Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LEFT INSIDE: George Johnstone Bookplate

I bought a book at the Printer's Book Fair earlier this year solely for the book plate firmly glued to the front endpaper.  It announces that the book comes from the library of George Johnstone, an American magician who died in 2004.

Apart from some amusing anecdotes from fellow magicians on several on-line magician forums I could only discover that Johnstone was an avid book collector, appeared on Ed Sullivan, was the opening act for the 1956 Elvis tour, and he started out as an assistant for Blackstone back in the 1930s.

Click on the image to enlarge and you will be able to read all of the book titles.  Each one is a real book considered a classic in the magic world.  I assume that the GJ on the right hand side above the bookend are George Johnstone's initials and that he himself designed the bookplate.

The book came from the huge collection of magic books, magic tricks, stage illusionist posters and ephemera belonging to Chicago magician, ventriloquist and puppeteer Jay Marshall who died in 2005.  I knew Jay for exactly one year and visited his house once when I was a puppeteer with a company called Hystopolis Productions back in the late 1990s.  He was approaching his seventies at the time, but was still a good spirited, very funny man with a devilish sense of humor.  He still did a few tricks at summer parties and enjoyed doing his very adult puppet show for friends only.  I only wish I got to know him better than the few hours I spent in his backyard for that one summer party.

It was sheer luck that I found the book pictured below at the book fair this year.  The dealer was the one who told me she thinks it came from Marshall.  The finest and rarest objects, posters and books from his staggering collection were auctioned off over a three year period between 2007 and 2009 in Illinois and Kentucky at three magic collector annual conventions and a private auction house. You can still view the "Part 3" auction catalog here. (Remember the auction ended over two years ago. Don't get too excited looking.)  It's stunningly impressive, if you are a magic geek like me, filled with rare posters, rarer autographs, vintage magic tricks, and very scarce magic books.

Apparently some of the lesser quality books were still in Jay Marshall's world renowned store Magic Inc, a few years after Jay's death in 2005.  This was one of them.  Strangely, the book has nothing to do with magic.  Ladies of the Underworld, as the title suggests, is a non-fiction account of women criminals.  The subtitle is "The Beautiful, the Damned, and Those Who Get Away With It."  There are twenty-six chapters each devoted to a specific woman or a type of female criminal.  Included are such intriguing chapters as "Vera, the High Flyer and the Shooting of Prince Fahmy," "The Cobra Woman, The Parisian Queen of Crime," "Aysah, The Malayan Hell Woman," and other chapters on female spies, forgers, mafia women and one about women living as men.  I haven't read any of the book yet, but just typing all that has made me want to read at least a few select chapters.


  1. You do realize you were depriving us from interesting stories like these, when you allowed this semi-regular feature to stray from your mind? Tsk, tsk, don't let it happen again! ;)

  2. I certainly won't. The "Left Inside" feature returns to its weekly Sunday slot starting November 27. I can’t believe the last one was all the way back in May.

    Research Anecdote #52: As I was proofing this post I realized that the name on the bookplate was JohnSTONE. I had spent half the day researching a George JohnSON in the magic world and learned all sorts of intriguing things. Then I realized it was the wrong person! George Johnson was the editor of a British magic journal from 1910 - 1946 so I thought I was on the right track. Looking up info on George Johnstone, however, was much faster and easier. Had I been paying attention I would’ve been done a lot quicker.

  3. Such an interesting post, John. So, you were a puppeteer? The more I learn about you, the more intrigued I become. :)

    Now THERE'S something I've never done. Been a puppeteer, I mean.

  4. I've learned some very interesting things from this post, not the least of which is your casual reference to being a puppeteer. Come on, you can't leave us hanging. More, please.

    And a magic act opened for Elvis? Really? Was that for the parents who came along to protect their daughters from the swinging hips?