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Ellisdons...The background history

PostPosted: Jul 3rd, '05, 09:06
by Allen Tipton

:) I posted some reminisences on Ellisdon's , the mail order Magic & Joke firm under the Do You Remember topic. Yesterday (2nd July 2005) I had an e mail from the great grand daughter of the founder. ( she'd come across my entry, I presume on Talk Magic) She is living in Illinois, USA and detailed much of the founding and subsequent demise of this much loved firm. Am now going to try and attatch her e mail for the many of you who must have purchased stuff from Ellisdons and who remember it with great affection. I'll also subsequently, due to my lack of experience with the net, add her e mail address. I'm sure she will be delighted to hear from you.
Allen Tipton.

PostPosted: Jul 3rd, '05, 14:09
by Mandrake
Great news, Allen, as one of those who added to that post as well as having fond memories of all the items I bouught from that mail order caalogue, I'd be pleased for any information the lady can give us.


PostPosted: Jul 12th, '05, 17:50
by Allen Tipton
It may be my inexperience with posting but i couldn't get the Ellisdons grand daughter's e mail on my post. It's either i didn't click on the right 'button' or perhaps you're not allowed to post other folks' e mail numbers. However there have been a number of e mails from USA from Tina Futchet and other members of the Ellisdon family over there are pooling info to send to me. I'll then write it up for Abra and so leave a permanent record of the history and importance of this Magical Firm,
There are 2 or 3 Ellisdons living in London. Any British magician who has any recollections please e mail them to me.
Allen Tipton :)

PostPosted: Jul 12th, '05, 19:14
by Mandrake
We might be able to post the info as a text file here for everyone to see - let me know if the family are in agreement and I can do the biz!

ellisdon and son

PostPosted: Jul 10th, '09, 18:56
by Drewmcadam
Not sure if this is the same thing... I have in my possession 14 booklets entitled "Ellisdon & Son" The largest Mail-order house of novelties in the world" 246 High Holborn London WC1.

Now, before you all get excited, the booklet has at the bottom "Extracts from the Catalogues of 1938 and 1956. It has 25 pages , all crammed with those wonderful products and accompanying illustrations. From Black Soap to Sneezing Powder and from Vanishing 10/- note to The Three Bells Mystery.

my mate had a shop up here in Edinburgh and I was in rooting around with Paul Zennon when he found them. We bought one each but I went back today and bought up all the ones that were left because I have found it very useful for a lecture I give.

I have the name and address of the supplier, which is on the back page under adsfor a Vamping Chart and Hypnotism booklet; Tobar Limited (in Norfolk) Hope this helps.


PostPosted: Jul 11th, '09, 07:46
by magicofthemind
It was Ellisdons that got me into magic around 50 years ago. In those days, you could go into any toyshop or newsagent and find a stand of their tricks and jokes. I still have a few.

If it's not too late, contact Jack Delvin, currently VP of The Magic Circle. He used to work in the Holborn shop.



PostPosted: Jul 11th, '09, 10:03
by Allen Tipton
Yes Drew. The booklets were put out by the founder of Hawkin's Bazaar. He was so thrilled with Ellisdons as a boy that he decided to bring out a mini catalogue repro. using items from two old catalogues.
I still have half a dozen of them and have sent copies all over the world.

The first 2 went to Tina (Futchet) Ellisdon in the USA. She had married an American who was a manager at the E & S factiory
Tina sent one to her sister Penny in France. I have corresponded with Tina since 2005, even managing to send her one of the 9 original E & S catalogues I have in my collection. Plus a few of original E & S items.
Unfortunately Tina has been ill this year but was OK last time we wrote.
Her grandson has just acquired his first Magic Set!
She did send me 2 pics of the family (father, grandfather, Uncle B and the 2 daughters) outside the shop in High Holborn. I sent one to Betty Davenport as the Ellisdons were friends of the family.

Betty told me her father George (Gilly) Davenport had once told her that often people who bought the Vanishing Cigarette from Woolworths found the vital gimmick, a TT, missing. magicians used to go into the store and'vanish' them,!
Davenports used to supply E & S with some of their wares.

Neville Wiltshire sent me 2 tiny E & S Egg Bags from ireland (plus a few more items) One is going to the grandson.

The BBC sent me numerous e mails and a few phone calls about featuring E & S in their TV Balderdash & Piffle series. They wanted to interview me, as i had written a potted history of Ellisdons in Abra. The programme was investigating the origins of the Mucky Pup joke.
I said no, the family should do the interview. then got Tina to persuade Penny to come over from France. The BBC did it well & included footage
of the Ellisdon factory with Uncle Bryce making an appearance. It was also good to see Penny & her husband.

