CHICAGO – Salon de Magie: Klosterman Collection Part 2, a sale held at Potter & Potter Auctions on March 26, was thrilling from start to finish, totaling $815,000 and achieving a sell-through rate of nearly 100%.
Examples of 19th- and 20th-century magic apparatus from legacy performers took many of the top lot slots, led by Johann N. Hofzinser’s circa-1860 crystal ball casket. Estimated at $15,000-$25,000, it rose to $36,000. The illusion consisted of an empty metal box with glass sides, lid, and bottom through which the audience could clearly see. On command, the box instantly and visibly filled with cloth-covered balls.
Chung Ling Soo’s Corsican incubator from 1910 was estimated at $5,000-$10,000 and traded hands at $26,400. This apparatus consisted of a tall canister into which the magician deposited handkerchiefs or other articles. On reopening the lid of the canister, three large brass birdcages with living inhabitants were produced from its interior.
Dell O’Dell’s specially modified double blooming rose bush from 1945 sold for $14,400 against an estimate of $4,000-$8,000. The trick was owned and used by female nightclub magician Dell O’Dell and was considered one of the most expensive and elaborate products offered for sale from the “house where tricks are born,” the Petrie & Lewis company of New Haven, Connecticut.
A circa-1920s nest of boxes that belonged to Harry Houdini was estimated at $2,500-$5,000 and earned $18,000. This prop consisted of four mahogany boxes with ebony accents. In performance, Houdini borrowed a ring, watch or wallet and made it vanish and reappear in the smallest of the four boxes, locked inside the other three. These boxes were constructed by Houdini’s assistant, James Collins.
Alexander’s sawing a woman in half illusion brought $24,000 against an estimate of $4,000-$8,000. Made in Los Angeles by F.G. Thayer in 1921, this wooden apparatus was an early model of the classic stage illusion in which a woman, placed in the crate with her feet, head and hands extending through slots in either end, was sawn in two by the magician, yet remained unharmed. At the time it was purchased, the advertised price of the illusion was $175.
Stunning posters for magicians including Harry Kellar, Harry Houdini, and Servais LeRoy performed markedly well, with the category’s top lot being a 1904 lithograph titled Kellar, Levitation, which sold for $18,000. It pictured Kellar in a Moorish setting with an assistant floating in midair above him, his hands outstretched underneath her and a supplicant bowing before him.
A second Kellar poster that triumphed was an 1895 color lithograph dubbed Kellar’s Beautiful Production, The Queen of Roses. Estimated at $8,000-$12,000, it realized $13,200. It pictured Kellar producing a lady dressed in white from a giant growth of roses resting atop a table.
A Harry Houdini, King of Cards poster traded hands at $16,800. This half-sheet color lithograph was published in Chicago by National Printing and Engraving in the late 1800s. It was illustrated with a bust portrait of the young magician at the center, and vignettes depicting his facility with a deck of cards above and below.
Lot #257, a broadside for Karl Germain’s performance at the Palace of Manchester for the week of July 9, 1906, was estimated at $400-$800 and scored $3,120. It was published in Manchester, England by the Manchester Palace of Varieties, and billed him as the “renowned American wizard.”
A Servais LeRoy poster titled Rostrum, The Last Word in Magic, was estimated at $8,000-$12,000 and realized $26,400. The color lithograph was printed by National Printing and Engraving around 1920. It showed LeRoy presenting his most famous illusion, best known as the Asrah levitation. In this trick, a spectral form floated over the heads of an amazed audience gazing up at it, while the magician gestured toward the body from the stage.
Archival material and magic-related ephemera were also key categories in the March 26 sale. A standout was Karl Germain’s early Germain magic scrapbook, which was estimated at $4,000-$6,000 and delivered $18,000. The lot consisted of a scrapbook with 30 leaves of materials and loose additional related ephemera. The scrapbook held clippings, programs and paperwork from 1894 to around 1912 chronicling the career of the notable magician.
A framed, autographed one-page letter to artist Jean-Pierre Dantan from magician Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, dated February 9, 1849, more than doubled its low estimate to arrive at $20,400. Translated, it reads in part: “My dear Dantan, I send you these two seats for my first representation, if you could come I would be pleased; friendly faces give me courage when it is necessary.”
Another lot that romped past its estimate was a group of 112 caricature sketches by magician and illustrator Harlan Tarbell. Estimated at $400-$800, it traded hands at $4,800. All from 1944, the drawings featured famous magicians including Ed Reno, Louis Zingone, The Roucleres, Betty Jane Kolar, Nicola, Blackstone, Dorny, Powell and Al Baker. Some of these sketches were published on the cover of the May 1940 edition of The Sphinx, an issue devoted primarily to members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Other lots worthy of mention include a card restoration frame made in Hamburg by Carl Willmann around 1903 that featured an elaborate clockwork mechanism. It rose to $10,800. It enabled a trick in which a chosen card, torn to pieces, reappeared in the center of a frame sitting on the magician’s table, well away from the performer. Unlike similar effects, the card reappeared in the frame piece by piece, then jumped out of the frame into the magician’s waiting hand. The restored card lacked only one corner, held by a spectator as a receipt of sorts from the outset.
Rounding out the highlights was a spirit lock made in London in the 1940s by Jon Martin, which realized $10,800. The illusion for which it was made called for the performer to display the piece and lock it. On the command of the performer, it would visibly and instantly open. The lock in the sale was one of a handful extant.
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