Who Is The Best Magician of All-time?
Who is the Best Magician of All-time?
This is a question I get asked frequently, so I thought it might be helpful to write a little something addressing who I think the title should go to.
Naturally, it isn’t easy to answer a question like this and so whatever I end up deciding, there are sure to be many others who will disagree with me!
This is absolutely fine; everyone has different opinions on what it means to be one of the ‘greats’, and different types of performances will be much more powerful than others.
I will try (no promises!) to break down who I think the best magicians of all time are, but it will be difficult!
The reason for this is that it’s really hard to compare the skill of a mentalist to the skill of a card magician, for example. It’s a bit like asking ‘out of Mozart and Ronaldo, who is the better showman?’. Although we can draw comparisons, but it’s hard to properly compare them when the two areas of magic are so different- generally a card magician will have better sleight of hand, but might not be able to ‘read’ his audience in the way a mentalist can, but this doesn’t mean one is better than the other!
Because of this, I will use decide who I think the best magician of all time is within individual categories; card magicians, stage magicians, mentalists, and whatever comes between!
If you ask someone on the street to name a magician for you, chances are that they’ll mention either Dynamo, David Blaine, or Criss Angel. Penn and Teller might come up a couple of times, and the occasional Harry Houdini. These are all great magicians, but there are so many iconic legends in the magic world that the public seems generally unaware of.
But if you asked a magician to name the best magician of all time, you’d likely hear the name Dai Vernon from a good majority of them, sometimes referred to lovingly as ‘The Professor’. Dai Vernon, also known as the man who ‘fooled Houdini’, was the man who revolutionised card magic.
He essentially took worn out, inefficient tricks and techniques, and turned them into showstopping pieces. He is credited with the invention of many tricks and techniques that are still as strong as ever! Even if some say he wasn’t the most technically skilled magician ever, it’s hard to doubt that he changed magic forever.
The other candidate I considered for this spot is Juan Tamariz, a Spanish magician who has a wacky and eccentric style that putts you at ease until right to the end of his tricks, where he’ll blow you away with an impossible ending. He led a new movement of magic that has produced some of the greatest living performers today!
Other mentions include Dani DaOrtiz, Darwin Ortiz, David Williamson, Tommy Wonder, and Bill Malone. Shin Lim is another name I guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot of in the years to come.
Here, the accolade must go to Lance Burton, who blew people away with his incredible dove act, which is still arguably the most impressive version to date. He has won Magician of the Year twice, and is also a FISM winner (the equivalent of an Oscar or World Cup among the magic world). A frequent guest on The Tonight Show, Lance Burton has wowed audiences for years with his elegant and infuriatingly inexplicable performances.
Other strong contenders for this position included David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, and Jeff McBride, who all deserve mention. I recommend you watch a few of their performances to get a feel for their amazing showmanship.
The best mentalist of all time is Derren Brown, I feel (although I might be biased since I watched him live!). He is just such a great showman, and he really, really knows how to work an audience. His act is also mind-stoppingly good, and as a card magician myself, I had no idea what techniques he was using to achieve his tricks, which added to the overall impact of his performance. The guy has some great little videos on YouTube, but none compare to watching this master do his thing live!
Other mentions here include the great Max Maven, Uri Geller, and Banachek (look up how Banachek fooled a group of scientists into believing he was psychic- it’s fascinating!)
This category includes comedy magicians, coin magicians, street magicians, escapologists, and all other types that I forgot to mention already!
Undoubtedly the most famous of all these is Harry Houdini, the man who invented some of the most popular escapes still performed today, but there are a host of other names that deserve recognition.
David Roth, the most famous coin magician who still performs today.
Mac King, the funniest stage magician to grace Las Vegas.
People like David Blaine and Dynamo, who brought magic back into the public eye, and created a whole new generation of magicians.
Finally, some kind of mention has to go to Criss Angel, undoubtedly the best ‘TV’ magician of the 21st Century!
Is it possible to pick an overall best from this list? Definitely, but I’ll leave that one up to you to decide. Do some research- read their books, watch their performances, watch them live, maybe even talk to a few of them. Then feel free to decide who you think is the greatest magician of all time!