I will try & put my potted history onto Talk Magic

Allen Tipton


PostPosted: Jul 11th, '09, 10:09
by Allen Tipton

Magical Memories by Allen Tipton.

In 1944 before BMS( Boys Magic Service), two years after the magic bug bit I discovered a plentiful supply of conjuring tricks in our local (Cradley Heath) Woolworth’s. An entire counter, covered with colourful packets, intriguing boxes, all decorated with strange magical titles & illustrations of magicians performing They were all designed to catch the eye, the heart & the pocket of the Schoolboy Conjuror.
An Ever Varying Array Of Magical Wonders.
My first ever buy was Salamander’s Breath. You received a wad of wool & a piece of tow. ‘Ignite the slow burning tow; insert it into the wool & place in the mouth! Now blow out smoke & sparks to the horror of your beholders.’ Well it certainly caused horror in my parents.
The Hindoo Cones came in a long thin, colourful box decorated with a turbaned magician who gestured over 4 small cones and a glittering coin. Someone placed the coin under a cone & while your back was turned, shuffled them about. You then pointed out the cone without fail. A hair attached to the coin told you which.
The Mystic Ring had a length of rope bound to each wrist as you clutched a solid ring in one hand. Covered, you put the ring onto the rope. One ring was already up your sleeve and the other took its place under the cover.
The Great Eastern Folding Paper Mystery, in which a flat object wrapped in the inner most of 3 papers disappeared or changed to something else, went down very well. Still marketed today as The Buddha Papers.
The Lit Cigarette in Handkerchief introduced me to the TT and you must be familiar with The Magic Pound Note Machine. I had to have this as I’d seen Dante explain it to Laurel & Hardy in their film.
The Afghan Bands, the Multiplying Billiard Balls, the Magic (Imp) Bottle which lay down only on the conjuror’s command, and the Ball & Tube (only you could make the ball sink into the tube) The 3 Bells Mystery (as the Rattle bars) & the Card Box (but made of very strong cardboard) are still around today.
From The Mystic Envelope I learned about double envelopes. The Balancing Glass on Card (which had a hinged flap) taught me about feked cards.
In a latter catalogue I came across a Torn & Restored Tiny Newspaper. Miniature copies of the Stage were used. Last year one of our young magicians asked me to script his new miniature T & R newspaper. I didn’t say a word! With The Great Paper Tearing Enigma I learned to do it with blue tissue paper.
Every one of these miracles was stamped with the initials E & S. Who were these Purveyors of Prestidigitation. The answer was: Ellisdon & Son. Where they came from & how they set up one of the biggest, Novelty & Joke shops in the world had to remain a mystery to me for 60 more years.
Some of the answers.
In 2005, on the Internet I came across someone in Australia asking for an Ellisdon Ventrilo. This was what was known as a bird warbler. Pat Page uses one very effectively in Children’s Magic. Replies said use a swazzle but no, it was not what he wanted; it had to be the Ellisdon model.


This brought back my memories of those halcyon days and I posted some details of E & S on Talk Magic Forum. A reply came from the USA. Mrs. Tina Futch was the daughter of Helen Basnett nee Ellisdon. Loads of e mails flowed and some answers to my many questions were soon forthcoming. I had made a new friend & received some answers.
The Firm was founded in Sydney Australia; in 1897 by Albert Ellisdon (known to the family as Pop Pop) He originally sold tools, shovels, saddles, & gold panning equipment to the pioneers; all by Mail Order.
Eventually the gold fever boom ran its usual course, sales dropped so Albert with his son Ernest G Ellisdon (known as Poppy) & Grandson Bryce, moved to England in the 1930’s. We think to the High Holborn area. They were at 245 & 245 for many years. Why England?
Well Pop Pop & his sons loved a joke and they thought England, after a depression, could do with cheering up. So they fulfilled a need. Jokes & Novelties were scarce. It was a market hardly touched by the magic dealers (Davenports was the only exception). Grandpa handed the business over & Ellisdon & Son, or E & S as they became universally known, grasped their opportunities to infiltrate the Great British Sense of Humour.
Non Strike Matches, Joke Spiders, Mucky Pup Stuff, Dribble Glasses, Hairy Warts & Boils and Instant Snowstorms (ruined my father’s cigarette) & the inevitable Stink Bombs hit the market. They were purchased by young & old alike. The Firm had arrived & England laughed again.
The Jokes.
I avoided buying most of the jokes (it was magic I was after) except the Snowstorm, the Blackface Soap (another telling off at home); The Magic Soot which didn’t go down too well at all, sprinkled on my mother’s best white astrakhan coat. It did brush off easily. Whew! I tried the Nail Through Finger, The Window Smashing (metal plates) the Novelty Visiting Cards, the Sex Indicator (first introduction to the pendulum idea), the Millionaires Outfit (loads of stage money) It’s In The Bag & Merry Widow Hanky (both turned out to be miniature ladies panties) and the famous Seebackroscope. Lots of magicians in the last year recall buying this. A sort of jeweller’s eyeglass, made of bakelite and held in your eye enabled you to see sideways and behind you. I was the envy of my class. A very useful gadget for boy spies.
Advanced Magic!
My repertoire grew with the Erratic Card Vanish (the back palm done with a pink metal clip on the back of the card) the O So Easy Wine & Water trick, the Egg Bag with a red bag I’ve hated black ones ever since. The real egg had to be carried in cotton wool. My first Chinese Linking Rings. These were 4 inch ones made of a rough grey metal( it was wartime) but they worked.
The young lady behind the Woolworth’s counter was entranced. She’d made a point of being in charge of it every Friday (Pocket Money Day) just to see the miracles she sold me the week before performed. She had no idea of their methods or even inkling as to how they worked. I had my first real audience of one! This was Stand Up, Close Up magic before its time.
Show Business here I come! But there’s more.


