The Long Goodbye - Latta on Coins Review



Latta on coinsJust about everyone who gets interested in close-up magic starts with two basic props: cards and coins. This makes sense, because cards and coins are relatively inexpensive objects (although not as inexpensive as when I was a kid), they are familiar, common objects (although perhaps not as familiar as in the days when card games were a family activity and silver dollars and half dollars were still being used in everyday transactions), and there are a large number of books and magazines (and now videos) devoted to card magic and coin magic.

Card magic, however, holds one significant benefit for beginners: there are excellent effects that require little or no digital dexterity (or, in the words of the prophet, Steve Beam, they are semi-automatic). With the exception of tricks that use props (like the Coin Slide, Nickels to Dimes, Scotch and Soda) there are few self-working coin effects. Offhand, I can only think of one coin trick based on a mathematical principle: Thieves and Sheep (using identical coins). If you want to learn coin magic, you are going to jump straight into sleight of hand, with basic concealments and false transfers. This demands a certain level of patience and perseverance, because you are not going to receive immediate gratification.

For coin magic enthusiasts, there are three major texts: J.B. Bobo’s The New Modern Coin Magic (1966 edition), Coinmagic by Richard Kaufman (1981), and David Roth’s Expert Coin Magic written by Richard Kaufman (1985). Colloquially, these are referred to as The Old Testament, The New Testament, and A Whole Lot More Stuff by the Guy who Contributed a Quarter of the New Testament. The Bobo book remains foundational; it contains techniques and effects (like the Tenkai Pennies and Milt Kort’s In the Well) that have stood the test of time. In fact, Jason “Jafo” Fields performed a version of Glenn Harrison’s Miracle Coins in the Pocket on a past season of Penn & Teller: Fool Us.

The Coinmagic book was a revelation, with cutting-edge material from Kaufman, Roth, Sol Stone, Derek Dingle, and other prominent creators. The Roth book, which catalogued the length and breadth of David’s material, permanently changed the way that coin magic was performed.

(An important book that is rarely mentioned is Shigeo Futagawa’s Introduction to Coin Magic. It uses a structured, pedagogical approach that is not found in the previously mentioned books. If you don’t own it, you should.)

All of this brings me to The Long Goodbye, the coin magic of Geoff Latta, a book I am sure will join the previous “big three” as the tent poles of contemporary coin conjuring. If you’re a coin magic aficionado, I assume this book is already on your must-buy list. For everybody else, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the contents, explain why this is an important book, and discuss how sad it is that it did not appear twenty-five years ago.

Geoff Latta was a major player in the magical underground of New York City in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Because his techniques and his routines for standard plots were so innovative, his material became a form of currency, used as barter for those seeking to acquire unpublished material from other “collectors.” (One highly prized and frequently traded item, The Pink Purse video, shot in 1984, is included with The Long Goodbye.) A few of Geoff’s effects appeared in The Pallbearers Review and Apocalypse in the late 1970s, but it wasn’t until Coinmagic (which included a chapter of his creations) that his name reached a wider audience. Still, most of his material was generally unknown.

How good was Geoff? Jamy Ian Swiss provides some insight in his Introduction to The Long Goodbye: “He was the greatest sleight-of-hand technician and creator – of both tricks and sleights, with both cards and coins – I have ever known, and likely ever will know. There are mere handfuls – and very small handfuls at that – of men who achieve true and lasting greatness in the rarified sub-specialties of close-up card and coin magic; but Latta was Dingle with cards, Roth with coins. Readers may be inclined to judge this as hyperbole – but I am, I assure you, in earnest. Geoff Latta was sui generis; not merely a technician, not just an inventor of sleights, not only a creator of tricks, not limited to cards or coins – he was all – he was incomparable.”

It was not just Geoff’s chops that set him apart; it was also his ingenuity in creating routines with unconventional handlings incorporating beautifully “engineered” sleights – sleights that guaranteed precision but that looked loose and casual in performance. You will find myriad examples of these approaches in The Long Goodbye.

The book begins with a chapter of useful techniques, including vanishes, switches, transfers, and grips, which are used in the routines that follow. The remaining chapters each focus on a particular type of effect: Coins Across and the Han Ping Chien move, Spellbound, Copper/Silver transpositions, Okito Coin Box routines, Wild Coin routines, and an extraordinary chapter of miscellaneous routines including Iced (a great impromptu trick for use at a bar or restaurant), the Lattaral Slow Motion Vanish, Latta’s handlings for the Ramsey Coins & Cylinder and Coins in the Hat, and From the Elfin Hoard (the production, vanish, and reproduction of three coins). Although the plots may be familiar, Geoff’s handling of them is not; every one of them is master class in intelligent construction.

In addition to the routines, scattered throughout the book are Geoff’s thoughts on a variety of subjects. These were gathered by W.S. Duncan from various Internet sources. They give the reader the opportunity to hear Geoff’s voice, which is an important addition in a book prepared a decade after the creator’s demise.

Sadly, Geoff Latta left the planet on August 19, 2008, at age fifty-one. He had prepared an outline of what was to be included in the book (you’ll find this outline in the book’s introductory material), but the task of writing the book fell to Stephen Minch and Stephen Hobbs, two highly regarded authors. Jamy Ian Swiss posed for the photographs.

Many of Geoff’s ideas and routines have circulated up through the underground; they have been adopted by coin workers around the world. In some cases, the actual parentage of the creations has been lost. It is good for the record to be set straight. The pity, of course, is that Geoff is not around to see the finished product, nor was he around to add input and insight to the writing. But it is still an impressive assemblage of material, one that will keep any coin worker busy for years.

As I stated up front, The Long Goodbye – Latta on Coins is destined to be one of the pillars in the literature of coin magic. It should be in your library. —Michael Close

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