The Best Magicians of History: Our Top 10 Picks…
1: Howard Thurston (1869–1936) – Howard Thurston is one of my favourite magicians of all time! He was renowned for his grand stage illusions and was considered one of the world’s leading magicians, and his shows rivalled that of Houdini. His ability to captivate and charm large audiences with illusions like the “Levitation of Princess Karnac” made him a beloved figure. Click HERE to view our little tribute to Thurston!
2: Harry Houdini (1874–1926) – Houdini’s name is synonymous with magic, especially his legendary escape acts! He transcended the world of magic to become one of the most famous entertainers in the world, known for his daring and innovative escapes. Click HERE to view our little tribute to Houdini!
3: Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805–1871) – Often called the father of modern conjuring, Robert-Houdin brought magic from the streets to the theatre, elevating it to a respected form of entertainment. His technical innovations and theatrical flair laid the groundwork for future magicians. Click HERE to view our little tribute to Robert-Houdin!
4: Dai Vernon (1894–1992) – “The Professor” was revered for his close-up magic and his profound influence on card magic. Vernon’s pursuit of naturalness in sleight of hand and his creative approach to magic theory shaped the craft for future generations. Click HERE to view our little tribute to Dai Vernon.
5: Max Malini (1873–1942) – Malini was known for his close-up magic, performing for kings, queens, and presidents around the world. His ability to create powerful illusions with simple objects made him a master of misdirection and subtlety.
6: Alexander Herrmann (1844–1896) – Herrmann the Great was celebrated for his theatrical magic shows and charismatic stage presence. He was a master of all aspects of magic, from card tricks to large-scale illusions, and his performances were a blend of skill, humour, and drama.
7: David Devant (1868–1941) – A leading British magician of his time, Devant was known for his elegance and for being a master of both stage illusions and close-up magic. His contribution to magic includes his role in founding the Magic Circle, one of the most prestigious magical societies.
8: Harry Kellar (1849–1922) – Kellar was a prominent American stage magician, known for his spectacular illusions and for succeeding Alexander Herrmann as the preeminent magician in the U.S. His performances were a major influence on future generations of magicians. Click HERE to view our little tribute to Harry Kellar!
9: Theodore Annemann (1907–1942) – A pioneer in the field of mentalism, Annemann was known for his performances of mind reading and psychic phenomena. His work, especially with the magazine “The Jinx,” contributed significantly to the art of mental magic. Click HERE to view our little tribute to Theodore Anneman!
10: Harry Blackstone, Sr. (1885–1965) – American magician who was famous for his large-scale illusions, such as the “Vanishing Birdcage” and “Sawing a Woman in Half.” His theatrical performances helped popularize stage magic in the United States.
Did you know?
Many of these magicians, including Howard Thurston and the great Harry Houdini, were prolific writers. Meaning they wrote their best secrets down in journals to leave behind a legacy for magicians like you and me!
If you struggle to study ‘the classics’ than I am going to be direct with you…
You’re missing out!
I literally found the method for one the best selling magic tricks of 2023 in a single throwaway paragraph written by Theodore Annemann! No joke!
But, don’t worry you’re not alone.
Our friend Danny Goldsmith (considered by many the world’s best coin magician) recently lamented to us that he learns better from video and struggles with classics such as Bobo—that would otherwise undoubtedly hold so much power for him.
So we decided to tackle this problem head on like a Rhino (some of these magic books had effects simply to good to let them rest and collect dust)!
First, we spent hours upon hours pouring over these books, sifting through the material, and finding the very best ‘hidden gems’.
And there were a LOT of them.
Next, we spent nearly two weeks practically living in our studio, filming high quality videos going over each of these tricks and making them as EASY to understand as possible.
Our goal was to do ALL the hard work for you.
We’ve taken these tricks, added our own modernizations, touches, alternate handlings and most importantly brought them into the modern age in the form of video.
We’ve also made sure the original excerpts are right below the video because reading and watching can create an even better experience!
This was a mammoth task.
