Do spirits return? Houdini says no and proves it 3 shows in one, magic, illusions, escapes, fraud, mediums exposed c1909. Public Domain /

By Rebecca Drew

STRIKING vintage colour posters advertising famous magicians’ travelling magic shows at the turn of the 20th century have re-emerged this week.

The series of spectacular images include a poster from 1935, promoting Howard Thurston’s performances, depicting a woman floating in mid-air across the stage and over the audience. Thurston was renowned for his levitation illusions and tricks using playing cards, which lead to him being the most famous magician of the time with the largest travelling show which needed eight train carriages to transport his equipment.

One of Thurston’s astounding mysteries c1935. Public Domain /


Other posters depict a woman lounging in the Far East with a tiger skin rug at her feet advertising dentist turned magician Frederick Bancroft’s show, whilst another promotes the work of illusionist Von Arx and Harry Houdini’s famous escapologist performances.

At the turn of the 20th century, one-man magic shows had gained theatrical status across America with many illusionists acquiring celebrity status.

Alexander the man who knows c1900. Public Domain /


With innovations in colour lithography, magicians would create vibrant posters, luring audiences to performances with mysterious and elegant artwork which would also depict ghoulish and devilish creatures to remind potential spectators of the dark arts which were previously associated with those who performed magic tricks.

One poster for American magician Harry Keller, predecessor of Houdini, shows him with a forcefield like power around him which causes a girl to levitate off the ground, while another for Samri S. Baldwin or ‘The White Mahatma’ as he was better known for his séance performances, shows him shrouded with skulls as a black cat sits at his feet.

Frederick Bancroft, prince of magicians c1895. Public Domain /