CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions will proudly host a sale of historical artifacts, magicana and rare books from the personal collection of the late Ricky Jay, a magician, writer, actor and collector without peer. Scheduled for Saturday, February 25 and containing 370 lots, it will be the first of three sales from Jay’s collection, and it will commence at 10 am Central time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
A lauded actor, celebrated sleight-of-hand magician and noted author, Ricky Jay (1946-2018) was also a passionate historian. During his life, he curated his own 10,000-piece collection of magic, circus and show business ephemera, which was impressive and rare enough to be selected for an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Jay’s collection is being auctioned off in four parts; the first installment took place in New York in October 2021 during the course of two days and realized $3.8 million. Potter & Potter Auctions will host the second, third and fourth installments of the Ricky Jay collection sale. All lots will be available for in-person previews from February 20-24 and Potter & Potter will host a preview reception for this sale on the evening of February 23. Printed catalogs are now available for $55. Please contact Potter & Potter Auctions directly for more information.
The Ricky Jay collection features exceptional antique posters promoting legacy 19th- and 20th-century acts; several are sure to earn top-lot status, such as the framed lithograph Is Conan Doyle Right?, which is estimated at $6,000-$12,000. Printed in Cleveland by J. Morgan Litho., in 1923, it is illustrated with a giant hand reaching down between a medium and a sitter, a message on a slate before them and a crystal ball. This example is only one of two examples known by Potter’s experts.
A wonderfully colorful poster from the Jay collection is Rameses In His Egyptian Temple Of Mysteries, a linen-backed example that was published by S.C. Allen in London around 1910. Estimated at $3,000-$6,000, it promotes Ramses (born Abraham Marchinski, 1876-1930) a British magician who was the first illusionist to appear at London’s Palladium. The poster spotlights his signature levitation, depicted as the flight of an assistant with wings, and another woman springing from a burning brazier.
This sale also features antiquarian to modern books from Jay’s exquisitely curated personal library. Among the choices is New Art Of Hocus Pocus Revived, which carries an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. Printed in London in 1808, it features marbled boards over a pebbled black leather spine titled in gilt, with marbled endsheets. Its hand-colored frontispiece depicts what is described as the “droll trick of a Cambridge scholar” as also seen in editions of Breslaw’s Last Legacy.
Naturally enough, books on and about Ricky Jay himself feature in the sale lineup. Among them is The Magic Magic Book, which was published in New York in 1994 by the Whitney Museum. This two-volume set, estimated at $2,000-$4,000, includes one book of text and one blow book, where the page images change as they are flipped. The blow book was illustrated by Vija Celmins, Jane Hammond, Glenn Ligon, Justen Ladda, Philip Taaffe and William Wegman. This set was probably an artists’ proof and is thought to be unique in its binding style and cloth color.
Archives of magic- and sideshow-related materials are also well-represented in the Ricky Jay collection. Certain to perform is lot #68, a folio of etchings, drawings, and engravings of remarkable characters and freaks, which has an estimate of $8,000-$12,000. This scrapbook of 24 leaves bound in paper-covered boards features 18th- and 19th-century images of those described as “freaks.” Most prominent is a 10½ by 7in engraved and inscribed self-portrait of Matthew Buchinger, dated 1709. Buchinger (German, 1674-1740) was an artist and magician who stood two feet, five inches tall and was born without hands or feet.
Also included is a group of three photo albums picturing little people, estimated at $1,500-$3,000. This trio from the second half of the 19th century contains more than 110 sepia-tone carte de visites of popular little people of the era. These include images of Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia Warren, scenes from their wedding, images with their child, and their visits with fellow dwarf and entertainer Commodore Nutt.
The Ricky Jay collection also includes outstanding antique entertainment industry-themed images, illustrations and correspondence. Eminently worthy of mention is The Effigies of Mr. Matthew Buchinger, a self-portrait engraving of the famed personality made in London and dated April 29, 1724. It measures 12¼ by 8in and is estimated at $6,000-$8,000. Buchinger is pictured seated on a tasseled cushion, surrounded by fancy scrollwork, and his wig is made up of the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Below, a text block lists his personal talents and accomplishments.
Another unique prize on offer is an inter-ocean typed letter postcard from Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, 1874-1926). This ink-signed note is dated July 8, 1920, was written on a R.M.S. Imperator folding letter card, and was mailed to Cullen Bryant of Philadelphia. It reads, in part, “Here we are in mid-ocean! … Have had the most successful six months career on stage, both financial as well as artistical! It will be some time before things are normal abroad.” The Houdini note is estimated at $2,000-$4,000.
The Ricky Jay collection sale also features premier offerings of magic and gambling-related antiques. Of particular note is “Soapy” Smith’s roulette table and wheel, used by the notorious con man (born Jefferson R. Smith, 1860-1898). This handsome, working, full-size roulette layout, table and wheel was made by George Mason & Co. around 1890. It measures 95½ by 40 by 31in with an outer wheel diameter of 31 1/2in and is estimated at $10,000-$20,000.
Completing the highlights is Max Malini’s briefcase, which has an estimate of $4,000-$8,000. This well-worn black leather case was owned by the sleight-of-hand magician (born Max Katz Breit, 1873-1942). Its metal clasps are stamped TOKYO, and the case retains an original luggage label from the Holland East Asia Line. This is one of just a few personal relics from Malini’s life to come to market in the last 100 years.
President at Potter & Potter Auctions Gabe Fajuri said, “These auctions promise to be an intersection of the rare, the bizarre, and the beautiful. Ricky Jay had an eye for the unusual, coupled with the brain of a gifted scholar and the talents of a polymath. Nothing makes this diversity of interests more clear than a guided trip through his collection. And now, again, the legions of fans Ricky created through his writing, his scholarly lectures, performances and his celebration of the world’s curious characters will have an opportunity to own a piece of his fabled wunderkammer. Everyone on our staff – but perhaps no one more than me – is excited to bring his collection to auction, and we have been preparing a special catalog and exhibition to coincide with the sales.”
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