Will Goldston (1878-1948) magical entrepreneur, author and dealer is one of my favourite figures in magical history.
Born Wolf Goldstone in Liverpool, he began his magical career at the age of 17 performing black art magic as Carl Devo. He went on to manage the magical department at Gamages store in London, later opening his own shop Will Goldston Limited at Alladin House, London.
He became famous as a prolific author, writing many books, including his infamous “locked books” beginning with Exclusive Magical Secrets (1912) the first editions of which had a lock and key designed to keep their contents secret. They were only sold to fellow magicians under the strictest terms: and before any could subscribe to a copy of Exclusive Magical Secrets they had to agree to the following:
“I hereby undertake that if I am accepted as subscriber to the book, I will not disclose the contents of the book to anybody except by performance of the tricks described, and will not re-write or re-publish any part thereof.”
Only 1000 copies of Exclusive Magical Secrets were produced, and I am very privileged to own one number 252 originally belonging to magician Bennett Scott who eventually gained fame not as a magician but as a Music Hall song writer.
Many discredit Goldston as merely a writer who stole and republished other magicians tricks, and partially that is true. I believe, however, that he had a nobler intent: he wanted to record and share information within the magical community to allow new ideas to germinate and magic in general to improve. This extract from a chapter called “Let There Be Harmony” from “Tricks of the Masters” published in 1942 spell out his hypothesis:
“Why is it that so many magicians are over-cautious in the manner in which they keep their secrets? I do not suggest, of course, that a conjuror who has spent much thought, time and money in producing a series of new tricks should be willing to satisfy the curiosity of any beginner who wants to take a peep behind the scenes. But are not some magicians a little too secretive in their behaviour to other magicians of equal rank? … One feels sure that a more free exchange of ideas would be of great benefit to the art of magic, and to magicians themselves, for the better the trick the greater the public interest in its performance, and the more the public can be interested in a trick the better for magic and for magicians generally.”