanding signature Ace seen here and comes in the two colors pictured.  Called the Lee Asher 605s, the cards are specially designed for card magic.  Having designed a card effect using Fournier cards, I can attest to the remarkable quality of their products.

So when you've read enough about throwing cards here, take a gander at the 52 Plus Joker site.   You'll be amazed.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bamberg, the Elusive Mr. Heir and the Triple-Promotion Throwout Card

Some time ago, when Tom published this terrific post about Theo Bamberg a/k/a "Okito", I wondered about the odd layout and language on the card reproduced here.  Why the empty space between the Bicycle Playing Cards banner and the "Free Trick" text below that?  At first I thought perhaps it was part of a trick that the card would be used for, but that didn't feel right.   And when it says "I can recommend The Bamberg Magic & Novelty Company," who is this mysterious "I"?

We have, of course, written elsewhere about the Bicycle Playing Card promotion offering free throwout cards to magicians,  In years of research, though, I have never found a specific reference to the arrangement, other than a mention by John Mulholland.   And, certainly, we've covered a throwing card hawking the Tarbell Course, as yet another form of cross-promotion.   But the layout of this Bamberg card proved curious.

Then, fortuitously, I came across an eBay auction for another card, advertising what is presumably a magic show called "Wonderland" starring someone named George (using the quaint, largely obsolete abbreviation "Geo.")  Heir.  The card, which sports a US Playing Card Company 808 back, answers certain questions about Tom's Okito card.   Heir's card features largely similar text about Bamberg Magic and the Bicycle Playing Card marquee, but also has the photo and text for Mr. Heir overprinted within that mysterious space.  So Bamberg must have sold or given cards like the one seen above as "blanks" to performers seeking to pitch their shows, who would overprint the cards with an image or additional text in the empty space.   So this card, from an advertising perspective, is a triple-threat: it simultaneously promotes Heir's show, Bamberg's shop and Bicycle cards.

In fact, this card also provides some evidence of something I've suspected for a while: it may be that US Playing Card distributed the cards printed with their backs and the "Hold Good Cards" banner, and performers were required get the fronts printed elsewhere.  If this theory is correct, it would account for the vast differences in the quality of printing between the beautiful backs of these cards and the often abysmal imaging on their faces.

Even assuming that this card provides a clue to this production mystery, it raises a new question. Who in the world was George Heir?  So far, my research has turned up an absolute blank on him.  So like Stincel, he may remain a man of mystery. . . .

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Honor of Burt Sperber

A digital throwing card created for Burt's throwing card project
In this post, we honor the magic collector whose vision and drive led to the creation of Propelled Pasteboards.  Burton Sperber was a generous and enthusiastic magic collector who, in or around 2011, set out to create a published checklist of throwing cards, which he intended to distribute for free to interested collectors.  He acquired a remarkably large collection of cards and contacted a group of historians and collectors -- including the three contributors to this site -- to help create his ambitious project. The selfless nature of this effort is reflected in his proposed copyright notice:

"No Copyright © 2011. 
All information in this checklist may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means whether electronic, mechanical, or photocopied hand typed or
written without permission from anyone.
No Rights Reserved"

Sadly, Burt's untimely death ended the effort -- but his vision and inspiration drove the creation of this site.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Topper Martyn – Citizen of the World

When Victor “Topper” Martyn died May 24, 2004, the magic and juggling world lost one of its more charming clowns. He left much in his legacy including many wonderful and antic performances captured on video as well as several scaling cards. Given his act, it’s not likely he scaled them into the audience but rather they probably dropped out of his tuxedo by the hundreds.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's T. Nelson Downs's Birthday!

 While working as a railroad telegrapher in Marshalltown, Iowa, T. Nelson Downs (1869-1938) passed the long, lonely hours teaching himself sleight of hand using coins. The time was well spent -- Downs mastered the art, becoming one of the greatest manipulators of all time. He developed an act in which dozens of coins seemingly materialized at the performer's fingertips. Down's act, dubbed "The Miser's Dream," was the first major advance in coin magic in nearly a century, and is still used by many magicians.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Tricky" Ricky Jay

An early throwout card for the wizard
better known as Ricky Jay

Inspired by my recent post about Ricky Jay et al., Tom Ewing took a deep dive into his collection, emerging with this gem from early in the magician's career.   The "Tricky Ricky" scaling card sports the name "Richard Jay Potash", the legal and original name of the master of card scaling who would eventually become world famous under his stage name Ricky Jay.  Based on my knowledge of his career, buttressed by some recent research I conducted on the use of letters and area codes for telephone numbers (more on that in an upcoming series of posts), I would posit that the card dates to the late 1960s.  The image appears to bear some edge tearing -- whether this is simply from age and handling, or evidence of propulsion by the world record-holding Mr. Jay may have to be left to our imagination.   This piece is likely extremely rare and valuable, as similar ephemera (such as early business cards for the performer known as David Copperfield) often attract the interest of collectors.

