Thursday, December 18, 2014

Magic in a POW Camp – the Story of Gus Anckorn

Anckorn EggWe recently made friends with a ninety-five year old Magic Circle member named Fergus (Gus) Anckorn. Gus caught our attention not just because he is a skilled and experienced practitioner, but because his abilities as a magician are woven into an unbelievable tale of survival as a POW. He used magic to gain favor with his captors and boost his friends’ morale, and there are other aspects of his story so serendipitous that they too resemble magic.

We first encountered Gus while researching The Piddington’s. After publishing Barry Wiley’s brilliant piece on the Piddington’s in Gibecière Vol. 8 No. 2, we decided to investigate a bit further. Upon asking Eddie Dawes about Sydney Piddington, Braddon and the others, Eddie kindly informed us that “Gus Anckorn was there at Changi too and you can still speak to him!” It turns out that the Piddington’s world famous telepathy act, unlike anything else in magic at the time, was developed in large part by Gus and Sydney Piddington while the two were in Changi Prison during the war. (You can listen to a full recording of the act by clicking HERE). With the lead provided by Mr. Dawes, we found our way to London and managed (with the help of a number of people including Matthew Field and Peter Lane) to meet Gus and arrange a visit to his home. At ninty-three, Gus has more energy than many a third of  his age. He performed excellent magic for hours on end and told us many stories about his life as a prisoner of the Japanese.

Young GusMany details of Gus’s terrifying yet charmed life is described in Peter Fyans book Captivity, Slavery, Survival as a Far East POW: Conjuror on the Kwai. During his years as a prisoner, he was blown up; left for dead in a ditch; water boarded with ether; shot through the back of the knee; covered in burning creosote; and forced to work on the infamous Burma railway. For much of this time, Gus’s right hand was incapacitated and his leg was so damaged that he needed to drag it with a piece of rope in order to walk.

Despite many gruesome episodes, Gus considers himself the luckiest man in the world. After his right hand was nearly blown off by  bombers, he found himself in bed at the Alexandra Military Hospital with a poorly tied tourniquet around his arm. He saw that the walking wounded and the entire hospital staff was being marched out the door and executed by Japanese soldiers. Bed-ridden patients were then stabbed to death with bayonets. However, Gus’s damaged arm was bleeding profusely over his chest, and the soldiers with bayonets assumed that he had already been executed. There are numerous similar moments in Gus’s story where an instance of bad luck placed him out of harm’s way just before an arbitrary massacre or explosion.

Beyond luck, however, Gus’s skill as a magician often kept him and his fellow prisoners fed and safe. The commandant of his prison camp took a particularly liking to magic and frequently requested performances. Gus quickly noticed that his captors, thinking of their prisoners as “verminous,” refused take back any objects that he’d borrowed and touched during his feats. For this reason he used a great variety of objects, making a coin appear in a can of fish, or manipulating bananas and cigarettes. All of this supplemented the small portions of rice that he and fellow prisoners were living on. Gus’s performances also resulted in less brutal treatment of  himself and his fellow prisoners.

There are many more twists, turns, and outright miracles that kept Gus alive. His life mixes together bravery with magic, wit, and the most well-timed luck imaginable. It makes for a humbling and inspiring adventure story. And it is a reminder that great magic has power.


December 11, 2013 by | Filed under Articles, Curious and New, Magic News, Research

Listen to the Piddington’s

Gib16Banner 2Here’s a full recording of The Piddington’s – a husband and wife team who gained worldwide fame performing a telepathy routine that bordered on the supernatural. You can find out more about them by reading the  fascinating biographical piece that Barry Wiley contributed to our historical journal Gibecière, Vol. 8, No. 2.

While listening to this vintage recording, consider that Sydney Piddington began to develop this act while he was interred at Changi Prison camp during World War II. During this time he became friends with other performers like Russell Braddon, and Fergus Anckorn (whose own story is described HERE). Under the harshest of conditions, they created act that follows.


December 11, 2013 by | Filed under Articles, Exhibitions, Gibecière, Magic News, Research

EXCLUSIVE: Digital Precursor! Only $149*!

Precursor WP Banner

A brand new Conjuring Arts exclusive! The legendary Precursor magazine. Over 2600 pages of amazing content now available digitally to keep at your fingertips. *Only $149 for members of Conjuring Arts and $199 for all others.

Between the Spring of 1983 and the Spring of 2006 William Miesel and Ed Eckl collected some of the most amazing and astonishing magic secrets ever and printed them in the Precursor. Now for the first time ever, every single issue is available to be downloaded.

Intended from conception to be the heir of the venerable Ibidem, Miesel coaxed the most creative minds in magic to part with cherished secrets which he re-wrote and used to filled the pages of Precursor.

Miesel cleverly would accept concepts and problems along with fully fleshed out routines, and by opening up the pages of Precursor to unfinished thoughts his journal became the birthplace for a lot of important material.

Just a few of the luminaries who contributed: Mike Skinner, Stewart James, Ken Krenzel, Max Maven, Ed Marlo, J.K.Hartman, Gene Maze, Lou Gallo, Jon Racherbaumer, Bill Kalush, Chris Kenner, Karl Fulves, Mel Stover and Martin Gardner

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May 31, 2013 by | Filed under Magic News, Research

Gibecière Vol. 8, No. 1

GIbeciere 15 Banner CleanGibeciere 15 Cover ScanGibecière Vol. 8, No. 1

It’s kind of a big deal.

