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Periodical: Twentieth Century Astrology

Summary:  From Pat Deveney's database:

Twentieth Century Astrology.
1934?--1935? Monthly, Bimonthly
Jersey, Channel Islands, England. Publisher: Jersey Publishing Co., Ltd.
1/1, 1934 (?) 8 pp.

The journal states that it was published monthly but the sole surviving issue is bimonthly, vol. 2, no. 14, August-September 1935. Behind the facade of this minor and forgotten astrology journal lurks William Francis Mitchell (Ontario, Canada, 1869-Seattle, 1942), a promoter, scoundrel and confidence man who over 25 years launched an amazing variety of creative schemes to separate the hopeful from their money. He was born Canadian. He left the farm to make a living as a traveler in stationery, a Methodist minister, and then as a trick-cyclist in a small circus. About 1912 he washed up in England and promptly became (whether by pre-arrangement or by the attraction of like to like) the London manager of the National Institute of Sciences and its Psycho-Success Club. These were international ventures of Elmer E. Knowles/Elmer S. Prather (1872-1940) and his wife, Abigail Beatrice Knowles (1878- ), the most successful, along with E. Virgil Neal, of modern New Thought confidence men/women. They began as traveling troupers with a hypnotism and mind-reading show, then moved on to a vast series of books and pamphlets on clairvoyance, personal influence, strange latent powers, beauty culture, and the like that were translated into German, French, Spanish, Danish, and other languages, and supplemented the literature with Radio-Hypnotic Crystals, a Pacific-Island Colonization scheme, and nostrums like the Original and Authentic Bitro-Phosphate (good for whatever ailed you). On the Knowles/Prathers, see the note under Modern Miracles (a journal that attracted H. Spencer Lewis and Reuben Swinburne Clymer until the Post Office ordered it closed). About 1909 Knowles/Prather had moved his operations to Europe, first in London and then in Brussels, where he continued under a variety of aliases, including Randolph Roxroy -- a name that figures in William Francis Mitchell's story since the English newspapers in condemning Knowles/Prather regularly identified Mitchell as Roxroy. By 1918, British corporate documents show that Knowles/Prather's National Institute of Sciences as owned by a cut-out company whose principal was Mitchell. By that date he had expanded his field of interest as a promoter to dance halls, classy night clubs (that were closed for illegally offering liquor without a license and after hours), boxing matches, and ice rinks, including a Palais de Glace in Paris -- all of which collapsed by the end of the 1920s. Although Mitchell was forced into bankruptcy he seldom ended up holding the bag for the losses. In 1929 he turned his hand to profiting from the self-improvement and auto-suggestion teachings (The Coue Method) of Emil Coue (1857-1926). In the mid-1920s Coue and his partners had started the Coue-Orton Institute, in London to popularize and sell mail-order lessons on color therapy, developing magnetism and the "latent personality." The color therapy was notable for its claim that "if a man were to enter a woman's house with the intention of murdering her, he would be prevented from doing so if she wore a light pink dress." To promote this business, the Institute hired Mitchell as manager. Coué died in 1926 and Mitchell's shameless promotion of his work caused the remaining partners to withdraw, leaving the institute to be acquired by Mitchell's wife and her brother (who figures in various other of Mitchell's schemes). Mitchell (probably under the guise of the otherwise unknown Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, supposedly "an Afghan Prince," who figures in the promotion) then proceeded to compound the original scam by floating a public company, Couéism, Ltd., to buy the institute from Mitchell's wife and her brother. Couéism, Ltd. raised 75,000 pounds from investors-- and paid 60,000 pounds to Mitchell's allies for the business. In 1929 the new company went into receivership, but Mitchell had decamped for the continent in April 1928. He next came to public attention in the early 1930s when he hired an eager young man named Ray Plomley to come work for him in his new business in the Channel Islands, promoting himself as Professor El-Tanah, purveyor of astrological predictions to housemaids. Plomley had posted a "Young man, go anywhere, do anything for God's sake get me out of here" job advertisement seeking employment, and received a letter from Mitchel, who explained that "he had been running a similar business in Copenhagen, but I gathered that he had run into a little trouble with the Danish postal authorities, and a move had been thought advisable: however, he had discovered that Jersey had a certain amount of autonomy in postal matters, and things should be all right there. He wanted someone to lay out his press advertisements, write sales letters and promotion material, and make himself generally useful . . . . I liked the idea of going to Jersey, so I accepted." Plomley arrived amidst the chaos of Mitchell's move of his files and equipment from Copenhagen:

