Reading room magic

Hocus Pocus Junior (1634)

 James Smith from Yorkshire writes of his use of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature:

My research at the Library focuses on a conjuring book first published at the beginning of the eighteenth century – Henry Dean’s The Whole Art of Legerdemain (“legerdemain” being from the French, literally meaning to be light of hand, or as we would now say “sleight of hand”).

The book was a bestseller. Almost forty editions or issues are known to exist, spanning from the first edition in 1722 through until the middle of the nineteenth century. Editions were published in such diverse locations as London, Glasgow, Dublin, Philadelphia, New York and Boston (amongst others).

Dean, The Whole Art of Legerdemain (c. 1760)

Dean, The Whole Art of Legerdemain (c. 1760)

 My co-research investigates hitherto unknown information about the author and feeds into the compilation of a bibliography of all known editions / issues of the book. The Harry Price collection holds no less than sixteen editions of Henry Dean’s book (the earliest being the second edition of 1727), making it the largest institutional collection of Dean’s work in the world and hence an important resource in this research.

Whilst the book’s “author” is Henry Dean, it is fair to say that he adopted a means of authorship all too common during the period; namely blatant plagiarism. Perhaps not surprising given that Dean was a busy man – research tells us he was a bookseller, magic dealer and tutor, and – to top it off – a quack doctor specialising in the treatment of venereal disease!

 

Henry Dean’s advert for the treatment of various unpleasant disorders (from the collection of James Smith).

Henry Dean’s advert for the treatment of various unpleasant disorders (from the collection of James Smith).

 Dean’s plagiary was principally from earlier conjuring books, three of which are held in the Price Collection. The first of these was Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), commonly recognised as the first book in the English language to divulge the secrets of conjuring tricks and an important early treatise on witchcraft. The second – itself plagiarised directly from Scot’s work – was Samuel Rid’s The Art of Jugling (1612; 2nd edn., in the Price Collection, 1614). The third book was one that Price considered a jewel in his collection; the first edition of Hocus Pocus Junior (1634). This itself became the bestselling magic book of the seventeenth century. It was the first illustrated book on conjuring in the English language and a precursor to many books that followed. It exists today in only a handful of known copies; of which the only other in the UK is held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

 

Hocus Pocus Junior (1634)

Hocus Pocus Junior (1634)

 Dean’s book may not, therefore, have been original but it served the British public’s appetite for all things magical for almost 150 years!

 James’s research on Henry Dean and The Whole Art of Legerdemain is being conducted collaboratively with Professor Edwin A. Dawes and Clay Shevlin who will be authoring a book to be published next year by Magicana in Toronto, Canada.

James has also recently published a book on another eighteenth century conjuring bestseller, Breslaw’s Last Legacy – a work held in five editions in the Harry Price collection.

 

 

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Historic Collections, Senate House Library