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Topic: Magicians and history
Message: Posted by: jkesler (Feb 6, 2006 08:03AM)
This post is a meant to spark interest....with that said: Why are there so few magicians interested in the history of magic and magicians. True artists of most any medium have a historical knowledge of thier chosen art form, yet few magicians invest any time in this area. Many do not even know the orgins of the effects that they perform. Well its time to get will get off the soap box and wait for replies.
Best Regards,
Message: Posted by: Rennie (Feb 6, 2006 09:05AM)
Hi James,
I actually think many more are interested in the history of magic than you may think. I personally collect magic epehemera and autographs. I also of course have a fairly large magic library. I recently purchased a newspaper from October 1926 reporting the condition of an ailing Houdini, the paper was dated October 26,1926 and of course Houdini died on October 31.I also have been selling magic on E-Bay for a few months now and found out the older items seem to sell better than the new. For that reason I believe most are interested in the history. I find the same goes for magic books, the very old are extremely hard to find and when you do find one the price is astronomical. Right now on E-Bay someone is selling the original Houdini Metamorphosis trunk, current bid is $16,100.00, so I know that bidder must be interested in the history of magic to spend that kind of money for a beat up trunk..Magic and it's history to me is very fascinating and I am hooked..Hope you get more responses.
Message: Posted by: Dave Dorsett (Feb 6, 2006 09:42AM)
Does this mean that "magicians" are interested in history or is someone (there's no way of knowing if bidders are magic buffs) speculating? Pat Culliton had a "Buy It Now" price in the 40K range. If you could pick the trunk up for even 20 grand there's a real good chance of making serious money.

Houdini items are a little outside of magic history... his reputation is so huge it doesn't belong exclusively to our field anymore (if it ever did.) jkesler's remark about origins of effects performed seems more "magicentric", if you will. Studying or collecting items related to lesser known but important performers (Gus Rapp, Fetaque Sanders, the list goes on and on)or just plain history seems to be more in line with this query.

I'm not trying to rap Rennie or even Houdini... I, too, collect apparatus and have a number of antique books, manuscripts and paper. But there does seem to be nearly a disdain among some (I won't go so far as to say many) for what has gone before. Unfortunately, this trait is not confined to the magic field :(

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- Santayana
Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (Feb 6, 2006 10:25AM)
There are people interested in earlier magicians and the history of magic. However, remember that these are mostly Americans on The Café. American magic history is a very short paragraph in the history of magic. Even the materials we use in magic are really imports (silks, java doves, spring steel, good plastics, etc.). What bothers me most is the myopia of my friends who think if it is not American, it didn't exists.

History did not start with MTV!

But I found the same true of my friends in the recording industry. Hardly any knew that recording tape was not American. Even less are aware of how many hits were actually foreign compositions. Essentially there are no American musical instruments. We did amplify some instruments and lead in some of the electronics for a brief time.

Apparently giving others credit for their contributions to our current pursuits is very difficult for artists and copiers alike.

You know the saying that goes with ignoring history: "The problem with ignoring history may mean that you are bound to repeat it."

Yet we live in a world that believes that spaghetti is Italian! The Chinese may have a lot to say about that.

Documented human history goes back about 35,000 years. That means that over 97% had happened before Europe was considered becoming civilized. Think where that leaves us Americans! By comparison, it is a current event.

There is a lot of catching up to do.

Bob Sanders
Magic By Sander
Message: Posted by: jkesler (Feb 6, 2006 11:14AM)
I mention the lack of interest in relation to the "magicians of old" forum. There are day's that go by with out a post. I too am one of the thousands of collectors that Rennie metioned in his post. However, Dave was closer to my point of magicians not knowing the "history of magic". As Bob stated many (MTV Generation) in our field believe that history started with MTV. Thanks to Rennie, Bob, and Dave. Keep the posts coming...
Best Regards,
Message: Posted by: omk (Feb 6, 2006 11:53AM)
While I did perform magic in my younger days as a paid performer and even ran a magic shop for a short period, I am now a non-performer and have changed my interest from performing to collecting. My focus in collecting is performances, biographies and the history of magic mainly in book or video format. I find a great deal of enjoyment both in reading about magic and magicians as well as watching their performances.

