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British Industrial History

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John Nevil Maskelyne

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John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917), magician

1839 born at 20 White Hart Row, Cheltenham, the son of John Nevil Maskelyne (1800-1875), a saddler, and his wife, Harriet Brunsdon.

Apprenticed to a watchmaker

By 1855 he was a keen amateur conjuror, giving a public performance of his own tricks

1862 Maskelyne married Elizabeth Taylor (1859–1911), the daughter of Thomas Taylor, a stagecoach driver.

1865 his exposure of the famous spiritualists, the Davenport Brothers, as impostors led Maskelyne and his friend George Alfred Cooke, a cabinet-maker, to embark on a joint career as professional magicians.

1865 One of his first tricks/illusions was Escaping from a box which was first performed this year.

One of his most famous illusions was Elixir vitae, which involved the illusion of decapitation.

Another famous illusion was A Spirit Case which conjured up a ghost to the sounds of a violin suspended in the air.

1867 Performed for the first time one of his most famous illusions - Levitation.

1869 Patented a cash register, one of more than forty inventions that he patented.

He created several automatons, the most celebrated being Psycho, which first performed in 1875. Psycho was a cross-legged Hindu figure, 22 inches high, which played whist with the audience and solved arithmetical problems set by them. Psycho made more than 4000 consecutive appearances before it was withdrawn in 1880.

1873 Maskelyne and Cooke began a short season at St James Hall, Piccadilly. They then took a lease on the Small Hall at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, but soon moved into the Large Hall, where they remained until its demolition in 1904.

1889 Patented a typewriter

1892 Invented a coin-operated lock for public lavatories, which was used in England until the 1950s

1904 The show moved to St George's Hall, Langham Place

1904 Patented an improved method of detecting Hertzian waves - presumably the result of work with Sir Henry Hozier

1905 After Cooke's death, David Devant, a magician, became Maskelyne's partner.

1915 The partnership of "Maskelyne and Devant's Mysteries" came to an end.

1917 Died in London[1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. BMD
  • Biography John Nevil Maskelyne, ODNB