magic-book-burningWithin 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.

Perhaps the most famous card book ever published is, The Expert at the Card Table, by S. W. Erdnase, pseudonym of a mysterious cardsharp and business swindler who never published anything else. Considered as a fundamental text for establishing card mastery, it is arguably the most studied book within the genre of magic, causing it to remain in print well over a century after its original publication. Speculation on the true identity of Erdnase, does not exclude Houdini himself who was also known as the “King of Cards”.

The experts on the Expert at the Card Table, are at Everything Erdnase, with an online exhibition and bibliographical information on a variety of the book’s editions. Through their “First Edition Project”, they have recorded the location and ownership of 39 first edition copies so far. According to Jason England, curator of Everything Erdnase, there are about 80 hardcover first editions in existence today, with the green cloth covers as originally published by McKinley. The more common Drake paperbacks were issued in 1905 with a bright yellow cover with the King of Hearts image. Some years later, Drake began printing copies in a bluish-green paper. Some of these had a full-color King of Hearts and some had a King of Hearts with the red ink “missing” for some reason. Most of these were not dated on the title page, so determining exactly when they were printed is difficult at best.

Whether used in their trade as reference material or purchased as an addition to a collection of original editions, magicians purchasing books are historically leading the trend when it comes to collecting books on magic. No other trade comes even close to the ratio of book collectors within a profession as the one scored by magicians. Houdini’s magic lives on!

A Magician among the SpiritsExpert at the Card Table













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The Independent Bookshop

by Admin on April 29, 2016

Independent Book ShopPresently, independent booksellers are growing. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores in the US has grown from 1,410 in 2010 to 1,712 in 2015. At the same time, the future of highly-capitalized chains, with their need for expensive, high-traffic locations seems uncertain. Barnes & Noble shrunk from 726 stores at the beginning of 2009, to just 640 stores in survival today.

Bookstores of the future may have to get more innovative with technology, which makes book shopping easier while expanding choices. New York City’s Shakespeare & Co., on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has seen some success by reducing the amount of space used for book displays and adding a café as well as the Espresso Book Machine, a device that provides on-demand book printing. Time will tell if this New York bookseller is onto something.

The history of bookselling along 4th Ave., in lower Manhattan, is well documented in Mondolin & Meador’s Book Row (New York, Carroll & Graff, 2004). Most of the shops described in the book no longer exist, except for Shirley Solomon (Pageant) still operating on 4th St, and The Strand which was moved by Benjamin Bass’s son to its current location, on Broadway and 12th Street. The Book Row, for those not familiar with it, included 48 stores originally.

Across the Atlantic, deep into the Latin Quarter of Paris, another legendary bookstore from the 1920’s and 30’s, is George Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company, which survived bombings, riots and other book shop closings. In the early days, the shop’s attractions included a slew of postwar writers, regulars, the store dog – Basketville and a menagerie of felines.

Today, booksellers have to mix the right ingredients in order to survive in the face of online sales and declining literacy. Bookstores such as the East West Books, Coliseum, The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, Partners and Crime of Greenwich Village, High Street book store of London, the 400 Borders stores, (of the once second largest US bookstore chain), and many more, have all been victims of this century’s new trends. Providing comfortable places for people to hang out with their lattes and laptops while previewing books that they may later purchase on Amazon, does not provide for a profitable business model. Attracting customers through regularly scheduled events such as children’s readings with favorite characters, book signings by authors accompanied by artistic or musical performances, wine tastings, and movie showings becomes unprofitable gradually. Yes, running an independent bookstore in an expensive city can drive costs through the roof.

Mega bookstores, with tablet-carrying staffers that are quick to search for inventory and take one’s order without a cash register, whether on-line or in-store, are perhaps more efficient, but not necessarily cost effective. Privacy concerns and spam blocking discourage modern day marketing techniques that distribute coupons via smartphones or emails. There is no substitute for a strong on-line presence through its own website, other on-line marketplaces and social media.

The most common ingredient to successful bookstores, which are centrally located in major cities, is the existence of multi square-footage space dedicated to rare book collections. Rare books do not compete with e-readers or electronic editions, and are, by nature very limited in supply. Depending on the variety and depth of a store’s rare book collection, the customers may keep on coming.

With gasoline prices at more reasonable levels and large parts of some economies out of the slump we experienced a few years back, booksellers and book collectors are finding it easier to justify the cost of traveling further distances to some regional book fair or avoid mid-town traffic to visit an old and rare book establishment in the country. In fact, for this coming Saturday, it does not even have to be old and rare. The Independent Bookstore Day returns April 30 with more than 400 participating stores offering a few specials for all types of book lovers. You may even find me there.



Rare Book Sale Monitor Update – 1st Quarter 2016

April 15, 2016
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The value of books determined by the Rare Book Sale Monitor (RBSM) is achieved by selecting comparable sales and adjusting the prices according to the differences between the comparable sales and the item being evaluated. RBSM comparative pricing is produced by adjusting the sale price of a particular title that is closely monitored, by accounting […]

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Rethinking the Grading of Old Books

April 1, 2016
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Since 1949, AB Bookman’s Weekly, which ceased publication 50 years later, strived to establish the criteria for grading the condition of used books. AB’s definitions of “Very Fine” (or “As New”), “Fine”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Fair”, and so forth, have basically become the industry standard. The condition of each book is, in a very real […]

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The Second Sex is undervalued

March 18, 2016
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“For a long time I have hesitated to write a blog post on woman. The subject is irritating, especially to women; and it is not new,” is how the opening sentence to Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex reads. She did write a “book” of course, rather than a “blog post”, a very important […]

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The Slave Bible

March 4, 2016
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Privacy concerns have disrupted lives long before investigators attacked Apple for refusing to aid federal agents bypass a security passcode function on a terrorist’s iPhone. These days, anything that happens through our lives is collected, shared, analyzed, marketed and remarketed, sometimes with our consent, and often without. New generations find it hard to imagine a […]

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Auction Activity Signals

February 19, 2016
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Last year’s financial results from two of the largest auction houses have signaled the prospect of an art-market slowdown. Christie’s reported $6.5 billion in auction sales for the year, down 4% from a year ago, while rival Sotheby’s reported $6 billion last year, down 2% from a year earlier. Furthermore, this year’s art auctions got […]

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Dada is 100 Years Old!

February 5, 2016
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While critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel are becoming increasingly vocal against her open-door policy that allowed 1.1 million migrants to enter Germany last year, history may be on her side. A century ago in the middle of World War I, immigrant artists from all over Europe, energized by a sense of outrage against the […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor Update – 4th Quarter 2015

January 22, 2016
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How exciting to investors could the introduction of a mutual fund that invests solely in rare books be? Before you rule that everything about it is controversial, consider this: The mutual fund industry has embraced alternative investing 1 sixty plus years later from the time that Harry Markowitz conducted his breakthrough research on portfolio theory based […]

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New Year Wishes from Shakespeare & Company

December 31, 2015
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Forty years ago, John Lennon, in his Christmas melody song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” wished everyone: So this is Xmas And what have you done Another year over And a new one just begun …. A very Merry Xmas And a happy New Year Let’s hope it’s a good one Without any fear As […]

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