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E-newsletters like this one are sent out four times a year, highlighting recent additions to the website. If you’d like to be added to the mailing list, please contact the curator.
The March 2022 issue included:
– the launch of the Films Category and the Davenport Film Collection YouTube Channel.
– Ali Bongo version of the Gozinta Box with a double load.
– “Humpty Dumpty” children’s paper tearing trick.
– Devant’s early performing career.
– the staying power of traditional toys and novelties.
– “Shanroy” Scenery from The Servais Le Roy Company.
– an 1889 letter from J.N. Maskelyne and an unresolved issue

To see all the other e-news, click on Website e-news.

The transcript of this letter is:
May 9 1896
Dear Sir
I have considered the question of purchasing your collection of Playing Cards and have decided not to do so. I may however hear of someone who would like such a collection, and if I do I will put the matter before him.
Yours very truly
J.N. Maskelyne
H. Evanion Esqr.

It would appear that this letter was once in the Jimmy Findlay Collection. Jim Hagy mentions in his book on Evanion that: ‘Findlay possessed in his collection a letter from Maskelyne to Evanion dated May 9, 1896 declining to purchase the latter’s playing card collection’. (Early English Conjuring Collectors: James Savren and Henry Evanion by James Hagy, Second Edition published in 2020 by Reginald Scot Books, Glenview, USA, page 72.) Jim’s excellent book is the place to go to for information on Evanion.

The transcript of this letter is:
June 19. 1889
Dear Sir
I shall be glad to inspect your collection a little later on. Just now I am exceedingly busy with machines for the Paris Exhibition.
I have much matter concerning androids.
Yours very truly
J.N. Maskelyne
H. Evanion Esq.

Maskelyne’s letter is to Henry Evanion, a major collector of paper ephemera, including much relating to magicians. For information on Evanion see Early English Conjuring Collectors: James Savren and Henry Evanion by James Hagy, Second Edition published in 2020 by Reginald Scot Books, Glenview, USA.

Some of the 1890-1891 Egyptian Hall programmes for the Maskelyne and Cooke shows include an advertisement for Maskelyne’s Mechanical Cashier & Book-Keeper on the back page. The example illustrated here is from Ref. no. N2012. According to the advertisement it ‘Beat all competitors at the Paris Exhibition, receiving the highest award given for cash registering apparatus’. The illustration includes the words ‘Silver Medal, Paris 1889’. It is likely that Maskelyne’s letter to Evanion refers to the work needed to prepare these machines for the Exhibition.

The curator of this website is currently trying to confirm that Maskelyne really did win the Silver Medal. This is necessary because J.N. Maskelyne’s claims cannot always be taken at face value. A search by the National Library of France confirmed that M. Maskelyne of Manchester did submit a cash register (details here) but was unable to find information relating to the medals awarded.

These four letters relate to a show that Devant put on at Balham Hall, south London, on the nights of 5 and 6 December 1892. Powell lent Devant some money to help finance the shows, but the venture made a loss and Powell lost some of his money. Whilst financially disappointing, the shows proved to be of great importance to Devant because it allowed his own illusion Vice Versa to be seen. This resulted in further work at the Crystal Palace and soon resulted in Devant’s first appearance in Maskelyne and Cooke’s entertainments at the Egyptian Hall. The story is told in the Davenport Collection website article David Devant’s first big illusion: Vice Versa by Anne Goulden. The article includes transcriptions of all four of these letters.

The letter is difficult to read, but appears to be:
33 Arthur Road
Holloway. N
6 May 1892

Dear Sir
I duly received yours of the 3rd inst. and regret to hear of your ill health and that you have been so unfortunate in business.
I do not like the idea of your hurry to dispose of your furniture for the purpose of paying your Accounts & the more particularly if the amount you owe me should have any weight in inducing you to adopt this course.
Can you not make me an offer and pay me a sum down in settlement of the whole thing.
I am sure that you no more than myself would care to have the matter dragging along but would prefer to have it settled once for all.
I hope you may be more fortunate in the future than you have apparently been lately.
Yours faithfully
?Ernest Walker

David Devant Esqre

Devant’s My Magic Life tells us that he suffered from rheumatic fever around this time. A bad bout of it stopped him performing at Christmas 1889, so losing the income from many shows and causing financial hardship. This could be the ill health that is mentioned in the letter.

In these early days of his career, Devant’s finances were not on a firm footing. Letters such as this one may have been all too familiar to him. Letters from his friend G. Gordon Powell (see N2639) are another example of his financial difficulties, this time from the failure of a show he was promoting.

The letter reads:
Reynolds’s Exhibition and Musical Promenade
St. George’s Place, Lime Street, Liverpool June 26th 1887
Mr. Devant
Dear Sir
You can open here Monday week (July 9th). Is Mr Flynn in London?
Hoping you are well,
I remain, Yours truly, Charles Reynolds

This letter is short but full of interest. It suggests that David Devant had an engagement at Reynolds’s Exhibition and Musical Promenade, Liverpool starting on 9 July 1887. He was then 19 years old, embarking on what proved to be a successful career as an entertainer. The establishment opened in 1858 with its main focus on waxworks but, as the decades went by, it moved increasingly towards live entertainment.

In the late 1880s the Royal American Midgets appeared there. They were General Mite (F.J. Flynn) and his wife, née Millie Edwards. Their lecturer was the young David Devant who also performed magic.

Devant’s autobiography, My Magic Life, describes his time at Reynold’s Waxworks with the Royal American Midgets. Unfortunately My Magic Life does not give the date of the Midgets’ engagement in Liverpool.

Charles Reynolds’ letter mentions a Mr Flynn, who could be either General Mite or his father, E.F. Flynn. It’s appropriate, therefore, to illustrate a poster for the Royal American Midgets. This poster, from the Piccadilly Hall in London, belongs to the Wellcome Collection (Credit: General Mite and Millie Edwards, two midgets on exhibition. Colour lithograph. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark.)

Maskelyne sent this on Egyptian Hall notepaper in reply to someone who was seeking to interview him. He explained that he was currently too busy because he was working on a new magical sketch on the subject of Theosophy. The sketch was first produced at the Egyptian Hall in August 1894 under the name ‘Modern Witchery’.

Herbert J. Collings performed his pseudo-Chinese act under the name Col Ling Soo. He was a successful performer and twice served as President of The Magic Circle, from 1928 – 1931 and from 1954 – 1958. This explains why on his letterhead he has crossed out the word ‘Past’ in front of the words ‘President of the Magic Circle’. 1955 was the Golden Jubilee for The Magic Circle. His letter tells us that he had a particularly busy week over the period of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations. This item from the Chris Woodward Collection is included here with his kind permission. There is much more on this fascinating character in Ref. no. N2345, which contains Herbert J.’s illustrated ‘Smilestones: Recollections of Herbert J. Collings in his own words: 1898-1946’.