Zovello the Magic Clown

What wonderfully euphonic names magicians seem to create for themselves. The name “Zovello” conjures up magic, perhaps ventriloquism, certainly clowning…who knows? Well, for the topic of this present post, Zovello was all of these and more. And, of course, he had scaling cards.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini (Erik Weisz and later Ehrich Weis) born March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-American illusionist, stunt performer, and noted for his sensational escape acts. So much has been written about Houdini’s life from articles to books. The life he lived and the secrets he took with him over ninety years ago are still being researched and found today. There still seems to be an endless source of material around the world.

Over the past handful of years alone, anything from scrapbooks, posters, and letters seem to appear, and it doesn’t seem there will be any end in sight. The name Houdini will continue to live on as a goal setter. Whether it was his method of publicity, his public recognition, or just good timing; the name Harry Houdini has been the bar to reach for in magic.

Harry scaled playing cards with accuracy and he could cut a card in mid-air with a pair of scissors. Thanks to Jay Hunter for solving one part of the Houdini throw out card mystery. Jay found the following in "The Sphinx" for June, 1936. Included in John Mulholland's "Editor's Page", he included the following from Harry's brother, Theo Hardeen.  "...Hardeen wrote the following interesting letter to me: 'The very beautiful story about the card throwing of Herrmann and Thurston in the May issue interested me very much. However I think that it is a little incomplete in not mentioning the name of Houdini. In 1894, when Houdini and I were performing as the Houdini Brothers, Houdini threw out steamboat cards with his picture on the front. These were the regular cards, no thicker. Then when Houdini joined the Welsh Brothers tent show, after his marriage, and worked the act under the name of Harry and Bessie Houdini, Jim Bard of the famous Bard Brothers (Jim and Eddy) taught him how to do a back somersault. After that Houdini would scale out the cards and the last card, he would throw out, turn a back somersault and catch as it returned to the ring." 
        If it wasn't for one particular publication by someone who has surpassed Houdini in his prowess of handling cards, we wouldn't be able to enjoy the image below what appears to be the Houdini throw out card. Here is an image of the front of the card published in the 1977 book by Ricky Jay titled, Cards as Weapons. I want to make an open request, please. If you own this throw out card, it would really be nice to know what is on the back. What is the actual size and would you be so kind as to allow us to post a perfect image? One wonders, what happened to all of these cards? 

             To honor the man whose name continues to be brought up almost daily around the world, here is another image in the form of advertisement that nearly coincides with our site.

This 7.62cm x 11.43cm card was used to promote soap.

            It should be mentioned, the facts on the back of the card are not all correct (well, they got his name right). Possibly those were the facts they received at the time of the publication. This is one cards advertising Orocrema Almond Soap that was created in the early 1920’s. Each card measured three inches by four and a half inches (7.62cm x 11.43cm).

Loosely translated the card reads:
“A single film has been enough to make this fantastic artist universally known. Son of a wealthy merchant was born in Chicago, in 1887, where he studied the career of an engineer. Since childhood, he has always shown an engaging and decadent character that led him to the realization of his daring plans. He built an armored armor that was the main reason for his only film titled "Houdini and the human tank" that gave him popularity. He is of a nervous temperament, and his numerous prowess has made the stairway of the facade of a "skyscraper" with the sun helping his feet and hands. He is currently retired from cinematography.”
              Houdini's skills were somewhat legendary, as discussed on the sites Wild About Harry and The Great Harry Houdini. According to many sources, he would scale steamboat cards with his autograph on the face. Images of such cards can been seen on Pinterest and here on this site Propelled Pasteboards.

This three sheet poster is currently on display at the famed Winchester House in San Jose, California (Yes, that's me).

              As seen above, there was always one item that really would have made a perfect throw out card, but alas, it was only created as a poster.