R.D. Merrill and His Color
Last updated May 2007
A short history of the R.D. Merrill and his Color Changing
Knives, compiled from information provided by Mr. Gary Frank, of the
Fantastic Magic Company, Inc., in California, and from the book,
Merrill's Knife Book, by R.D. Merrill.
R.D. Merrill (Dale) has been described by Tommy Windsor as "the
absolute tops in knife manipulation."1 Dr. Merrill was the
original owner of the Fanstastic Magic Company, and in the
1960's, developed the idea for a set of color changing knives that
would be ideal for manipulation. Some of the other
products in the company
included Merrill's Million to
One Card Set, Merrill's
Million to One
Paddles, and during magic conventions, he would sell a jumbo
the knife in Black and White. After two years of research, he
making the knives in the late 1960's.
The original Merrill Knife sets were 2 7/8" long, and came in either
Red/ White or Black/White combinations. They also offered
imitation Bone/White. On special occasions,
other knives were sold
with additional colors. These special colors were all hand tooled by
Dale. The original Merrill's have silver bolsters and are
in the Merrill Knife Book
by Dr. R. D. Merrill. Dale also made a Visible Color
Changing Knife to match these sets of knives.
The Merrill Knives combined the following features to provide a
knife ideal for the Color Changing Knives effect:
1. Length under 3" to fit most hands.
2. Narrow width to aid the in the color changing move. Wide knives are
harder to manipulate.
3. A slightly "squarish" and tapered shape also aids in the move.
4. Designed not to "flash" when viewed normally.
5. Stark colors (black and white or red and white) for a highly visual
6. Normal colors that a pen-knife would usually have.
7. Quality construction so the knife can be opened and closed and shown
to operate normally.
8. Silver bolsters with a quality constuction so it looks just like a
nice pocket knife should.
9. Selection of a base knife in which the modifications to the knife
would not destroy the structural integrity. That is, the rivets holding
the knife together did not have to be destroyed to change the handles.
Knives were not Dale's only passion. He was a Baptist pastor for over
25 years. He taught Federal Tax Law and was highly involved in Church
The Fantastic Magic Company started in King of Prussia, PA, and then
moved to Santa Cruz, CA. Dr. Merrill manufactured the knives for many
years, and by the mid-70's had sold over 25,000 Merrill Color Changing
Knives. He also began to write Merrill's
Knife Book. It took Tommy
Windsor over four years to convince Dale to put his secrets in print.
Due to personal reasons in Mr. Merrill's life he wanted to sell the
Fantastic Magic Company.
Sale of the Fantasic Magic Company
In 1975, Mr. Gary Frank purchased the company and products from R.D.
Merrill and took over production of the Color Changing Knives (along
with his other products) for several years. Mr. Frank continued to make
the knives until the original knife manufacturer closed their shop down
After this closing, an attempt was made to have the knives produced in
Pakistan. Rather than silver bolsters, the Pakistan manufactured knives
had brass bolsters. The first sample Gary received from the
manufacturer was a black and white knife combination and it was well
made, so Gary ordered the minimum amount. Sadly, when the production
order came in, the quality was just not there. The knives were poorly
made. They fell apart, the springs broke, the plastic was scratched,
the blades were backwards, they were filled with oil and the list goes
So, Gary tried again, and the next quantity came into the shop in
perfect condition. However, right after that initial order, they went
back to being less than perfect. These knives eventually were no longer
made other than for paring knives in Pakistan. In the view of Mr. Gary
Frank, the Pakistan versions should never be placed in name as "Merrill
In 1977, Dr. Merrill wanted to make knives again. He contacted Gary, and Dale
purchased the knife portion of
the business and attempted to keep making the current version of knives
available for dealers. It was too much work and since Gary was on
tour, they agreed someone else
could continue making the knives. Al Cohen agreed to purchase the
Dale. Al Cohen owned the famous Al's Magic Shop in Washington,
D.C., which only recently changed
hands and has been well known for its great service and expertise. Al
stopped making the Pakistan Merrill-type knife in the 1980's
of the poor quality of knives he was receiving. They were made in all
sorts of colors. There is an advertisement for the knives as sold by
Mr. Cohen in the 1981 edition of Merrill's Knife Book.
On the Pakistan knives, Gary Frank wrote me that there are two
generations of Merrill styled knives. He states that the first style is
not as squared. The last style made was the very squared style of
knife, which tended to flash more.
Merrill's Knife Book
Merrill's Knife Book took some time to publish. Tommy Windsor had
planned to publish the book around the mid 1970's. However, his own
health problems set in, and Robert Lee Jacobs purchased the rights from
Tommy Windsor Studio, and planned to publish the book in 1977. Then,
Tommy's death, a few tragedies in Mr. Jacobs' life, some
misunderstandings about the editing of the book, and the sale of the
Fantastic Magic Co., all interfered with the publishing.2
wasn't published until 1981.
Merrill's Knife Book is an excellent treatise on the subject of the
color changing knives. It is the
first book (in English) totally devoted to the color changing knives
It includes numerous, clear, B&W photographs showing R.D. Merrill's
in front of a mirror so you can see both the magician's and the
audience's view of the presentation. A full table of contents listing
the book can be viewed on the Table of Contents pages on this website. (here)
Sadly, the Merrill knives are no longer available today, except in the
used market. There have been several attempts to create copies of
Merrill Color Changing Knives design, with varying success. None have
exactly matched the combination of utility and design of the originals.
In one example, the blade handles have been replaced by sparkling
plastic, producing a knife that few
would normally carry with them.
The best color changing knives will appear as a basic pocket
knife and nothing more. Simplicity and a careful presentation are
the keys to an effective performance.
Gary Frank reports that he had returned from a recent magic convention
where most of his
time was spent demonstrating the basic color changing move. The
the magicians use the ice cream stick style of move to perform the
knife effect. Gary demonstrates to them how doing the move this
way will flash the other color each time. As Dr. Merrill
describes in his book, it is important to hold the knife
in the middle and then perform the move in a horizontal
Today, Gary Frank is still providing color changing knives to the magic
community, though of a different design than the Merrill knife. This version of the color
changing knife was the
second selection which Dr. Merrill attempted to originally locate many
ago. This knife is made with plastic sides in Stag-like Black/White. Gary is making a
Color Changing Knife for these sets of knives, too. He also now
owns the publication of Merrill's
in both hardbound or softbound editions (transferred from Mr. Lee
Mr. Frank also produces a shorter version of the Merrill book that is
provided with his knife sets, though the full book is preferred for its
additional chapters and inclusion of photographs. The
website and contact information for the Fantastic Magic Company, Inc.,
can be found at:
Fantastic Magic Company, Inc.
P.O. Box 33156
Granada Hills, CA 91394-3156
1. Merrill, R.D., The Merrill Knife Book, (c)1981, page 4, in
Introduction by Tommy Windsor
2. Merrill, R.D., The Merrill Knife Book, (c)1981, page 6, in
Publisher's Apology by Lee Jabobs
Ad as found in the 1981 printing of Merrill's Knife Book