Thursday, October 14, 2010

Turn of the Century: The Golden Era of Magic

As a little girl I had very few heroes, but one of them was Harry Houdini. I remember reading a book about him and his life in middle school,and then spending a summer attempting to "train" my esophagus to operate in reverse, the way he did to reproduce keys he'd swallowed (after being locked in various boxes). I won't go into specifics of how that's done. Sadly, stage fright nixed any of my plans as a performer (of which magician was only one of many; tightrope walker, actress, ballerina, gymnast).

I bring up Houdini as a segue to feature highly collectible, and uniquely beautiful, vintage magic posters. In the 1870's Jules Cheret mastered the technique of stone lithography and is credited with being the “father" of the process. His three stone lithographic process allowed every color in the rainbow to be printed with as little as three stones – usually red, yellow and blue – printed in careful registration.

The peak of lithographic popularity coincided with the Golden Era of Magic, from 1890 to 1930.  Thousands of colorful lithographs, advertising impossible feats of famous magicians like Houdini, as well as Kellar and Carter the Great, were generated during these years. They often featured devils and demons helping to perform the illusions, as if magic were Satan's work.

Oh...and if you haven't seen Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige", I highly recommend it.  It's set during this golden age, and (for you Coloradans) features David Bowie as Tesla holed up in Colorado Springs experimenting (which really happened!).

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