More Memories by Allen Tipton

The Ellisdons were used to selling by post; it was the only sure way of reaching customers in the Australian Outback, so here in Britain, mail order catalogues were inevitable. Over the trading years the circulation of these rose to over 200,000, sent to every part of the world. Tina Futch, on the wall in her study, has a framed envelope, which arrived in 1958,from Rhodesia, written in pencil and addressed to ‘The largest mail order house in the world for tricks & novelties, promptest service to all parts of the world, Ellisdons’ And it got there!

Other stock.
In the catalogues besides the jokes, novelties & magic there are household items, as cuckoo clocks, bread & food slicers, cigarette lighters, razors, replica guns & starting pistols etc. I was not allowed even imitation guns, except the Numatic Paper Busting Gun, which fired holes in an attached mini reel of paper. One item, ‘the Converta Bottle’, turned old bottles into utility articles within minutes. I quote Bryce Ellisdon,’ They were much favoured by army officers’. The mind boggles.
Theatrical wigs, beards & stage makeup were added and catch phrases appeared on every page:
Good Clean Fun For Everyone. Baffling Secrets That Surprise. Magic, The Spice Of Enjoyment (and for every magician) Something New & Different.

Eye catching, intriguing & bewildering
The fascinating, tempting illustrations were drawn by Bryce Ellisdon (a talent inherited by his niece, Penny Altmann (See and the copy was written by John Basnett (Tina & Penny’s father).
John also wrote the booklet on ‘How To Throw Your Voice’, which was accompanied by the Ventrilo. I still have a copy & 2 Ventrilo’s
The Vamping Chart I could never work out. It was a long cardboard strip with wording & coloured sections. You placed it upright above the piano keys & vamped thousands of songs, waltzes & ragtime numbers. ‘No knowledge of music required.’ For me it didn’t work. I just had to keep playing scales & Schubert’s Serenade till Father said “Oh do go upstairs and practise your magic instead.”
I always flew up the stairs.
The E & S Card Locator was a mechanical stacked deck. You received a 7 inch long card on which was mounted a dial. The Locator Card and dial had the 52 cards & I think 1 to 52 printed on them. You rotated the dial, and it told you where the selected card was. I never worked this out.
Apal. This was an imitation cigarette in plastic I discovered in the 60’s. It contained an herbal extract, which stopped you smoking; and it did. A very popular buy and was reissued, by another firm, 15 years later as Nobacc.

Even more Magic
I bought the Modern Thumb Penetration; a plastic TT with a hole in it so you could ‘penetrate’ your thumb under a handkerchief with a big needle. The Magic Box enabled me to send a coin into 2 sealed boxes & little bag (the coin slide) Two Cabinets of Card Tricks (which introduced me to printed feke cards), and The Great Siberian Gang Escape. By now my Friday audience of one had grown to six shop girls who watched me on Woolworth’s floor, ‘struggling’ to escape the chain which bound my wrists. I said I’d learned it from Houdini!

