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Unpacking a Jasper Maskelyne illusion

In this blog, we share a link to a YouTube video from Davenport's Magic Kingdom, a former magic-themed museum in North Walsham, Norfolk.*

In the video, Roy Davenport - great grandson to Lewis Davenport, founder of Davenports Magic the oldest family-run magic business in the world, established in 1898 - unpacks an illusion belonging to Jasper Maskelyne.

He first unpacks a platform which has a cross in its centre, with 5 holes drilled in it. The platform has castors on its corners, which Roy tells us is rare for illusions of the time (1930s to late 1940s).

The platform could be from Jasper's version of the Crystal Casket illusion.

“A plate-glass case is wheeled on to the stage. The case is steel-bound, with a glass lid, kept down by four padlocks. It moves on castors and is raised by a framework nine inches clear of the stage, so that the audience can see beneath it. A committee is invited up on to the stage to examine the glass case and pass it as empty and trick-proof. Then they padlock the lid down and keep the keys. At this point I throw a cloth over the case, turn it completely round once on its castors to show the audience that the back is as solid as the front (though the committee who stand round all the time can see for themselves) pull the cloth off and lo! there is a girl inside!”

Maskelyne, Jasper. White Magic, 1936.

This Crystal Casket illusion was probably invented by a German magician, Carl Rosenfeld, in 1904. A quick, visual and effective illusion, it remains widely popular among illusionists today.

But, while the description of the platform matches, the purpose of the cross and holes are not clear in relation to the Crystal Casket illusion.

There's also a cabinet, made up from two folding screens, but this does not appear to be related to the platform. The cabinet has Chinese lettering.

Jasper often performed a Chinese-themed act, appearing under the faux name, Wee Tinn Cann.

The cabinet may be from Jasper's Old Mother Hubbard illusion, which was a comedy vanish of a girl.

“‘Mother Hubbard’ now has the traditional cupboard erected for her - a structure of light wooden panels. Her repeated ‘goings,’ in accordance with the nursery rhyme, brought up to date, only result in the production of the landlord, tax collector, policeman, and insurance agent. Tearfully, Mother Hubbard goes in the cabinet, which an instant later is demolished by the aforesaid quartette - nothing but the poor lady’s dress remains.”

The Magic Wand, 1930

Unfortunately, Roy didn't share a follow-up video with further information.

But, we do have this photograph of Jasper Maskelyne's unpacked equipment and other props.

The platform unpacked from the freight crate is in the right foreground, with the crate behind it. Two barrels from a version of 'Through the Eye of a Needle' are in the centre of the image. The cabinet unpacked by Roy Davenport is behind the barrels.

* Note that the Davenport's Magic Kingdom no longer exists.

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