Potter & Potter Auctions' February 23 Magic Sale Conjures Nearly $460,000
Chicago—Potter and Potter Auctions' highly anticipated midwinter sale delivered outstanding temptations as well as sales results. After a long and exciting day, 80 lots realized $1,000-5,000, 16 lots made $5,001-$9,999, and four lots broke the $10,000 mark! Prices noted include the company's 20% buyer's premium.
Early 20th magic apparatus caught the eye and imagination of global buyers. One of the top lots in this category - as well as the sale - was #56, Carter the Great’s c. 1910 carved gold leaf wooden table. This item was the centerpiece for many of the magician’s tricks in his illusion show. It was accompanied by photograph of Carter and Evelyn Maxwell beside the table and a letter of provenance from Carter biographer Mike Caveney. Estimated at $6,000-8,000, it made $10,200. Lot #16, Harry Blackstone's c. 1930 production screen illusion was estimated at $1,500-2,600 and sold for $8,400. This self-contained trick was made up of a large four-fold black screen with decorative panels accented with flowers and birds; a girl can be produced or vanished from the folds of the screen. And lot #122, a pair of framed Harry Houdini owned Bean Giant handcuffs more than doubled their low estimate to change hands at $9,600.
Midcentury and contemporary magicana was also well represented in this sale. Collectors were game over lot #159, a handsomely detailed c. 1952 club sized checker cabinet by Okito. This apparatus enabled the magical transposition of a stack of checkers and a glass full of rice. Estimated at $8,000-12,000, it sold for $13,200. Lot #201, Virgil’s c. 1950 Weird Execution on Mars Space Gun made by Petrie & Lewis topped its high estimate more than five time over to land at $10,800. In performance, a ribbon fired from this specially modified rifle pierced through the midsection of an assistant’s body without harming her, with a bullet lodging in the target behind her. Lot #141, Billy McComb’s Whiskey Egg Bag from 1965 significantly beat its $150-250 estimate, selling for $1,440. This grouping included a cloth bag, three small glasses, a golf ball, and a photograph of the Irish magician using the bag. And lot #54, a c. 2005 jumbo Okito Card Restoration by Dale Pfiester made $9,000 - six times its low estimate. This as new apparatus was based on the Willmann/Okito card restorations built in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
This sale dazzled enthusiasts with nearly 100 lots of vintage magic props and materials by legacy manufacturers Thayer and Owen. Lot #296, a 1930s-1940s collection of 130 original cloth “negatives” used to create the famous master blueprints sold through the company's catalogs was estimated at $5,000-7,000 and sold for $13,200. The illusions explained and diagrammed include many of the firm's most famous tricks, including the Mummy Case, Buzz Saw, and Morritt Cage. The devil was in the details with lot #264, a c. 1928 Thayer Satanic Genii Tube. This early, all wooden model with art deco butterfly stencils was estimated at $500-750 and soared to $2,280. And lot #251, a c. 1930s flap die box, was estimated at $200-300 and made $1,020. This round, mahogany box allowed a magician to control the numbers on the two dice inside even when the box is shaken. This example, the only one known with this feature, was possibly a prototype or a custom-ordered item. It was most likely turned by Floyd Thayer himself, given the quality of the workmanship. It was owned at one time by The Great Virgil.
Now let's focus on a few noteworthy ephemera highlights from this sale. Magician related images and autographs were headliners here. Lot #369, a full-length, framed and inscribed image of Alexander (Claude Alexander Conlin) - The Man Who Knows - in costume sold for $2,400 on its $500-750 estimate. Lot #445, a 1948 hand colored, half portrait of Okito (Tobias Bamberg) inscribed and signed to Litzka Raymond made $2,040, over four times its high estimate. Lot #390, an autographed Confucius quotation in the hand of Chung Ling Soo (William Ellsworth Robinson) realized $2,640 on its $500-700 estimate. Lot #395, a 1930s-40s signed real photo postcard of Arnold De Biere delivered $840 on its presale estimate of $150-250. And lot #460, Howard Thurston's c. 1920 stage and trap plot blueprint secured $900.
Potter & Potter's midwinter magic event came full circle with world class selections of books, posters and broadsides, and other important magic related rarities. Lot #475, a c. 1908 framed Chung Ling Soo broadside titled From the Land of the Peacock made $8,400 on its $4,000-6,000 estimate. It was stunningly decorated with a bust portrait of the magician, a Chinese lantern, and a peacock, all surrounded by Chinese trappings and a black border. Lot #360, a 1929, inscribed and signed first edition Howard Thurston's My Life of Magic was estimated at $400-600 and sold for $1,920. Lot #5, an as new, c. 2010 bird themed automaton called Le Petit Automate by artist Mike Michaels was estimated at $2,600-3,500 but came to nest at $8,400. And its case closed with lot #497, a leather travel trunk that belonged to Doug Henning. Estimated at $400-600, it took off to $5,280. This well-worn treasure retained its original Eastern Airlines luggage tags bearing Henning’s name and his address in an unknown hand.
According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, "This is a sign of good things to come when we look down the calendar at the next three sales from Jim's amazing collection. There are plenty more surprises in store, and I expect each successive sale to be just as balanced and exciting as this, the first. We were pleased to see spirited bidding in every category in the sale."
Image: Thayer Master Blueprints. Realized $13,200