Behind The Scenes.
At the height of their fame E & S employed over a hundred local craftsmen (Shades of Edwin’s Supreme) who worked from their homes plus a regular Staff of 40 in their factory in Kempston Road, Bedford, supplemented by a number of senior citizens all doing their bit for the old Firm. All this in addition to importing novelties from around the world. Regular adverts in appeared in magazines, boys’ comics and Abra. Indeed in the June 1959 issues of Abra it was announced the opening of a new shop at 145-146 High Holborn ( not far from Davenports famous 111 address) Somewhere in the family archives Tina has a photograph of herself, aged 8 in the arms of Tommy Cooper in that shop.
The End of an Era,
In 1980 Bryce sold his share of the business to David (Penny’s husband)
who with John Basnett ( his father in law) moved the Firm down to Launceston in Cornwall.
In 1982 Tina says’ We had to call it a day. Schoolboys were no longer interested in stink bombs & invisible ink, preferring computer games’.
Ernest Ellisdon died in the 1970’s;John Basnett in 1995 & Bryce (aged 82) in
June 2005. But there’s still Tina, Penny, their husbands Jerry( the factory foreman) & David+ children & grandchildren. Ellisdons may rise again one day

I only have the instructions left in my files for the Cigarette In Handkerchief & a 1972 E & S catalogue, from Neville Wiltshire, who achieved great status in his school days with a pack of Ellisdon Striptease cards! However, on the bookshelves there are still copies of Easy Card Tricks by L. Widdop, Modern Magic by Bert Douglas & Modern Conjuring by J.C. Cannell. Their ageing covers are still bright with the colour, excitement & knowledge of magic they brought to a young schoolboy in the 40’s. I’d never part with them. I still refer to them. They were my first entrance to the Wonderful World Of Magic.

Sid Templar, founder of the Hawkins Bazaar chain of novelty shops, was inspired by Ellisdons. He put out a 24 page, mini catalogue taken from their 1938 & 1956 catalogues. Alas it sold out BUT if you go to on the net, click on party products then gifts then books, they have a supply at 90p each. I’ve bought 10 and six have already gone out, by request, to magicians all over the country who still remember how they sent off postal orders to The Largest Mail Order House For Novelties In The World.
And to those of you who have memories of E & S please let me know and I’ll pass them on to Tina who will be delighted to hear from you.

PostPosted: Jul 11th, '09, 10:19
by magicofthemind
I still have Hindoo Cones, Linking Rings, Squaring the Circle and a terrible pack of marked cards (the backs are different shades of pink). There are probably a few others in my box too.

Some of the stuff was junk. The Ball and Tube was made of cardboard and went straight in the bin. I also had the Card Locater - most disappointing. If memory serves it was based on the Si Stebbins stack. I also have a Nose Flute - the only musical instrument that I can play!

I visited both the Holborn shops - the original and the replacement. The second one was disappointing - more like a toy shop, on one floor, I think.


PostPosted: Jul 11th, '09, 11:00
by Allen Tipton
You must have had the post war Tube & Ball. Min, i War Time too, was metal.
The Hindoo Cones was the ony trick that Tina E remembers performing.

The Linking Rings (again war time) were rough dull grey metal.

The Card Locator I do so agree. It was based on the well known set up.
I twirled and twirled the disc round but could never understand it!

The 2 Egg Bags Neville W sent me were cheap black material,and only about 5 inches x 4 inches. Mine bought in the 40's was red, almost a soft felt, and about 7 or 8 inches by 6. It must have been pre war stock.
As the hollow sort of chalk egg broke,I had to use a real egg; wrapped very carefully in cotton wool by my mother!
I have never like black egg bags.

Allen Tipton

PostPosted: Oct 13th, '10, 10:12
by Lily_My_Lovely

This thread was brought up in a recent Google search for Ellisdons, as my mum was reminiscing about her time working there in the 1950s/1960s and asked me to 'look it up' for her.

My mum worked at Ellisdon's second shop. She had previously been working at the Zurich Insurance Company in Holborn and (after a falling out with her boyfriend who worked locally) looked for another job in the Holborn area and attended an interview to work at Ellisdon's new shop. My mum was there when the store was opened by Tommy Cooper (perhaps this is when the photo of Tina was taken in his arms - at the store's opening).

My mum has very fond memories of working at the store espescially as she used to buy her five younger brothers Christmas presents from the store, much to their delight.

However, she particulary remembers Jon Tremaine working as a "magic demonstrator" as she used to be entranced by his skill of close-up magic and also his mindreading ability (and the fact that he was tall, blonde and handsome!). She remembers vividly how he wrote her exact date of birth (day, month & year) on a piece of paper without any prior knowledge of her. (In her words, "This was before he knew me properly and we became friends, so there is no way he would have known my birthdate.")

