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Tarbell Course in Magic

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The Tarbell Course in Magic was written by Harlan Tarbell. Originally a mail-order course in magic, now collected in several volumes of books.

Original mail-order course

The History of the Course

Publishers T. Grant Cooke and Walter A. Jordan developed an interest in producing a correspondence course in magic in the mid-1920s. Cook and Jordan hired Tarbell and Walter Baker, another Chicago-area magician, to work on the project, but Baker dropped out of the project in its early stages to concentrate on his performances. A few months before his death, Harry Houdini was approached to author the course, but Houdini declined but recommended Tarbell. The publishers agreed, allotting Tarbell $50,000 for the course. Tarbell finished the course in 1928, producing 60 correspondence lessons with at least 3,100 illustrations.

Tarbell later discussed the philosophy behind his course: "There is a big difference between a magician and a man who does tricks...Fundamentally, the making of a magician is no different than the making of other professional people. One must be trained in the mechanics, the alternate methods and be skilled in the presentation in order to meet any conditions which may arise." Unlike other magic courses which placed a greater emphasis on self-working illusions, Tarbell began with fundamental drills and practice sessions involving body position, movement, and sleight-of-hand techniques which were to be incorporated into actual tricks in future lessons.

After selling 10,000 complete courses, Cooke and Jordan discontinued marketing the Tarbell Course in Magic in 1931, blaming the Great Depression for slumping sales. In 1941, however, magician Louis Tannen purchased the rights to the course, working with Tarbell and Ralph W. Read (of Read and Covert) to convert the correspondence lessons into book form.

This book was rated one of the "Ten basic books for a working library of conjuring" by H. Adrian Smith.

The Structure of the Course

The entire collection comprises more than one-hundred lessons in every aspect of magic including micromagic/close-up magic, escapology, mentalism and stage Illusions. It is the most comprehensive literary work in magic history. The original five volumes contained sixty correspondence lessons with more than 3,000 illustrations.

In addition to teaching specific tricks, The Tarbell Course also teaches patter, marketing, the history of magic, ethics, advertising, routining, magic theory, performance theory, acting, misdirection, timing and showmanship.

Volume 8 of the series was published as a "graduate lesson" in magic.

Companion books

  • Complete Index of the Tarbell Course in Magic by Harlan Tarbell (1926)
  • Tarbell Companion Book written by Tarbell and edited/published by Steve Burton (1994)
  • Tarbell Study Guide Book compiled and edited by Steve Burton (1995)
  • Spiritual Applications for Tarbell 1 by Jule L. Miller - Each effect in Tarbell 1 is used in several different ways to prove or explain an appropriate gospel message, and to teach stories from the Bible.
  • Spiritual Applications for Tarbell 2 by Jule L. Miller


Original Lessons (1926 - 1929)

The original lessons are not identical to the later published books (volumes 1-8) of which only 1 through 5 were actually written by Tarbell himself. Most of the original lessons can be found under different lesson numbers and sometimes different headings in the books. The post graduate lesson was reprinted in book volume 8. There are some parts from the original 60 lessons that were dropped.

  • Lessons 1 to 15 - 1926
  • Lessons 16 to 40 - 1927
  • Lessons 41 to 56 - 1928
  • Lessons 57 to 60 - 1929


