Bamberg Magical Dynasty
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Bamberg Magical Dynasty
The Netherlands is known to produce many famous magicians. Fred Kaps, Ger Copper, Richard Ross, and Tommy Wonder to name a few. But, the most famous name of all was the Bamberg Dynasty. Six generations of Dutch magicians were named Bamberg. The Bambergs were an upper middle-class unorthodox Jewish family. The oldest sons were magicians and carried on the tradition to next the generation. (This tradition was not always exclusive to just the oldest son. Theo Bamberg’s two younger brothers were also magicians). Three Bambergs were court magicians entertaining the royal family. This chain was unbroken covering one hundred and sixty-five years. A span of three centuries (From the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries).
There was an old Dutch poem written about them. It is an excerpt from David Bamberg’s book, Illusion Show. It is freely translated from English. The last part of the poem is insert here:
Bamberg’s fame sounds yet in those days:
Father gave the art to his son.
At the market is shown the first of the Bambergs of this name and art.
But whatever you may admire,
It is only magic—nothing more.
Witchcraft it never was,
And bewitchment is what you see.
Not only where they expert magicians, but they were also trained actors.
The first of the Bamberg clan was Jasper Bamberg (1698-1780) who was not a magician but an alchemist and necromancer. He is referred to in an old book called Vader Simon Witgeest. Jasper lived in the early part of the 18th century. He dabbled in chemistry, trying to change base metals into gold. As a necromancer, he tried to revive the dead. His methods were those of the illusionists, using smoke and mirrors. He used hidden magic lanterns that threw pictures on a smoke screen in a darkly lit room. Jasper projected the light off of a revolving mirror on a spindle giving those attending an eerie feeling.
It was written that he attended a dissertation to Cagliostro’s theories of the philosopher's stone. The philosopher's stone was a well-known alchemist’s tool, supposed to help the alchemist turn base metals into gold.
Following the French Revolution, on February 1, 1793, France declared war against Holland, England, and Spain. Eliaser was thirty-three years old at that time and was drafted into the navy as a gunner for a Dutch man-of-war. Due to the explosion of a poweder keg, one of his legs was badly injured and had to be amputated, following which he was discharged from duty.
Eliaser started to make use of a hollowed-out wooden leg to make objects disappear. Eventually, his dexterity with this trick earned him the nickname Le Diable boiteux (French for "the lame devil" or "the crippled devil"). As was the custom of the time, Eliaser performed the cups and balls, in the streets of his home town of Leyden as well as taverns, and public squares. He also performed at the homes of wealthy patrons. Soon his fame for doing pure sleight of hand spread all over Holland. Beyond cups and balls, he was also proficient with cards and coin tricks. One of the tricks he was known for was the appearance and disappearance of live frogs and fish in a glass bowl of water.
He didn’t limit himself to just sleight of hand, though, he also used a large collection of automates, some of which were created by Oprè. One of these figures was passed down to Robert-Houdin who used it in his show. Another one, the vaulted figure was passed through generations of Bambergs. The last that the figure was heard from was when Theo Bamberg remembered playing with it as a child.
Eliaser’s fellow magicians at the time were Joseph Pinetti, Gustavus Katterfelto, Count Cagliostro, Philippe, and many other noted magicians of the 18th century. Eliaser Bamberg died in 1833 at the age of 73.
David Leendert Bamberg
Eliaser had one son, David Leendert Bamberg (23 May 1787 – 29 January 1869), who had assisted his father when he was nine years old. When he was a young man, he invented the color changing clay pipe trick. David was considered a worthy successor to his famous father.
David was a skilled magician and did all the tricks of his time. At that time, the Egg Bag was becoming popular with magicians: A large woolen bag was shown and about fifteen eggs was slowly produced from it. Then a live hen was pulled from the bag (Modern versions used a small felt or crepe satin bag and produces and vanishes just one egg). David was the first in the Bamberg family to add the trick to his repertoire using his own method to produce the eggs and hen.
He was initiated into Freemasonry at Arnhem in 1812 and soon rose high in their ranks. In 1843, he became court mechanician (court magician) to William II of the Netherlands and was a favorite of his brother Prince Fredric. Prince Frederick was a great friend to David.
On January 29, 1869, David Leendert Bamberg died in Amsterdam at the age of 83.
The tradition was passed to David’s oldest son Tobias Bamberg (1812-1870). Just like his father and father’s father, Tobias spoke his patter in French, German, English, and his native Dutch. This made him popular among those that saw him perform. Tobias was also an intellectual and a scholar. He was the best educated man in his time.
He had a very quick wit which he used with his sleight of hand. He used both in a trick called the Boomerang Coins. He counts about twenty coins onto a tray and the coins are poured in the spectator’s hands. Five of the coins are given back to Tobias who vanishes them. The coins return to the hand of the spectator.
Tobias and his son David Tobias also performed for William II. Tobias also received the honor as court mechanician. His father had died in 1869 and fifteen months later, on April 20, 1870, Tobias also died. He was 58.
David Tobias (Papa) Bamberg
Tobias only had one son, and his name was David Tobias Bamberg (1843–1914). He was known as Papa Bamberg. David had six sons. Three of them were magicians: Tobias (or Theo), Emile, and Edward. David almost ended the tradition of the eldest son becoming a magician. He was an actor, mimic, and public speaker. After watching a performance of famed magician Compars Herrmann, he changed his mind. Herrmann discarded the trappings of the stage magician, preferring to use pure sleight of hand and refine misdirection. David thought that no other magician topped his skill.
