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February 6, 2020

Carter the Great

Avatar for Angelina Lippert
Angelina Lippert

Carter the Great, c. 1926, Designer Unknown

Working at the same time as Harry Houdini, Charles Joseph Carter (1874–1936) is one of the most important magicians in history. Unlike many of his American contemporaries who remained in the United States, Carter chose to travel the world with his magic show, becoming one of the biggest international stars of the era.

As shown in the photos below, the imagery in this billboard would be remixed and reused in many of his posters, the only constant being the figure of Carter himself gazing at a handheld globe.


Left: Carter the Great, c. 1925, Designer Unknown (image c/o Invaluable)

Right: Carter the Great, ca. 1925, Designer Unknown (image c/o Art Iconix)

In the billboard, busts of other notable magicians hover behind Carter in the upper right of the scene, implying that he is the natural successor to these legends. At the upper left, a hint of the pyramids peeks over his name—a subtle nod to the recent discovery of King Tut’s Tomb in 1922 that sparked a craze for all things Egyptian. The main body of the poster features various goblins and ghouls along with references to some of Carter’s most famous tricks, including “The Lion’s Bride” in which a live lion would disappear, reappear as Carter, and then vanish again.

This eight-sheet billboard was printed by the Otis Lithographic Company of Cleveland, OH via stone lithography, and would have been wheatpasted onto the side of buildings to announce the imminent arrival of Carter’s traveling show.

To see this billboard in person, stop by Poster House’s 24th Street lobby through Summer 2020.

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