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Timeline of Magic

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This timeline of magic is a short history of the performing art from BCE to the present day.

Early History

2700BC - The reputed first known performance of a conjuring effects is by the magician Dedi in ancient Egypt. Dedi had done effects such as decapitating a birds head and reattach the head resurrecting it. (His performance of Cups and Balls is disputed as there is nothing in the reference to Dedi, specifically in the Westcar Papyrus, to indicate that he performed them for anyone. The famous drawing of two men performing the cups and balls from the tomb at Beni Hasan is believed by most experts to be a game of unknown type. Note: Since there is no indication that Dedi performed the Cups and Balls, and the Beni Hasan heiroglyph is considered unlikely to represent the effect, there is no evidence for the existence of the Cups and Balls during this time period.)

50-300AD - The Acetabularii performed the Cups and balls in ancient Rome using stones and small vinegar cups called acetabulum in Latin (hence the name Acetabularii). Acetabularii are a group of magicians specializing on the cups and balls effect.

400-1000 - The dark ages; little is known about the history of magic, but much of it was associated with the occult and magic as entertainment is not prominent.

1000-1500 - The Middle Ages where much magic was still associated with the occult and witchcraft. The growing trading nature of society allowed some street or circus performers to make a living out of old classics such as the cups and balls and indeed more modern ideas such as cheating by short changing via sleights with coins and other small objects.


1558 - Natural Magick, or Magia natvralis libri viginti is written, dealing with "natural sciences".

1581 -A Brief and Pleasant Treatise, an early book in English, that was one of the first to included magic, is published

1584 - The Discoverie of Witchcraft published by Reginald Scot. This book was designed in part to counter the activities of persecutionists, but at the same time revealing many conjuring secrets of the day, when magic and witchcraft were still linked.

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1631 - One of the earliest documentations of the bullet catch appeared in the book Threats of God's Judgments by Reverend Thomas Beard.

1633 - Year of death of Tabarin. He was known for performing Chapeaugraphy.

1638 - Year of death of Claude-Gaspar Bachet, a French mathematician who formed the basis for almost all later books on mathematical recreations.

1655 - A Candle in the Dark by Thomas Ady is published. The books served as a supplement to Scott's Discoverie of Witchcraft. It aimed at providing further proof that those who were so-called witches, or those accused of practicing witchcraft, were only magicians and that their magic was merely accomplished by means other then the supernatural.

1676 - Sports and Pastimes is published by anonymous, including possibly the first reference to the ball and vase, which became a common children's prop used to vanish and produce a ball, around 1860.

1694 - Récréations mathématiques et physiques is published by Jacques Ozanam. It may have been the second most important book on magic in French.

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1723 - The premise of the Chop Cup was first published in an important, revised edition of Récréations mathématiques et physiques, with an extra chapter devoted to Tours de Gibecière by Grandin. The Cup would later become a popular tool of magicians and would be used both alone and as part of Cups and Balls routines. It would see numerous books dedicated specifically to its use and handling.

1746 - Year of birth of Henri Decremps (d. 1826), who possessed and intelligent mind and was both a lawyer and a mathematician in France. He devoted himself to the unmasking of the "magicians" and the charlatans who cheated or deceived people for profit.

1770 - The Turk, also known as the Automaton Chess Player was a chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century, and exhibited from 1770 for over 84 years, by various owners, as an automaton. The machine appeared to hold it's own against a human opponent, but actually allowed a person to be cleverly consealed and opporate the arms of the machine.

1783 - Year of birth of Richard Potter, (d. 1835) in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. He is credited as the first successful stage magician born in the United States and as the first black magician. His notable effects included Rising Cards, Going into an oven with raw meat and remain until the meat was cooked, and Handling and Swallowing Molten Lead.

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1805 - Year of birth of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (d. 1871). The "father of modern magic," who brought it from the street and circus side shows to an elegant stage or drawing room setting.

1868 - Robert-Houdin published Les Secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie (translated in 1878 by Professor Hoffmann under the title The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic.)

1874 - Year of birth of Harry Houdini aka King of Cards and King of Handcuffs (d. 1926). Real name Ehrich Weiss, he achieved fame as an escapologist.

1876 - The first publication of Modern Magic. Written by Professor Hoffmann (1839-1919) (Real name Angelo John Lewis), it was a definitive work on the state of the art of that time.