This project has taken 2 years to be fully realized.
As Black Friday and ‘crunch time’ approached, we even had to carve out 2 weeks of our schedule to create a ‘magic bootcamp’ where we did nothing but read, film, edit, learn and produce.
(spending regular 12, 13 and even 20 hour days immersed in this stuff)
Imagine knowing more about magic than you ever have.
Imagine being able to sit down with magicians such as Hugard, Annemann, Vernon, Erdnase, Cardini, Hunter and others, knowing you could have kept up with them.
(and perhaps show them a few things of your own!)
That’s how we felt at the ‘peak’ of this project, while we were so immersed in their work. It’s a feeling we tried to capture in the product.
We’ve talked to magic circle members, top magicians and clients about it for a while now.
But we’re finally sharing it with you…
Recently I sent this email out to my followers! (If you want to join the email list feel free to click the banner above and sign right up to join in debates like these!)
Magicians seem to have a strange ongoing fascination with this ‘hot button’ topic:
“Who is the BEST card magician alive??”
I dislike how so many magicians will give total flakey answers to that question as if they’re afraid of offending someone.
That’s not what I’ll do today.
After all, it’s really not that hard to name a few names.
And for my money, Juan Tamariz takes the cake every day…but that’d be a pretty boring list on its own.
So here are the remaining 9 of my top 10. (Once you’ve read through them, I’ll let you in on a little secret.)
Here they are, in no particular order:
- David Williamson
- Steve Forte
- Guy Hollingworth
- Bill Malone
- Darwin Ortiz
- Ben Earl
- Richard Turner
- Aaron Fisher
- William Kalush
Of course, that list is by no means meant to be the ‘final word’ on this debate…just my opinion.
After a flood of responses I sent this out:
A fellow reader has something interesting to say about my list of ten ‘best card magicians’…
“What about David Berglas? He’s still alive and he created the ‘Berglas Effect?’ What about Asi Wind, the double exposure guy! What about Derren Brown’s card trick (“reverse engineer” as named by Asi in his repertoire), and what about Shin Lim-the sleight of hand legend and Daniel Madison?”
While the magicians you mentioned are accomplished, would it be not an insult to these other great card magicians, who (in my opinion) are equally accomplished?”
I had a feeling that yesterday’s email might cause some drama to unfold. So let’s discuss…
(For the uninitiated, my list included Juan Tamariz, David Williamson, Steve Forte, Guy Hollingworth, Bill Malone, Darwin Ortiz, Ben Earl, Richard Turner, Aaron Fisher and William Kalush)
Now, this reader makes an important point.
And if my list were meant to be a comprehensive rundown of the ‘greatest magicians alive,’ he’d be right.
But perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what I mean by ‘best.’
In this case, by ‘best’ I simply meant the most technically skilled with a deck of playing cards.
Entertainment value and level of ‘artistry’ is subjective, whereas physical skill is objective.
I.e we can debate all day about whether or not Derren Brown is more of an artist than Darwin Ortiz, but there’s no debating the fact that Señor Ortiz would smoke him in a contest of sleight of hand.
So, while Derren Brown is an excellent performer, it’s also safe to say he’s definitely not the most SKILLED magician with a deck of cards. Because he doesn’t need to be!
(and he’d be the first to admit as such.)
The same goes for David Berglas. Astonishing effects, but definitely no Vernon with the pasteboards.
(again, because he didn’t need to be.)
And, I should point out, this isn’t a ‘knock’ at any of those guys.
After all, I myself leverage an approach that requires very little sleight of hand but still creates very powerful magic.
But I think it’s hard to argue with the fact that a guy like Darwin Ortiz is just straight up BETTER at handling playing cards than Derren Brown.
That doesn’t mean he’s a better performer. Or a better artist. Or heck, a better magician.
It just means his fingers can do things that other guys can’t do.
So there you have it, our little answer to your big question. The problem is, with such an opinion based debate it’s hard to ever get you a straight response.
We hope however this has helped your quest for truth! If you have any different responses please put them down below in the comments so we can all debate together.
Because, who’s to say you’re not the greatest magician alive?