Our 15th issue of Gibecière is our biggest issue ever! As with some previous issues of our journal, we are once again very proud to deliver a long lost manuscript that sheds refreshing light on our history while also unearthing some forgotten treasures.

The Asti manuscript is estimated to have been written somewhere between 1670 – 1730 and, until recently, had been relegated to a storage closet housing a miscellany of things in the Biblioteca di Asti. Someone did discover the manuscript there and deemed it  worth being inventoried and catalogued, although they ultimately decided it was not of any major importance.

It was Marco Aimone and Aurelio Paviato who learned of the manuscript and thought otherwise. Just a brief look at the first two items, and they knew they had found a new and important addition to magic literature. Here we find the earliest known descriptions of a sleight-of-hand color change and the under-the-spread force. In addition, there are unique effects described that would otherwise have been lost, as well as early precursors to now-classic effects. The forgotten effects may inspire you to breathe new life into them with modern methods, while the early handlings of classic effects could drive a well-worn plot in new directions.

The manuscript has been painstakingly transcribed by Aurelio Paviato and then translated into English by Lori Pieper and  features sections on tricks with playing cards, sleight of hand with other objects and tricks with apparatus, and, finally,  tricks, stunts, and experiments. The author has included a plethora of clear and very informative illustrations. Additionally there are a number of tips on handling sprinkled throughout the manuscript that point to some early psychological advantages in use by magicians of the era.

The manuscript has been made as readable as possible and supplemented with numerous annotations by Lori Pieper, Aurelio Paviato, Thierry Depaulis, William Kalush, and Stephen Minch. Further, studies of the history and background for the work have been provided by Donatella Gnetti and Thierry Depaulis.

We think you will enjoy this fantastic window into our history! It should be at our offices near the middle of February (a little late due to the extensive work involved in getting the manuscript ready coupled with setbacks attributed to Hurricane Sandy), and we will be shipping them out to members as soon as we receive them. To insure that you get your copy, make sure that your membership is up to date. Or, if  you are not a member, please join by going here. In addition to the journal we offer numerous other benefits, not the least of which is our searchable magic database, Ask Alexander.

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Gibeciere Winter 2013 The present Book Sachs Knife Trick Greek Break Florentine Cards Card Illustrations A Curious Manuscript Back Cover Contents

March 18, 2013 by | Filed under Gibecière, Magic News, Research
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Discovered! Bee 216…Erdnase?

New York Consolidated - Bee No 216Recently one of our board members found what might be the only existing example of the Bee 216 deck. This was printed by the New York Consolidated Card Company for a very limited time around the year 1900, and although the back design appears in catalogs and illustrations, no other complete deck is known. What is even more exciting is that our deck is in mint condition. What this means is that for the first time we can determine exactly what the cards that Erdnase used felt like! For example, the deck is very thin (52 cards is 14.50 mm!) and very smooth (Cambric finish wouldn’t be used until 1910!). Fittingly, Erdnase wrote, “For superior work the cards should be new, thin, flexible and of best quality.”

Erdnase - Bee AceThe back design of the Bee 216 is another very interesting thing. Anyone who has studied Erdnase sufficiently has noticed that the illustrations clearly indicate that he was using Bees. This can be seen by the Ace of Spades in Figure (101). On even closer examination of the illustrations, you can see in many of the Figures (see Fig. 75, for example) that the back design is not redrawn but just a squiggle is used. This is very possibly just a shortcut by the illustrator, and this has been our opinion for many, many years. But, on discovering the Bee 216 deck, a new theory arose. What if this design, which matches M. D. Smith’s “squiggles”, Diagonal Palm Shiftwas actually the type of card Erdnase used at the time the book was illustrated?

This discovery was first revealed on February 26, 2013, the 111th anniversary of the copyright registration for The Expert at the Card Table, on our website.


Deck in BoxDeck Box and SlipAce of SpadesBox

February 27, 2013 by | Filed under Magic News, Playing Cards, Research

Research Visits

Research Appointments at the Conjuring Arts Research Center

Thank you for your interest in conducting research at the Conjuring Arts Research Center. The Conjuring Arts library operates on a closed-stack system: this means we don’t allow browsing of our shelves. What we do allow however, are prearranged research appointments. If you are interested in arranging a research appointment, please send a brief proposal to The proposal should include the following:

1. Project goals

2. A list of up to 5 texts you plan on using. Our online catalog is accessible at

3. End uses of the research

This will be reviewed by the librarian and sent to the Board for approval. If approved, an appointment will be scheduled at a time that is mutually convenient . Please allow at least two weeks for the arrangement of an appointment.

A few notes on the actual research appointment:
-All appointments last two hours
-Current photo ID must be presented at the beginning of the appointment
-Bags and backpacks must be left with the librarian at the beginning of the appointment
-You are welcome to use a personal laptop during your appointment
-Pencils are the only writing instrument allowed
-No food or beverages are allowed in the library

June 11, 2012 by | Filed under Research