Across his work as a designer and the publisher of CentreCentre books, London-based Patrick Fry is always looking for a stone unturned. This fascination with niche nuggets of cultural history has led to a unique selection of books, from a deep dive into Great British Rubbish, or forgotten postcards from South Yorkshire. His most recent venture, however, is into a subject a little more familiar – magic!
A long-time fan of traditional magic posters for their “lavish illustrations with magicians performing the impossible and their outrageous names written in fancy lettering,” surprisingly publishing a book on magic ephemera was something Patrick had never considered. This was largely due to it being “a world that has been recorded plenty” and against the criteria he would usually look for in a book, until he came across the vast magic collection of Philip David Treece.
Found during a scroll through Twitter, Patrick came across Philip’s magic history blog,Collecting Magic, where he writes about his collection of ephemera and apparatus spanning the past 25 years. Thankfully for Patrick too, “Philip isn’t primarily concerned with the monetary value of the pieces, and as such has amassed a fascinating array that speaks more of the social history surrounding everyday working magicians.” Presented with a huge collection of gems “away from the large-scale stage magicians… it quickly became clear that the less famous and smaller-run design pieces would create a brilliant book.”
Following a trip to Sheffield for a further look into Philip’s collection, the pair went about creating a book that not only appreciates magic’s design attributes, but “the cults of personality within magic too”. Photographer Fraser Havenhand photographed over 250 items in the collection, each with an almost elaborate design. Explaining his fascination with the practice of magic Patrick adds: “Each of the great magicians commanded an almost god-like status, created through careful marketing of their unique image. This same sense of competition was also evident amongst the titles, writers and editors of the magic publishing world.” Raising the ambitions of creatives working on these titles also, each publication, flyer or poster Patrick came across “had to have increasingly detailed, attention-grabbing visuals full of bespoke lettering and flamboyant language”.
To mirror this attention to detail in his own title, “the only thing to do was to commission a style unique to Magic Papers,” Patrick tells us. Choosing to work with Kia Tasbihgou, a London-based graphic designer who “creates amazing, complex type that walks the line between functional and extravagant,” Patrick shared a range of his favourite titles to act as inspiration. Aiming to create “something that had a firm root in its historic reference – type that was new but also respectful of the book’s content,” the end result is two styles. One is a reworked version of traditional type foundry Stephenson and Blake’s Flemish font, and another “sharp, condensed titled style that really helped push the type up to its generous size on the cover,” adds Patrick.
Now released for other fanatics, of design and/or magic, Patrick hopes “that magic enthusiasts’ hunger for the kind of periodicals and journals featured within will increase, and that it will create new fans of the wonderful design language unique to this industry.”
GalleryAll images by Patrick Fry and CentreCentre
Magic Papers: Conjuring Ephemera 1890-1960 (Copyright © Centre Centre, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.