The Architect of the Modern I.B.M.

Every so often I'm reading through the miscellanea of old magic magazines amd something piques my curiosity so severely it derails my mind from whatever track it had been running along.

This happened yesterday, and I'll share it with you in the same order I discovered it. First the article which had my eyebrows raised to a shocking height, then some research I did to put it in context.

This comes from an opinion piece, "The Next President of the I.B.M." written by Alden I. Dellenback in The Linking Ring, December of 1939. (I have trimmed out some paragraphs)

Now that convention anxieties are over, the Davenport conclave a decided fact, and we are settling down, some of us, to a period of Winter rest and thought, and others to renewed entertainment activities, is it not time to pause and consider what the year has done for us?

The old I.B.M. accepted the skids, and a new, rebuilt, I.B.M. came to the front as the standard bearer of new magical thought and twentieth century magical ideals.

We are, now, living under regula¬tory measures, which, for the first time, in the history of magic, govern the expression and activities of magicians. These measures, inaugurated for the advancement of the art, have had a two-fold bearing upon the lives of all men interested in exploitations of magic.


To protect magicians, Mr. John Snyder, Jr., introduced a pledge form which ALL members are compelled to sign to retain membership in the I.B.M. This pledge regulates the minimum price all I.B.M. members MUST receive in the offering of magical accomplishments for entertainment, other than for direct and honest charitable purposes. This pledge is one of the greatest steps in the advancement and protection of professionally exploited magic that the fraternity has ever known. This is a John Snyder idea.

New by-laws and rules of local Ring and National procedure are be¬ing developed. They are John Snyder ideas.

Vast hordes of memberships are being gathered by interested and loyal I.B.M. members for the organization, and new rings are springing up here and there to take the place of defunct groups. This is due to John Snyder's effort and cooperation.

Ideals, not ideas, are being formulated to keep magic, as an art, within the realm of magicians and magic-minded men who follow magic, and out of the jumble of every day events, and the hands of every smart aleck who has read books and pamphlets, only too openly distributed. These ideals offer the foundation of sound business management, invoke the principles of thought and tiring hours of study. (These fundamentals of thought, word, and deed are innovations for magical life and pros¬perity engendered by John Snyder.)


Organizations have too long been under the dominating influence of mere man, elected by man, to serve in a more or less capable ability. Leaders, like kings, are born and created only through opportunity. Opportunity is said to knock but once. We have a leader, John Snyder.

Our leader, our National President, is personally visiting every member ring of the National organization. He is studying the worth and value of every man allied to the individual groups. He will soon know the character and business ability of every member of the I.B.M. This is John Snyder procedure.

Magic life has never known the course of active study and requirements in varying districts as is now under the painstaking observation of John Snyder. What will he do with the vast knowledge he is obtaining from individuals? What do individuals expect of the parent organization? What does the society organ represent and mean to the average member? What rights and privileges should the local rings expect and receive from the National body? These questions and answers will soon be the property of John Snyder.

Will the observations of John Snyder lead to a greater opportunity for magicians: For a bigger, better I.B.M.? For an organization under whose banner all groups might assemble for the good and welfare of magic? These questions, perhaps, you can answer. Will we ever know?

Five short months until we gather at Davenport when new men assume control of our destinies. We believe any man elected to serve us would do his best to protect our interests; would preside over our future as he saw the light. Not alone in one man will we ever again place the reins of dominant control and the exercise of life-long jurisdiction over our future. The by-laws provide that no man can succeed himself in office as the director of our activities. This is right. This is just. The expression of equality among men must be cul¬tivated. The rights and opportunity of individuals must be respected.

(BUT can we find another John Snyder?)

Has any other man before known magicians and conditions surrounding their life and emergencies? Has any other man made the study of magicians and matters pertaining to a better understanding of conditions for magicians?

