Harry Price Library of Magical Literature
Subject: Magic, psychical research (psychology)
The basis of this collection is the library formed by the psychical researcher and writer Harry Price (1881-1948; see ODNB). The collection comprises nearly 13,000 books, pamphlets and periodical titles, some rare, on all aspects of magic, printed between 1472 and the twenty-first century; most books date from the nineteenth and especially twentieth centuries. Conjuring, from legerdemain to scientific recreations, is a special strength. Outstanding holdings in this area include S.R.’s The Art of Iugling (1614); the first edition of Hocus Pocus Junior (1634), the first illustrated English work devoted exclusively to legerdemain; and multiple editions of Henry Dean’s Whole Art of Legerdemain (1727-) and Professor Hoffmann’s Modern Magic (1874-). The works of magicians such as Robert-Houdin in the nineteenth century and Will Goldston in the twentieth are well represented. Copies of Will Goldston’s works are presentation copies to Price.
Among prophecies, the works of Nostradamus (1590-) and Joanna Southcott stand out. Other topics include witchcraft and the occult, abnormal phenomena such as ghosts, mediums and spiritualism, scientific phenomena such as animal magnetism and eighteenth-century work on automata, fortune-telling, astrology, and psychical research. Contemporary pamphlets cover debates such as the genuineness or otherwise of the cases of the fasting woman of Tutbury or Mary Toft, who allegedly gave birth to rabbits, among others. The breadth of topics is held together by Price’s desire to explain and expose most illusion and to explore what he saw as the few genuine cases. Price aimed at comprehensiveness, and multiple editions of various works include several editions of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (1494 onwards) every known edition of Scot’s Discouerie of Witchcraft (1584 onwards). While most titles are in English, all the major western European languages are represented.
A large archive complements the library. This includes ephemera, such as posters for performances of magic, photographs, manuscripts and artefacts which support the printed holdings, and invoices pertaining to library material.
Price deposited his library in Senate House Library in 1936 and bequeathed to the University of London in 1948, with an endowment to increase the collection. Bequests and donations from others have enabled further growth, notably from Liberal politician Allan Heywood Bright (1942), the Wellcome Institute, Patrick Lindley and Roger Loomis. The collection continues to expand.
Harry Price: a biography
Harry Price the man was as enigmatic as the psychical research which claimed most of his interest during his lifetime. Born in 1888, he apparently deliberately changed the details of his early life and his family, claiming that he was the son of wealthy parents and came from Shropshire. In fact, he was born in New Cross, a far from wealthy district of London, the son of a travelling paper salesman.
During his lifetime, he was a controversial figure, partly due to his interest in psychical research and partly because of his habit of self-promotion. That he made a contribution to parapsychology is beyond dispute, but his love of publicity made him enemies as well as friends.
He died in 1948, at his home in West Sussex.
Harry Price in the National Laboratory of Psychical Research
Harry Price: Research
Price claimed to have had his first psychical experience at the age of 15. Initially, his interest in psychical research led him to make a point of exposing the many frauds and tricksters operating therein. He spent years undertaking experiments to show how mediums and their assistants could falsify ‘spirit photographs’, trances, the appearances of familiars, and messages from the dead. He joined the Society of Psychical Research, but quickly made enemies among the members. His strong personality and talent for self-promotion antagonised others and it was not long before he parted company with the SPR and set up his own organisation.
Harry Price set up the NLPR as a serious research organisation in Queensberry Place, London, in 1925. The NLPR was used to conduct many experiments into the truth (or otherwise) of the claims made by mediums and psychics. Such were his enthusiasm and powers of persuasion, that he managed to convince the University of London to give him space in later years, although the University never agreed to take the NLPR under its auspices. Not that Harry Price was deterred from claiming that his organisation was a part of the University, as is evident from the publication details on some of the NLPR’s publications.
Harry Price is perhaps best known for his researches into Borley Rectory and the happenings there. ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ seemed to defy even Price’s attempts to expose fraud, or, maybe, he had succumbed to the lure of the fame and publicity which accompanied his work by this time. Rumours and stories about what really happened abound, including charges against Harry Price himself, who was alleged to have instigated at least the pebble-throwing and brick-hurling episodes.
