For the past five years Mike Caveney has been working on a set of books that document basically everything he has performed during his career. When he started he had no idea that the finished product would fill 700 pages over two volumes. As a long time collector of books and because this will be his legacy, he decided to make the finished product as nice as he possibly could. And now that they are finished we can honestly say that they are everything that he had hoped for.
Mike knew that he could write up the methods, theories, history and funny stories about each routine but he also knew that illustrating them would be a problem. Mike was not an artist. That’s when his long time friend and Hollywood special effects man, Bill Taylor, came to the rescue. Bill turned Mike's basement into a photo studio and for fourteen months they shot pictures. Many hundreds of them made it into the finished books and they are the clearest explanatory photos we have ever seen in a magic book. Because both of these books are printed in full color, each tiny detail is visible.
Volume I is called Mike Caveney Wonders and it contains all of the routines that Mike has performed going back to his days as a teenage magician in the Long Beach Mystics right up to his current act that includes Magic Paper, The Bow & Arrow and Scissors, Coat, Silverware & Chicken. More than just a How-To book, he has described the creative process behind each routine. In the case of Magic Paper (the torn, restored and animated toilet paper) Mike explained all five methods that he has used and why each one was discarded in favor of a new version and why he stuck with method five for nearly thirty years. The goal is to teach and encourage the readers how to create their own original routines. A peek at the table of contents reveals the variety of material.
The Long Beach Mystics 23
Giant Thimble Production 23
The Substitution Barrel 35
Trade Show Act 43
Amazing Mechanical Merlin 44
Split Deck 49
Crystal Card Catch 50
Anverdi Key Chest 53
Jumping Straw 57
The Nailed Card 61
The Benson Plunger 67
Two, One, None 83
Coin Vanish 89
Our Own Worst Enemy 94
Money Machine 99
Impromptu Linking Coat Hangers 109
Linking Coat Hangers 117
Lubor Die 127
Lie Detector 135
Halloween Card Stab 141
The Phome Book 151
Idiot Rings 159
The Powers of Darkness 171
Impromptu Powers of Darkness 187
Serious Laughter 195
Chinese Pipes 201
Nind Reading 209
Ten Dollar Bill Trick 219
Bill in Cigar 239
3-Arm Juggling 269
Coffee Juggling 281
Magic Paper 297
Bow & Arrow 345
Scissors, Coat, Silverware & Chicken 373
Billy’s Chicken Trick 417
The Chicken Chronicles 423
Mastering the Ceremonies 439
Volume II is called The Conference Illusions and it is a completely different type of book. During the past twenty-two years, Mike has recreated a number of long-forgotten tricks and illusions for the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History and each one posed its own unique challenges. In some instances he had the original apparatus that once belonged to Howard Thurston or Charles Carter and other times the equipment had to be built from scratch. The book chronicles the research into the history of the illusion, the original routines, how we attempted to improve the mechanics of the apparatus, re-think the presentation and design a routine that was suitable for a modern audience. After their debut performance at the History Conference a number of these effects were presented dozens of times for lay audiences at the Magic Castle and were found to be highly effective a hundred or more years after their creation. Each chapter includes vintage photographs and posters from the files of Egyptian Hall Museum as well as behind-the-scenes and action photos or the performances. Few readers will add any of these mysteries to their acts but there is much to be learned from studying ideas that were created by the greatest minds from magic’s Golden Age.
Magic’s Golden Age 15
1993 Dante’s Sawing a Lady in Half 27
1999 Selbit’s Bricks 43
1999 Through the Eye of a Needle 55
2001 The Million Dollar Mystery 69
2003 OH! Chair 101
2005 Del Adelphia Egg Bag 123
2007 The Astral Hand 165
2009 The Drum That Can’t Be Beaten 181
2009 Well I’m! 193
2011 The Orson Welles Act 221
2013 The Spirit Cabinet 247
Mike Caveney Wonders
9 by 11.5 inches
456 pages printed in full color on heavy art matte paper
Foreword by Mac King
Printed end-sheets with a tipped-in color frontis-piece
3-color foil stamping on the cover
The Conference Illusions
9 by 11.5 inches
256 pages printed in full color on heavy art matte paper
Foreword by Jim Steinmeyer
2-color foil stamping on the cover
Both books are housed in a matching slipcase with foil stamped side
Books and slipcase arrive in a custom printed cardboard shipping box
Sold only as a set.
