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Help Yourself, a 1931 Book of Magic

This image features a page from the book Help Yourself by Frank Lane. It shows four illustrations of various card tricks.  In the top left corner, there is an illustration of two hands showing the viewer how to hold the deck of cards to successfully execute the trick Crazy Card Trick. Below the image is the text indicating this is figure 3 and to see page 72 for more information about the trick.  The image to the top right features an illustration of a tube used in a combination card and handkerchief trick.  The diagram shows how both ends of the tube need to remain open.  The image is labeled as figure four and the reader is directed to page 42 to read more about the trick. Below these images are three illustrations of hands holding cards to pull off a trick.  The first image has the hand facing up with the desk in the hand.  The second image is a side view of the left hand holding the deck of cards with some space between the deck and the hand.  The final illustration shows the left hand fanning the cards with the left thumb.  The series of images is titled figure five with page 22 as the reference for the trick. Below these series of images is a block of text that reads: at the right is an extra illustration showing the top and bottom cards are taken off together in The Crazy Card Trick and also Frank Lane’s Poker Deal. To the right of the text are two hands holding a deck of card with the right hand sliding the top and bottom cards from the deck.

In Special Collections, we often find gems that make us wonder, “How did this get here?”  I may have wondered this when I came across Help Yourself by Frank Lane.  Help Yourself, published in 1931, features 73 card tricks, gags, handkerchief tricks, general magic tricks, and examples of patter, which includes the jokes, commentary, and story that accompanies the magic tricks.

The book begins with an entertaining introduction, written by Lane, that includes his intention for writing this book, his first in hardcover.

I don’t want anyone to write an introduction telling you how good I am and how long I have been associated with magic and a lot of hooey that doesn’t mean anything. I’m going to let the book speak for itself. If you like it, boost it, if you don’t, let me know, and I’ll refund your money at once, as I will on ANY of my books you buy from me.”

Following the brief introduction, Lane includes an over-the-top telling of his life story.  It reads like the patter he may have included when performing a card trick.  

“Suddenly, one night without warning of any kind, a bludgeon came down on my head, and if you were ever hit with a bludgeon, you can readily believe that I, at once, became unconscious. My mind was a total blank. Lots of you, I suppose, will think it is still blank, but I can’t help that. On the morning of the ninth day, after I was captured, I was pushed, head and all, into a large room where men without teeth were busily eating gum drops. Seated on a large platform, with his legs crossed, was Harry Cecil, the King of the starving Candy Manufacturers.”

Even though his book was published in 1931, Lane’s tricks are still referenced in message boards dedicated to magic.  Lane, real name Morand Francis Caldwell, died in 1987 at 91. 

To view this book, visit Special Collections in room 305 of McCain Library & Archives or contact Jennifer Brannock at Jennifer.Brannock@usm.edu or 601.266.4347.

Text by Jennifer Brannock, Curator of Rare Books & Mississippiana