Robert Harbin

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Robert Harbin

Cover of Genii (1969)
BornEdward Richard Charles Williams
February 14 (or 12), 1909
Johannesburg, South Africa
DiedJanuary 12, 1978 (age 68)
London, England
Resting placeGolders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London
CategoriesBooks by Robert Harbin

Robert Harbin (1909-1978) was a British magician and writer born Edward Richard Charles Williams in Balfour, South Africa. He is noted as the inventor of a number of classic illusions, including the Zig Zag Girl.[1] He also became an authority on origami.



The young Williams, known as Ned, first got interested in magic after an unknown ex-serviceman appeared at his school with a magic show later described as "rather poor". Williams came to London at the age of 20 and began by working in the magic department of Gamages toy shop. He began performing in music halls under the title "Ned Williams, the Boy Magician from South Africa". By 1932 he was appearing in the Maskelyne's Mysteries magic show in various London theaters.

He was the first British illusionist to move from stage performing to television, appearing in the BBC TV show Variety in 1937 and in his own show which began in 1940.

He developed a number of new tricks, including the Neon Light and the now ubiquitous Zig Zag Girl (1963). His lesser know inventions include the Aztec Lady.

Much of his inventive genius was put into written form and he is known as one of the most prodigious authors on the subject of magical effects. However, although Harbin was brilliantly creative in the field of magic he was not a particularly good writer and his friend and associate Eric Lewis has stated that many of Harbin's titles were ghost written for him.

In about 1952 Harbin appeared in a minor part as a magician in the film The Limping Man, produced by Cy Endfield. In 1953, Harbin and a friend of Endfield's, Gershon Legman, discovered a common interest in the Japanese art of paper-folding. Harbin wrote many books on the subject, beginning with Paper Magic (illustrated by the young art student, the Australian Rolf Harris who in the middle of the project, caught the origami idea and contributed several intricate models himself) in 1965, and was the first President of the British Origami Society. He was the first Westerner to use the word origami for this art-form. He also presented a series of origami programs for ITV in its "Look-In" shows for children in the 1970s.

His grave is at Golders Green Crematorium in London.[2]

Awards and honors


On magic

  • Something New in Magic, Davenport, (1929) as Ned Williams
  • Psychic Vision, Davenport, (1930)
  • Six Card Creations, Davenport, (1930) as Ned Williams
  • Demon Magic, Davenport, (1938)
  • How to Be a Wizard, Oldbourne, (1957), ISBN B0000CJUT3
  • How to Be a Conjuror, Sphere, (1968), ISBN 0-7221-4322-2
  • The Magic of Robert Harbin, C.W. Mole and Sons, (1970)
  • Magic (Illustrated Teach Yourself), Knight, (1976), ISBN 0-340-20502-4
  • Harbincadabra, brainwaves and brainstorms of Robert Harbin (1979) [i.e. N. Williams]: From the pages of Abracadabra, 1947-1965, R. Harbin.
  • Magic (Illustrated Teach yourself), Treasure, (1983), ISBN 0-907812-39-2
  • The Harbin Book, M. Breese, (1983), ISBN 0-947533-00-1

On origami

Other subjects

Lost works

"Magic Marches on", which includes unpublished tricks, illusions and escapes, is to be included in "The Davenport Story" Volume Two, The Lost Legends (2010).


  1. Genii Magazine, Vol. 44, No. 4, April 1980, Memories of Robert Harbin By Bayard Grimshaw, page 266
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a page hosted on Wikipedia. Please consult the history of the original page to see a list of its authors. Therefor, this article is also available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

  • Smith, Eric C. Introduction to Genius of Robert Harbin quoted at The Magic Depot. Aaron Smith.
  • The Times, "Varieties, &c.", 9 Mar 1932, p.10, col. E
  • The Times, "Broadcasting", 9 Feb 1937, p.9, col. A
  • The Sphinx, Vol. 43, No. 6, August 1944, Tomorrow’s Devant, by Verrall Wass, page 153
  • The Linking Ring, Vol. 29, No. 9, November 1949, Robert and Dorothy Harbin Visit Canada, by Bruce D. Postgate, page 18
  • Cover, Genii Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 8, April 1969, Our Cover, If Ever A Wizard There Woz, by Bayard Grimshaw, page 327
  • Cover, Genii Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 1, January 1978, Robert Harbin (February 12, 1908 – January 12, 1978), by Eric Lewis, page 37
  • The Magic Circular, Vol. 72, No. 784, January-February 1978, Obituaries, Robert Harbin, A Tribute by Frederick Barlow, page 25
  • The Times, "Obituaries", 13 Jan 1978, p.16, col.F
  • Cover, The Magic Circular, Vol. 72, No. 785, March/April 1978, Robert Harbin – Service of Thanksgiving, page 29, Obituaries, Robert Harbin, page 34
  • Cover, Genii Magazine, Vol. 43, No. 1, January 1979, Robert Harbin – As I Knew Him, by Eric Lewis, page 23, Ned Williams, by Robert Harbin, page 32
  • Genii Magazine, Vol. 44, No. 1, January 1980, My Dear Friend Robert Harbin, by Frederick Barlow, page 38
  • The Magic Circular, Vol. 103, No. 1111, February 2009, Robert Harbin Centenary: A Wizard if ever there Woz, by Bayard Grimshaw, page 327
  • Cover, Magische Welt, Vol. 58, No. 2, März-April 2009, Biographie Robert Harbin, page 67
  • Bio-bibliographisches Lexikon der Zauberkünstler Edition Volker Huber, April 2002, Williams, Edward Richard Charles „Ned“ = Robert Harbin, engl. Zauberkünstler (*12.02.1908 Kookstaad, Südafrika; †12.01.1978), page 370
  • Eric C. Lewis, The Genius of Robert Harbin: A Personal Biography, Mike Caveney's Magic Words (1997), ISBN 0-915-18130-8
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