London: For Thomas Young and Samuel Speed, 1658. First English language edition of Porta's Magiae naturalis libri viginti, originially published in 1558. Twentieth century binding of full calf with light wear at the joints. New endpapers (at the time of rebinding), early and late leaves with margins extended or repaired, a serviceable copy only with several leaves browned, stained, torn or otherwise damaged, but complete withal. Folio (pages 273 x 176 mm), collating: [blank], [engraved title], [printed title], [4 Reader's Preface], 1-128, 131, 130-384, 381-388, 393-409, [1 blank], [6 Table of Contents]; complete. This translation is based on the expanded 1589 edition of Porta's Magiae naturalis.
Harry Houdini’s copy (pseud. Erich Weiss), purchased by him in Birmingham, England, February, 1904 (according to a manuscript note tipped in on the front end paper). Signed by Houdini on the first blank, preceding the engraved title, below a previous owner “J. A. Green.” Also with a manuscript note on the same page in his hand “Page 321. A most damnable & cruel way of roasting a goose alive. HH. Page 350 – INKS.” The annotation for p. 321 is fairly self-explanatory, the notation for inks refers to methods of creating invisible inks and invisible writings. Houdini’s name stamped in purple ink on the engraved title page and on page 1. Previous ownership markings of William Ettricke on the printed title and on page 1, and likely his marginal notations in the index.
Houdini (1874 – 1926) was the most famous magician of modern times. Houdini’s mystifying escapes brought him worldwide fame, such that he was able to book acts in Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Russia and England. It was approximately one month before his famous escape known as the “Daily Mirror Challenge” that he would have purchased this book in Birmingham. Houdini’s vast collection of books, manuscripts, scrapbooks, posters playbills and other ephemera is now housed primarily at the Library of Congress and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, making this particular copy the more desirable. This copy was gifted from a well-known collector to the present recipient in the 1980s.
Porta’s “Natural Magick” is an uncritical compilation of the fantastical and the empirical, discussing subjects such as demonology, magnetism, alchemical secrets, the beautification of women and the camera obscura. "Porta was the first to add a concave lens to the aperture of the camera obscura, and his comparison of the camera lens to the pupil of the eye provided an easily understood demonstration that the source of visual images lay outside the eye, thus ending a centuries-old controversy." (Norman 1726) A wonderful, early pseudo-scientific work offering a small glimpse into the learning of the time made the more significant based on the association with one of the greatest magicians of all time. (Item #1053)
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