David Lister on Houdini's Paper Magic

David Lister is a well-known historian on origami, and he has written two pieces of email on Harry Houdini's 1922 book Paper Magic. The second email is copied below, and includes the first email with some addendums. It can also be accessed from the origami-l archives.
Date: Thu, 30 May 2002 05:49:37 EDT
From: DLister891@AOL.COM
Reply-To: Origami List 
Subject: Houdini

Christian Frey has just received a copy of Houdini's Magic, bought for him by
his father. He asks if anyone has read this book and found it interesting and
worth a thorough read.

Whether you will find it interesting depends on what you personally consider
to be interesting and we all have different things that attract us. But, yes,
I have found it very interesting even if I have been selective about the
parts I have read in detail. I don't particularly find instructions for
folding a stimulting read unless I am acutually folding or studying the
models. But "Paper Magic" contains many other things.

I wrote to Origami-L about this book on 14th February of this year. Not
everyone finds it easy to find things in the Origami-L archives, so I will
repeat the posting, very slightly amended here.

Since I sent the posting I have received more information about Walter Gibson
that confirms that he acted as a ghost writer for Houdini and some other
members of the magical profession. If he did ghost "Paper Magic", this does
not, of course, mean that the substance of the book was not Houdini's.

I should be grateful if Christian Fey would let me know the size of the book
he has been given and also details of the pubisher, date of publication and
ISBN number.

I crave the indulgence of other O-Listers.

David Lister




Posting to  Origami-L  (Origami@mitvma.mit.edu)

14th February, 2002

I have been challenged to say something about "Paper Magic" by Houdini.
Houdini was generally known as Harry Houdini, although his real name was
Erich Weiss.

Houdini's "Paper Magic" was published by Dutton of New York in 1922 and it
went to four further reprints until 1941. It is a substantial hard-bound book
of 206 pages.

My challenger mentions a reprint by Fredonia Books in June 2001. It has 206
pages, so it must be presumed to be a complete reprint. If it is full-sized,
it will be better than the Magico reprint.

There is a copy in the Ev. Gloe collection in British Origami Society
library. In 1979 a paperbacked reprint was issued by Magico Magazine of
Sunnyside, NY, with a new Introduction by Stanley palm, but it was in much
smaller format (4 1/2 X 6 inches) I have a copy of the reprint,

Since Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" (1956) we tend to expect that every book
of that name must be a book of paperfolding. However, the expression "paper
magic" originally meant just that: magic performed using paper. The title was
used for several books written by magicians, including "Paper Magic" by Will
Blyth of England in 1920. These books contained all sorts of paper tricks,
including paper tearing and paper folding. (Will Blyth's contained some 30
pages of paper folding).

Houdini's "Paper Magic" contains just four paperfolded models: the Japanese
bird (that is the flapping bird), the Bullfrog (a traditional frog from the
frog base), the Chapeau (samurai helmet) and the Japanese Paper Purse. (this
is the puzzle purse or thread container). Very interestingly the combination
of six thread containers to make a kind of kusudama is also included. This
model has recently emerged in discussions about the origin of modular folding
as a very early Japanese modular fold, although it does need glue to hold it
together. The rest of the book contains various tricks, elementary, kirigami,
troublewit, dissections and even tangrams (on the basis that a tangram set is
a dissected square).

According to a note in Gershon Legman's "Bibliography of Paperfolding",
Houdini's "Paper Magic" is said to have been ghosted by Walter Gibson,
another conjuror.

I would not recommend Houdini's book to anyone who was merely looking for
models to fold, but it is worth acquiring for its historical interest.

David Lister.

Last updated November 28, 2010 by Erik Demaine.Accessibility