This is the finest set of books I have ever owned. This is the finest thing in magic that I have ever owned. An absoute bargain and a must read.--Steve Bryant, Little Egypt.
Your books arrived today and I've not been able to put them down! The only way i can describe your books is pure beauty.--Al Rudge.
As a fellow bibliophile I love books that show how much the publisher cares about the material. Your books set a new standard.--Samuel Lamerson.
[Your books] are a magnificent achievement in every respect. Congratulations.--Stephen Minch.
"Mr. Caveney's new 'Wonders & The Conference Illusions' is truly astonishing. This is magic at its very best: wonderfully-crafted, thought-provoking material in a set that's simply stunning. This is one of those very rare occasions in magic in which the material in question far exceeded my expectations. I really can't recommend this set of books highly enough --- it's an absolute must-have for anyone who takes the art of magic seriously. Period."--Daniel Ulin.
These books surpass your own unbelieveably high standards. Just finished the conference illusions. Phenomenal.--Andy Labbie.
This is one of the most enlightening, amusing, and useful books on magic I have ever read, and I've read quite a few. The advice and insights in the book are valuable to anyone who performs any kind of magic anywhere and even infrequently. These bits of advice and insights are delivered in a non-pompous fashion, which matches the good humor with which the book is written. Magic books are not known for their laugh-out-loud humor but I found myself literally laughing out loud on more than one occasion while reading the books. So congratulations on writing a classic book, containing not just the story of your journey through magic and some of the people you met, not just a record of your attempts at perfecting the tricks you perform, but providing inspiration to try and make magic itself, which you so dearly love, better -- perhaps even to make it art.--Matt Field.
I’ve spent half a day with your new books, and to state the obvious: You have done a glorious thing. The thought, skill, good taste, and joy that radiate from your efforts is palpable.--David Regal.
Superb in every aspect of content and production. Congratulations on a phenomenal job. I have sent out the good news on Twitter/Facebook.--Paul Daniels.
I picked up the books from the PO Box on the way in to work this morning. Now it's two o'clock and I haven't done a single productive thing all day. If my boss finds out and gets mad, I'm giving him your number.--Bill Mullins.
Initially, the price gave me pause but only for a few seconds. I remembered that every book I bought from Mike Caveney's Magic Words was a first-class production in every respect. This set hit that mark and then set the bar even higher. Remarkable work, Mike, truly impressive. Congratulations!--Lindsay Smith.
The books are absolutely fantastic. What a trip to learn more about the illusions you recreated for the LA Conference. The descriptions and photos of your magic are superb!--Bruce Averbook.
If you want to know more about how to construct brilliant magic and routines, you must get Mike's new books! Few people in the world understand magic the way the Cave does.--John Carney.
It is wonderful to read about the routining and details that goes in to every bit. It will take me a long time to go through everything, but that is just a joy.--Lars-Peter Loeld.
They are two of the most beautifully produced books I have had the pleasure of owning even taking into consideration your other productions.--Tony Griffith.
Your books are delicious to our eyes and magical to our souls. So beautiful, so perfect. It is a piece of art.--Vanessa Vianna.
Thanks for blowing my mind! Your Wonders set of books is phenomenal. Simply beautiful!--Doug Scheer.
I rank these volumes with Hoffman, Vernon, Baker, Germain, Harbin, Jarrett, and Steinmeyer. They are completely innocent of any kind of bullshit. You put into print in easy-to-follow language everything I need to understand the material. You tell great stories. You make me laugh. You think deeply, wisely, wittily about magic. These books are rich in important ideas and suffused with a profound love of (and respect for) the art. They inspire me.--Teller.
These books are breathtaking. Outstanding work, The quality is a caliber I've never experienced.--Gerry Snow.
Eric Mead's review from Genii Magazine: It’s impossible for me to look at these books with anything approaching impartiality. I have been an admirer, a fan really, of Mike Caveney’s work for more than 30 years. Mike is also a long time treasured friend of mine, so any pretense that I could evaluate these books objectively must be swept aside from the start. I can say, without bias, what everyone in magic already knows: that he has created an act of clever and original material, that unfailingly puts his audience into fits of crippling laughter, yet keeps the focus on mystery and the impossible. His character is that of an idiot, blissfully unaware of his own ineptitude, who continually amazes by making good on his ludicrous claims through sheer luck, magic, or some combination. In the end it becomes perfectly clear that the man on the stage playing the role of idiot is the smartest guy in the room. I love his act, and rank it among the best comedy magic shows of our time.
