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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Penny for your thoughts » » Origins of the book test (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Rebecca_Harris
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I was wondering if anyone could help me. I'm trying to research the origins of the book test. Who came up with the first version and when. The earliest I've traced it back to is the mid 1920s but there are plenty of hints that it goes back further than that.

I'd really appreaciate it if anyone can help Smile

Thanks
Mr. Mindbender
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From what I heard, Gutenberg was a weekend mentalist and after printing the Bible, he printed "The Mother of All Gutenberg Bibles".

But if you want to verify that, you should really PM DIck Christian, he's the Smithsonian Institute of book test knowledge around here.
s3rg3
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Dick Christian on this forum seems to be a very good reference on book tests.

If he doesn't react on your post I think it is worth to contact him.

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Dick Christian
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Rebecca,


Here is a brief extract from my award-winning article "Notes On The History Of Book Tests" which appeared in the April 2008 issue of The Linking Ring (the official magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians):

According to mentalist and magic historian Max Maven (a.k.a. Phil Goldstein)and F. William Kuethe Jr., a noted collector of forcing books and book tests, the use of books as props for magicians pre-dates the publication of Scot’s Discoverie Of Witchcraft (1584, the earliest book in the English language to discuss methods of conjuring) in which the “blow book” and its use by an early magician named Clarvis is described in Chapter 33 of Book 13, along with how to make such a book or, if his description is not clear, where to purchase one. From Scot’s description, it appears that the “blow book” was similar to the contemporary “magic coloring book” trick used by many clowns and children’s magicians today and derived its name from the presentation in which the magician would flip through the pages, which might appear blank, then blow on the book and flip through it again to reveal that pictures had appeared on the pages or that the pages had changed color. According to Scot and Prevost such books existed as early as 1450 only three years after Gutenberg introduced the printing of books using movable type in Europe (1447 — some 400 years after its invention by the Chinese).

Although the invention of the book test is most often ascribed to the noted 19th century magician Johan Nepomuk Hofzinser (1806-1875) who is said to have devised at least four such tests, the discovery by Vanni Bossi of the Italian publication Il Laberinto produced by Andrea Ghisi in 1607, and now believed to be the earliest known to be in print, is evidence that such tests existed some 200 years before Hofzinser. An expanded English translation of it entitled Wits laberynth, or, the exercise of idlenesse, published anonymously in 1610, was recently found by Bill Kalush1 (co-author of the recently published The Secret Life of Houdini) and was likely the inspiration for the book test in Nicholas Hunt’s Newe Recreations, published in London in 1631 and specially printed to force a word.


The entire article is some 1,500 words (3 pages) in length and I will be happy to forward a copy to you if you like.

FYI I have been collecting book tests and forcing books for over 30 years and seriously researching the genre for over 7 with a goal of publishing the first definitive reference work on the subject by early 2012. Most people, even avid collectors have no idea how many such tests have been produced or published. I currently have an estimated 1,000-1,200 (400-500 individually published and marketed and another 500-700 in various books, magazines, newsletters and manuscripts in my personal library) dating from 1892 to 2010 in my collection and, based on a review of Potter's Master Index of Magic in Print which (with supplements) only covers those published through 1971, I estimate that at least 2,500 -- and possible twice that number -- have been published and I am counting only those published in English. How many others have been created in other languages or for the personal use of the performer and never published are anybody's guess.

Hope this answers your question.
Dick Christian
entity
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Dick:

I'd be very interested in getting a copy of your article.

Question: While the reference to "blow book" being used by magicians is of interest, is there any suggestion that the blow books were used to divine words, passages or pictures in their performance?

Also, is the term "book test" used only in reference to effects that use gaffed books? If not, there are references to the divination of words or passages chosen from written texts that far predate 1607.

- entity
ChrisWall
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Wow that was quite the interesting read.

Thank you for working on creating this for I have no doubt it will be a fantastic addition to the magic/mentalism fraternity.
"Have your cake and eat it... there's no other reason to have a cake" - Derren Brown
Dick Christian
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Quote:
On 2010-11-15 12:58, entity wrote:
Dick:

I'd be very interested in getting a copy of your article.

Question: While the reference to "blow book" being used by magicians is of interest, is there any suggestion that the blow books were used to divine words, passages or pictures in their performance?

Also, is the term "book test" used only in reference to effects that use gaffed books? If not, there are references to the divination of words or passages chosen from written texts that far predate 1607.

- entity


entity,

I will be happy to e-mail a copy of the article to anyone who is not a member of the I.B.M. and sends me their e-mail address (I.B.M. members can find it in the April 2008 issue of The Linking Ring).