1894 - Year of birth of Dai Vernon (d. 1992). Aka as The Professor and The Man That Fooled Houdini, he was born as David Frederick Wingfield Verner in Ottawa. The most influential 20th C magician.

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1902 - The "Expert At The Card Table" is published by The Charles T. Powner Co. was written by S.W. Erdnase. Considered by serious card workers as one of the most important books written.

1905 - The British Magical Society formed in London, UK; the oldest continually meeting magic society in Europe. Its first President was David Devant. In June it evolved into The Magic Circle. This prestigious organization acts like a trade union for magicians and has strict rules against exposure. (It expelled its founder for alleged exposure, something it has done to many famous magicians.)


1911 The Philadelphia "North American" ran a series exposing Thurston's illusions before Thurston arrived to packed houses.

1912 The film "Spiritualism Exposed", according to the account given in "The Era", exposes "the preparations or the seance, where the mysterious floating hand appears, the manipulating of the bells and tambourines . . . . and as each event happens, for the benefit of the audience, the whole of the preparations and method of working these fakes is thrown on the screen."

1912 The Australian Society of Magicians objects in "The Magic Mirror" to Wong Tong Sun exposing the Bullet Catch to the public press. Hugard, who was performing at the time, got a boost in attendance, possibly because audiences were checking to see if what was reported in press was the actual method he would use.

1913 The New York newspaper, The World, reveals many stage illusions, getting the material from models supplied by Dr. Saram Ellison (one of the founders of the S.A.M.

1913 Popular Mechanics continues to expose magic in the July issue with the sliding dice box.

1915 The Crystal Coffin is explained by Hereward Carrington in the March issue of Modern Mechanics.[1]

1915 Charles Oursler, in the November 1915 issue of "The Woman's Home Companion" exposes five tricks under the caption of "Magic Tricks for the Boy Wizard to Perform" It includes the Bracelet on Cord, dissolving Half Dollar (glass disc fake), Traveling Egg and The Mystic Afghan Bands, and the magic appearance of a streamer of ribbon.[2]

1917 - Dr. Nix patters during a movie presentation of tricks. Then after the movie, the program was repeated with each trick in its turn exposed. [3]

1919 - The Pentz's Active League of Magicians (PALM) is organized with the express purpose of speaking out against exposure of magic secrets.


1921 - P.T. Selbit performs the first ever "Sawing in half", something that is, in present day, synonymous with the art of magic.

1926 - On All Hallows Eve at 1:26 pm, Harry Houdini dies.


1936 - Genii, the largest independent conjurer's magazine first published. Genii has always been an integral part of the magic fraternity. Founded by William Larsen, Sr, Genii has helped shape the growth of the world of magic for over seven decades.


1949 - The first publication of Royal Road to Card Magic written by Jean Hugard and Fred Braue, it's still an important first text for card workers today.


1952 - The first publication of Modern Coin Magic Written by JB Bobo, considered by some the "bible" of coin magic, many other works reference this one.

1956 - David Copperfield is born on September 16th, as David Seth Kotkin.


1963 - The Magic Castle is formed by Milt Larsen in Hollywood USA by converting a 1908 Victorian mansion to a center of magical excellence. Many leading magicians have performed there. Dai Vernon was resident magician in the latter part of his life.

1968 - The book 13 Steps to Mentalism by Tony Corinda was published and is one of the most famous books on mentalism.


1974 - The musical The Magic Show starring Doug Henning opens on Broadway and ushers in a new "Golden Age" of magic.


1994 - The first online magic stores appear following the older text type newsgroups and bulletin boards. Pictorial and information sites soon follow, changing the way magic is learned and distributed.

1997 - The Masked Magician , Val Valentino, provokes much controversy by exposing magic secrets on major Fox TV specials. David Blaine brings "Street Magic" to America.

1998 - World Of Illusion at Madison Square Garden launched the career of Criss Angel, followed by Criss Angel Mindfreak which ran until 2003.

1998 - Writer and publisher Richard Kaufman purchased Genii from the Larsen family, starting a new era in the magazine's history.

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See also


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  1. Sphinx March 1915
  2. Sphinx June 1916
  3. 241. DOCTOR NIX AND HIS MAGICAL EXPOSURES ON FILM - Complete Rich Cabinet of Magical Curiosities by Edwin A. Dawes (2005)