Thursday, February 16, 2012

The perennial Houdini on Magic

My recent post about Scholastic's The Great Houdini got me wondering which Houdini book has had the longest continuous life in print. Didn't take me long to figure out that it must be Houdini on Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young. The book was first published in 1953 by Dover and has apparently never gone out of print. Check out the Dover website or Amazon where you can still buy a brand new copy today. This is also the book that you'll most likely find looking back at you from any magic shop book rack.

The original 1953 hardcover and paperback edition.

The book itself is a confection of previously published material, including Gibson's Houdini's Escape and Magic and Houdini's own books and pitchbooks. This means it contains some Houdini mythology. On the upside, it's very nicely illustrated and Gibson's introduction -- in which he talks about knowing and working with Houdini -- is worth the price of the book alone.

Paperback editions from the 1960s.

Here I've gathered a selection of Houdini on Magic covers from my own collection (along with the Gresham bio, Houdini on Magic was the first Houdini book I ever purchased). The Dover copyright pages only ever say 1953, so it's hard to determine exactly when these books were first published. I can't claim these are all the variations, but it's a good cross section of the major changes in cover art that the book has experienced over its amazing 59 years in print!

Houdini on Magic cover art from the 1970s to today.

UPDATE: In 2013, Dover gave the perennial Houdini on Magic a bit of cover revamp. Still going strong!

Also enjoy:


  1. This was the first book on Houdini I ever owned (my aunt gave it to me as a birthday present). My edition has the bottom-left cover art. It is much worn and thumbed-through, but it's not quite falling apart yet. :)

    I wonder how this book stayed in print so long?

  2. I'm guessing this was the first Houdini book for quite a few of us. Be fun to hear everyone chime in. I also had the lower left green cover, purchased at the Topanga Plaza mall in 1975. Still have it and, yes, it is VERY well thumbed. :)

  3. I have that book also and the great thing about it is it's written by Houdini. The flavor of the wording is so "old world" and the stories he tells such as trying to visit an old magician, being constantly denied and then having the magician die the eve of their can a most imagine Houdini telling the tale. One other book that I still think is the best is Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter Gibson. Lots of insights as to how Houdini accomplished many of his effects.

  4. A lot of the reviewers of this book on Amazon are complaining that most of this book was ghostwritten for Houdini, but I think that misses the point. Likely all of the subjects in the book were personally selected by Houdini himself and they probably closely reflected his thoughts and interests.

  5. Another interesting thing about this book is that it first came out in the same year as the Tony Curtis film about Houdini.

  6. So I went to The Magic Apple in Studio City today, which is one of the last magic stores left in Los Angeles, to see if they had a copy of Houdini on Magic with the new title treatment. They did not. In fact, they had NO Houdini books on the shelf and had never heard of this book. I don't know. A magic shop without at least one Houdini book on the shelf...feels like malpractice.

  7. Seems weird they hadn't heard of it.