Arthur Stanley Boardman was born in Norwich on 7th December 1886. Very little is known about his childhood and the family life that may have shaped his early years, but he left his parents and two brothers at age 17 to travel to London and seek work. A skilled carpenter, he quickly found employment, but it was the use of the tools and workshop for his extra curricular hobby in magic that really held his interest. Already he was planning and developing devices and contraptions on a small scale to entertain his friends and colleagues. Then, everything was put on hold for the war. Arthur served three years before a shrapnel injury ended his military time, and ability to walk un-aided. He never spoke in detail about his experiences, but many of his most famous illusions used the war as a backdrop and reference point. Upon leaving the army, he never returned to carpentry. Whether influenced by what he had seen on the battlefield or not, he returned to London and immediately sought out Neville Maskellyne at the Egyptian Theatre in London: the greatest venue for magic in the country. He took with him a small device he had made himself. Within an hour he had a job as one of the creative minds behind the show.
Arthur was not a magician in the traditional sense. In an age where conjourers were touring the world and selling out theatres from city to city, he never once performed for the public. But his magic was seen by millions. He was the man behind the magician. The man who created the illusions, built the devices, made the impossible, possible. His starting point was always asking the question: how can we amaze people? A floating women; a vanishing man; a dismembered body coming back together; a tree growing before your eyes: simple, bold ideas that he would then work backwards from to create the illusion of magic. He wasn't always successful, but even before he performed the sovereign, he was known within conjuring circles as a brilliant mind with no equal within the industry. His skills and services were fiercely sought after.
Through the years his skills were adopted by many of the greatest showmen of the day, but his longest partnership, and friendship, was with Howard Thurston. Considered to be the greatest magician of the day, Thurston's name now sits in the shadow of his other contemporary: Houdini. Arthur toured the globe with Thurston and it was their relationship that led Arthur to the fateful evening in Harry Kellar's study where he performed the sovereign to the three most famous performers of their time. In some ways, the infamy of that evening would pursue Arthur for years to come. The sheer impossibility of what he performed drove both Houdini and Kellar to doggedly pursue Arthur to understand the secret - over time their desire turned bitter and an intense resentment built between the magicians. Although Howard Thurston remained loyal to Arthur, and there work and friendship continued for many years, the weight of the sovereign was a continual strain on their relationship. Thurston was equally desperate to know how it had been done, but respectful of his friendship with Arthur and, some have argued, cynically reliant on his skills.
There are only a small handful of documented accounts of the performance of the sovereign. Each of these describe the same simple display, and the same un-explainable outcome. But the attention he received was not welcome and Arthur became reluctant to step forward and perform The Sovereign. Some say he could have changed everything by simply sharing his secret - but the colleagues and scholars that have searched for years have never discovered anything.
Arthur was a quiet man doing a job he loved. He actively shunned the limelight and there was no doubt, with the skills and knowledge he had, that a career on stage was his for the taking. But he didn't want that. For him, magic was more than the performance, he viewed it as an art form. Under appreciated and taken advantage of for commercial and personal gain by many of those within the industry, it was this dis-illusionment that finally made him step away.
It was 1955 when the golden age of magic had made way for the glamour of Hollywood that Arthur finally decided to put his time and skills into a very different career. Financially comfortable from the years of touring, props and illusions he had developed and sold, he decided to focus all his time and money on helping those less well off than himself. But his work was far from charitable donations or volunteering. Arthur wanted to do more than just help those in need, he wanted to bring hope, wonder and surprise much in the same way he had with his magic in the early years. To Arthur, his illusions simply moved away from the theatre, and onto the streets. There was never any performance, no cards or coins, this was about doing a good deed, but remaining in the background. Orchestrating a positive experience for an un-suspecting member of the public, creating a sense of surprise and wonder about their good fortune, and then stepping back into the shadows never to reveal his involvement.
His good deeds could be simple and small, a random item left on the bus for a stranger to find; or a kind word and a cup of tea at a time when it was needed. Alternatively some of his more elaborate plans involved months of work, numerous volunteers and had a profound impact on the people involved. Ultimately though, his aim was simple: to do good deeds without the need for recognition. He never once asked for a thankyou, and to some, it is a desperate shame that through his commitment to remain anonymous, he never received one.
We are here today talking about this quiet, un-assuming man for one reason. One evening. One impossible trick. These gold coins remind us of Arthur's story and it continues through the generations. But Arthur's story was much more than one defining moment. To Arthur, it was this work that would become his true legacy and his passion to 'do good deeds' that ultimately defined who he was. The secret of the sovereign is how Arthur's story has endured through the years, but it is the positive impact of these good deeds that he carried out that we believe will ensure it lasts 100 more…