Saturday, June 11, 2016

Poof! They're gone.

From Rare BooksDigest, a tale of vanishing books:

Within a short time, the concentration of high spots from the genre of magic and the supernatural has moved into private hands and institutional collections. The market irrupted, beginning in 1991, when illusionist David Copperfield bought the Mulholland Library of Conjuring & the Allied Arts (containing the world’s largest collection of Houdini memorabilia), for $2.2 million. Copperfield’s agents, whom include librarians and archivists, continue to acquire books on magic and add to the library by actively scouring magic auctions, private estates and shops.

During this time, recent college graduate, Bill Kalush, a specialist in sleight-of-hands with cards, began seriously collecting magic books too. As his collectibles began to multiply, he founded a nonprofit library in 2003, the Conjuring Arts Research Center, located a few blocks from the Empire State Building. The library consists of 15,000 volumes and serves members of the public and magicians seeking out obscure magic works and tricks of the trade.

Not to be ignored, Harry Houdini’s library at the Library of Congress is one of the strongest collections of 19th and 20th century publications on spiritualism. In 1927, through Houdini’s bequest, the Library received 3,988 volumes from his own private collection.

These collections make other magicians both envious and grateful. They are the richest collections of magic and supernatural content ever accumulated, and they have, in a way, cornered the market. Smaller collectors of books on magic are faced with very limited availability and high pricing on most of the books on magic that are available for sale. It is almost guaranteed that while browsing at books on display at book fairs, you may also overhear someone ask the dealer the question “anything on magic?”

Houdini, as a mystical entertainer was interested in spiritualism; however, his focus was on mysticism. Later on, after being afflicted with life’s grief, he was brought to a realization that his act bordered on being criminal. His last book A Magician among the Spirits, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924, chronicles such investigations into spiritualism, and his debunking of many prominent practitioners. It includes a chapter on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had long been his friend before the two split irreconcilably over Conan Doyle’s belief in spiritualism...

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