The Aretalogy of Vanni Bossi Book - By Stephen Minch
As I left my forties behind and entered into late middle age, I became aware of a sad, odd occurrence. Some of my friends were turning into books. They had left flesh and blood, heart and bone behind, transforming into a form that allowed one-way (but sometimes surprisingly comforting) communication. I would regulary head to my library, not so much to seek information, but to visit again with Stewart James, Billy McComb, Howard Lyons, Arturo Ascanio, Barrie Richardson, T.A. Waters, Tommy Wonder, and Dai Vernon. And now, eight years after his death, another friend arrives from the printer in a beautiful and most fitting presentation.
The Aretalogy of Vanni Bossi features a portion of the creative output of a true polymath – a collector, historian, craftsman, performer, and creator. Concerning Vanni’s collection, Roberto Giobbi writes in the Foreword, “He possessed practically every important book of magic, from the beginning of printing to modern times, in many languages, but above all in Italian. He also knew what was in them, how to place their contents in the evolution of magical ideas, and who invented what. He was one of the most educated and well-informed people in magic that I’ve ever met.”
As a historian, Vanni unearthed a second copy of Gallaso’s Gochi di carte bellisimi de regola, e di memoria, an important Italian magic text, published in 1583. Vanni produced a limited edition facsimile (he was an expert bookbinder), which included his notes on the text. Eventually, a full translation was published in Gibecière, a journal published by the Conjuring Arts Research Center. The contents of Gallaso’s book are astonishing and include a stacked-deck system that would (hundreds of years later) become known as the Si Stebbins stack.
As a craftsman, Vanni manufactured specialized props for the upper tier of professional performers. For Fred Kaps he made the glass for Ring on Glass, a leather box for Bruno Hennig’s Card in Box, and the giant Chinese coin that was the final kicker to Kaps’s legendary coin routine. For a brief period of time, he ran a magic business with David Costi.
As a performer, Vanni was (in Giobbi’s words) “an inspired amateur.” He was an elegant and stylish man, whose soft-spoken manner made him instantly accessible. After just a few moments, you felt like you were talking to an old friend – an old friend who was about to fool you very badly.
This brings us to Vanni Bossi the creator, and the focus of the book at hand. Vanni shared secrets with his friends, lectured at conventions around the world, published effects in magic magazines, and occasionally offered commercial products for sale, but he was at heart a secretive fellow. (We will discuss his biggest secret in a moment, because it had a major impact on this book.) Vanni was a prolific inventor; his creative output spanned almost four decades. In his Preface, author Stephen Minch explains why certain routines were not included in this volume. Tricks with cigarettes (a prop no longer condoned in most social circles), routines that require intricately, specially manufactured props, and routines with items that are no longer in common use were excluded. The reasons for exclusion are valid, producing a book that will have much more value for the average magician.
The material in The Aretalogy of Vanni Bossi is geared toward the close-up or parlor performer, and it is extraordinary. In the opening effect, a freely selected card appears inside a glass as the glass is slid, mouth down, over the spread of cards. The second effect (one of the highlights of the book) is a handling of the venerable Card in Picture Frame effect. The frame is not gaffed, nothing is added or taken away, and everything could be given to the spectator at the end. Vanni’s routine for Card in Box uses a can of peanuts (and no shuttle pass!). The method will fool anyone. You’ll find many beautiful and subtle finesses, including two methods for folding a card into sixths right under the spectators’ noses, handlings for the buckle count, and routines for Hofzinser’s Card in Finger Ring, a card rise in a plastic bag, and much more.
Coin magic enthusiasts will enjoy Vanni’s work on the Okito Coin Box, a method for David Roth’s Hanging Coins that allows for a vanish of the fourth coin, a great production of four coins from under four cards removed from a shuffled deck, and an offbeat method for Coins through the Table that can be done standing. Take note of True Pencil through Bill. Vanni performed this for me at one of Rich Bloch’s Las Vegas conventions. A pencil was legitimately poked through my dollar bill as I held it stretched between my hands. When the pencil was removed, I could see through the hole. Vanni rubbed hole between his forefinger and thumb, and the hole in the bill was healed – no switch, no nothing. This was an extraordinary magical experience.
In all, there are fifty-six items offered. All are worth studying, and all will repay the effort you apply in learning them.
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that The Aretalogy of Vanni Bossi is a beautifully produced book. The design elements reflect characteristics of the 1500s, including the typefaces and the deckled (rough, untrimmed) edges. I have read some complaints of the choice of deckled edges; because of them you cannot easily riffle through the pages of the book. I find this to be a feature, not a bug. This is a book that is meant to be paged through carefully, thoughtfully. If its design nudges you in that direction, I say hooray.
I mentioned above that Vanni had one big secret that he kept from everyone, and that this secret impacted this book. He had lung cancer, and he succumbed to this disease on December 6, 2008. At that time, preparation on the book had only passed the initial stages; he and Stephen Minch had decided on about two-thirds of the material that appears. What this means is that while Vanni’s creations are elegantly represented, Vanni himself is not. Minch writes, “When he died suddenly, so young and without betraying a hint of his disease, it was genuine shock to his friends. So another thing that is not in this book is Vanni. He exited before he could be included. There are many pieces of him, but the whole of him got away from us. And that makes me deeply sad.” Me, too.
The Aretalogy of Vanni Bossi is a quality production on every level. I highly recommend it.
Available from: www.penguinmagic.com
Price $65.00 USD
- Michael Close