  1. The History of Magic
  2. The History of Sleight-of-Hand
  3. Necromancy & Divination
  4. Development of Superstitions
  5. Magic & Religion
  6. Magic & the Science of Medicine
  7. The Rope & Tape Principle
  8. The Relations of Magic to Other Sciences
  9. The Principles of Card Effects
  10. Confidence & Enthusiasm
  11. The Penetrating Ring, The Jumping Rubber Band, Thumb Tie with Rubber Band, The Japanese Thumb Tie
  12. Cards That Pass in the Night, The Cars up the Sleeve
  13. The Regular Pass, The Card Stab, The Extremist-Ray Knife, The Magnetic Knife
  14. The Force, Producing a Card from a Whole Orange, The Card & the Banana
  15. Guide to Card Positions, Various Principles of Palming & Shifts, The Conjurer's Touch, A Mysterious Discovery, "Marvello," Cards, Envelope & Hat
  16. "Tack It", New Era Version of card Through Handkerchief, Three Cards Through the Handkerchief, Rising Cards Through Handkerchief
  17. "Snap It", Flash Card Production, Mystery of the Glass House
  18. Rising Cards
  19. The Enchanted Cards & Envelope, Bewitched Rising Cards & Envelope, Rising Cards from Book, A Book & a card, Rising Cards Through Hat, Rising Cards out of a Hat
  20. How to Please Your Audience, Keeping up with the Times, Making an Impression, Maintain a Healthy Attitude Toward Magic, The Vanishing Wand, King Solomon's Marriage Bands, Arrangement of Programs
  21. Sleight-of-Hand with Coins
  22. The Homing Coins, Invisible Money Transit, The Coin in the Magical Envelopes
  23. The Miser's Dream, The Coin, Envelope & Handkerchief, The Passe Coins & Glasses, The Passe Coins from Hand-to-Hand, the Phantom Coin
  24. Humpty Dumpty Outdone, The Egg Bag
  25. I am Saving You Money, Effects with Rabbits
  26. Simplicity is the Key-Note of the Tarbell System of Magic, The Cut & Restored Ribbon, A card & Ribbon Mystery Ribbon, A Spirit Communication, A Wandering Ribbon
  27. The Famous Needle Trick, A Thimble Act
  28. Silks, The Egg, the Glass, & the Handkerchief, The Wandering Handkerchief, The Silk & the Flame, The Candle, the Silk, & the Paper Tube, The Educated Knot
  29. Divisions of Modern Magic, Unlimited Opportunities in Magic, Specialization, Presentation, Creating of Effects, Experiments of Super Mentality, The Chess Knight's Tour, A Mind Reading Act, The Yogi's Prediction, The X-Ray Cards, Telepathic Pictures
  30. Making Money with Magic, Wand from Pocketbook, Cigar from Pocketbook, Wand from Card Case, Silk Production from Hat, A Rabbit Traveling Bag, Deluxe Silk Production from Hat, Production of Rabbit from Silks, Chinese Box Vanish for Rabbit
  31. A Modern Crystal Gazing Act, Rapid Mental Transference, A Good "One Man" Mind Reading Act, Distant Mental Communication, Blindfold Card Reading, A Mystic Discovery
  32. Your Relation to Other Magicians, Ethics at a Magic Performance, Silk Handkerchief Magic, Mystic Knots, The Dissolving Single Knot, The Speedy Single Knot, The Fade-Away Double Knot, Quick Release Double Knot, Leg Tie & Release with Handkerchief, The Magical Bow Knot, Repeat Handkerchief Vanish, AN Eggs-traordinary Eggs-Planation, A "Sucker" Handkerchief Vanish, A One-Man Handkerchief Vanish, The Sympathetic Silks, Elusive Silks
  33. Cigarette Magic, The Burning Cigarette & Silk Handkerchief, The Phantom Cigarette, The Vanishing Cigarette, The Dollar Bill in the Cigarette, Catching Cigarettes in the Air, An Odd Cigarette Vanish, Cardini's Floating Cigarette, to Produce Lighted Cigarette from Box
  34. Twelve Impromptu Effects with Cards: Back and Front Hand Palming, Color Changes with Cards, Top Card Change, Flourishes.
