Memories For Sale

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Many lucky collectors at historic sale and auction

In a factory warehouse (quite handily, a manufacturer of cardboard tubes!) hundreds of posters, magic catalogs, magazines, books, apparatus, ephemera, and related thaumatological goods were available to change hands as Mike Caveney and George Daily conducted a sale and auction motivated by their acquisition of Dave Price’s Egyptian Hall Museum of Magic. The field day for collectors took place Sep. 23 and 24, 2000 in New Oxford, PA. A lithographers stone’s throw away from the nearby Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield Memorial.

The Egyptian Hall Museum of Magic was begun by W.W. Durbin of Kenton, OH in 1895. The collection was purchased by David Price (Dave’s father) and moved to Nashville, TN in 1953. David Price enlarged the collection through the receipt of individual donated items as well as by the acquisition of other outstanding holdings such as those of Lee Allan Estes and C.A. George Newmann. Recently, Dave Price decided to “close the museum’s doors.” It’s sale to Caveney and Daily was the result. Caveney retains the right to the Egyptian Hall Museum of Magic name and will most likely merge elements with his own collection to create a new museum in California.

New Oxford, known as “The Antiques Capital of Central Pennsylvania” offered an amiable if out of the way locale for an “impromptu” collectors weekend. The isolated location did not deter a diversified crowd from attending, both to see what was offered and with an eager eye toward acquisitions. Although some said they merely came to look, others participated in a veritable supermarket sweep as they combed through piles or cell phoned “tag team” members 20 feet away to alert them to a treasure before it was spirited away to “the holding area” by another fevered participant.

Featured in both sale and auction were the magicians advertising posters for which the Egyptian Hall Museum was renowned. It is strange to contemplate that in “the time before TV,” lithographic posters were the “commercials” of their day. They were used to arouse interest and sales of products of admission whether for a breakfast food, nostrum, circus or magic show. In many cases the images they excited found a place in our shared psyche. As relics of a vanished era; as heirlooms of a grand tradition or as works of art these lithographic prints have long cast a spell of allure upon many lovers of magic.

Attendees were assailed by an eye popping display of the wares offered as they were admitted at 2pm on Saturday afternoon for an inspection of Sunday’s auction items and participation in Saturday’s fixed price sale. Beautiful paper of the great names such as Kellar, Thurston, Chung Ling Soo and Germain abounded. Fascinating items of important but lesser known lights such as Albini and Von Arx tantalized. There were also some so obscure that naught but their name on a lobby card remains. Many found takers; new owners to cherish and admire them. For other pieces this was the commencement of a hegira from collector to collector.

The sale and auction provided an opportunity to acquire a piece of “triple thick” magical history. The majority of items purchased combined the qualities of an artifact of magic’s past; a memento of the Egyptian Hall Museum and a souvenir of this historic sale.

–Richard Cohn

Sunday September 24:
The second day of the event was the auction which began at 1pm. Doors opened at 11am for people to register and all of the items not sold the previous day were still on display with magicians purchasing the items which haunted them in their sleep. Many magicians were not able to stay for the second day, but there appeared to be more than 100 people at the auction with several not attending the previous day.

Prior to the auction Mike Caveney told how the purchase of the Egyptian Hall came about and explained that we should thank his wife Tina Lenert and George Daily’s wife Sandy for allowing them to purchase the massive collection and then encouraging them to sell a portion of it to us. He said that the entire collection weighed six tons. Caveney and Daily have already taken one ton each with the remaining four tons being on display or in storage at the warehouse.

Caveney was the auctioneer explaining that this was the first time he ever attempted it. The auction lasted four and a half hours with Caveney improving as an auctioneer as he gained on the job experience.

There were many highlights at the auction with the nine Chung Ling Soo posters expected to have the fiercest bidding. They ended up selling for between $4,500 to $10,500 each with most of them in the $7,000 range. The item which caused the most excitement was a rare “Cassadaga Propaganda” Kellar one sheet which was estimated at $9,000/10,000 but finally sold for $23,500 to Norm Nielsen. The only other item which sold for more than $10,000 was Chung Ling Soo’s “Flower Growth” poster which also went to Nielsen.

Out of the 215 items offered at auction 210 of them sold. The total money spent at the auction was more than US$400,000.

Although there were very good deals to be had a majority of the items sold were close to the published estimates.

–Meir Yedid

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