Item #8185 Going Fine Since 1889 : Ellen E. Armstrong Magician and Cartoonist Extraordinary…

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Going Fine Since 1889 : Ellen E. Armstrong Magician and Cartoonist Extraordinary…

Poster printed in black, green, and red. 26.5” x 21” plus margins. CONDITION: Very good, light wear to extremities and a couple marginal tears, one 8.5” cloth tape repair to edge on verso.

A scarce and appealing broadside advertising a show by the first—and for a long time only—female African American magician to run her own touring show.

Ellen E. Armstrong, the daughter of John Hartford Armstrong, the “King of the Colored Conjurers,” joined his show at the age of six and began introducing several of her own segments, including mind-reading (divining what audience members thought of the person next to them) and what would become her signature act, “Chalk Talk,” in which she “told stories through squiggles and doodles” (The Griot). Ellen, her father, and his wife Lillie Belle performed to great acclaim “along the Atlantic seaboard from Key West to Philadelphia and are reputed to have toured in Cuba and Europe,” usually appearing before African American audiences in churches, schools, and colleges, but occasionally before white and mixed-race audiences (“Armstrong Family Papers”). One newspaper report advertised that “The Armstrongs will tickle your shoe strings and make your big toe laugh. They will not pay doctor’s bills if you faint from laughter” (“Armstrong Family”). When her father died, the twenty-five-year-old Armstrong took over the show, retaining his slogans “Going Fine since 1889” and “If laughing hurts you stay at home,” and transforming herself into the “Mistress of Modern Magic.” She performed sleight-of-hand tricks, mind-reading acts, and cartoon stories for thirty-one more years, and was deemed “the most unusual among colored magicians” in a 1949 Ebony article on Black sleight-of-hand performers. She retired to South Carolina, where she died in 1979.

Featuring a portrait of Armstrong in pearls and puffy sleeves, with her elegant fingers on display, this poster announces her to be a “Magician and Cartoonist Extraordinary,” and encouraging audiences to join her on a “Modern, Marvelous, Matchless Merrymaking March[es] Through Mysteryland!” Though undated, this poster was evidently produced following her father’s death, for Armstrong’s own show. 

OCLC records just three copies, at the University of Florida, the University of South Carolina, and the Library of Congress. A fourth is held at the American Museum of Magic.

REFERENCES: “Armstrong Family Papers, 1900–1930,” University of South Carolina Libraries Digital Collections; “Magicians : Dozen Negroes practice hocus-pocus art in tradition of vaudeville heyday,” Ebony, December 1949, p. 72; The Griot, “DAY 27 — ELLEN E. ARMSTRONG,” The American Blackstory online.

Item #8185

Price: $1,500.00

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