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Magical History


By Randi Schmelzer

Published Oct 1, 2007 8:00 AM

What people consider mysterious and thrilling has come a long way.

For many, the history of magic is limited to the Davids — Copperfield and Blaine — with little in between. But a new exhibition at UCLA's Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum is set to conjure a different perception.

Extraordinary Exhibitions: Broadsides from the Collections of Ricky Jay features more than 80 examples of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century magic-related playbills and advertising sheets (called "broadsides"). And each offers a revealing look at each era's traveling conjurers and their unusual entertainments, essentially serving as a mini-history lesson.

As a performer, Ricky Jay has appeared on stage and in dozens of films and TV shows, often in roles that play on his passion for con games and sleight-of-hand. But Jay is also a serious student of conjuring history and literature and is equally devoted to his infrequently displayed broadside collection.

Originally posted as advertisements, many of the pieces on display are unique survivors. Like the movie and CD posters that line scaffolds today, many were pasted on walls — and then destroyed.

Among the show's thematically exhibited broadsides are pieces displaying the animal kingdom's most "startling attractions": Toby the sapient pig, a singing mouse, learned donkeys and an entire series of especially industrious fleas.

Other sections focus on magic and mystery, mechanical marvels and physical phenomena such as an armless dulcimer player. "All of these prints and playbills are really interesting typographically [and] are important in the history of design," says Allegra Pesenti, the Grunwald's associate curator.

Broadsides from the Collections of Ricky Jay. UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum. Aug. 26-Nov. 25, 7 p.m. By appointment only, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Call (310) 443-7078 to schedule a visit. For information, log on to



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