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The Sette of Odd Volumes published two fantastic books in the early 1890s...


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The Sette of Odd Volumes published two fantastic books in the early 1890s.

The Sette of Odd Volumes was a club of book collectors and eccentric personalities in London. It was founded by the famed book dealer Bernard QUARITCH in 1878. He collected members for his club much like he did rare editons: each had an expertise in some unusual specialty.

William MANNING was a club member who gave an after dinner talk on his recollections of the great magician Robert-Houdin. When MANNING was a young boy he met the great magician and befriended ROBERT-HOUDIN’s sons. His ’recollections’ about ROBERT-HOUDIN were later published as a small book. Reading it today, over a hundred years after the speech was originally given, one is still struck by how forward thinking ROBERT-HOUDIN was and how down to earth. He developed many famous magic acts that are still performed today. Originally trained as a clockmaker, ROBERT-HOUDIN built all his own automata and magic props. He experimented with electricity and even wired his house with clocks and alarms in the 1860s which must have seemed very magical indeed. MANNING captures the spirit of his admired friend. His words make the magician seem very contemporary and even more remarkable.

picture extract from the book

MANNING’s talk on ROBERT-HOUDIN prompted another member, Conrad William COOKE, to undertake a brief survey on the history of automata down through the ages. That talk resulted in the second wonderful book included here.

Two Odd Volumes on Magic & Automata collects these two books into a single volume.
Carefully reproduced from the original copies this book is a delight to read.

Paper Cover
224 black & white pages
38 illustrations

English Text



Robert-Houdin : picture extract from the book
ROBERT-HOUDIN was one of the world’s greatest magicians but more than that, he was one of greatest builders of automata—little machines with clockwork mechanisms. William MANNING was just a young boy when he met the great conjuror. ROBERT-HOUDIN was performing in London and MANNING became a playmate of ROBERT-HOUDIN’s sons, Emile and Eugène. This recollection was written almost 50 years after that fateful summer meeting. MANNING stayed in touch with ROBERT-HOUDIN until the magician’s death in 1871. MANNING’s recollections provide us with a wonderful first hand account of ROBERT-HOUDIN, his magic, and his automata.

page 21 of the book

Robert-Houdin’s Effects Illustrated

Recollections of ROBERT-HOUDIN concerns itself more with the man than with his ingenius mechanics. The author, William MANNING, never gives the game away but rather allows us to experience ROBERT-HOUDIN’s performance as would a member of the audience.

picture extract from the book

The illustrated effects are:

  • The Inexhaustible Bottle
  • The Suspension by Ether
  • The Chinese Tumbler
  • The Writing Automaton
  • The Mysterious Clock
  • Robert-Houdin’s Electric Clock
  • Cigarette Smoker
  • Robert-Houdin’s own Alarum

page 37 of the book


Conrad William COOKE was an engineer and member of the Sette of Odd Volumes. He attended MANNING’s lecture on ROBERT-HOUDIN and was fascinated by the magician’s use of automata.

". . . I began to make a few notes upon Automata, with which subject the name of ROBERT-HOUDIN must for ever be associated; I soon found, however, that the subject was so comprehensive and went back into such remote periods of antiquity, that to do it even the most scanty justice would require a paper devoted to itself alone. . . "

picture extract from the book

COOKE proceeded to write a small survey of automata as they were made back in ancient times and down to his own period. This small treatise covers the high points in the history of automata and even includes mention of EDISON’s doll with a small record player stuck in the back. COOKE’s talk was a survey not a ’how to’ but it does serve to whet our appetite and point out the highlights of automata over the last two millennia.

picture extract from the book

Paper Cover
224 black & white pages
38 illustrations

English Text


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