Can John Snyder, in five short months, complete the work he has started? Would another be capable of pursuing the same trend of thought and business management that has been exemplified by John Snyder? Can John Snyder culminate his endeavors and aims, for us, in the short time allotted to him? Could you? Some there are who expound the theory that the president can be held as an entirely honorary position and an unknown factor, behind the scenes, prescribe the National authority and fraternal jurisdiction. Is this your idea of the rights of a president of the I.B.M.? Would you be satisfied with a dumbkluck at the helm and another factor behind the throne presenting the issues of your rights and principles? Would you, as president, accept such interference and feel you had been elevated to office through your ability and experience, then submit to an unseen control? Do you want the president to administer his ideas or be subjugated to the will of another?

We want no more dormant factors at the head of the I.B.M. The by-laws permit of no succession in office, BUT it is within YOUR power to abrogate the rules at the next National meeting and place JOHN SNYDER back for the second term as your president. The suspension of the present rules is not an unusual procedure. It is a simple matter. VOTE an AMENDMENT and DO IT NOW, that the present rule governing the election of the National president be abrogated for 1940, and that JOHN SNYDER, JR'S. name again grace the ballot as your choice for National President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

Let us hear from some more in¬terested sincere I.B.M'ers. Write the Editor of the Linking Ring now.

Wowza! I find the tone of this article more concerning than encouraging, and I'm only just now getting the taste of boot polish out of my mouth.

It did have me wondering, however, who this divine leader, the one for whom all magicians across America stood to be counted, the sole saviour of the I.B.M, Mr. John Snyder, Jr. was!


I am not a historian, nor have I dug particlularly deep into this, but I will try to put things into context according to my napkin-sketch level of understanding, and I'm learning more as I dig.

The I.B.M. was founded in 1922, born from the enthusiasm of 19-year-old Len Vintus. He was installed as president from 1922 to 1926 and I would say personally responsible for at least 80% 90% of the effort to bring the organization into existence and the early success and growth, gaining 500 members in the first two years. (consider that was all done with nothing more than a typewriter and postage stamps!)

Len was, more or less, ousted from his role when W.W. Durbin came in 1927 as the first elected president. Durbin was a lawyer and politician, appointed to Registrar of the U.S. Treasury by Roosevelt. He had connections and wealth, and surely plied them both to take control of the I.B.M. from that Canadian kid.

Durbin hosted the inaugural magic conventions in his literal backyard, home of his own Egyptian Hall magic theatre. I hear murmers that his long time as president had crafted the organization as a "one man show" favouring a few select insiders, and alienating the rest. Durbin sat upon the I.B.M. throne as president for 11 years, until his death in 1937.

Next in line was a stunted term from John Davidson, which ended prematurely due to illness, and the presidency falling to Vice President T.J. Crawford who was also juggling the editorship of The Linking Ring at the same time.

I'll let John Braun tell the next part of the story;

In 1938, when the I.B.M. was a "storm-tossed ship on a troubled sea, its helmsman gone, and all the pent-up antagonism of certain groups was being hurled at the sinking ship," John became Assistant to the President. This was during T. J. Crawford's incumbency, and in 1939 John was elected President.

Said T. J. Crawford, "John's entire energy went into the herculean ef¬fort of rebuilding and expanding the organization, and how well he did the job is known to every member. His was a timely effort that saved a sinking ship." He held the Presidency until June, 1941, and since that time had been Chairman of the Advisory Committee and Ring Co-ordinator. Well may it be said of him that he was one of the bul¬warks of our organization, for his contribution to the I.B.M. will never be adequately appraised!

His ambition was to see our organization become one of the best in the world of magic, and to this end he gave most generously of his time and money. Magic and the I.B.M. became the very breath of life to him, and his zeal and enthusiasm were boundless. The excellent condition of the I.B.M. today, and its remarkable growth since 1938, attest to the soundness of his policies and the energy with which he worked.

This more reasonable appreciation from John Braun tempered my concern from the first overly-evangelical testimony of his leadership. Maybe there was something behind the hype for this Snyder fellow.

It seems the sudden passing of W.W. Durbin, after a decade of being at the wheel, left the ship adrift and so it was until John Snyder, Jr. stepped into the role with both enthusiasm and a plan to take hold of the rudder.


