Auctions | August 1, 2018

Potter & Potter Auctions' August 25 Sale to Offer Remarkable Selections of Antique Magicana

Chicago — Potter & Potter Auctions is pleased to announce their 467 lot Summer Magic Auction to be held on Saturday, August 25th, 2018 starting at 10am at the company's gallery, located at 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60613. The sale includes 13 lots from the Bob Swadling collection that will be sold to help cover the healthcare costs of Sebastian Midtvaage, a young magician recovering from brain cancer. All items from this upcoming sale will be on display and available for public preview on Thursday, August 23rd and Friday, August 24th from 10:00am to 5:00pm in the Potter & Potter facility. 

This event's offering of books related to all things magic spans an astonishing five centuries, with titles from the 1600's onward.  Lot #9, a near fine, first edition of Isaak de Caus' New and Rare Inventions of Water-Works from 1659 is estimated at $10,000-15,000. This important volume features 26 copper engraved plates, woodcut text illustrations, and the engraved bookplate and ownership signature of Sir John Cope. Its contents promise to "Shew the earliest waies to raise water higher than the spring. By which invention the perpetual motion is proposed many hard labours performed and varieties of motions and sounds produced."  Lot 16, a fine, crisp copy of Thomas Richardson's c. 1830 The Whole Art of Legerdemain; or, The Conjurer Unmasked includes a gloriously hand-colored engraved folding frontispiece depicting a conjuror flanked by a demon and a coiled snake.  It is estimated at $2,500-3,500.  And not escaping the spotlight is lot 98, a copy of Harry Houdini's 1920 Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.  This example, published by E.P. Dutton & Co. in New York, is inscribed and signed by Houdini, “To Edward J. Rice/The man Germain hypnotized?/Good Luck/Houdini/”My Brain is the key that sets me free”/Oct 28/25”.  It is estimated at $1,200-1,600.

Books specifically about witchcraft also cast their spell over this magic sale.  Two absolute rarities include lot 28, Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft from 1665 and lot 27, William Pinchbeck's Witchcraft: or, the Art of Fortune-Telling Unveiled from 1805.  They are estimated at $6,000-9,000 and $5,000-7,000 respectively.  Pinchbeck's work is reputed to be only the third conjuring book published in the United States.

This sale presents robust selections of modern and vintage magic apparatus, with some examples carrying impressive provenance.  Lot 455, Bob Swadling’s Magic Kettle, is estimated at $10,000-15,000.  This mechanically complex vessel enables the magician to pour four different beverages at the request of the audience. It was designed and constructed by Bob Swadling and used by Paul Daniels on British TV in 1979. Daniels performed for decades on British TV and was one of the nation’s best-recognized stars of the time. This kettle is one of the items that will be sold to help defray the costs of Sebastian Midtvaage's cancer treatments.  Lot 425, a pair of John McKinven custom made maple passe-passe lidded vases, is estimated at $2,500-3,500. Each of these finely tuned vases operates as an independent giant Morison pill box and measures approximately twice the height of a standard McKinven-made pill box.  

Vintage highlights include lot 330, an all original, late nineteenth century French conjuring set with eighteen turned boxwood props, and lot 341, a c. 1925 Conradi card and watch pistol. The conjuring set includes eleven instruction sheets folded in a narrow side compartment; the pistol is realistically rendered with a Bakelite-like grip and an engraved stock. These visually stunning and fully functional antique are estimated at $1,600-2,400 and $1,00-1,500 respectively.  

Potter & Potter has established itself as the worldwide leader in representing the best magic-related archives at auction.  Recent successes include a two-volume spiritualism scrapbook signed, kept, and annotated by Harry Houdini; it was estimated at $30,000-40,000 and realized $66,000 in April, 2018.  Following in this tradition, this sale also offers several choice, one-in-a-lifetime archival offerings. Lot 209, a Servais LeRoy & Co. illusion instruction archive from 1912, is estimated at $4,000-6,000. This collection includes typed and manuscript instructions and advertisements for illusions, gimmicks, pocket, and parlor tricks sold and manufactured by this short-lived but important London-based magic company.  Lot 166, a Chicago Magic Roundtable 1946 cloth covered scrapbook containing signatures and club related ephemera, is estimated at $2,000-3,000. This volume features the autographs of about 500 magicians as well as brochures, business cards, signed photographs, letters, promotional materials, and clippings.  The Roundtable was informal luncheon club that met at the same restaurant day after day, year after year; attendees were invited to socialize, dine, and perform for each other and guests.  And it’s easy to picture collectors getting excited over lot 255, a collection of more than 200 photographs of magicians from the 1940's through the 1990's. These images - some signed - include portraits, studio poses, and action shots of top tier talent including Doug Henning, Ali Bongo, Paul Daniels, Lance Burton, Jack Gwynne, Blackstone Jr, and many others. This comprehensive grouping is estimated at $400-800.  

Prints, drawings, and posters are another eye-catching collectible category in this sale. These visual treats are also perfect for adding a distinctive, decorative highlight to an important personal or professional interior space. Lot 282, a 1916 three sheet, linen backed color litho featuring Howard Thurston as Thurston the Great is estimated at $15,000-25,000.  This rarity features Thurston, assisted by imps, levitating an assistant, with Kellar’s endorsement quoted in the lower margin.   Lot 315, a hand-colored, cartoon-style aquatint by James Gillray titled The Theatrical Bubble is estimated at $400-600.  It dates from 1810 and depicts Sheridan as Punchinello blowing soap bubbles. And lot 321, a portfolio of hundreds of mid-nineteenth to early 20th century conjuring prints and illustrations from the collection of Bob Read is estimated at $300-500.  These items were collection from publications including Le Pêle-Mêle; Pasouino; La Vie Parisienne; La Caricature; Lo Spirito Folletto; Gil Blas; and others.  

This sale rounds out with world-class offerings of autographs, props, cards, automata, and other magical-themed treasures.  Lot 198, a letter on personal stationery from Harry Houdini to Ellis Stanyon dated Dec. 21, 1923 is estimated at $1,000-1,500.  It reads, “Just a line to wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Regards/Sincerely yours,/Houdini”.  Lot 431, four sealed decks of cards commemorating Dai Vernon’s 88th birthday, housed in the original custom display case decorated with Vernon’s silhouette, is estimated at $200-300.  The cards were produced by Congress Playing Cards in June, 1982; two packs reproduce the famous Hal Phyfe photo of Vernon.  Lot 258, two c.1930's era film reels featuring The Great Raymond and Litzka is estimated at $200-400.  The first film shows the couple in various candid everyday scenarios and the second one is a theatrical film trailer for upcoming live performances by Raymond.  And finally, tongues will be a-wag over lot 439, a 2003 ventriloquist’s cane with provenance to the Watertown, Massachusetts Magic Art Studio. It features a plaster dummy head with oversized green glass pupil eyes. The eyes and mouth can be moved in very lifelike ways through invisibly placed hand controls.    

According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, "It's hard to pick a highlight in this auction. Though we have had many magic auctions in our decade-long history, each new offering includes items I consider true prizes. In this sale, the LeRoy archive and associated material strikes me as truly historic and important, and a few of the books are genuine rarities. For show-stoppers, the Thurston three-sheets certainly fit the bill."