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Sleight of Hand Review

Official Review

May 16th, 2016 6:42pm
Rating:
Reviewed by Dr. J. M. Ayala de Cedoz
If ever there were a more classic tome for beginners of general sleight of hand, I am not sure what it is. This book has been around for 131 years, has stood the test of time and is now considered a standard/must-have book for beginners. Even intermediate and professional magicians can find things and information of use in this book.

The Dover edition is a soft cover book that is perfect bound (glued spine) and has a full color cover with images of select illustrations from inside the book. The pages are standard weight. I might also point out that a few of my pages were not completely cut all the way through and I had to separate about 6 or 8 pages with a knife. This is not a quality issue necessarily and will not detract from the rating of the book as it has nothing to do with the quality of the content. This likely occured because the blade of the machine that was used to cut the pages was getting dull.

The book begins with an introduction that talks a bit about the history of magic and magicians up to the point the book was written, which even then was long and varied. The first thing you will learn in the book are a few basic sleights with coins, all of which are still use today along with some of their variations. This is in preparation for the second chapter, which teaches you quite a number of basic effects using those sleights. If you are more than just a beginner, some of the effects will look a little familiar to you. All of the effects are impromptu, which means they can be done without preparation and with borrowed coins. Among the effects here you will learn here are the (by now) very old handkerchief coin vanish and the equally old method of vanishing a coin in a glass of water, a Miser's Dream type of effect with a hat, color changes, transpositions, etc.

The next chapter moves on to doing magic with common objects such as knives, handkerchiefs (which were commonly carried back then), bank notes, etc. This is a chapter that all magicians should read, even if they do not read the rest of this book. Impromptu magic is something that everyone should have a small repertoire for, just for those occasions where you want/need to perform some magic and are not carrying anything magic-related on your person. In fact, Sachs even points out that knowing how to do impromptu miracles is important. There is a nice variety of items to learn from this section, including a Cut and Restored String and a great bit with a borrowed wedding ring and a handkerchief.

There is an entire chapter dedicated to teaching the classic effect in magic called The Cups and Balls. It covers everything from the props to the sleights and includes a three-phase routine and a basic script. Another chapter on so-called "Chinese Tricks" talks about fire eating as well as an effect that was made popular by and is a feature for Jeff McBride: The Butterfly Trick. Back when this book was written the Butterfly Trick was certainly a newer concept and was very mystifying; today it remains so, though it is not so new anymore.

Probably the most used prop by magicians (and certainly the one most closely associated with magic and magicians) does not really show up until Chapter 8, where you will learn magic with playing cards. There are transpositions, color changes, transformations, mental selection divination and more. This chapter also covers a few sleights with many variations of the Pass, Palming, etc. There are some very good and workable effects given here and none of them require any large apparatus except a deck of cards and a few of them require prepared cards, all of which are described enough that if you cannot buy them anywhere and wanted to make your own, you could. Skipping ahead to Chapter 12, there you will find more effects with cards but the effects in Chapter 12 fall under the Stage Magic banner and use apparatus such as a card wand and rising card apparatus.

Chapters 9 and 10 are particularly interesting because Chapter 9 talks about theory on different aspects which are still relevant today, such as handing out items for examination (when to do it and when not to do it), dealing with hecklers, rehearsal, scripting, etc. Chapter 10 talks about how you should dress, it talks about using a certain type of magic table and how to properly employ it, using your pockets to your advantage, etc. Some of the particulars of these chapters may be out of place these days, but the lessons they are imparting are still important and are still relevant.

Chapter 11 talks about using wands and other generic (or perhaps, generic to a magician) items like special handkerchiefs as well as sleights that would be useful when using these items. It teaches you a little bit of manipulation in conjunction with producing and vanishing common items like coins, rings and eggs.

Back in the 1880 (and even before that period to a degree) gloves were commonly worn by stage magicians, and perhaps those performing in other venues as well. Chapter 13 has a neat selection of effects, a few which have survived the ages and are still performe today. The effects are mostly centered around handkerchiefs, including an effect that is likely the precursor to the now-famous Slydini Silks routine, a Cut and Restored hanky and even an Elastic Glove effect, which is akin to the modern version of the Long Glove where you remove the glove from your hand and it just keeps stretching and stretching coming out of your sleeve as one long continuous glove. This is a comedy bit still performed by kid show performers today.

