Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Impression Devices

A writing impression device was detailed in Horatio Galasso's Giochi de Carte, 1593, p. 129 of the Pieper translation. This book was translated in Gibecière, Vol. 2 No. 2, Summer 2007, p. 15-150. On page 185, Vanni Bossi claims that the impression device goes back even further to Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere tutte sorte lettere antiche et moderne di tutte nationi, 1540.

Two centuries later, an interesting embellishment on early impression devices was published by W. Hooper in Rational Recreations Volume 4, 1774, p. 280 of the second edition. In an entry titled “The burnt writing restored”, a special “wallet” is described. The wallet seems to be a form of large envelope or folder used during the period for carrying writing paper. It was covered in black satin and the inner surface of one side of the wallet was secretly covered with soap impregnated with soot. The opposite inner surface was covered with soap mixed with a reddish-brown chalk. Writing on a sheet of paper resting on this wallet created either a red impression or a black one on a sheet of paper inside the wallet. A spectator was invited to write something in either red or black ink, and the appropriate side of the wallet was turned upward before the writing was done. When the paper inside the wallet was removed, it proved to be a “prediction” of the thing written, in the freely chosen color. This idea would be inverted in the twentieth century to produce a prediction evidently written with a different colored pen than that used in the course of performance.

Also worth noting is a variation on the impression device explained in W. H. J. Shaw's Magic and Its Mysteries, 1893, p. 49. In “The Spirit Communication” a small piece of paper is used, prepared with white wax or soap. The paper is set on a sheet of glass while the writing is done. The impression is read without the use of a developing agent (e.g., graphite); rather, it is read by observing the glass sheet from an appropriate angle.

Walford Taylor wrote a two-part overview on impression devices in The Magic Circular, Vol. 101, Nos. 1086 & 1087, Jan. & Feb. 2007, p. 6-7 & 38-40, respectively.