Senate House Library treasures volume: Featuring magic

The psychical researcher and writer Harry Price (1881-1948) was quick to describe rare and unusual books in his library. As far as I know, he did not write about Will Goldston’s More Exclusive Magical Secrets (1921). For Price it would have lacked the glamour of the pre-twentieth-century books in his library: it was less scarce for one thing (the limited de luxe edition comprised 750 numbered copies, of which 250 were destined for British readership), besides which the writer was Harry Price’s friend. But his copy is worth celebrating. It is the first in the numbered series, and it contains a handwritten dedication on its title page: ‘Congratulations to friend Harry Price. You possess the 1st copy many hours before other subscribers receive their copies. Best wishes. Sincerely yours Will Goldston November 1921.’

More Exclusive Magical Secrets is the second in a series of three which began with Exclusive Magical Secrets (1912) and ended with Further Exclusive Magical Secrets (1927); all three were issued with a substantial brass lock to emphasise secrecy. The volume contains sections on ‘pocket tricks’ (disappearing coins and cigarettes, ‘the cut string restored’, etc.) ‘small apparatus tricks’ ‘platform and stage tricks’, ‘Chinese tricks’, and ‘automata and ventriloquial’ devices. Perhaps the most interesting section in relation to Harry Price’s interests is that dealing with ‘anti-spiritualistic tricks’. The tricks explained include ‘The Talking Skull’, ‘A New Spirit Slate’ ‘A Spirit Rapping Table’, as well as ‘The Crystal Evulgograph’ (‘writing-revealer’), invented by Harry Price himself (pp. 108-12) and contributing, perhaps, to Goldston’s inscription.

Goldston, More Exclusive Magical Secrets

Goldston, More Exclusive Magical Secrets


Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring witchcraft

Shown here is one of Senate House Library’s two copies of the 1494 edition of the Malleus Maleficarum. Harry Price, the psychical researcher and writer who owned this volume, hated its contents, describing the book as ‘one of the most terrible books known to students of the occult’. Its author, Heinrich Institoris (1430-1505) was an inquisitor and a dubious figure, in and out of trouble, who wanted to prove that witches and witchcraft were a real, not an imaginary, danger and to facilitate their persecution. He wrote his book quite quickly in 1486 and divided it into thee parts. Part I was addressed to fellow theologians and comprised an essay in demonology. Part II, aimed at preachers, reinforced Part I’s message of witchcraft being a reality and all witches (even white ones) being Satanic devotees and supplied anecdotes for sermons. In Part III, Institoris armed ecclesiastic and secular judges with technical points on arresting, examining and sentencing witches.

            The work was printed eight times between 1486 and 1496 and on another sixteen occasions between 1511 and 1621. Price’s distaste did not prevent him from acquiring five editions printed between 1494 and 1615 in addition to the first English translation, made by Montague Summers in 1928. The edition selected as a library treasure is Price’s earliest, printed by Anton Koberger, owner of Southern Germany’s largest printing and publishing house, in Nuremberg on 17 March 1494. While smaller than the other examples of Koberger’s output in Senate House Library (his Latin Bible of 1477, Golden Legend of 1478 and the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493), it is a fitting title to feature in the year marking the 500th anniversary of Koberger’s death. We selected it for our treasures volume for its contemporary German binding.

Malleus Maleficarum, 1494

Malleus Maleficarum, 1494

Price and Dingwall meet in print

Christopher Josiffe, a librarian on the staff of Senate House Library, has just published “Dr Dingwall’s Casebook: A Sceptical Enquirer” — part one of a two-part article about the anthropologist, librarian and psychical researcher Eric John Dingwall (1891?-1986) — in the Fortean Times (April 2013, pp. 45-9). As David Sutton writes in his editorial (p. 2): “Christopher Josiffe has enjoyed access to the Dingwall papers at Senate House Library and shines a long overdue light onto the life and career of a man who, in his own way, was as intriguing and interesting an investigator as Harry Price himself”.