A quick visit to the lake

Outside of his involvement with the I.B.M. one surprising fact I learned about John Snyder Jr. was that he had a summer home in Fox Lake, Wisconsin.

I've been in magic long enough to know Fox Lake means something special! Mr. Snyder is the one who created Fox Lake Playing Cards; the original cards made just for magicians which opened up a whole world of gimmicks and packet tricks.

Here's a bit about his legacy in the world of card tricks from M-U-M, April 1953;

Before John Snyder distributed Fox Lake Cards, good special cards for magicians were almost unknown. Playing cards are not just printed, they are manufactured and processed. The average magic dealer cannot afford the equipment needed for the production of properly finished cards.

John Snyder lived in Norwood, which is also the home of the U.S. Playing Card Co. Norwood is often mentioned as a suburb of Cincinnati, but it is actually a separate city, completely surrounded by Cincinnati. Snyder persuaded the U.S. Playing Card Co. to produce the raw stock for Fox Lake Cards. He put in special equipment for completing the packs, doing the last stages of manufacture, the distribution and selling himself. Ronald Haines ran the business for him for several months, and after John Snyder passed on, Ronald bought the business from Mrs. Snyder, including all the special equipment.

That was the start of Haines' House of Cards, which Ronald has built up to a major manufacturing and distributing project — well, nearly 300,000 packs of cards a year is quite a turn-over!

notes from the office.jpg

Back to his organizational role in the I.B.M. I've found plenty of praise for his policies and persistance, but not too much about the cold hard facts of the matter. What did he actually do for the I.B.M.?

I wanted to find the beef, so I started reading his monthly reports "from the office of" when he was Assistant to the President (1939), and International President (1939-41):

  • In his first year of leadership he seems to have truly righted the ship. Membership doubled and the "financial condition has improved 100 percent."

  • He believed in quality of members over quantity. He amended the membership form in 1939 to require new members pledge their name to three core principles; not to violate the by-laws and constution, not to violate the Code of Ethics, and not to take gigs for no or low pay, unless for the benefit of a charity. (The mandatory minimum performance fee was $5.00 per half hour)

  • He also encouraged the Code of Ethics, which had only been drafted a year earlier, to include a paragraph regarding the inhumane treatment of animals, following the lead of Ring 21 in Hollywood.

  • 1939 saw the adoption of a new Constitution and By-Laws. This raised annual dues from $2.50 to $3.00 per year, partly because the convention budget had been restructured to give the majority of profits to the local host Ring.

  • The 1938 amendment proposed a term limit of one year for the president, no doubt a reaction to Durbin's extended stay. In 1939 the term limit was removed due to the overwhelming demand for Snyder to stay on. Not counting an executive pause for the war years, 1942 - 46, Snyder was the only other president to be elected for multiple terms. "Again, please permit me to say at this time, it was only through the receipt of nearly 300 letters that I finally agreed to accept a second term of office."

  • This term limit change was ratified by the first (and only?) emergency all-member mail-in vote before the annual convention. John personally footed the bill for printing and mailing to make sure this constitutional change was beyond reproach to take the steam out of detractors.

  • Membership significantly grew again under his care in 1940 thanks to his initiative with a membership drive contest, rewarding cash prizes to those who signed up the most new members. The prize money was provided out of John's own pocket. (totalling over $2000 in today's dollars)

  • He created and delivered stationary, letterhead and envelopes, to all Rings. 300 or 500 sets, depending on local membership numbers. He also presented membership certificates printed on parchment, suitable for framing. It shows his attention to detail and desire to legitimize the organization.

  • His 1941 Annual Business Meeting notes these actions:

    • founding of the Caryl Fleming Memorial Fund, suggested and chaired by Bob Weill, focused on paying dues for members who become financially unable to do so.
    • Innauguration of Honorary Life Memberships, presented to Len Vintus, Gene Gordon, and Ernest Schieldge as founders of the I.B.M.

Okay, okay, enough already!

I don't really see any particular actions that are, in themselves, remarkable. There is, however, an overwhelming amount of evidence for a remarkable number of little things. His service put the faith back into a waning membership. His effort and energy, from what I can see, turned what was a "club" into a modern organization.