  35. Sleight-of-Hand with Cards
  36. More Card Magic, Production of Cards from the Mouth, Cascade Production from Boy's Nose, Easy Methods for Forcing Cards, The Circus Trick, Flase Counting, Four Ace Effects, Card Fountains
  37. Oriental Magic, Chinese Color-Changing Coins, Chink-a-Chink, The Phantom Knot, The Mystic Knots, Chefalo's Knot, Mysterious Japanese Tie, The Chinese Burning Tapes, Hindu Cut & Restored Turban
  38. Oriental Magic, Japan-O-Tie, The Mystic Smoke, The Chinese Sticks, The Climbing Balls, The Disappearing Grain, The Hindu Jar of Grain, The Productive Japanese Lantern
  39. More Handkerchief Magic, The Handkerchief Ball, The Soup Plate & Handkerchiefs, Two Soup Plates & Handkerchiefs, The Twentieth Century Silks, Tarbell's Color Changing Handkerchief, Double Handkerchief Color Change, The Dyeing Handkerchiefs, The Birth of Old Glory
  40. Character Analysis Related to Magic
  41. Billiard Ball Manipulation
  42. The "Clean Cut" Color Changing Handkerchief, The "Vice-Versa" Color Changing Handkerchiefs, Handkerchief to Billiard Ball, The Elusive Rainbow, Spot the Red, Watch the Lemon, The Magic Chocolates, Popping Corn in a Hat, Nursing Bottle from the Hat
  43. Coat & Hat Productions, Comedy Egg Production, A Master Hat Production, Rabbit Productions, An Unexpected Rabbit Production, Rapid Production of Rabbit from Hat, Silks & the Rabbit, Rabbit Production from Paper Ribbon, Rabbit Production from Gentleman's Coat, A Chicken Produced from Gentleman's Coat, Production of Bottle of Milk or Liquor from Gentleman's Hip Pocket, Changing Rabbit to Box of Candy, Sausages from Boy's Coat
  44. Chemical & Mechanical Magic, A Novel Transmission of Smoke, Wine & Water, The Wandering Glass & Bottle, A Magical Transformation, A Cooking Lesson, The Welsh Rarebit
  45. Spiritualistic Magic, The Living & the Dead, Spirit Photography, The Psychic Paper, Spirit Slate Writing, A Parlor Seance
  46. More Spiritualistic Magic, The Dark Seance at the Table, The Dark Circle, Gysel's Mysterious Lights, Dr. Bridge's Thought Projection, The Siberian Chain Escape, The Cabinet Seance, Another Good Tie, The Throw-Away Coat Tie
  47. Chinese Linking Rings, Weber's Emergency Routine
  48. More Oriental Magic, Tarbell's Mysterious Firecrackers, Kolar's Balloon & Silks, Ching-A-Ling Chinese Lantern Production, The Hindu Mango Tree Growth, Tarbell's Hindu Plant Growth, Comedy Flower Growth
  49. Specialty Chinese Magic, Production of a Large Bowl of Water, Production of Stack of Four Bowls of Water, Chinese Production of the Four Bowls, Production of a Child, Modern Production of Bowl of Water on Table, Chinese Production of Doves, The Mysterious Self-Filling Lota, Ching Ling Foo's Magic Water Can, Mystery of the Paper Ball, Egg, Frog, & Baby Chicken
  50. The Tarbell Rope Mystery
  51. Illusions, The Mystery of King Tut, Who & Which
  52. Building Illusions, Black Art Illusions, The Elusive Hindu, A Daughter of the Sun, The Mystery of the Girl in the Trunk, The Phantom Flight
  53. Escape & Substitution Illusions, The Substitution Trunk Mystery, The Canvas Box Mystery, The Packing Box Escape, The Paper Bag Escape
  54. The Black Art Table, The Treasure Chest, The Chinese Pigeon Production, Thayer's Super-Vanish of Doves
  55. The Egyptian Mummy, The Mystery of the Dancing Girls, The Doll House Illusion
  56. The Sward Box, The Penetrative Steel Bars, The Indestructible Girl, Sawing a Woman in Half
  57. The Chinaman, The Ghost & the Cat, The Mystery of The Three Ghosts
  58. The Phantom of the Circus
  59. Making the Box Office Pay
  60. Advertising & Publicity

