CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions will hold a 365-lot sale on Saturday, October 30 starting at 10 am Central time, the first from the Salon de Magie, Ken Klosterman’s famous collection of magic apparatus, books and ephemera. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Apparatus with provenance to the most important magicians of the past two centuries take center stage at this once-in-a-lifetime event. Chief among them is the Light and Heavy Chest owned and used by Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, estimated at $50,000-$100,000. Made in France in 1844, this hardwood box becomes light as a feather or immovable, based on the magician’s command. Arguably the most historically significant conjuring prop of the modern era performance, this chest was chronicled in great detail Houdin’s Memoirs and Secrets of Stage Conjuring.
A remarkably elegant piece is Harry Kellar’s Louis XIV-style gilded table, estimated at $25,000-$35,000. It is detailed with cabriole legs, a carved base incorporating a Bacchus-like head, flowers and foliage, and four faces at the top of each leg. It houses 13 secret devices, including various traps, electrical connections, and pistons to control a Devil’s Head automaton.
Also on offer is Harry Kellar’s Devil Head automaton from 1880, estimated at $15,000-$25,000. In performance, the devil’s eyes rolls, its mouth opens, and later, after a cloud of smoke escapes from the jaws of the beast, two cards appears between its lips while another pair pop in to view between its horns.
Another exquisite prize is Karl Germain’s Blooming Rose Bush from 1900, estimated at $20,000-$30,000. With this trick, The magician shows an empty pot, fills it with dirt, plants a seed inside, and places it on a table. As he waves a fan over the pot, a plant begins to grow, developing into a rose bush with real flowers. Once it reaches full bloom, the magician cuts the flowers and hands them to the audience. This example is considered the most storied, poetic and remarkable creations of Karl Germain, and arguably his best-known illusion.
Providing a strong final highlight in the section is Stanley Jaks’ Book of Mysteries from 1936, estimated at $10,000-$15,000. This book box is bound in leather with silver detailing on the front board, including the text “PACABA” flanked by two mystical symbols. Inside, the book holds two trays of miniature magic props used for many of Jaks’ most famous routines, along with a plush-covered working surface – said to be one of the first examples of a close-up mat.
This sale offers a number of extraordinary materials owned by, or featuring, Harry Houdini, such as the 1912 broadside Houdini Upside Down in the Water Torture Cell, estimated at $30,000-$60,000. It features a close-up inverted bust portrait of Houdini submerged in the water tank escape device that helped secure his reputation. This extremely rare poster, one of only a handful extant, was displayed in the Cincinnati Art Museum from October 20, 2001 to January 6, 2002.
Equally alluring is a set of Houdini Bean Giant handcuffs, estimated at $4,000-$8,000. These ungimmicked, nickel-plated “escape proof” handcuffs were configured to be nearly impossible for a key to be inserted by the restrained. Houdini used Bean Giants to challenge other handcuff rivals. These come with a letter of provenance and were formerly owned by French magician Keith Clark, remembered as the author of the Encyclopedia of Cigarette Tricks.
Posters featuring late 19th and early 20th century legacy acts are another key category in this auction. A poster titled Kellar. Levitation, carries an estimate of $8,000-$10,000. The half-sheet stone lithograph from 1894 is illustrated with bolts of lightning streaking from the magician’s hands toward the assistant who floats before him.
Another visually striking vintage magic poster, Makselyne’s Mysteries. The Philosophers Stone, is estimated at $6,000-$9,000. Printed in London by Stafford & Co. around 1907, this framed color litho for Nevil Maskelyne’s “famous magical romance” of “refined fun and profound mystery … from St. George’s Hall” is illustrated with an erupting stove, a floating ghost, and bewildered participants.
This sale’s array of magic related ephemera is also certain to conjure up significant interest. Chief among them is the broadside Robert-Houdin. Soirees Fantastiques, estimated at $8,000-$12,000. Printed in London by W.J. Goldbourne around 1848, it promotes an appearance of the conjurer in London. Several bills similar to this example are part of the Houdini papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, creating some conjecture that it was Houdini who dated the posters in blue pencil. Also of note is a lobby photograph of Chung Ling Soo, estimated at $8,000-$10,000. This framed, full length portrait pictures Soo with his assistant Suee Seen, and a girl posing as their daughter, all resplendent in Chinese robes.
Still another rarity of note is Karl Germain’s Magic Notebook from 1900, estimated at $2,500-$4,500. Its pages include 25 leaves in Germain’s hand, filled with notes, sketches, ideas for scripts, and instructions for many of the effects in his repertoire. This is a unique record of the wizard’s most famous effects, and a revealing look at the ideas and methods that would develop in to some of his most artistic illusions.
The selections of antique to contemporary magic books and publications on offer through this sale are certain to catch the eye of collectors worldwide. Henry Dean’s The Whole Art of Legerdemain: or, Hocus Pocus in Perfection, carries an estimate of $5,000-$10,000. It was printed in London by H. Hawes & Co. and S. Crowder in 1763. This seventh edition has its Klosterman bookplate and is inscribed and signed on the flyleaf, “Harry Houdini / Brought home / by Dash Jun. 1906” and signed again on the terminal leaf by Houdini. Houdini’s inscription reveals that the book was purchased for him by his brother.
Certain to find a new home is The Whole Art of Conjuring, estimated at $3,000-$6,000. This edition was printed in London by J. Catnatch around 1830, and it includes its original wrappers, the upper featuring an image of a conjurer behind his table, a bottle in his hand, with props and cards before him.
Another intriguing offering is The Magic of Robert Harbin, estimated at $1,500-$2,500. The book was authored by Robert Harwin (Ned Williams) and self-published in London in 1970. This is number 3 of 500 copies and is the first and only edition.
Rounding out the sale is a magic-related rarity that defies traditional auction categories: an archive related to the spirit medium Margery, estimated at $4,000-$8,000. This 1920s-30s collection is comprised of hundreds of pages addressed to Hereward Carrington, the noted investigator of spiritualistic phenomena. The archive includes postcards, TLSs and ALSs, some carbons, as well as photos, publications, proof sheets, and related memorabilia.
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