I am Queen Jilliana. I have always given out individual playing cards with my name and phone number on. Each card was and is unique. Sometimes I would sign them JRB after I got married. I have also been called Madame Jilliana and The Duchesse by one of the waiters at La Pallette in the Rue de Seine in the sixth district of Paris.
The liaison with a pack of cards is quite synchronistic because I was involved in the world of magic for more than thirty years.
My antique dealer life in Paris began in 1977 when overnight I became a specialised antique games dealer buying in London and selling in Paris. I was supplying a Swiss American woman called Jane Bouvard, who owned an antiques games shop in Maubert Mutualite on the Left Bank.
Sometimes I exhibited at the Foire de Vieux Papier, which was mixed up with vintage prints and books under one roof. My speciality was Ephemera, consumer advertising, beautiful labels from alcohol bottles, soap and perfume packaging. However, I overlapped into Tarot and playing cards and even Cartomancy.
One fine day a swarthy man mysteriously appeared on my stand at La Villette, the old abattoir in Northern Paris. Not only did he scrutinise my stock, but also he slowly picked up each item and examined it carefully, like no one had ever done before. There were clowns, marionettes, playing cards, tarot packs, games, dexterity puzzles, toys and optical toys
Intrigued, I approached him and asked what he was really looking for. His eyes twinkled.
“You have everything here but not conjuring. I am a professional magician”
“No problem I can get conjuring” I said, not having a clue about the subject. After all, I could source anything if briefed by the prospect both in Paris and London. He explained who he was. Georges Proust, professional magician, inventor and international magic dealer with a magic studio in the Rue Notre Dame de la Lorette in the ninth district. Today he is the owner of the Paris Magic Museum and I believe helped set up the Robert Houdin museum in Blois – France’s greatest magician of all time.
“Come and see my etchings” he suggested. I did and a whole new fascinating world was revealed before my eyes. He opened a door to the world of illusion and I entered excitedly. Georges produced antiquarian magic books with diagrams of the original tricks from his groaning book shelves in his private lair. He mesmerised me with vintage prints of “Les Goblets” and “Passer muscade” This was the three cup trick that con men in the street perform today of “Chercher la femme” to a willing gullible street audience with greed in their eyes. I was enthralled and longed to know more about the History of Magic worldwide. The key book in the seventies was “The Panorama of Magic” written by Milbourne Christopher of New York, who I was later to meet and view his personal collection. Later I would be invited to see private collections or private museums, not only in the world of magic and illusion but also other valuable collections in Europe and New York. Those were the days when the older generation of collectors rarely spoke English and the English channel had not linked our two countries. For fifteen years I commuted between Paris and London with no competition and learned everything from my knowledgeable clients. But back to conjuring. I wanted to know the magical secrets. George and I became friends, colleagues and briefly lovers. I visited his magic showroom often. He briefed me as to what he needed from England. English was the official language of the world of magic. The seat of which was the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Magic was an international brotherhood with few women in it.
I learned the language of magic, the names of the tricks and illusions. Fully charged I was introduced through a book colleague to all the print and book shops in the sixth district. I bought the Three goblet prints thinking I would take them to London and sell them to the English magicians. It was just a question of time but I knew they would appear.
Back in London the nerve magic centre was an old shop in Great Russell Street, by the British Museum called Davenports. Jake the clown was the manager and we became instant colleagues. He said I had to have an introduction to the collectors and gave me two letters/ One to the famous magician Paul Daniels who lived somewhere in the middle of England and the other to Leslie Cole, the treasurer of the Magic Circle in London. I was to supply Mr. Cole with antiquarian prints, books and puzzles for the next fifteen years. His collection was eventually bought by the American magician David Copperfield on his death.
One Sunday in the first week of December1978, he was to introduce me at Ron McMillan’s famous annual International Day of Magic, to the man who would a few years later become my magical husband. The magician, dealer, inventor photographer, editor, publisher and pioneer – Martin Breese.