His monthly columns continually encourage members to do better, and be better. I can hear his genuine love for the art of magic. He declined a third term, but was immediately installed as Chairman of the Advisory Committee so as to not lose the benefit of his passion and expertise.

The evidence is found even beyond the internal self-aggrandizing bubble of the I.B.M., as demonstrated by this editorial note in Genii, June 1941, at end of his presidential term.

John Snyder, Jr., is definitely a man of high ideals. He has largely inculcated these ideals into the membership of the I.B.M. Of less magnitude, but equally important, each one of his tricks must be letter perfect down to the last tiny detail. His capacity for hard work is tremendous. I have in my possession a file of his letters to the late Caryl S. Fleming regarding constructional work in the I.B.M. And no one who has not gone through this vast array of correspondence could ever realize just how much time and energy he devoted to the welfare of the society.

Undoubtedly Mr. Snyder could have continued in the I.B.M. presidential office for the rest of his life. His retirement this year is as voluntary as has his service been unselfish. But even in his retirement, the organization, and magic as a whole, will have in him its most staunch booster and ambassador at large.

Wrote the poet "lofty designs must close in like effects". John Snyder's accomplishments will be his monument. And a lofty monument it will be.

As such, with my historical trowel I hope to have dug up some pieces of his monument and dusted them off once again.

fox lake card back.jpeg

Mysterio Moderne

One of my reasons to dig into the personal history of magicians (about which I am only mildly curious) is to better understand their magic (which is what I'm really keen on). So, just as it says in the introduction of this effect; "Now that you know John, here is one of his favorite card effects:"

It is an extremely clean card mystery. A pack of playing cards is presented to the spectator to shuffle as they wish, and choose one card to set aside on the table. John brings out a slip of paper and pencil for them, then turns away, asking they look at the card, and for memory sake, note the name of it on the paper, fold the slip, and put it away.

The spectator then replaces the card into the deck and shuffles again.

Upon turning back, John can spread through the cards, and pull one out, laying it on the table. When compared with the spectator's note, it is the same card chosen earlier.


You may think up multiple methods for this, and opportunities to cheat, but I bet you'd end up with a long list of ideas before you hit upon John's method.

The cards are not marked, there's nothing that needs to be peeked, in fact you could do this whole thing with your eyes closed.

In a perfect case of the man maketh the magic, the method here is exactly what you could expect from Mr. Fox Lake!

You present your spectator with a deck of cards with an Air Cushion Finish from which they pick a card, and place it on the table. As you get your pencil and paper, the deck goes into the pocket and is switched for an identical deck, except with Ivory Finish.

The chosen card becomes the odd one out, not by sight, but by touch. At least the experienced touch of an expert in playing card manufacturing.

This is found in the Ring 71 Parade from The LInking Ring, Dec 1945, pg 68.

The Man For President

Just when you thought the praise for our dear leader could not be laid on any thicker, here's one more propoganda piece written anonymously* in The Linking Ring, May 1939.

We've a man who's won the confidence, of every man he meets,
He's taken on a lot of work, yet, each new day he greets
With a smile and determination, to see each new day through,
With something said and something done, to help just me and you.

We're a shiftless, thankless, ungrateful lot these two, you and I;
Why should others seek to improve our lot; tell me, can you, why?
For years, things have gone along, in a quiet, indifferent way;
The old "I.B.M.'s" just held its own, with nothing new to say.

In the storms that crashed or winds that blew, we held on, just the same
Without much left of the good old things, except the good old name.
New captains steered our destiny, each time, we stemmed the tide
Without much help from a lazy crew, with neither faith nor pride.

Then a man appeared, as from the mist, or tide, cast upon the shore,
The indifference of the things that were, are things that are no more.
He rose and triumphed in his task, to rebuild the shambles, where
Past glories of the years gone by, lay rotting in the mire.

This man believes in you and me, seeks to improve our days
That we might thrive and prosper, in many varied ways.
He has done the things, we needed most, and never called for help,
These things he's done for you and me and no regard for self.

