The Percival Collection

The Percival Collection

A local magician, John H. Percival, gave his collection of books on magic to the Library in 1970. There are some 1,200 books and pamphlets in the collection, as well as several sets of periodicals. A few of the books, including ones by Blackstone and Houdini, are inscribed to Mr. Percival by their authors.

John H. Percival was born in East Providence and developed an interest in the magical arts after seeing a magic show when he was a child. From the age of eight until his death at eighty-six, Percival maintained active as an amateur magician, using the pseudonyms ‘Mysterious John’ or ‘Rene’ when he performed. When not engaged at his day job with the New England Telephone Company Percival attended performances and magicians’ conventions, where he became acquainted with many 20th century magicians, including Harry Blackstone, Howard Thurston and Harry Houdini.

Percival acted as a ‘stooge’ for Houdini – a plant in the audience during the latter’s performance – during a few shows the legendary magician performed in Providence. When Houdini called upon an audience member to bring him a pair of handcuffs from which to escape it was Percival who provided the special cuffs.

Percival was active as a magician for much of his life, appearing in clubs, lodges and churches, where he performed a variety of illusions, including escapes, but card tricks were his specialty. Though he would occasionally enlist his wife, Irene, as a partner during a mindreading act, Percival was mainly a solo artist, which could have its pitfalls. During what was doubtless a memorable performance at the Iroquois Theatre  in East Greenwich disaster struck when a drop crashed down from the ceiling onto his carefully arranged prop table.

In addition to his role as a performer, Percival was an avid collector of magic books, periodicals and ephemera, amassing over 1,500 items during his lifetime. The book collection of over 1,200 items features volumes on magic tricks, ventriloquism, spiritualism and gambling.


 Biographical research and writing by Elise Petrarca.


Muse, Ray. “I Stooged for Houdini: As Related by John Percival to Ray Muse.” Magic Unity Might 53, 5 (1963): 232.

“John Percival, 86; Amateur Magician.” (Obituary)

“Percival the Great.” Telephone Topics 46, 10 (1953): 13-37

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