When I started in magic over 50 years ago there were very few, if any, of the beautiful and detailed history and biography books available as there is today.
Now that they are, is perhaps the reason I've gotten so interested in the history of magic and the biographies of magicians.

Books like "The Art of Deception", "The Silence of Chung Ling Soo", "Carter the Great" and so many others have grabbed my interest and enhanced my wonderment for our marvelous profession.

I can only add that wish I had not ignored for so many years all the enjoyment that is now available and certainly regret the added cost to purchase the OOP books that I could have bought years earlier at issue prices.

Don't let it happen to you!

Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (Feb 6, 2006 12:00PM)
Some people know that I'm also an old university professor (marketing, management and finance) and some do not. But in teaching in the MBA program, I find many business people who think that Henry Ford invented the assembly line! That is very far from what really happened. Eli Whitney had the first assembly line of any substance in the USA. He built muskets. But we have documentation of large scale assembly lines in 1432 in Venice. That is 60 years before America is discovered!

Thumb tips probably predate Europe!

That could be very embarrassing to many living magicians who claim to have invented them. (Maybe these guys are older than we think! 400-1000 years old?)

Bob Sanders
Magic By Sander
Message: Posted by: Kevin Connolly (Feb 6, 2006 12:23PM)
You forgot the Egyptians! Ford gets the nod the assembly line.
Message: Posted by: jkesler (Feb 6, 2006 03:40PM)
Very well said OMK. Bob, I like your thoughts on the thumb tip...I over heard a conversation between two magi the other day; and one actually thought that a David Blaine routine (ashes on arm to reveal card)was something new!!! Kevin I think the Egyptians created the Mummy Case Illusion(hehe)...Keep the posts coming; this is great.
Best Regards,
Message: Posted by: bishthemagish (Feb 6, 2006 04:20PM)
I think it could be also need. What got me interested in the history of magic was to research magic effects that were done by the past masters. Often when looking for something new study what is old.

The classics are time tested.

Also what I have found interesting was how these past masters built and trouped a show - some around the world like Kellar, Carter etc. During what could be called a stone age compared to now.

Paint came as a powder so to get colored paint you would have to mix it. Wood was hard to get. And Kellar and magicians like Gus Rapp performed shows that they use to troupe in a horse drawn wagon.

Some kids today that are starting out are only interested in what is new. Not what is old.
Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (Feb 6, 2006 06:57PM)

I don't know about you, but I have trunks of "new stuff" that fell from grace before I had time to read the instructions. My shows are still silks, doves, rope and paper. I've been in magic nearly forty-five years and a professional in the entertainment industry forty-seven years. My kids very well and I have never inherited a penny.

I do not do packet tricks professionally. They are interesting but not commercial. Most of the effects in my act have been there at least thirty years and I did not invent them. They are essentially the classics with my patter and routining. When I buy props, I replace what I've got with new ones just like them. For years I referred to my Red, Yellow or Black show. They were all the same. They were packed in different colored crates to stay together in shipping.

Reading, studying and learning the classics is starting with the "aged learnings". There is no need to reinvent the wheel. It simply exposes the learning and experience that you don't have.

Can you imagine the confidence you would have in a doctor who said, "Here's another one with something in his chest making a noise! Let's bleed him until it stops."?

One mark of professionals is that they help each other and the discipline.

Life has improved. The tricks have changed very little. Learning the history of magic and magicians is a giant head start too good to pass up.

Bob Sanders
Magic By Sander
Message: Posted by: Steven True (Feb 6, 2006 07:15PM)
Just to put my 2 cents in here, I have found a desire to find out about our predessors in this art that we all love. We need to know about the history of magic if we are ever going to move ahead in the future. I have learned things here that spark me to learn more about them. I not only want to learn more about,the long ago past, but about the recent past as well. It is because of the magicians of the past that we now have the great effects that many use today. And it will be the same for the ones today that people will learn from in the future.
With the growth of the internet more magicians,as well as others,will learn about the history of many types of things.
Bob I did not know that about recording tape. It figures that we did it, what else would we do with all those 8 tracks.