In answer to your specific questions, there is nothing to suggest that the "blow book" mentioned in Scott's Discoverie of Witchcraft was intended to force or divine words, pictures or phrases. As I recall, the precise use to which the book was to be put was left open to conjecture. As re: your other question, my definition of "book test" is a broad one that, consistent with the way the term has been used within the context of magic/mentalism, is based more on the purpose of the test -- i.e., the divination, revelation or prediction of a word, image, phrase, etc. -- apparently chosen at random by one or more participating spectators or audience members, usually (but not necessarily) from something appearing in print. Historically that has included not only books such as novels but also Bibles, dictionaries and telephone directories, comic books/graphic novels, books of crossword and other word puzzles, magazines, newspapers and want ads -- even "imaginary books" (e.g., the "Billion Monkeys Book Test" in Joshua Quinn's Paralies). Whether the printed material employed is gaffed or ungaffed for the purpose is immaterial. Referring to such effects as "word tests" would be more accurate as they are not strictly limited to those using only books; however, by common usage the term "book test" has been the appellation applied to the entire genre.

As re: whether or not there are any such tests that predate 1607, I can only say that if there are, I am not aware of them; however, if anyone knows of any, I will be happy to include the appropriate reference in the book I'm compiling.
Dick Christian
Merlin C
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As I understand it, the term 'book test' comes from Spiritualism and is one of a number of tests of spirit contact including slate tests, billet tests, etc.

Another angle here is bibliomancy, the use (in Europe) most often of the bible in divination.
entity
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This was cribbed from a post made by David Parr here on the Café a while back. I can't locate the specific link, but here is the text. While it is definitely NOT the first "book test", it may be the first referred to as such:

"The "book test" was not invented by magicians; it was acquired from British actress and medium Gladys Osborne Leonard, through her work with the Society for Psychical Research in the early part of the twentieth century. The first book test was supposedly suggested by Mrs. Leonard's spirit guide, Feda. In a successful test, a "spirit" would direct a sitter to retrieve, say, the ninth book from the left on the third shelf down. Upon opening the book to a page named by the spirit, the sitter would discover that the text made reference to something that would only be significant to the sitter and the spirit."

- entity
Merlin C
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Yes, one (not particularly good) reference I have also mentions Leonard. Apparently the Al Mann book The Foster Account refers to Charles Foster's book tests, which would have been in the nineteenth century, but I don't know whether he used the term.
IAIN
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I have an original book from the Society of Psychical Research from 1924 I think - I'll dig it out over the weekend and see what references there may be in there too..
Dick Christian
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Quote:
On 2010-11-15 14:32, entity wrote:
This was cribbed from a post made by David Parr here on the Café a while back. I can't locate the specific link, but here is the text. While it is definitely NOT the first "book test", it may be the first referred to as such:

"The "book test" was not invented by magicians; it was acquired from British actress and medium Gladys Osborne Leonard, through her work with the Society for Psychical Research in the early part of the twentieth century. The first book test was supposedly suggested by Mrs. Leonard's spirit guide, Feda. In a successful test, a "spirit" would direct a sitter to retrieve, say, the ninth book from the left on the third shelf down. Upon opening the book to a page named by the spirit, the sitter would discover that the text made reference to something that would only be significant to the sitter and the spirit."

- entity


Yes, book tests -- often involving the Bible -- were commonly used by Spiritualists in the 19th century (and may well still be so today). That fact is mentioned in my article and my collection includes Al Mann's "A.M.E. Houdini Bible" which is supposedly modeled after the gaffed Spiritualist Bible that Houdini owned and used in his exposures of fraudulent mediums. I believe that at least one of the original so-called Houdini Bibles (formerly in the William C. Kuethe collection) is now owned by collector George Daily and another is in the famous Klosterman collection.

I am also aware of Mrs. Leonard's book test although, as you can see from the historical information I provided in my response to Rebecca, and as you have noted, it was hardly the "first" book test nor do I believe it is the first referred to as such, although it may well be the first described by the SPR.
Dick Christian
entity
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Dick:

Do you have any information on the first usage of the term "book test", predating that used by Mrs. Leonard?

- entity
Garrette
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I believe the book test originated with Gilgamesh, but no one has been able to replicate his riffling of steles to force the word.
entity
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An Epic mistake. From all reports Bilgames (his real name) couldn't read.

- entity
Garrette
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But boy could that man write!


ETA: Bilgames? Really? I didn't know that.
entity
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That's what he was called in the earliest found Sumerian accounts.

I may be wrong, but I don't think he wrote the Epic. It was written by someone else with him as the central figure. That's all I remember. I studied this in uni about a thousand years ago.

(What's ETA?)
- entity
robwar0100
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Dick Christian is the man when it comes to the history of book tests.

Here is a shortened link to a search of this site for all of those pages containing the phrases "Dick Christian" and "book test."

http://bit.ly/d3ZCxI

Bobby
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gmeister
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Those could be compiled into a meaty book on book tests methinks!
Garrette
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I knew Gilgamesh/Bilgames didn't write the Epic; I just didn't know the other version of the name.

ETA = Edited to Add
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