The Davenport Collection
- a growing resource on magic and entertainment history

1892

Four letters from G. Gordon Powell to David Devant in late 1892

Four letters from G. Gordon Powell to David Devant in late 1892

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.

6 May 1892 letter to David Devant

6 May 1892 letter to David Devant

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.

David Devant’s first big illusion: Vice Versa

David Devant’s first big illusion: Vice Versa

Many entertainers have financial difficulties in their early careers. David Devant wrote about his early struggles in My Magic Life.

In December 1892 he put on a show at Balham Hall. The show made a loss, but it turned out to be an important step in securing a place for him in Maskelyne & Cooke’s theatre at the Egyptian Hall. He used the show to showcase his new stage illusion, Vice Versa. The illusion caught the eye of the Crystal Palace management, and before long Devant had secured a booking at the Egyptian Hall. However, Vice Versa was too large for the Egyptian Hall stage. J.N. Maskelyne asked Devant to come up with something more suitable. The result was The Artist’s Dream, based on the same principle as Vice Versa.

Anne draws on previously unpublished material which allows the fascinating details of the story to be told.