Auction catalogues and records are also useful reference works. Swann Auction Galleries in New York holds regular magic auctions, usually in October, and recent memorable sales have included the last Milbourne Christopher sale (1997) and most recently the Christian Fechner sale (2005). You can see the catalogue for part of the sale of his collection of American & English Magic here.
I've always found that the memoirs and biographies of great bookmen are full of interesting and useful information for collectors and dealers alike. David Meyer, who edits MCA's quarterly journal, Magicol, has published two highly entertaining book-collecting memoirs, Memoirs of a Book Snake: Forty Years of Seeking and Saving Old Books (Waltham Street Press, 2001) and Inclined Toward Magic: Encounters with Books, Collectors and Conjurors (Waltham Street Press, 2003).
Inclined Toward Magic includes a description of Meyer's pursuit of a copy of the first edition of Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), the first English-language book to describe the techniques of performance or stage magic and to separate them from witchcraft and black magic. All obtainable copies of the first edition of Discovery of Witchcraft were destroyed in 1603 at the time of the accession of James I, who had denounced it in his Daemonologie (1597). Thus it is exceedingly rare, and the sky is probably the limit for copies of the first edition. Even later editions, translations, and facsimiles are hard to find, and you can probably name your price.
Another prominent collector with an interesting story is Ricky Jay, star of his own Broadway magic shows, James Bond blockbusters, and David Mamet ensemble films. Jay was the subject of a famous New Yorker profile by Mark Singer in 1993, in which much is to be learned about his pursuit of great magical rarities like Thomas Ady's A Candle in the Dark, or a Treatise Concerning the Nature of Witches and Witchcraft (1656) and his curatorship of the John Mulholland Library of Conjuring and the Allied Arts, likely the greatest magical library still in private hands (those hands are now David Copperfield's). The Ricky Jay profile is available on his website here.
Electronic Magic Resources
Is it possible that technology will soon answer all of the magic collector's bibliographical questions? One is tempted to say, "Yes," when one has a look at what the Conjuring Arts Research Center, a new private, nonprofit organization based in New York City, is doing. Besides hosting an excellent 9,000-volume library of magic books and undertaking an ambitious publication plan, including Gibecière, a finely produced, very scholarly journal of magic history, the Center, like many other scholarly institutions, is engaged in a digitization project that has produced "Alexander," a huge, searchable database of over 600,000 pages of magic history. If you are serious about magic books, I would certainly recommend browsing the Conjuring Arts Research Center.
Clearly, the high end of magic books is not for every interested collector or dealer. Price alone is a barrier. But magic books in general are becoming more collectible, and the ages of collectors are dropping. This is partly the Harry Potter effect, and partly due to the success of contemporary stage magicians such as Criss Angel (Mindfreak on A&E). The recent success of the novel Carter Beats the Devil prompted an upsurge in collecting Carter the Great memorabilia. A movie biography of Houdini is set to begin filming with Catherine Zeta-Jones this summer, and could continue to spur interest in magicians. Due for release in August is The Illusionist, a movie about a stage magician in Vienna in 1900 for which Ricky Jay acted as consultant. It is based on a short story by Stephen Millhauser, collected in The Barnum Museum (1990).
In Part II of this article, I'll discuss other approaches to buying and selling magic books.
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