He continued the family business at the age of 23. In 1866 he gave his first performance as a magician in Rotterdam. From there he toured Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, and other countries. He then went back to his homeland of Holland. In 1870, David gave a command performance at the Royal Palace. David, like his grandfather and father, was named court mechanician in 1870. This appointment gave him official welcoming to the highest society of Holland. Because of this honor, he was entitled to have the coat-of-arms of the Imperial Court of Holland over his door. The bronze plaque read Academie voor Magische Kunst (Translated reads: Academy of Magical Art). Five years later, his eldest son was born.
David and his eldest son Tobias received a royal appointment as William III’s magician. David’s second command read as such, “His Majesty the King commands me to invite Mr. David Tob Bamberg, court performer, to appear before the Royal Family consisting of the King, William III, her Majesty the Queen, Emma, and her Royal Highness Princess Wilhelmina, for which you will be paid the sum of one hundred florins in full. Performance must not exceed one hour.” In 1886, he gave two more royal performances once again assisted by his son Tobias.
In 1907, Papa Bamberg went on tour with son, already famous as Okito. They toured such places as Batavia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Guinea, and Ceylon. A week before they were to leave for Paris, Papa Bamberg convinced Theo (Tobias) to go to London to see John Nevil Maskelyne’s levitation illusion known as, Entranced Fakir. They went to Egyptian Hall which was known as England’s Home of Mystery for the Saturday evening performance.
Maskelyne’s partner Cooke was placed on a sarcophagus and floated up in the air with no support. When Maskelyne walked away from his floating partner, Papa Bamberg and Okito were stunned. Maskelyne passed a hoop over him and brought it to the audience for examination. Then he was brought back down and brought out of his trance. Papa Bamberg was speechless.
After leaving the theatre, Papa Bamberg told his son that, “I was always under the impression that no illusion could mystify me, and of all of the illusions I have seen in my time,” Papa Bamberg added, “I could make out a theory of my own regarding the techniques.” He went on to tell Theo that what he saw that evening was, “…beyond my comprehension. It is a masterpiece. I have no idea how it could possibly have been done.”
Years later when Theo worked with Thurston and found out how the secret worked, he wrote his father sharing it with him. That was a year before he died in 1914.
Theo (Okito) Bamberg
Tobias (Theo) Bamberg (1875-1963) appeared with his father at the palace for Princess Wilhelmina’s birthday when he was eleven years old. His father introduced him and Tobias did a few tricks which impressed the King. With his father’s aide, Tobias was known as the Smallest conjurer of the world until he was about 17.
He later changed his name to Okito which was a rearrangement of the city Tokio (which was the spelling of Tokyo at the time). He found that the robes of China were easier to hide the bowls he produced than the Japanese kimono he previously wore. Already known as Okito, he kept the name, so he was forever known as a Chinese magician with a Japanese name.
Tobias’ nickname was Toby and his new wife Lily didn’t like it. In her home country of England, Toby was a nickname for dogs. She didn’t want her husband being whistled at, so he changed his first name to a good English name, Theodore.
Theo traveled the world as Okito and performed many fine effects like his improved production of a bowl of water, the floating ball, Okito box, and the Sofa trick to name a few. He retired in Chicago and made magic props for Joe Berg the magic dealer. He lived a long life passing away in 1963.
(Click here for Okito’s section: Tobias Bamberg)
David (Fu Manchu) Bamberg
Theo had three children. His oldest was David Tobias Bamberg (1904 - 1974). He was known as Fu Manchu and toured the world with his own illusion show.
At the age of four, David, made his first appearance in Russia as a little boy dressed up in Chinese clothes. His father Okito produced him from a cloth. Eventually their touring brought them to the United States of America.
While David was still young, he joined Julius Zancig, the world-famous telepathist and worked in partnership with him after his wife Agnes died. He was with Zancig for a number of years playing the blindfolded medium. He completed his education in America and went to England to further his studies. This did not pan out. But the kind of studies he did complete was that of a professional magician. He hung out at St. Georges Hall and watched all of the magicians that played there at the time.
In 1921, he returned to America and appeared in various magical acts. Finally, David went abroad to pursue success. He presented his original comedy shadowgraph act in Vienna, touring all of Europe with his act. Theo and David also worked together for a time. David later worked with the Great Raymond as an assistant. With the backing of a friend, David created his own show and toured the world as Fu Manchu.
David had only one son. He decided to break with tradition of David’s and Tobias’ and named his son Robert. Robert never became a professional, thus ended the magical dynasty of the Bamberg’s.
- Christopher, Milbourne; Christopher, Maurine (December 2005). The Illustrated History of Magic. Perseus Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7867-1688-3.
- Bamberg, David (1991-09-01). Illusion Show (2nd Revised ed.). Meyerbooks, Publisher. ISBN 978-0-916638-48-1.
- Tarbell, Harlan (1927). "Lesson 68: Magic of the Bambergs". In New York : Louis Tannen. The Tarbell Course in Magic. 5.
- Bramberg, Theo "Okito" (1955). "Okito, Broedershap van Goochelaars". MUM, Volume 45, Number 4, September, 1955, pps. 152 - 155. Retrieved 2009-04-23.[dead link]
- McMahon, Dr. C. Matthew; Christopher, Milbourne (1962). "Card Conjuring and Magic from 19th Century Until Today". Panorama of Magic. Dover Publications, New York. Archived from the original on July 3, 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
- "Tobias Leendert Bamberg". MagicPedia. Genii. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
- The Oriental Magic of the Bambergs, by Robert J. Albo
- Illusion Builder to Fu-Manchu (David Bamberg of South America, Magician), TRIBUTE to Edmund Spreer by Robert E. Olson
- Illusion Show by David Bamberg
- Tarbell Course in Magic Volume 5: Lesson 68 Magic of the Bambergs by Harlan Tarbell