He asks no part in another's rights, says, this battle is our own,
No need to fight on foreign soil, but in each member's home.
If you knew this man, as I think I do, I'm sure that you'd agree
He really cares what we do and what becomes of you and me.

The clam upon the ocean bed, digs in when trouble lurks,
While o'er his head, the sand and tide, go on about their work.
It takes a man to come out of the mud, smile and point with pride
To the derelicts that remain, still washed by sand and tide.

Let's play we're clams, and all dig in, put your shoulder to the wheel,
And say to this man, we'll help you, John, we like the way you feel.
He's asked for co-operation, nothing hard, or things we cannot do,
Let's you and me together, boys, prove we are loyal, too.

This man I mean, who is helping us, without financial gain,
Is leading the grand old I.B.M. back to World acclaim.
He's building solid, upon the rocks, not on sand to wash away,
An "International Brotherhood", that's really here to stay.

He's asked no favor of us, boys, but he's helping you and me
To see the light, we never knew, in full magical harmony.
The I.B.M. is out in front, and still is surging on,
He'll not give up until he's through and sure the work is done.

We need this man for President; he's a leader, safe and sane,
This man, that's helping you and me, John Snyder, Jr., that's his name.
Write HIS name on your ballots, boys; 'tis really up to you,

*uncredited, though at the time T.J. Crawford was both president and editor of the The Linking Ring, while John Snyder Jr. served as "Assistant to the President." Shockingly, no other candidates received a full page poem penned in their honour.

On a personal note...

Funny thing; I started writing this article as a sceptic. That initial praise of the king-like born leader was just too over-the-top for me. It's everything I hate about organized groups. However, reading further, and deeper down this rabbit hole than I ever intended, I convinced myself of John Snyder Jr's merit. I believe he was a good dude, and served with humility.

Despite what all evidence might suggest I am not a badge-bearing blue-blazer I.B.M. booster. I first joined in 1997 as a teen, and it opened the doors to the local Ring 66 and the world of magic. Well worth it!

However, while my involvement with the local Ring strengthened, my connection with the international organization fizzled. I struggled, as I know many I.B.M. members have, to see how my international membership was helping me, and the annual dues were a not-insignificant challenge for me. I let it expire.

I re-joined about six years later and attended a couple conventions, but an experience with some executive members soured me on the whole lot. Let's just say... not serving with humility. I left again.

More often than not in my magical life I have been a member in bad standing. Actively participating in the local Ring (and paying local dues) while remaining officially disconnected from I.B.M. headquarters.

It wasn't until 2020 when I renewed, only because I was called into service by the President to assist as technical producer for the J.A.M. virtual lecture series. I felt obligated to pay my dues when I was appearing as a face of the organization.

I'm really proud of my work in that project and felt, for the first time in a long time, it made the I.B.M. relevant to me again. The whole organization was founded, back in 1922, with the goal to connect magicians, originally by mail, then by conventions, then by local groups. All that became obsolete in my era of the internet. I didn't need anybody to facilitate my magical connection... or so I thought.

I feel the global pandemic helped the I.B.M. find its purpose again. It did connect magicians in a time we were feeling more distant than ever. Much like joining my original Ring in 1997, 2020 saw my magical world expand ten-fold. I see that momentum still in motion as the organization is actively working to evolve.

Thanks to those virtual years I got to know some of the people working behind the I.B.M. crest and I can tell you they embody the spirit of John Snyder, Jr. The International Presidents serve with a quick sprint, but the longstanding people on the committees are serving the magic community in a marathon effort. They don't do it for glamour (can confirm, there is none!) but often because they know... it's important work and there's nobody else willing to replace them.

So, yeah, I'm happy to discuss the struggles and flaws of the I.B.M. but I've come around to being a believer. Not so much in the entity itself, but I do believe in the people rowing the boat.

Published: April 9, 2024

Access: Public


No Comments

You must sign in to add a comment.

Subscribe to my newsletter.

Every week I send out my latest tips, tricks, and tutorials to spark your magical mind.