A Visual History of Whispering
On Magic Posters
The Image of the sagacious magician looking knowingly at the viewer with small imps whispering the enduring secrets of magic in his ear has been often used on magician's advertising posters. This image of the magician getting the "secrets" from these underworld demi-devils apparently started with Harry Kellar (on his 1894 poster). Leon Hermann (nephew of Alexander) who overlapped the career of Kellar seems to be the first who copied the whispering imps. Not only did the Great Hermann include them, he used more imps! Several of the imitators have been satisfied with a single informant but the standard seems to be two - one per shoulder. Keen's informant is a great deal older - and may be Mr. Scratch himself.
The poster that is probably the most famous and the one most often directly copied is the splendid Kellar poster. Thurston seemed to like the idea so much he used it three times, Raymond had two slight variations. It was used once on a book cover. Although many have directly copied Kellar's imps (myself included), the wee devils show up with tails, wings, pointed ears and in the company of other underworld creatures. Banachek has updated the imps as space aliens.
I do not pretend to be a scholar on the subject of magic posters. I simply have been intrigued by the proliferation of the whispering imp images and have attempted to locate as many as I could. I am indebted to Jim Steinmeyer, James Hamilton, Scott Wells and others who have written thoughtful and helpful eMails assisting with the proper sequencing of these posters.
The accumulator wishes to ESPECIALLY thank the extraordinary contributions made to this archive by the meticulous research by Eric Swenson.
What follows is my accumulation of the variations on the theme (213 images!)
Courtesy Ken Trombly (magicposters.com)
(I know, not a poster - a throw-out card - but the imps ARE there!)
(Early Thurston Throw-Out Card)
(back of Thurston Throw-Out Card)
Howard Thurston's brother, Harry!
(I know, not a poster either - this is a pin-back button - 1.25" dia.)
(ALSO not a poster - but a cover to sheet music.)
Blackstone - Cornucopia ...courtesy of the Norm Nielsen Collection
Raymond - Champagne ...courtesy of the Norm Nielsen Collection
(I realize this is vanity - but I am the compiler of the "Imps On Shoulders"
site and I can be allowed this indulgence.)
Albini - 8 sheet portrait ...courtesy of the Norm Nielsen Collection
Scott Wells' Handi-work!
(Find the Imp)
(Center for Tactical Magic)
Whispering Imps playing cards designed and produced by Chris Chelko. (His homage to Kellar!)
The accumulator would be VERY thankful to anyone who shares additional magicians with whispering imps poster images with him.
©2001 - Rhett Bryson
Last Updated 12/06/2021
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