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Awesome Vintage Posters from 15 Magicians 

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new york public library

Magic has been enchanting and astounding people for a long time: Bending the constricts of reality with seemingly supernatural means dates back to before 50,000 BCE. By the late 19th century, magicians were performing for large audiences in theaters, and illusionists competed with one another for the spotlight by coming up with more and more elaborate acts. Posters were a popular way to advertise and set performers apart from their peers; even the most famous magicians needed flyers to draw crowds. The ads used bright colors and sinister imagery to capture the imagination of potential audience members. 

1. Harry Houdini

The Hungarian-born escape artist was known for squirming out of restraints. After repeatedly slipping out of handcuffs and prisons, the performer earned the moniker Harry "Handcuff" Houdini. As his fame spread, Houdini's acts became more and more elaborate: He allowed himself to be suspended in the air, submerged underwater, and even buried alive. He was featured in a number of movies that showcased his agility, strength, and dexterity.

Despite many rumors that his daring escapes were staged, Houdini was hellbent on exposing frauds. When he failed to contact his mother after her death, the performer realized that mediums and psychics preyed on the emotionally vulnerable. He would attend séances incognito, tearing off his disguise when he collected enough evidence to prove that the mediums were faking their spiritual connections. (You can read about his takedown of famous medium Mina Crandon here.) Then, he recreated the supposed mediums' Illusions and tricks for his audiences. 

2. Harry Kellar

A common theme on many magician's posters are imps, devils, and demons whispering the secrets of dark magic. Harry Kellar started that trend with his ominous portrait. One imp whispers magic tricks so mystifying, it makes his friend gasp. 

Some of these under-worldly tricks included levitating people and vanishing birdcages. Thanks to strong performances, Kellar became a household name. He was good friends with Houdini in his later years and served as the inspiration for the escape artist's stage name. 

3. Howard Thurston 

After Kellar retired, he symbolically draped his cape on the shoulders of Howard Thurston, naming him his successor. You can see the young magician was a big fan of the tiny red demon idea and used it several times. 

Thurston put on enormous shows that required eight entire train cars just to carry his props. His shows were lavish and spectacular, and often required large props, like a Whippet automobile that he would fill with women before making it vanish. 

4. Alexander Herrmann

Alexander Herrmann the Great was a friendly rival of Kellar and an inspirational figure to Thurston. The French magician was taught sleight-of-hand by his older brother after being whisked away without his parent's permission. After parting ways to work on his own career, Herrmann toured the world with his wife, Adelaide. 

5. Edwin Brush

Brush started as a sales manager for a clothing company, using magic tricks to help bring in business. He eventually realized that he could make a living that way and became a full time magician. As seen in the illustration, his mustache was groomed to turn up, making him appear more magical. 

5. Christian Andrew George Newmann

Newmann the Great was a mentalist who was known for hypnotics and psychic readings. One of his better known tricks involved driving a car while blindfolded (eek!). Above, you can see him navigating the world sans vision. 

6. Zan Zig

Here is a poster for Zan Zig, the least famous magician on this list. The illustration shows a variety of different acts, from levitation to conjuring spirits. 

7. Frederick Bancroft

Bancroft decided to become a magician after befriending Alexander Herrmann. Despite being from Minnesota, he used exotic imagery inspired by his trip through Europe and the East Indies. The ill-fated performer never really got his career off the ground and passed away as a result of typhoid fever at age 31. 

8. Theodore Hardeen

Hardeen was the younger brother of Houdini and used this affiliation to spring-board his career. Like his brother, the performer was an escape artist and was featured in movies.

9. Karl Germain

Originally spelled "Germaine," the Wizard dropped the E in the later years of performing. He developed a love for magic at a very early age and toured professionally by the time he was 20.

10. Eugene Laurant 

This magician, called "The Man of Many Mysteries," was known for elaborate illusions and chapeaugraphy (hat tricks). 

11. Claude Alexander Conlin

Alexander was a mentalist known for classic crystal ball readings. He was widely successful for mind readings and similar telepathic acts. The magician spent a large sum of money on printing high quality posters that often used bright red colors to attract attention.

12. Miss Baldwin

Miss Baldwin was actually two different people—Clara and Kitty Baldwin. They were the two wives of Samri Baldwin, who used them as assistants (at different times). He would blindfold the women and they would demonstrate their psychic abilities. Kitty, Baldwin's second wife, eventually left to pursue her own career, although she never found the same success she did with her former husband. 

13. Frederick Eugene Powell

Powell was the dean of The Society of American Magicians from 1922 to 1938. He toured with Imro Fox and Servais Le Roy under the name "The Triple Alliance." 

14. Servais Le Roy 

Le Roy was part of the Triple Alliance, but he was better known for the act he performed with his wife, Talma. The couple is featured together in the poster. 

15. Herbert Albini

If you learned anything from these posters, it's that the devil owns a lot of magicians' souls. 

The accomplished illusionist chose his surname after the musician, Frederick Baxter Ewing, who went by Lieutenant Albini. Ewing was apparently not too pleased, because he threatened to sue over the name and publicly disassociated himself from the magician.

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7 Essential Secrets of Magicians
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It has often been said that a good magician never reveals their secrets, but in WIRED’s video below, illusionist David Kwong does just that. He outlines seven important tricks of the trade as he performs a card stunt, showcases the sleight of hand behind feats like making a spoon “bend,” and demonstrates how subtle actions like controlling an audience's center of attention can toy with their perception of reality.

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Victoria Skye
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Can You See the Parallel Stripes in This Optical Illusion?
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Victoria Skye

Magical entertainer and illusionist Victoria Skye makes the impossible seem possible for a living. There aren’t any smoke and mirrors involved in her latest trick: Her “cafe wall” optical illusion is the result of some clever design.

In the image above, the darker blue horizontal stripes appear to lay at zig-zagging angles across the frame. In reality, they’re perfectly parallel to one another. The slanted effect is created by the use of alternating patterns (in the top row, the interior pattern is drawn to lean slightly to the left while the one beneath it leans slightly to the right, and so on).

The alternating colors also contribute to the illusion. As The Telegraph points out, the illusion was inspired by a tiled wall that can be found in Bristol, England. The staggered nature of the white squares against the green makes it seem as if the parallel rows were built at different angles. Though the Bristol wall is the original, there are plenty of examples of cafe walls around the world if you’re looking for more illusions to make your head spin.

Cafe wall in Bristol, UK.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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