History of Magic & Magicians

History of Magic & Magicians 

Magic, which encompasses the subgenres of illusion, stage magic, and close-up magic, among others, is a performing art in which audiences are entertained by tricks, effects, or illusions of seemingly impossible feats, using natural means.

It is to be distinguished from paranormal magic which are effects claimed to be created through supernatural means. It is one of the oldest performing arts in the world.

The term “magic” derives from the Greek word Mageia.

The term evolved to refer to the ritual acts performed by Persian Priests known as Magoi and eventually came to mean any foreign, unorthodox or illegitimate ritual practice.

Ritual Practice & Illusion

Successful acts of illusion could be perceived as if it were like a feat of magic supposed to have been able to be performed by the ancient Magoi.

The performance of tricks of illusion, or magical illusion, and the apparent workings and effects of such acts have often been referred to as “magic” and particularly as magic tricks.

The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584, was meant to help stop the frenzied craze of killing persons suspected of being witches by explaining the secrets of magic.

During the 17th century, many books were published that described magic tricks. Until the 18th century, magic shows were a common source of entertainment at fairs.

The “Father” of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who had a magic theatre in Paris in 1845.

Towards the end of the 19th century, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm.

As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television magic specials.

Modern entertainment magic, as pioneered by 19th-century magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, has become a popular theatrical art form.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, magicians such as Maskelyne and Devant, Howard Thurston, Harry Kellar, and Harry Houdini achieved widespread commercial success during what has become known as “the Golden Age of Magic”.

During this period, performance magic became a staple of Broadway theatre, vaudeville, and music halls.


Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Known as the “Father” of Modern Entertainment Magic.

Originally a Clockmaker, Houdin opened a magic theater in Paris in 1845 and transformed the art of magic from one performed at fairs to one the public paid to see in a theater.

He specialized in constructing mechanical automata that appeared to move and act as if they were alive.

One his most beautiful creations was an automata orange tree that, in combination with a sleight of hand trick, produced both real orange fruit and an object, such as a ring, that was submitted by a member of the audience.


Click the image of the Orange Tree to go to a video performance of this magic trick!

Stage Magic of the Late 19th & Early 20th Centuries

Towards the end of the century, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm.

British performer J N Maskelyne and his partner Cooke were established at the Egyptian Hall in London’s Piccadilly in 1873.

Their show incorporated stage illusions and reinvented traditional tricks with exotic (often Oriental) imagery.

Maskelyne and Cooke invented many of the illusions still performed today—one of his best-known being levitation.

Harry Houdini (1874 – 1926)

The escapologist and magician Harry Houdini, whose real name was Erik Weisz, took his stage name from Robert-Houdin and developed a range of stage magic tricks, many of them based on what became known after his death as escapology.

Houdini was genuinely skilled in techniques such as lockpicking and escaping straitjackets, but also made full use of a range of conjuring techniques, including fake equipment and collusion with individuals in the audience.

Houdini’s show-business savvy was as great as his performance skill.

Magic in the Modern Age

Magic retained its popularity in the television age, with magicians such as Paul Daniels, Doug Henning, and Derren Brown modernizing the art form.

As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television specials, which opened up new opportunities for deceptions, and brought stage magic to huge audiences.

Famous magicians of the 20th century included Okito, David Devant, Harry Blackstone Sr. & Jr., Howard Thurston and many more.

Popular 20th- and 21st-century magicians include David Copperfield, Lance Burton, James Randi, Penn and Teller, David Blaine, Criss Angel, Hans Klok, Derren Brown and Dynamo.



Magic Collectibles

  • Magician’s Posters – intact full posters are rare as they were not meant to be displayed for very long.
  • Antique Magician & Illusionist Publications
  • The Secrets of Conjuring & Magic by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin
  • Trick Props
  • Cards
  • Dagger
  • Cup & Ball
  • Handcuffs
  • Straight Jackets

Sold at auction Nov. 2017: $3,630

                                Sold at Auction April 2022: $5,000



Sold at auction February 2017: $144,000