One indisputable fact is that he built up a unique library of materials on all aspects of parapsychology and related fields during his lifetime. Despite a sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the University of London, he left the entire collection to Senate House Library, where it is now housed.
Rare Books and Periodicals
A substantial minority of items in the Harry Price Library are rare, either because of their age or because of their ephemeral nature. Price acquired many books published in or before 1850. They range from the academic to the popular, from Institoris and Sprenger’s Malleus maleficarum (five editions, 1494-1615), to a French board book of children’s verses, Livre d’images parlantes (Paris, [18–]), which consists partly of a box with pulleys, the pulling of which produces animal sounds.
Many of the more ephemeral titles were published privately, typically with each copy numbered, and signed by the author. Others are short run special editions, or are of value for copy-specific reasons (e.g. copy no. 8 of the deluxe edition of Will Goldston’s Great magicians’ tricks (), inscribed to Harry Price by Will Goldston).
The subject matter ranges from witchcraft, conjuring (from legerdemain to scientific recreations), prophecies (most notably of Nostradamus and of Joanna Southcott), abnormal phenomena, scientific phenomena (e.g. animal magnetism; eighteenth-century work on automata) and mediums to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century almanacs, chapbooks, and a few Gothic novels. Books are English, French, German, more rarely Latin, Spanish or Italian, and occasionally even in Asian languages.
Harry Price made a point of collecting varying editions of specific texts: for example, sixteen editions of Henry Dean’s slim conjuring manual Whole art of legerdemain, or, Hocus pocus in perfection (1727-ca. 1850); six editions of Minguet é Irol’s conjuring manual Engaños a ojos vistas y diversion de trabajos mundanos fundada en lícitos juegos de manos (not before 1733, 1755-1820); and fifteen editions of Nostradamus’s Prophecies (1566-1850). The extraordinarily wide range of his interests, which can be seen particularly in the pamphlet collection, is the comprehensive coverage of debate concerning such issues as animal magnetism; demoniacs in the New Testament (Harry Price owned Andrew Sykes’s Enquiry into the meaning of demoniacks in the New Testament, with Sykes’s sequels and the responses of others to his views (6 items, 1737)); the examination and interpretation of miracles and freaks, such as George Lukins, the Yatton demoniac (2 items) and Ann Moore, known as the Fasting Woman of Tutbury (4 items, 1810-1813). An especially significant book is the first edition of Scot’s Discoverie of witchcraft (London, 1584), which urged against belief in witchcraft and became an exhaustive encyclopædia of contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, spirits, alchemy, magic, and legerdemain. One of the oldest rare individual items is The most excellent, profitable, and pleasant booke of the famous doctour and expert astrologian Arcandam or Aleandrin … (London, 1564). No other copies are recorded on the ESTC (English Short-Title Catalogue). Johannes de Turrecremata’s De aqua benedicta (Rome: Johann Besicken, [ca. 1500]), is apparently the only copy in Great Britain.
Books with noteworthy provenance include G.W. Septimus Piesse’s Chymical, natural, and physical magic (London, 1858), previously owned by the prolific magic writer Will Goldston; three books from the conjuror Harry Houdini’s library; George Cruikshank bibliographer Albert M. Cohn’s copy of Catholic Miracles, illustrated by Cruikshank (London, 1825); and a copy of the second edition of J.P.F. Deleuze’s Histoire critique du magnétisme animal (Paris, 1819), inscribed by the author.
