Thursday, May 10, 2007


Why is it always so late when I start doing this? I'm going to write about the convention now, late or not.

I found this year's convention more interesting than the one we attended two years ago (we go every other year), despite the unusual absence of Ricky Jay and Max Maven. Actually, Maven was scheduled to be a presenter, but he unfortunately had an emergency and had to undergo heart surgery. Jay and Maven are always fascinating, but the show did go on without them.

The guest of honor was Jim Steinmeyer, an illusion designer who has worked with Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, Lance Burton, and Harry Blackstone. He gave an interesting talk about the history of some interesting illusions. Also featured was David Avadon, who is known as "The Fastest Pickpocket in the West," and has written a couple history books on the subject. Meanwhile, author David Parr (it was also a David Convention) collected memories about how he and others came to have a magical hobby. The very first magic book he ever owned was an I Can Read Book called Spooky Tricks. Ekim almost fell out of his chair when he heard that, because that was his first book, too. So, the symptoms started early.

Another presenter, Lee Levin, creator of an award winning children's television program called The Magic Door, had a very lucky find which landed him on the PBS show History Detectives: one day, Levin's phone rang, and on the other end was a poster dealer who wanted Levin to authenticate a rare looking Houdini window card. A local roofer had discovered about a hundred of these window cards underneath an old roof he'd torn up, and all but two where destroyed. Levin submitted his story to the show, and much to his surprise, they contacted him immediately. It turned out that these window cards were authentic, and the sleuthing is very engaging. (Everyone's wild about Harry)

Besides the lectures, this year's convention was special for being the occasion of distributing the late Jay Marshall's collection. You've never heard of Jay Marshall, but he got to be famous for his impressive magic collection. He had rare posters, books, photographs, apparatus, autographs, show programs, pamphlets, letters, and all kinds of ephemera.

I watched only part of the auction, while Ekim watched and recorded the entire thing. So, speaking of collections, we have two spiffy Jay Marshall auction books--one with the prices recorded, and one untouched. (That's one reason for bringing the wife to the convention. I also look really good in parentheses.) Anyway, it was actually pretty interesting, and busy. There was a room full of people bidding in person, there were people standing around with phones as proxy-bidders, and then there was the internet traffic. Including internet bids was a bit glitchy and clumsy at times, but it definitely drove the prices up for the Marshall family.

One thing I didn't really appreciate before was the fact that Houdini has become a separate hobby: he's not just for magic collectors, anymore. Harry wasn't stingy with his autographs, but absolutely anything that has his signature goes for at least a thousand bucks. An early original poster of Houdini, during his King of Cards phase, which was not autographed and in fair condition, went for $11,000. We have a reproduction of this one hanging in our humble abode. Ekim laughed when I asked him how much his posters were worth.

It was not the nicest poster. The best poster was a Harry Blackstone, Sr. Oriental Nights poster from 1918. It was in very good condition, too. But, it doesn't have Houdini's name on it. It went for $5,000. That's only one hundred times the worth of our original Harry Blackstone, Jr. poster that sister Dddragon got her mitts on back in 1970-something and had autographed!

An expert and engaging magician named David Ben got to take this one home.

Incidently, because of Max Maven's absence, David Ben was called upon to get up and talk in his place, which he did very well. Ben decided to recall stories about a host of magicians who have been his mentors and friends in the past. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the magician this funny story is about, but then, I'd never heard of him, so it doesn't affect the story for me.

This older friend of Ben's had extremely poor eyesight in his old age, and wore what Ben called "birding glasses." Whenever they went to a magic show, the myopic magician always insisted on sitting up front and close to the center. One night, Ben and his friend went to see Penn and Teller's The Refrigerator Tour, which opens with the illusion of a refrigerator being dropped on top of Penn and Teller from a height of about 20 feet. With a combination of extreme nearsightedness and the absence of peripheral vision, the older magician did not see the refrigerator until it was eye level to him, and in his astonishment he exclaimed, "Wow! Where did that come from? How did they do that?" Whilst Ben was watching an escape trick, Mr. Magoo perceived a wondrous conjuring trick. (My parents are getting a new 'frig, and this will be our new joke)

The very last evening of the convention is always a dinner and magic show, which is always very enjoyable. Ekim has met quite a few nice people at these conventions, but I haven't because I'm not very friendly. I enjoyed the food, though.

On top of all this fun, we discovered that The Hyatt in Schaumburg (where we stayed) is just a parking lot away from the Ram Restaurant & Brewery. It's a nice location, and there's a really nice mall across the street.

I didn't mention all the presentations, but the other speakers were Richard Kaufman, Michael Claxton, William Pack, John Carney, and David Charvet.

If you're so inclined, which I really doubt, you can see the entire list of auction items.

If you made it this far, I'm impressed. Good night!


Diesel said...

Sounds like a fun thing to go to.

TLP said...

I enjoyed the ENTIRE post very much! And I'd even heard some of it at dinner the other night. So there. It's a great post.

BTW, a new refrigerator just appeared in our kitchen! How'd they do that???

Doug said...

WOW, two years since the previous magic show post? I enjoy these so much and "I also look really good in parentheses" would have been one of Dorothy Parker's best lines if she'd said it.

I can see how an auction among magicians might be a tricky thing. You guys were right not to bid.

"Sold! To the gentleman with the top hat! Did anyone catch the rabbit?"

actonbell said...

Heh. Actually, Ekim waited all day to bid on one book, but went over his limit. No one in the room was bidding against him, so it's too bad he could reach over and pull the plug on the internet:)

Doug said...

Does a hacker count as a magician?

actonbell said...

A hacker? Good question, I never thought of that. I would say no, a hacker is more like a clever burglar.

Oh, and thank you for the offer of editing:)

Logophile said...

Oooo, sounds like a very interesting way to pass some time and when you get to visit Chicago in gorgeous weather, any excuse will do, right?
I also love the Ekim and the Magic Bean story idea.

Jamie Dawn said...

I love to see illusionists, so I would have really enjoyed that one guy you talked about at the beginning of the post that I can't remember his name, but he was associated with some big names in magic.

I'm sure it was very cool to see those auction items.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Ah, this is fascinating, Ms. Acton B. You got any tricks you can put on your b**g so we can fool everybody with? Well, we won't fool you, but, you know.....

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
actonbell said...

Hey, I can't find you, Andrew...

Andrew said...

I watched the auction on ebay.. and I also made quite a few bids.. unfortunately I didn't get the items I wanted.. (the mahatma complete set amongst others..)

thanks for the write up.. I'll link it from my blog, once I catch up on it..

neva said...

What fun! and you're right, you look damn good in parentheses, my friend!

i'm guessing Harry Houdini would think getting $11,000 for an old poster was nothing short of a miracle. (seriously, that's just crazy).

so glad to know you had such a grand time in Chicago, Actonbell... that Magic Show definitely provided terrific fodder for those of us who only get to read about such things! ; ) xox

pia said...

You look great in parentheses.

Doug should get some kind of commenting award

Really enjoyed the convention story--kept looking for it, then forgot, mea culpa

My father thought he could levitate tables. When my b-i-l threw out my father's ouija board, he hurt himself badly to the delight of my sister and me

G said...

We're all loving the parenthesis line! Sounds like a grand time and hmmm, an auction with magicians?

Wonderfully told.