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Contents Pocket Notes—Stephen Minch 7 Vernon the Mesmerist—Peter Lamont  11 An Investigation into Magic in Japan After the Opening of the Country, Part IV—Mitsunobu Matsuyama  53 Lessons Written with a Small Gimmick— Loren Pankratz  121 Contributors 153

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Summer 2008 \ Gibecière

William Eglinton produces a spirit master, complete with robe and beard similar to ones discovered later in Eglinton’s suitcase (from J. S. Farmer’s Twixt Two Worlds: A narrative of the life and work of William Eglinton, 1886)



Peter Lamont “Professor” W. J. Vernon was a phrenologist, mesmerist and radical political activist. He traveled around early Victorian England inducing comas, exciting the phrenological organs of young ladies and exhibiting feats of mesmeric clairvoyance with the help of, amongst others, Adolphe Didier (brother of Alexis). He was denounced as a fraud by some eminent medical men, regardless of whether they believed in mesmerism, before he went on to advocate armed revolution. His role in the history of magic may not be obvious, but that is part of the reason he is interesting. After all, just as magic is defined by its history, the history of magic is defined by what historians regard as magic. Thus, mesmerists, mediums and psychics have been discussed less in their own terms than in terms of a perceived overlap between what they did and what “mainstream” conjurers did (for example, as targets of debunking or as inspiration for later performances). Conversely, historians of psychical research have focused on individuals who claimed genuine abilities, and tended to discuss conjuring performances in terms of their relevance to such claims and individuals. This distinction is perfectly understandable but by treating these types of performers as essentially different, we can easily fail to see what they had in common. And they had a great deal in common, just as mentalists today who claim to have genuine “psychological” abilities—for example, to read minds via reading body language—have much in common with psychic claimants. Once the woolly disclaimers are out the Summer 2008 \ Gibecière

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Courtesy of the Ricky Jay collection

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Summer 2008 \ Gibecière

Shoichi Kitensai as pictured in the book Wayo Kijutsu Taneakashi



Mitsunobu Matsuyama There exist several fragmentary descriptions of western magic entering Japan in the early years of the Meiji era (1868– 1912). When examined, however, I found them unreliable on two counts: Some historians had incorrectly interpreted their source materials, due to vagueness in the original; and others had simply repeated these erroneous interpretations without examining the source documents. In this article, only primary materials will be considered as we reexamine the existing facts and add to them newly discovered historical information, in an attempt to determine what actually happened during this period in Japan’s history.

The Embryonic Years of Western Magic in Japan Early in the Meiji era, a number of booklets appeared that were reported to reveal how western tricks were done. Upon my examination of them, most proved insubstantial in their treatment of the subject, and those bearing a publishing date appeared after 1880, while the dates of the rest cannot be accurately determined. To clarify what sort of magical entertainment was being imported from the west in this time, we must turn to newspaper articles prior to 1880. Although the first Japanese Summer 2008 \ Gibecière

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M i t s u n o b u M at s u ya m a

Gibecière / Vol. 3, No. 2


J a pa n A f t e r



of the

C o u n t ry

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M ag i c

Summer 2008 \ Gibecière

A slate-writing sÊance, as portrayed in Ralph E. Sylvestre’s Gambols with the Ghosts, a 1901 catalog of supplies and secrets sold to fraudulent mediums. The first thirteen offerings were for slate tricks priced from one to ten dollars.



LoREN PANKRATZ Recently I was reading a book that had been untouched in my library for several years, Craft’s Epidemic Delusions (1881).1 In his final chapters, Craft described some of the creative methods that Spiritualist mediums employed to produce physical manifestations. For example, he noted that a common and convenient method for hiding a pencil was to attach it to a rubber cord that springs back into the sleeve and out of sight. Craft, in addition, mentioned the nail writer. I had always assumed, in concurrence with Bart Whaley’s dictionary of magic,2 that the first reference to the nail writer was in Truesdell’s 1883 book,3 in the section that exposed the slate-writing secrets of Henry Slade. Slade denied the accusation of his using a piece of pencil under his fingernail, and he may have been truthful in this to a degree. Truesdell showed a picture

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Slade’s slate-writing gimmick, according to Truesdell in The Bottom Facts ­Concerning the Science of Spiritualism, 1883 Summer 2008 \ Gibecière

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