Harry Price recognised the importance of periodicals to his collection, and subscribed to a wide range of titles. He also purchased back runs and individual back issues of suitable journals. The titles range across many of the subjects covered by the Harry Price Library. Some of the periodicals have extensive back runs of over one hundred years, such as the major journals on psychic studies: Journal of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 1-, 1884- and the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 1-, 1882-. Also held in the collection is the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research Vol. 1-, 1907-. Other long running titles include: Light: a journal devoted to the highest interests of humanity, both here and hereafter Vol. 1-, 1881- (originally published by the Eclectic Publishing Co. Ltd., Light was later published by The London Spiritualist Alliance Ltd., which became The College of Psychic Studies Ltd. in 1955, still the publishers of Light today, albeit with a different subtitle), Psychic News No. 1-, 1932- and the Occult Review Vols. 1-77 which ran under variant titles from 1905 to 1951.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a massive growth in the number of periodicals published, and Harry Price (1881-1948) was collecting at a time when titles from that period were available. The Theosophical movement was very active at the turn of the nineteenth century, and their journal Lucifer, later entitled Theosophical Review, jointly edited at one time by Helene Petrovna Blavatsky and Annie Besant, is represented in the collection for the years 1891-95, 1898-1903. From this period the collection also holds Borderland Vols. 1-4, 1893-97 which was edited by W.T. Stead, who is famous for his editorship of the Pall Mall Gazette and Review of Reviews, and being a victim of the sinking of S.S. Titanic. From the mid-nineteenth century there is The Zoist: a journal of cerebral physiology and mesmerism and their application to human welfare, Vols. 1-13, 1844-56, indicating yet another strand in the collection: that of animal magnetism, hypnotism, mesmerism.
One of Harry Price’s earliest interests was conjuring, and this is well represented in his Library. One notable title from the United States is The Sphinx, Vols. 1-52, 1902-53 and another from Germany is Zauberspiegel, Vols. 1-9, 1895-1925. The London suppliers of conjuring equipment, Davenports, published the Demon Telegraph, Nos. 1-150, 1933-51, of which there is an almost complete run in the collection.
The periodicals in the Harry Price Library are largely in the English language, but there is a significant minority of titles in European languages, particularly in the fields of conjuring, as indicated above, and psychic research. Examples of the latter might include Tijdschrift voor Parapsychologie, Vol. 1-, 1928- from the Netherlands, Annales des Sciences Psychiques: recueil d’observations et d’experiences, Vols. 1-12, 1892-1902, published in Paris and Luce e Ombra, later entitled La Ricerca Psichica, Vols. 23-39, 1923-39 from Milan.
Some of the earliest serial publications in the Harry Price Library are almanacs of which there is quite a variety, ranging from the mid-seventeenth century through to the twentieth. In most cases the Library only has one or very few copies. A keyword search in the Library’s catalogue under almanack will display many from Harry Price’s Library. Four examples across the years are: A bloody almanack foretelling many certain predictions which shall come to this present yeare 1647. : With a calculation concerning the time of the day of Judgment, drawne out and published by that famous astroler. The Lord Napire of Marcheston; The British telescope : being an ephemeris of the celestial motions : with an almanack for the year of our Lord 1741, the Julian period 6454 … by Edmund Weaver; The spiritualists’ almanack…for 1874 published by J. Burns and The mysteries almanack, MCMIV, published by R. Wood, 1904.
The early examples of periodicals come from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and include the Conjuror’s Magazine, or, Magical and Physiognomical Mirror, Vols. 1-2, 1791-93 which became the Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosophical Miscellany from 1793-1797. With the change of title it soon ceased to be a magazine but became more a vehicle for reprinting Lavater’s Essay on Physiognomy and, oddly, Barry’s Present Practice of a Justice of the Peace. Another title is the Supernatural Magazine Vol. 1, 1809 published in Dublin and featuring articles on animal magnetism and the Rosicrucian brotherhood.
Harry Price collected a vast number of pamphlets, and among them he included articles on relevant subjects removed from journals. Therefore, the catalogue records of the Harry Price Library present an accidental index to articles from a wide range of nineteenth and early twentieth-century periodicals as well as a guide to the journals focused on his chosen subjects. Current subscriptions and new titles are funded by the endowment bestowed on the collection by Harry Price. Titles acquired by Senate House Library include Skeptical Inquirer: the Zetetic: the journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Vol. 1-, 1976- and Theosophical History, No.1- , 1985-.