Message: Posted by: silverking (Feb 7, 2006 12:21PM)
You must go beyond the Café if your primary interest is only collecting.
There's plenty of folks who might share your level of interest in the Magic Collectors Association.
Magic itself is a pretty limited field, when you start taking it down to an even smaller subset of magic, like collecting, you have to go search out your fellow enthusiasts.
Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (Feb 14, 2006 11:14AM)

The true collectors are a select group but not all the guys are guys! Julie here on The Magic Café is a wealth of knowledge about magic collections.

Bob Sanders
Magic By Sander
Message: Posted by: Julie (Feb 14, 2006 11:34PM)
Why thank-you Mr. Bob! :)
Message: Posted by: Steven True (Feb 15, 2006 01:41AM)
Bob I have a question for you, or really anybody that wants to answer. What is a good place to start for someone that is intrested in collecting? I mean what type of stuff did you first start collecting? I have seen things on magicauction.com like posters and some books,as well as props. I am not trying to go the "Cheap route" but more of an ease into it approach.

Message: Posted by: Clay Shevlin (Feb 15, 2006 04:36AM)

As to the “what to collect” question, start with anything that pleases you or in which you have an interest. Anything, be it props (close-up, parlor, stage, magic sets, etc.), books (cards, coins, history, mentalism, etc.), other media like CDs or DVDs, magicians’ tokens, throw-out cards, bookplates, or memorabilia like posters, playbills, programs, etc. Or you can collect things relating to a magician or magic-related entity, like Blackstone or Carl Brema. You name it and it has probably been collected by someone. The key is finding something you enjoy owning, learning about, hunting for, etc. About the only ‘golden rule’ of collecting is making sure it’s fun. And the nifty thing is that you can always find something that fits your budget. Some guys collect little magic pamphlets that were given away as promotional items by companies trying to sell something, and most of these little give-aways can be had for $10 or less. Or you can run with the big dogs and collect old magic posters, if you want to spend between $1,500 and up to $40,000 per poster.

There is quite a bit of literature on magic collecting and history. For example, I have about 1,800 or so books and monographs in my reference library, which is devoted to historical, biographical and bibliographical works on conjuring. Long ago that’s what I decided I wanted to collect and learn about. So I have very few “how to” books except for copies of some of the classics.

Hanging out in this part of the Café will help you get acquainted with fellow collectors. Many are very generous with their time and knowledge if you are polite and considerate. Genii Forum also has similar categories.

A good place to start would be to join the Magic Collectors’ Association. It’s dirt cheap to join ($25/year) and that gets you 4 quarterly issues of Magicol magazine, which will expose you to even more people, and with the articles therein, to all kinds of collecting interests. Membership in the MCA also entitles you to attend their annual collectors’ weekend (really, a 4 day affair), held in the Spring of each year. The next one is happening in Washington, D.C. and is coming soon. If you attend, you will be blown away by the variety of collectibles, and there you can spend your entire life savings at the dealers’ room if you want!

I write a column for Magicol, and you can read one of my columns and get information regarding joining the MCA at this link:

Whatever you do, remember: have fun with it. You’ll meet lots of interesting people in the process.

Message: Posted by: Steven True (Feb 16, 2006 02:07AM)
Thank you Clay, all good advice. I would love to collect posters but I have found,like you said,they are really expensive. I will look into the MCA and see what it is all about. I know I need to start collecting within my price range as well as areas of intrest.


Message: Posted by: Clay Shevlin (Feb 21, 2006 02:41AM)
Steven: there’s nothing to look into with the MCA. Join! It’s a bargain and you’ll get your eyes opened with its quarterly publication, Magicol. Worst case, you lost $25 and can resell your copies of Magicol for at least $3 per issue – for a net loss of $13. You really can’t lose. Last year, MCA members (and only MCA members) got a private tour of David Copperfield’s “secret” warehouse in Las Vegas, and got to say hello to David himself and get to hear David talk about some of his favorites in his collection.

Not all posters are expensive, generally only the ones before 1900 and most true lithographically-produced posters (even then, you can still find some very colorful and somewhat old lithographic posters for under $350).

