Friday, October 15, 2010

Magician's Ghosts Featured in October Meeting

The October meeting began with President Arnie Fuoco introducing prospective new member John Cloninger of Woodbridge, Virginia, who was voted in by the members present. Fuoco also promoted Magi-Whirl, April 29-30, 2011, asking for volunteers to help Convention Chairman Theo Rushin, Jr. You can see more info at

Our guest lecturer was well-known magic collector Ken Trombly, whose extensive collection of magic ephemera is merely hinted at on his Website at .

Starting as a magician at the age of ten, Ken’s interest slowly evolved, and he began collecting magic posters and other paper from the “Golden Age” of magic about thirty years ago. Ken is an active member of the Magic Collector’s Association and ran their 2006 conference in Washington, DC. By day, Ken is a trial attorney. He has written articles or been featured in most of the major magic publications, including a recent profile in TLR.

His presentation, “Paper Treasures: Collecting Magic Ephemera,” took us on a tour of the publicity, and sometimes, behind the curtain of the great magicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ken started out with a sampling of his vast collection of magic posters, most in near-mint condition, shown in hi-res photos. Ken has numerous specimens from Robert-Houdin, John Henry Anderson, the Herrmanns (all of them), Kellar, Thurston, Goldin, Chung Ling Soo (and even earlier when he was still William Robinson), Lafayette, LeRoy, Blackstone Sr., Jansen (later Dante), Hardeen and, of course, Houdini.

Among numerous photographs, Houdini provided the highlight of the evening, when Ken showed a receipt for magic apparatus bought by Houdini in 1897, and then showed us a famous promo photo of a young Houdini. Putting the two side by side, Ken demonstrated that all of the apparatus from the receipt was arranged in the photo! This was clearly an attempt by Houdini, then still trying to make it as a magician, to impress the agents. (See below.)

From posters and photographs, Ken moved neatly into promotional giveaways such as throw out cards, hand mirrors, pins, fans, fake money, fake tickets, coupons, even cigars -the band (below) bearing the facsimile signature of "Herrmann" still remains! We saw letters and letterheads, postcards, business cards, cartes de visite, paperback books, sheet music, newspaper stories (real and fake), newspapers (ditto) and even photo montages. Cartoons, both editorial and political, done by legends such as Daumier and Nast, reminded us of the incredible fame these performers enjoyed.

One “accidental” collectible is a hotel postcard. The photographer, snapping the hotel’s great fa├žade on a busy city street, captured a local bus going by. In large letters, the bus’s side banner shouts “HOUDINI.”

All photos in this article courtesy Ken Trombly collection and (c) 2010 Ken Trombly.