Sunday, August 14, 2005

The One That Didn't - Part One

What an interesting experience, this blog! On my last post, the great item that "didn't get away" is a magic book I found for a super bargain price (more on that in a moment). However, rereading the post I suddenly realized it's NOT about the book, which I got for a song (hence no heady deliberation and choice of options to buy or not to buy), but about a particular painting my soon-to-be-ex-wife and I aquired in Prague for our tenth anniversary. So I've decided to split this into two separate stories, both interesting in their own way.

It's August 10th, 1990 (I still have the receipt), and I'm visiting a friend in Chicago, on the campus of my old alma mater, the University of Chicago. I pop into Powell's Bookstore, a famous used book store on 57th, right in the neighborhood. I'm perusing the used magic books (in the "Games" section -- shows you the respect with which magicians are held), and out of the corner of my eye I see an old blue spine with gold lettering, "Hofzinser."

Hofzinser, for my non-magician friends, was a stupendous "drawing room" conjuror in nineteenth-century Vienna. He invented a number of standard moves and, more importantly, plots, in use by card magicians to this day. Ricky Jay included a tribute to Hofzinzer in his Obie Award Winning Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, closing the first section of his show by performing one of the master's elegantly structured tricks.

So my hand shot out and grabbed the book, hoping against hope that it wouldn't be fifty dollars or so, since I knew I'd be tempted but didn't really know what the book was worth.

The book turned out to be the first English language edition (by S.H. Sharpe in 1931) of Ottokar Fischer's classic work, Hofzinser's Card Conjuring (1910), a book that was to have an enormous impact on the whole generation of close-up artists who "set the ground" for modern close-up, all the way up to Dai Vernon, who famously attributed his advice to "be natural" directly to Hofzinser.

As I checked the inside cover I was delighted to see a price of $12 on the inside cover, a bargain for this book, even fifteen years ago. But I was even more delighted to see the inscription, "To D.W. Vernon, with proper reverence, Faucett W. Rossio."

In other words, this is a copy of Hofzinser that Faucett Ross (as he's better known to magicians), friend and confidante of Vernon's (and later mentor to noted close-up performer and teacher John Carney) gave to his buddy Dai Vernon. And, Holy Shit! Vernon himself signed and dated it "1932!"

Twelve bucks. THIS one I got! And since I'm tired, you'll have to wait until the next post for the story of what happened when I went back to L.A. with the book and showed up at the Magic Castle with it.

And then after that, the real One That Didn't Get Away -- and why maybe it should have.

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