An act like that does not come together easily, or quickly, and many ideas must be explored, tested, refined or discarded, over the course of many years as the pieces are fitted together and the act evolves. Usually the reader of magic literature is presented only with the final evolution of an effect, with no mention or discussion of the many iterations and decisions that led there. In his new book Mike Caveney Wonders, Mike Caveney has fully explained all the magic he’s performed throughout his career, and in many cases given the reader insight into his thought process, mistakes he made along the way, and a look at the hard work and continual problem solving that goes into making a finished piece of professional magic. His own apt subtitle to the book is “The long, slow process of creating magic for the real world.” Indeed.
When I say he explains all the magic he’s performed in his career, it isn’t an exaggeration. The great Caveney classics he’s known for, like the “Bow and Arrow,” the “Scissors, Coat, Silverware and Chicken,” “Three Arm Juggling,” “Powers of Darkness,” and “Coffee Juggling” are all here in glorious detail. But there is also a vast body of terrific and lesser-known work that is equally interesting, and no less valuable than the iconic routines he’s identified with. To give just one example, Mr. Caveney explains his entire trade show act from 30 years ago. Looking at this material we can already see the kind of thinking and attention to detail that will become a hallmark of a Caveney routine. The sales points needed in a trade show presentation are masterfully worked into the effects in clever ways that make sense. The props he used, and the secret behind the scenes operation of those props, are managed in the simple yet diabolical style that would later inform so much of his thinking and construction. In fact, as one reads about the development and details of routines like “The Nailed Card,” “The Money Machine,” “Chinese Pipes,” and “Anverdi Key Box” it becomes clear that Mr. Caveney has a penchant for detail, for identifying weak points and places for improvement, and an approach to problem solving that is at once creative and built on a solid understanding of existing magic theory. Going back to study his earliest work sheds light on his process and philosophies, foreshadows many of his later innovations, and is informative in the same way studying early films of master directors reveals fundamental tools and approaches applied more artistically and skillfully in later works.
The book itself is beautifully produced. It is actually two distinct volumes—the second of which is discussed a bit later—both arriving in a lovely custom slipcase with foil stamping that matches the covers of the books it houses. Both books share the same overall design elements and are beautifully laid out with full color photographs and tasteful color schemes. The heavy matte paper, the subtle font choices, and the visual variety that never becomes “busy,” make these large volumes a bibliophilic delight to hold, to flip through, admire, and read.
Though everything he performs is infused with his personality and style, arguably the most famous and iconic routine from Caveney’s act is “Scissors, Coat, Silverware and Chicken.” Reading just this chapter is a tour de force master class in “the long, slow process of creating magic for the real world.” In his discussion of the history and development of this routine, we are treated to 24 pages of dense detail on the props alone, covering different solutions, their strengths and weaknesses, and we see some of the evolution that happens when an artist isn’t satisfied with “good enough.” We learn how to effectively hide a large load at the back of a see-through chair—an ingenious application of an illusion principle—only to be told why this was eventually discarded in favor of a better method. We learn how to rig a piece of newspaper with special material so it makes a specific sound when torn, and how that discovery was made. We learn about a specially machined set of scissors that make what has always been a damn fine trick into a miracle. We are treated to five different versions of the secret load gimmick that allows dozens of spoons to be dropped from a borrowed coat using just one hand. Why five? Because the first four versions—though they worked well and any one of which would have made nearly anyone happy in performance—had small flaws that were improved with each redesign of the gimmick. The fifth and final version of the gimmick is an astonishing piece of secret equipment, allowing the performer to drop 60 spoons at controlled speed, two large silver trays one at a time, then a heavy metal water pitcher, and finally to produce a live chicken—all from a single compact load device that is a marvel of engineering.