As they got to know each other better, he taught her some 'tricks' but (again in my mum's words!), "I could never do them, because you have to be clever to do those tricks!". Not long after this Jon Tremaine had his first show on the then (new) ITA (Independent Television Authority) and told my mum to "watch him on the Television". However, ITA was a brand new channel and my mum's TV (well in fact my nan's TV as my mum still at home!) could only receive BBC (you had to buy a new 'two channel TV' or a converter to receive the new ITA channel!). When she went into work the next day, she said to Jon, "I couldn't see your show last night as we only have BBC" and Jon said, "shhh don't tell everyone I am on the TV, it's embarrassing!". Seemingly in those days, the best magicians appeared on stage and Jon didn't want his stage career marred by appearing on the 'lesser medium of TV'!

Another of my mum's memories was when she was working on 'the pen counter' and two Ellisdon brothers came through the store. One of them asked my mum for a particular pen, which she duly took from the shelf and gave to him. He then said, "aren't you forgetting something?", my mum shook her head and said, "no sir" and he said, "you haven't asked me for payment!", to which my mum replied, "but you own the store, you shouldn't have to pay for anything." Mr Ellisdon's reply was, "All the stock still has to be paid and accounted for! It doesn't matter who you serve, everyone has to pay."

My mum said, that although she felt embarrased, Mr Ellisdon was a lovely man who said it all with a smile and a laugh.

I guess this time was the halycon days for boys in the area, or those taken 'up to London' for trips to the shops, as Gamages was also in the area which was famed for its model trains and my mum remembers the store was always packed with doting parents and grandparents watching their son's wide-eyed excitement at the latest tricks and wheezes.

Many thanks for posting the history Allen, as otherwise it seems this big part of my mum's memories would have faded away like the buildings in High Holborn themselves. I wish I had known about the Hawkins Bazaar catalogues when they were still available as I would have bought one for my mum as a keepsake. Strangely Hawkins Bazaar is one of our families favourite stores today, with many christmas stockings filled with their goodies these days! I guess its in the genes!

Kind Regards

PostPosted: Oct 13th, '10, 10:19
by Mandrake
Thank you Karen, another very welcome chapter of the history of Ellisdons for us all to treasure!


PostPosted: Oct 16th, '10, 10:41
by Allen Tipton
This morning Karen, I have mailed you :

1 repro Mini Catalogue
An article from Harper's Bazaar magazine, which Tina Ellisdon sent me

A copy of a photo of the family outside the new store in High Holborn. Grandfather, father,Uncle Bryce etc.

a DVD, regretably only about 3 minutes long of the Old Ellisdon Factory building around 1968 and the deserted building about 3 years ago.

What happened was researchers from BBC TV e mailed & phoned me. They were in the middle of another series of 'Balderdash & Piffle'--a programme devoted to strange words & phrases.
They were looking for the origins of 'Mucky Pup'. I'd mentioned it somewhere hence they wanted to talk to me.
I sent them copies of the Ellisdons catalogue adverts--put them onto Betty Davenport ( who later sent me a lovely letter with a great Ellisdon story-- they were friends of the Davenport family.) I had also sent them Davenport's later version of Mucky Pup--called Dirty Fido.
Then they wanted to interview me for the programme. It meant a journey to London--a long day --and ending up with about 3 mins. of video.
So I told Tina about it and she persuaded her sister , Penny who said 'yes'. She went with her husband John who had been Managing Diretor of E & S and they did the programme.

Strangely not long after I lectured to Derby Magic Circle, and on the way there we passed a Pub called--what else Mucky Pup!!

Happy Birthday to your Mum Karen

Allen Tipton


PostPosted: Jan 4th, '11, 09:47
by Khardoma
I lived in Woburn Square, just down the road from High Holborn and used to haunt Davenports and the magic departments of Ellisdons and Gamages
from about 1948 to 1952. I seem to remember Ellisdons sold furniture, or something on the ground floor and the magic & novelties were on the 1st or 2nd floor?

My abiding memory, among many, was of becoming friendly with the main magic demonstrator, Khardoma (at least I think he spelt it like that), and one day being asked to demonstrate the Chinese Rings, with his line''s so easy, even a child can do it!'. I was pretty adept with the rings, and other tricks, so that it was a bit of a double act, from what I can recall.:twisted:


PostPosted: Jan 4th, '11, 12:13
by Allen Tipton
Kardoma used to 'Fill the stage with Flags'. There are pics of him in old Abras.

Tina Futch-one of the 2 remaining Ellisdon daughters sent me, 2 days ago a link her sister had found.
This shows some of the family joking in the Board Room.

WHEN I have checked it up.. I'll post it here.

Allen Tipton