Magic & magicians

Find out about magic, magicians and conjuring using magic resources from the W G Alma Conjuring Collection and other sources

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Jodi Kok
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Researching magic at the State Library

This research guide will help you research magicians and the history of the performing art of magic, or conjuring. This is separate from the occult or the supernatural, though magicians sometimes used the language of mystery and the supernatural to enhance the entertainment value of their shows.

The State Library of Victoria is fortunate to hold the WG Alma Conjuring Collection. Other sources such as newspapers can be useful for researching particular magicians and magic tricks.

For an overview of the collection, try this video.

WG Alma and his conjuring collection

WG Alma

Will Alma PC103/B

WG Alma was born William George Bishop in Melbourne in 1904. His father, Oswald Bishop, was a professional vaudeville magician, known by several names including 'Alma the Court Magician', and Pharos. He abandoned the family when Will was a child.

Despite this, Will followed his father's profession - not only as a performer but also as a manufacturer and supplier of tricks and equipment. He became well known around Australia, touring with international stars like 'The Great Levante'.

Performing as the 'The Amazing Alma' he became a member of the Magic Circle in 1954 and was elevated four years later to the exalted status of Gold Star Member of the Inner Magic Circle.

In the 1930s he set up his own business, the Alma Magical Company, which he operated until 1947.

When Will Alma retired in 1978 he continued to promote the history and art of conjuring through his extraordinary collection of magicana. He died in 1993.

WG Alma Conjuring Collection

Magic egg PC133/B

The WG Alma Conjuring Collection is highly valued by researchers and performers around the world.

The collection includes many rare and ephemeral materials, historical journals from the late 19th and 20th centuries, and limited edition publications by celebrated magicians such as Houdini, Professor Hoffman, Penn and Teller, Harry Blackstone and Dai Vernon.

The Collection was donated by world-renowned Australian magician William George Alma and reflects his lifelong dedication to the art of conjuring.

The Collection contains around 2000 books on magic, 60 magazine titles, 1500 photographs, 300 posters, over 400 detailed magician research files on individual magicians and other magic memorabilia.

Listing the Collection

To create a list of the items in the WG Alma Conjuring Collection, search the catalogue using the terms 'magic tricks OR magicians' and limit the search to subject. The results list will also give a range of options to look at specific areas of the list.  For instance, you could choose only DVDs or only pictures.

Accessing the Collection

You do not need to be a magician to access the collection. Collection material is listed on the catalogue. Library staff will assist you with ordering. Items will be delivered to the Heritage Collections Reading Room and can only be read in that room.

At the time of ordering the material, library staff will book you a seat in the Heritage Collections Reading Room

Items with an ALMA prefix are available for same day delivery. Rare books from the Alma Collection (RAREALMA prefix) need to be pre-ordered for use in our Heritage Collections Reading Room. Delivery time for these heritage items is 2 working days after you place your order.

Almost all images from the Collection have been digitised and are available through the catalogue. It should be noted that photographs within the Alma Collection may be of variable quality. This is because Will Alma took many photographs of images in magazines and newspapers. The quality of an image online will give a clear indication of the quality of a reproduction of the image. Try the 'Images & posters' tab above.

Originals of digitised items cannot be retrieved.

Magic today

The Alma Company

Alma advertising P.225/NO.697 17427,17430


P.225/NO.697 17427, 17430

Posters advertising Will Alma and his company
P.225/NO.697 mp17427; mp17430

Pharos poster

Pharos ALMA2004.2/006 al000954

Pharos, Australia's foremost illusionist, ALMA2004.2/006
Image No: al000954

Pharos, also known as 'Alma the Court Magician', was the father of magician Will Alma.