"In the midst of it all, Mitchell was planning his campaign. The Copenhagen astrologer had been called Hasan Karan; rhe new one would be called Professor El-Tanah, and if we depicted him in an lndian turban against a background of the pyramids, then we would be featuring two sectors of the mysterious east on one letterhead. Advertisements were inserted in women's twopenny weeklies, in motion picture fan magazines, and in other periodicals designed for what Humbert Wolfe· called 'the damp souls of housemaids'. To demonstrate his ability to divine character and forecast the future from the stars, Professor El-Tanah offered a free, trial astrological reading. All you had to do was send the date and place of your birth, together with threepence in stamps. In those days, threepence was quite a lot of money, but nobody ever queried the semantic discrepancy between threepence and free, and pretty soon we were up to our necks in threepences. In return for that sum, our correspondent received a three-page general reading applying to those born under whichever of the twelve birth signs was relevant. With it went a letter from the Professor saying that while making these preliminary calculations he bad seen that something very important was going to happen to his correspondent in the near future, and that he would have liked to have gone ahead and made detailed reckonings, but unfortunately the pressures on his time were such that this was not possible; if, however, the modest sum of two pounds was sent to him, then he would case a complete individual reading giving full knowledge of that important event and all other future eventualities. Postal orders and cheques began to flow in. Individual readings were assembled by means of a book of astronomical tables called an ephemeris; when a particular date is looked up, the positions of the sun, the moon and the planets are shown, and there was a duplicated sheet of material for each variation. A set of the sheets was taken from their pigeon holes, stapled together in a fancy cover and sent off. It was, in essence, a handmade version of the computerised horoscopes which are on sale today. The material was written by a genuine astrologer; I never met him, nor even knew his name, but I was told that he lived in Paris and that he had originally prepared it all in Hasan Karan days. It was cleverly and positively written, and anyone who believed in it and acted on the advice which was given was getting good value for money. In every case, the main message was: Have confidence in yourself . Don't worry. The conjunction of the stars al the time of your birth shows plainly that you have the powers to make more of your life, so go forward. Do not be held back by fears. You have an attractive personality, so do not give way to feelings of inferiority. There was also some good common sense about looking after one's health. I am sure we had many satisfied customers. One of my earliest jobs was to write a complete issue of a little magazine called Twentieth Century Astrology, which we used as an envelope-stuffer and sent in all directions. The main feature was an exclusive interview with Professor El-Tanah . . . . It revealed that for five years the Professor had been studying, calculating and planning in his little villa in the South of France and, with the aid of astrological charts he had compiled, the calculations necessary to cast individual horoscopes could now be halved."

Plomley, Days Seemed Longer: Early Years of a Broadcaster (London, 1980), 79-86. (These reminiscences are included here at length because of the detailed description of Mitchell's modus operandi which mirrored that pioneered by Knowles/Prather and Roxroy.

The journal was an advertising throw-away and didn't even bother listing a subscription price. It carried a few general articles on modern, "scientific" astrology but displayed no extensive knowledge of the subject and failed even to include horoscopes. It did include advertisements for various products ("Dr. Johnson's Medicated Pillow" and "Jersey Lily Beauty Lotion") sold by the Jersey Chemical Company, almost certainly another Mitchell creation. Mitchell supplemented these advertisements for Prof. El-Tanah with weekly radio broadcasts on Radio-Luxembourg and Radio-Normandy, the European equivalent of Border Radio in the United States at the time (see the note under Rose Dawn's Modern Astrology), and in frequent print advertisements in French and German and later American magazines, all touting the same free horoscopes.

This smooth-functioning operation was interrupted in 1937 when he was arrested for failing to register as an alien, but by 1939 he had restarted the business in the name of Professor Vasna. At the beginning of the Second World War he left for New York, Canada, and then Seattle, where he died in 1942.

Issues:Twentieth Century Astrology V2 N14 Aug-Sep 1935

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