In the Chapter 14 you will find coin magic again, this time using various types of apparatus which will allow you to play on the stage. Things covered here include the Coin Tray, Coin in Nest of Boxes, Coin in Ball of Wool and more. Many of them will be familiar to some modern magicians because effects like the Coin Tray come in almost every basic magic kid for children, and among more serious coin workers you see the use of the Nest of Boxes. The Coin in Ball of Wool is not seen that often, but variations on that plot are popular today in things like the Nest of Wallets by Nicholas Einhorn and in the impromptu section of many magic books, there is a Coin to Bread Roll that is remniscent of that effect.

Chapter 15 details magic with goldfish, birds, feather plumes, wands and bottles. Most of the effects center around things that appeared in books as far back as the Discovery of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot (1584): things like non-fatal decapitation of hens and doves, the production of gold fish in bowls, a couple of effects using fire and a few other effects requiring the use of a special prop, each of which is detailed in their construction. Sachs also covers how to use each one properly and when to use them, something that if you do these effects is worthy of your attention.

Chapter 16 brings another piece of equipment that many people associate with magicians and was once a staple piece of clothing from a bygone era: The magician's hat. Here you will learn how to use a hat to produce and endless variety of items from canon balls, cualiflower, flowers and even a bundle of firewood! The material here is all still very useable if you wear a hat - you will simply have to modify the props or the actions or both. Just a little thinking can make them work and even if you do not use the same production items, the techniques can still be used and applied. Take a page from the book of Max Malini and produce a giant block of ice from your hat the next time you are out on the town for dinner!

Chapter 17 brings you some great effects using clocks and watches, including some that use special gimmicks or extra watches, not the least of which is the old 'smash a borrowed watch and restore it later' plot. In this same chapter you will find a handful of effects using livestock like rabbits and still others using a device called a bran vase.

The final chapter deals with things in the mentalism arena, focusing on fake mesmerisms, clairvoyance and thinks of the like. You will learn a few things with a blind fold, including a second-sight type of effect where you apparently have the ability to see and object or objects through the eyes of someone else. There are a couple of items that have a bit of a bizarre flavor, such as the talking skull. You will also read a method for the spirit slates, which are a very popular items among mentalism and bizarre performers. The Electric Touch is also discussed and if you are not familiar with it, there are various ways that this has been demonstrated by stage magicians over the years. One version that is performed with a certain Finn Jon/Yigal Mesika product is being able to make an audience member feel your touch without you ever actually coming in contact with them. This is a very strong effect if presented properly and there are many different ways to present it.

Overall this is a great book and I have a 2nd edition hardcover which I have read many times over. I particularly apprecated the fact that Dover kept the content exactly the way it is in the earlier editions, save for the typeface and the cover. The only "negative" that I can think of about this book, and it will not be hard for perhaps older readers but rather younger ones, is the language use. This book was written in 1885 and back then English was not only spoken differently, it was also written differently than it is today. This in no way hinders the clarity of the material - everything in the book is very easy to follow but my point in bringing it up is that some people may, due to the linguistics, find it to be a bit of a dry read. Another thing that I might point out: One may see people talking about this book as being "outdated". That may be true, to a certain point. Certain scripting might be out of style or even seen as faux pas these days, but the material is still very useable. The fact that the book has stood the test of time and is considered a must-have book among professional magicians stands as a testament to the strength of the material. It is ultimately up to the reader to bring it all up to date and of course, change whatever is necessary to make it their own.

I very highly recommend this book because there is a lot of great material in here for beginners and even advanced performers alike. It is also a great book from which to learn basic technique, and everything is very clearly taught.

5 stars for the Dover edition!

Product info for Sleight of Hand

Author: Sachs, Edwin
Publisher: Dover
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $10.90
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Manufacturer's Description:

The Dover edition of this classic text on sleight of hand. Very nicely done. An exact reprint of the original, only in soft binding.


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