The Holy Grail of Conjuring

Imagine a concept that allows one to perform magic with the following features:

  • Can be done seated or standing
  • Outdoors or indoors (certain elementary conditions pertaining)
  • Borrowed objects – no special gimmicks
  • Has the appearance of real magic
  • Of an infinite variety in terms of effect and method – from producing a silk from thin air to vanishing coins, making cards change, reading people’s minds – limitless
  • May produce effects remembered by people for the rest of their lives
  • Can be mastered to a basic level in 6 months but ideally 2 years or more

What is this secret?

When I was 12 years old I started visiting a magic shop in Hammersmith called the Magic Lounge. It was more than just a basement magic shop, but a hub for magic in London. Visiting magicians from all over the world, amateur and professional, visited the Magic Lounge. During the four or five years it was open I talked magic with all manner of people: Basil Horwitz, Gordon Bruce, Roberto Giobbi, Tommy Cooper, Eric Mason, Stephen Tucker, David Britland, Shiv Duggal, Paul Brignall, Bobby Bernard.

On one occasion in 1982 I watched a visiting German card magician demonstrate a card trick for Martin Breese, the owner of the Magic lounge. I still remember the effect as if it were yesterday: the Ace, Two, and Three of Clubs were placed in a row on the table and switched around, a bit like Find the Lady. The spectator had to guess which was the Ace. The Four of Clubs was then added to make things harder. But being a magician (rather than con artist) the performer didn’t want the spectator to lose: he wanted them to win by finding the Ace. When all four cards were turned over, they had all changed to Aces!

Miracles for sale

I just had to buy that trick. I asked the Magic Lounge demonstrator, Ron Dowse, if they sold that effect. He smiled and said, ‘It is done by sleight of hand.’

In life there are moments or realisations that can be described as paradigm shifts or changes in one’s schema, and that was one of them. When I saw the effect and impact achievable with sleight of hand and ordinary cards, I realised as the implications sank in that all the special props and gimmicks I had been buying up till that moment were redundant. Yes, certain gimmicks can be used in tandem with sleight of hand, and some of these gimmicks can achieve marvellous effects; but the point is that the sleight-of-hand performer can do magic without relying on gimmicks.

Which would you rather do?

Spend a few years learning sleight of hand and be able to do magic anytime, anywhere; or, like people who cannot cook and have to rely on expensive, ready-made meals, spend a lifetime (and a small fortune) buying gimmicks and only ever be able to use them (a) under certain, limited conditions and (b) when you happen to have them on you?

Not long after the above incident, on a summer holiday in Scotland, my grandmother fooled me with one of the greatest, and yet simplest, card tricks of all time: The Four Islands. Again I realised how, with all the props I had been buying, I still knew nothing about magic.

Knowledge and principles

Sleight of hand is inextricably linked with knowledge of the principles of magic. We need to know how, why and when to use our sleights. This does take study and dedication; success in magic doesn’t happen overnight. But with sufficient practice and study one can achieve a level of magic that no amount of gimmicks and special props will ever produce. The sad thing is that magicians who never invest even a small amount of time in developing digital dexterity and the basic skills of magic such as presentation and misdirection, won’t even be able to handle their gimmicks and props in anything other than a substandard manner. Learning sleight of hand and the principles of magic that lie behind it really is a win-win acquisition.

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