From that brief description the reader may have a sense that getting these props made for personal use is unlikely. Sure, someone somewhere may find the right machinists, spend the requisite money, and actually produce working models of all the props. Then what? There is a real problem in adapting material that is this finely honed, this tightly scripted, and this fully realized. I simply cannot imagine anyone besides Mike Caveney performing this routine in public. It’s not that someone couldn’t follow his instructions, use his script, and get a huge reaction from an audience. The problem is that through his years of performing and refining it into the masterpiece it obviously is, the routine has become a perfect “Mike Caveney” piece. When something is as polished and perfected as “Scissors, Coat, Silverware and Chicken” is—or any of the other truly iconic Caveney pieces—there is little room for someone else to put their own stamp on it. It’s done. Therefore to perform it is to necessarily become a version of Mike Caveney, and not an expression of your own character and point of view. There is certainly great value in studying the evolution and all the many lessons that can be gleaned from such a piece being fully revealed in our literature, but I am convinced that those lessons must be applied elsewhere, to the development of our own work, and anyone dropping spoons and producing a chicken from a borrowed coat on stage has missed the real lessons being offered. Luckily for those looking for material to add to their own acts, there are many routines here that can be adapted and performed successfully without becoming an inferior Caveney. “The Bill in Cigar,” “The Ten Dollar Bill Trick,” and a bizarre but commercial presentation for the Ultra Mental Deck (using, of all things, a redesigned “Spike Coin”) come to mind, and many more not mentioned fall easily into this category. I read Mike Caveney Wonders from cover to cover in three long sittings for this review. I cannot wait to read it again, slowly, to take more time to think about and absorb the information. The book represents a lifetime of experience and wisdom distilled and giftwrapped for the magic community, and seems destined to be considered a classic work. Mike Caveney Wonders is a fabulous magic book, required reading for anyone who sincerely loves magic, and cares to learn from one of our best. Oh, but we aren’t done yet, because there is another large volume of magic, produced in the same style and with the same attention to detail, that comes with Mike Caveney Wonders. Mr. Caveney is one of the founders and producers of the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. This gathering is held every other year, since 1989, and as implied by the title focuses on magic’s rich history, telling old stories, sharing academic research and presenting effects from bygone eras to bring our past to life.
In The Conference Illusions, Mike Caveney gives the history and workings of the many illusions he has presented as part of the History Conference. These include Dante’s “Sawing a Lady in Half,” Thurston’s “OH! Chair,” “Selbit’s Bricks,” and the incredible “Million Dollar Mystery.” It is this last that Caveney claims is his favorite of the bunch. (Though in my own attendance of these conferences my vote has to go to Jim Steinmeyer and John Gaughan’s recreation of Dr. Hooker’s “Rising Cards,”—but that was not Mike Caveney’s presentation, and thus not included in this collection. I felt this should be mentioned, because several magician friends have asked.)
One of the most striking things about the material in this book is the ingenuity of the methods our past masters employed. These are the kind of secrets I dreamed of knowing when I was a 10-year-old magician. Sliding trap doors, hidden assistants, complicated lighting and stage design, spring loaded mechanisms, an elaborate and expensive 10-second sight gag that is actually justification for the secret of a later illusion—just flipping through the book to look at the illustrations and backstage pictures is a thrill that rekindles one’s fascination with elaborate methods.
Beyond the secrets to these great illusions, and the pictures of restored props and deconstructions, Mr. Caveney has given us a thorough and heartfelt telling of the history behind each illusion. Both entertaining and endlessly insightful, it is here that his love of magic, of magic’s history and of the characters that inhabit it, really shines through. He lovingly brings these people to life, showing how their tricks were intertwined with their lives, and presenting them as brilliant thinkers, petty bickerers, consummate showmen, genius engineers, and sometimes scoundrels. For someone who knows the names of Thurston, Dante, Valadon, Adelphia, and perhaps knows the standard summary line on who they were, Mr. Caveney’s portraits of the people, and stories of the events and personalities surrounding these effects are priceless.
When the Masked Magician was on television exposing magic secrets to the public, Teller made a most interesting comment to me. He said it wasn’t the exposure that bothered him; it wasn’t that the Masked Magician told too much—it was that he told too little. I thought I understood what he meant, and though it was an interesting point I didn’t think much more of it. His words came back to me again and again as I read The Conference Illusions. If only the general public had an inkling of what it really takes to present a beautiful theatrical deception. Perhaps the most important aspect of this book from my point of view is a full appreciation of the level of detail required to actually stage one of these illusions properly for an audience. Yes, the secret to Thurston’s “OH! Chair” is a trap door below and a hollow leg built into the chair. “The Million Dollar Mystery” is simply a large square tube covered in mirror surface running from the back of the cabinet through the curtain. Of course, “Through the Eye of a Needle” uses a steel boilerplate with a locking trap. “The Astral Hand” is a thread trick. If you think knowing those “secrets” constitutes anything close to an understanding of how those effects are performed, you owe it to yourself to study the detailed descriptions offered here. I promise that you will be entertained, educated, and seriously blown away, as Mike Caveney joyously guides you through a bit of our shared history, and the golden age of magic.