Volume 1 (1941)

Volume 1
  • 01 History of Magic
  • 02 Magic As A Science. (principles of magic)
  • 03 Sleight of Hand with Coins (Palms, Holds, Vanishes, Aquitments)
  • 04 Coin Tricks
  • 05 More Coin Tricks
  • 06 The Thumb Tip:
  • 07 Impromptu Tricks:
  • 08 Ball Tricks:
  • 09 Mathematical Mysteries
  • 10 Effective Card Mysteries
  • 11 Impromptu Card Mysteries
  • 12 Mental Card Mysteries
  • 13 Card Sleights
  • 14 Novel Card Mysteries:
  • 15 Restoring Torn Papers
  • 16 Rope & Tape Principle
  • 17 Handkerchief Tricks
  • 18 Knotty Silks
  • 19 Eggs and Silks

Volume 2 (1942)

  • 20 How to Please Your Audience:
  • 21 Magic With Wands
  • 22 Double Paper Mysteries
  • 23 Magic with Coins.
  • 24 Cigarette Magic.
  • 25 Sleight of Hand with Cards
  • 26 Selected Card Mysteries
  • 27 Rising Cards.
  • 28 Egg Magic
  • 29 Billiard Ball Manipulation
  • 30 Handkerchief Magic
  • 31 Rope Magic
  • 33 Illusions
  • 33A Mental Magic by Karl Fulves

Volume 3 (1943)

  • 34 Routining a Magic Show
  • 35 How to Make People Laugh
  • 36 Intimate Magic
  • 37 Conjuring With Currency
  • 38 Modern Coin Effects
  • 39 Fundamental Card Sleights
  • 40 Card Mysteries
  • 41: Card Stabbing
  • 42: Novelty Handkerchief Magic
  • 43 Color Changing Silks
  • 44 Rabbit and Dove Magic
  • 45 Illusions

Volume 4 (1945)

Reviewed in Genii 1945 December

  • 46 Novelty Magic
  • 47 Thimble Magic
  • 48 Swallowing Needles and Razor Blades
  • 49 Unique Card Magic
  • 50 Novelty Rising Cards
  • 51 Card Transition
  • 52 Mental and Psychic Mysteries
  • 53 The Thumb Tie
  • 54 Chinese Linking Rings
  • 55 Magic With Ribbon
  • 56 Silken Trickery
  • 57 Slate Mysteries
  • 58 Illusions

Volume 5 (1948)

  • 59: Unique Magic
  • 60: More Unique Mysteries
  • 61: Four Ace Effects
  • 62: Modern Mental Mysteries
  • 63: Hat and Coat Productions
  • 64: Oriental Magic
  • 65: Original Oriental Secrets
  • 66: Tarbell Hindu Rope Mysteries
  • 67: Modern Rope Magic
  • 68: Magic of the Bambergs
  • 69: Magic with Bowls and Liquids
  • 70: Illusions
  • 71: Publicity and Promotion

Volume 6 (1954)

  • 72 Novel Ball Magic
  • 73 Unique Card Effects
  • 74 Novelty Magic
  • 75 Rope Magic
  • 76 Mind Reading Mysteries
  • 77 X-Ray Eyes and Blindfold Effects
  • 78 Silk and Rope Penetrations
  • 79 Escapes and Substitutions
  • 80 Spirit Ties and Vest Turning
  • 81 Modern Stage Magic
  • 82 Stage Productions
  • 83 Magic As Theatre by Fred Keating

Volume 7 (1972)

by Harry Lorayne

  • 84 More Mental Magic
  • 85 Card Magic
  • 86 Rope Magic
  • 87 Novelty Magic
  • 88 Money Magic
  • 89 Silk Magic
  • 90 Illusions
  • 91 Miscellaneous Late Arrivals
  • Last Word
  • Complete Index to Volume 1-7

Volume 8 (1993)

(Tarbell's Graduate Course in Magic) by Steve Burton and Richard Kaufman

  • 92 Thoughts and Advice
  • 93 Mysteries of the Seance
  • 94 Further Unique Mysteries
  • 95 Magic with Cards
  • 96 Oriental Magic
  • 97 Magic of the Mind
  • 98 Rope Magic
  • 99 Chalk Talk Magic
  • 100 Magic with Apparatus
  • 101 Comedy Magic
  • 102 Pantomime Illusions
  • 103 Making Magic Pay

A Tarbell Scrapbook (1993)

Originally slated to be Volume 9, it is a collectors book on Dr. Harlan E. Tarbell, which includes the original lessons which did not make it into the previous Volumes, along with articles and writings of and about Tarbell.


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  • Salute to Harlan Tarbell, The Story of the Tarbell Course in Magic in Tarbell Volume No. 7
  • Tribute to magic's greatest teacher by Frances Marshall in Tarbell Volume No. 7
  • THE TARBELL CORRESPONDENCE COURSE IN MAGIC: TWO 'FOOTNOTES' by Eugene E. Gloye, Magicol No. 121 (November 1996)