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Rave Review - But £650 a Ticket?

07-October-2011
07-October-2011 0:00
in Curiosities
by Peter Berthoud

Glancing through "London of Today - An Illustrated Handbook for 1891" by Charles Eyre Pascoe I found a rave review of Mr Maskelyne's Original Magical Sketches, then playing at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly.

This is an illustration of one of the illusions:


"Mr Maskelyne cuts off Mr Cook's Head" Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London 1891 Artist EG Beach 1890

And here is Mr Pascoe's review:

The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

Mr. J. N. Maskelyne not unfitly names this time-honoured Institution of West End London “England’s Home of Mystery,” albeit there is little to mystify about Mr. Maskelyne himself. He is the most frank and communicative of modern illusionists, and frankly tells you that his excellent entertainment is mere clever invention, designed to amuse but not to trick. His spiritualistic exposés were the talk of London a few years back. As the public denouncer of the slippery spiritualist brethren and their Idiotic frauds, he gained the thanks of the community.

All the tricks of the professional media were in turn very skilfully presented at the Egyptian Hall by Mr. Maskelyne; and his quiet humour and genial sincerity in turning a good strong light on the mysterious motions of "spirits" in the air, under the table, locked in cabinets, bound with ropes, or otherwise embarrassed, long delighted the town.

He still entertains it every evening at 8 o’clock, and on six afternoons of the week at 3, by a little first-rate juggling, very cleverly mantipulated; an amusing and sensational sketch, in which his partner’s head is apparently removed from his body; an excellent display of sleight of hand by a lady and gentleman; and a capital spiritualistic skit with very startling effects.

This Egyptian hail School of Mystery is one of the most interesting to study in. Mr. Maskelyne has the inventive faculty strongly developed, not merely in regard of his professional work, but outside of it. A man of his stamp is always entertaining and instructive; and if our readers only gain half the information from him that we have, their holiday - shillings will be productive of very generous interest.

Elsewhere in the handbook Mr Maskelyne paid for an advertisement and I am sure he did so with "genial sincerity" regardless, unaware even, of the nature of Mr Pascoe's review.

I am equally sure that Mr Pascoe was utterly objective and had written his review well before the advertisement was placed.

Maskelyne Egyptian Hall Advertisement 1891
Maskelyne Egyptian Hall Advertisement 1891

I was particularly struck by Mr Maskelyne's pricing strategy.

Tickets ranged from 5 shillings for an Armchair seat (Fauteuils) to 1 shilling for a seat in the Balcony. There were generous discounts for children, they went in for half-price, excepting the balcony. But babies attracted a curious levy. A ticket for a baby cost a full 10 Guineas! After a little maths (with some help from the National Archives) I make this approximately £650 a ticket in today's money. A staggeringly effective disincentive I am sure.

To read other contemporary accounts of wonders to be seen at The Egyptian Hall you can look at the excellent Victorian London. To see a photo of the hall at 170 Piccadilly, just as Maskelyne would have known it, go to the equally interesting Victorian Web. To convert currency across eras, visit The National Archives.

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