The psychical researcher and publicist Harry Price (1871-1948) and Eric Dingwall were well acquainted with each other and were both friends and rivals. They disputed over the nature (genuine or fake?) of two Austrian mediums, Willi and Rudi Schneider. Other topics for disagreement included Harry Price’s library, over which Dingwall presided at the Society for Psychical Research: Dingwall queried its level of interest to the Society, and Price the quality of Dingwall’s custodianship of it.

Senate House Library is privileged to hold both the library and archive of Harry Price and the Dingwall archive, and one of the fascinating elements of Josiffe’s research has been to bring together two sides of a sometimes wistful, sometimes waspish, correspondence to shed light on both men.

Dingwll box

Dingwall box

Literary Witchcraft

Yesterday a class of undergraduate English students from Royal Holloway came to see some books from the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature. The class was studying various works of English literature featuring witches for a course ‘Witchcraft and Drama 1576-1642’. – for example, Macbeth; Marlowe’s Dr Faustus; Middleton’s The Witch; Jonson’s The Masque of Queenes. Books on witchcraft from the Harry Price Library put the plays into context: for example, Reginald Scot’s famous Discoverie of Witchcraft, bravely denying the existence of witches and known by Shakespeare; Sprenger and Institutoris’s chilling Malleus Maleficarum, urging their prosecution; and more ephemeral items about specific cases, such as that of Temperance Lloyd, Mary Edwards, and Susanna Trembles, three impecunious elderly women from Bideford.

Enthusiasm about our books is always pleasurable to witness. It was also salutory to realise afresh the connection between sociology and literature. In bequeathing his books to the University of London, Harry Price wanted to give his collection academic respectability, and yesterday’s visit proves that he succeeded.

Ghost hunting with Harry Price …

Historic Collections recently received a visit from Kirsten Zesewitz of Deutschlandfunk (German national radio) to conduct an interview with Professor Owen Davies and Paul Cowdell, of the University of Hertfordshire, for a forthcoming broadcast on British investigations into ghosts and hauntings. During the interview Owen and Paul discussed the activities and legacy of Harry Price and talked about some of the items from his extensive library and archive, notably a file of papers relating to Price’s 1936 BBC broadcast of his investigations into an alleged haunting at Dean Manor in Kent (HPE/1/2). Price’s script for the broadcast details for his listeners the instruments and equipment placed in the Manor house to detect ‘aural, visual, or thermal phenomena’ and the precautions taken to combat ‘trickery, mal-observation, self-deception, or experimental error’. Price and seven colleagues kept vigil in the house for three and a half hours before broadcasting an account of their experiences at 11.45pm. Price concluded enticingly that ‘under rigid control … I have heard and seen strange things which simply could not be accounted for by normal means’. While ‘not necessarily caused by spirits’, Price ventured that the ‘manifestations were perhaps a somewhat distant echo of some tragic and emotional scene …’.

Friday the 13th …

According to Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s 13: the World’s Most Popular Superstition (London, 2004), which can be found in our Harry Price Library, superstition surrounding ‘Friday the 13th’ is a twentieth-century construct, entering the popular imagination with the success of Thomas W. Lawson’s 1907 novel Friday, the Thirteenth. The superstition that it was unlucky to have 13 people at a table finds expression in several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works cited by Lachenmeyer, and developed during the nineteenth century into a broader popular conception of 13 as an unlucky number. Reginald Scot’s famous work The Discoverie of Witchcraft, the 1584 first edition of which is also in the Harry Price Library, makes no mention of 13, although it does refer to other, still familiar, popular portents of misfortune, including spilling salt, a cat crossing one’s path, putting a shirt on inside out, or putting a left shoe on the right foot (‘which Augustus Caesar reputed for the woorst lucke that might befall’). All of which Scot dismisses in a marginal note as ‘O vaine follie and foolish vanitie!’.