Clay Shevlin
Meminisse Magicam
Message: Posted by: Jonathan Townsend (Mar 2, 2006 09:20PM)
On 2006-02-06 09:03, jkesler wrote:...yet few magicians invest any time in this area. Many do not even know the orgins of the effects ...[/quote]

Interesting stories and facts abound behind who invented what, and what sort of rumors were spread and which people get snubbed and by whom. A guy named Phil Postmaa invented one of our useful coin gaffs, the flipper coin, yet was ignored by almost all here in magicdom. And yes... there is that story about a certain as yet unpublished coin routine where for the sake of expedience, a rumor went out that the inventor was dead. Nice history huh? Want more? Or is this just about collecting antiques? If you are incapable of honoring the living, what can you possibly offer the dead? And what sort of example do you set for those who look to you for object lessons in what makes good in magic? What do we say about how folks who do not own the Harbin book building zig-zags and other works from that book?

As with any group of people there are many who actually treat the subject with respect. There are some who both collect and do. They are some of our culture's very special people. I wish we had more such people. They successfully keep many antique items and ideas in working order so this and future generations can learn.

History has already pretty much relegated most of what we call 'classic magic' to the games and children's section of our cultural library. I wish more of the clever work people have spent their lives perfecting was around in action.

No idea how to praise the recent trend in dumpster diving to find old posters and props that have no performing use and then to leave wonderful inventions to languish in private museums where no muggles will visit and come away amazed. This simply speeds the process of all that wonderful and insightful work done in the past becoming obsolete, impertinent and contextually meaningless.

Nice to have the Hofzinser and Robert-Houdin stuff TWO HUNDRED YEARS after the fact. What about Del Ray's inventions and Fred Kaps's work on performing? Where is Presley Guitar? Is Scotty York still working? What will it take for those who actually do the work to feel better about making sure it gets made available after they pass on?

A huge warehouse (think about the end of the first Indiana Jones movie) full of good ideas does not do our little community much good today. All we are known by is what the muggles see in person, on the street, and maybe on TV.
Message: Posted by: Clay Shevlin (Mar 3, 2006 07:37AM)
"History has already pretty much relegated most of what we call 'classic magic' to the games and children's section of our cultural library..."

Response: Even vis-a-vis the general public, Jonathan, that's not entirely true. And it certainly isn't true for literature produced within magicdom.

"No idea how to praise the recent trend in dumpster diving to find old posters and props that have no performing use and then to leave wonderful inventions to languish in private museums where no muggles will visit and come away amazed. This simply speeds the process of all that wonderful and insightful work done in the past becoming obsolete, impertinent and contextually meaningless."

Response: Some interesting thoughts, Jonathan. Are you a proponent of public institutions owning apparatus? I'm not sure what you mean by dumpster diving, but whatever that is, it ain't a recent trend, my friend!

Yet, I think I get the gist of your gab, and am sympathetic to your laments. So, as a long-time student of the art, when will you make your historical contribution in print? And don't tell me you're still learning - we're all still learning. Historical knowledge cum understanding is an accretive process, and contributions by us little guys is crucial to its progress.

Meminisse Magicam....
Message: Posted by: Vince Hancock (Mar 3, 2006 09:59AM)
Hi everyone,

I have to confess that I'm less interested in collecting magic material than learning from it. I don't have the cash, in any case!

I'm located in a rural area of northern Michigan. There's a small group of us that are trying to help each other improve, both in terms of performance and history/appreciation.

We're desperately trying to book Edwin Brush, but we can't get ahold of him. Does anyone know his agent's cell phone number?

In the meantime, are there any videos you'd recommend, for a sense of how powerful performances can be? I'd like to show my friends a couple of examples of magic's potential.


Vince Hancock

Message: Posted by: Clay Shevlin (Mar 3, 2006 11:56AM)
Edwin is no longer booking shows.
Message: Posted by: jkesler (Mar 3, 2006 03:29PM)
If you can get a hold of Don Allens Magic Ranch series,you will not disappointed. These tapes feature many of the greats...It is a good place to start.
Best Wishes,