M is for Magic

There they were occupying a whole stall in the stables of a Norfolk country house, a collection of magic, five hundred books, a couple of boxes of DVDs and VHSs, several shelves of tricks and other paraphernalia. Ting a ling went the bell in my head. Management was less sure. “You don’t know the first thing about magic,” she said amongst other equally irrelevant objections. I had to make a list of the books and run them through http://www.addall.com at home before she could be persuaded that the books alone were worth (or listed for, which isn’t quite the same thing) upwards of £10,000. Eventually I was given her grudging permission to bid to £2,500.

Come the day of the sale, “Who’ll start me for £1500?” the auctioneer asks. I raise a hand. The room is unnervingly empty. No doubt there are telephone bidders. Silence. The auctioneer takes a bid off the wall. I keep my hand raised. We are at the giddy heights of £1700. And that’s where the bidding stops.

It was only long after the sale that I discovered quite how I bought this collection for so absurdly little. The owner had phoned up all the leading magic dealers before deciding to auction it. During her negotiations, in which she tried to set one against the other, she made it abundantly clear she thought they were thieves and liars. Astoundingly none of them were minded to enrich her on the day of the auction.

It was M for Marlo that made it obvious we were on to a very good thing indeed. Then (as now) I list my stock on http://www.biblio.com which is an excellent site but one that is strapped for cash and does little advertising. Expecting large numbers of new customers to discover books on Biblio is about as likely as expecting a cup of tea to warm up in the Arctic. Thus, in search of new customers, I listed stuff on Amazon (whose charges are extortionate) and on EBay (where buyers rarely pay very much because they’ve been burned too often). We put some originals of Marlo’s Magazine on EBay and had our hands taken off by a frenzy of bidding. Obviously, we could have got a great deal more than we did if we had listed Marlo’s Magazine somewhere sensible, but still we recouped more than a third of what we’d spent.

There’s an element of smugness about all this. Sorry about that. And you’ll be glad to hear I did come to (a little) grief when trying to repeat the trick. First I bought – sight unseen – a suitcase of magic that had belonged to a magician who must have been reduced to performing before very young, very gullible children. And later I travelled down to Essex to buy another large collection only to be annihilated in the bidding.

You may have been thinking that five hundred books on magic is a lot. You’re wrong. Stott’s Bibliography which stops at 1876 has 912 items. He was obliged to publish a second volume consisting mainly of omissions.

My little collection was of books about card magic. Many of these were written by people fond of word plays, some felicitous

others less so

though most of them made you think

It was a learning curve. There were disappointments along the way

but all of it was

that made you wonder if you weren’t perhaps

dabbling in a world of

But I’ve riffed for long enough. Any more and I’ll be

So I’ll be serious for a change. I got quite interested in Ed Marlo (1913-1991) who was born in Chicago as Edward Malkowski and published his early magazine articles and his first booklet Pasteboard Presto under that name. You will find all you need to know about his career in magic at https://www.magicana.com/news/blog/take-two-71-edward-marlo which includes a bibliography of his seventy books (and that excludes magazine articles and ‘manuscripts’ accompanying tricks). Career is just about justifiable as a term: he never worked for profit as a magician, but he did act as a demonstrator from time to time at Baer’s Treasure Chest. As a man, Marlo was curiously unambitious. He worked in a machinist’s shop where he invented any number of labour saving devices. Rather than patent any of these, he preferred to keep them secret and reduce his working day with their aid from eight hours to one. Marlo, too, was fond of word plays. In 1953 he invented a ghastly neologism that is still in use.

The whole business was an interesting example of how bookselling has become completely deskilled. Any Tom, Dick and Harry can buy a collection of books (as I did) and sell them at enormous profit by simply pricing them at less than anybody else. It happens to me all the time. Unlike magic, I do know about military books. And I’ve got used to being undercut by people who know nothing about the subject and care less.

You’ll be asking why I’ve given over the letter M to Magic when one of my rules is that I only talk about books that I have in stock. I sold what I thought were the last fifteen magic books on EBay (getting a predictably terrible price). But I’d mislaid one solitary survivor which is still available for sale on Amazon.

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