Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The 42nd Annual Magic Collectors Weekend - May 20, 2011 Part 2

After the trio of marketing presentations, we begin a triplet of presentations on our wonderful toys. The collectors have been waiting for this.

Gimmicks, Gadgets, & Gizmos

The talented John Carney brings his Magicol column to life. He has held a lifelong love affair with the small gimmicks and gadgets that are the tools of the trade, the “secret accomplices to his theatrical deceptions.” This fascination comes from the “spy culture” gizmos that permeated the movies and television of his youth.

John is a funny, friendly presenter. He is at his best when he just talks to the audience, as soon as he starts reading from his notes he loses all that personality. Fortunately, that only happens briefly.

He starts with defining what a gimmick is: “the extra piece of the puzzle that cannot be considered in the solution.” It is an elegant way to answer the question.

In the physical, these are holders and loads and tanks and clips and appendages. Many mass produced, some still in use today. Some are unique specimens, their use only speculative. They are now orphans created by an unknown magician for a problem yet to be uncovered.

There are items that seem the products worthy of a Bond villain, only existing to complicate the simple production or vanish of a silk handkerchief. It is chiefly in that complication why the Goldfingers of the world fail and why these gimmicks have stood the test of time.

He shows us, via photographs, a staggering array of gimmicks in his and other collections. He adds texture by demonstrating several gimmicks in his own collection. He includes the familiar, like the sixth finger and some not so familiar like a silk which vanishes from his hands in a flash by retracting into a small ball. These mini-performances are welcome in a decidedly unmagical morning. They are also evidence of the meticulous thought and consideration John has put into the work of these gimmicks. The type of perfection John is known for.

Cups and Balls

Edmund Gwen lives! Sorry, that is exactly what I thought when the dapper Bill Palmer hopped up onto the stage. That is not an insult, although it does show my age. He has more than a passing resemblance and that same kind of twinkle in his eye, that old world charm Gwen put in his most famous performance. (Look it up on if you don’t know who I am talking about.)

Bill is a veteran performer, mostly known for his work in Renaissance Faires. He has also translated many German magic books into English. He came to collecting late in life, 2003. He has made up for the lost time by attacking his specialized field with ferocity.

He starts with a Q&A.

“What makes something collectable?” You want it.

“What makes it desirable?” One other guy wants it.

“How do you determine something’s worth?” By paying one dollar more than someone else is willing to pay for it.

Bill has built his collection of cups and balls partially by donation and partially by paying that one dollar more. In eight years that collection has grown to over 1700 sets. Grown with the full support of his wife, he adds. I can’t help but feel the love as he serves up her share of praise.

He loves the minutia of the cups and balls. He has sets from famous magicians, several sets from the street performer Gazzo. He has more variations of the Paul Fox cups than I could ever imagine existed. He also knows their history and differences. One whole case in his dealer room display was all Paul Fox style cups.

The bulk of the presentation is Bill asking audience members to yell out cups that they want to see while he scrolls through his website to find the proper set. This is inefficient and borders on the tedious. Bill is too engaging and should have presented a more structured presentation. If I want to go to his website I would...and have...and you can too, (The site is password protected. You will need to contact Bill for information.)

During the Friday night honor presentations Dr. Matsuura and Ray Goulet were asked the same question, “What will happen to your collection?” They both answered the same way: They wanted their collections to be dispersed, so that they may live again in some other collections. Bill also answered that question. He wants his collection to live, but in a different way. It will be donated to a museum. The important cups will be put on display and the rest used for hands on teaching. Ensuring the long legacy of performing cups and balls will continue.

The Rise and Fall of “Rag” Time: The Magic of Painting With Cloth
Performer and prolific author of magic history, David Charvet followed Bill Palmer with a look at Rag Pictures, a once popular vaudeville act now lost to the dusty corners of performance history.

What is a Rag Picture act? There is a piece of wool framed on an easel, standing center stage. This is the background of the picture. The performer places various shaped pieces of cloth onto the background, almost like building a jigsaw puzzle. Originally, the pieces were pinned, later, using better quality wool, the pieces stayed in place by friction. A picture, such as a landscape, is thus created when all the pieces are placed. The act of creation is usually combined with a story, poem, or witty banter.

The history of rags started in bible schools where the assembling of the picture illustrated a bible story. Many performers, including Dante and Virgil, put this novelty to their shows to add some variety.

I was surprised by the rags themselves. I always thought they were just plain pieces of cloth. In actuality, many pieces were painted with details, trees with leaves, houses with windows. With the event of fluorescent paints and dyes, the rags became a blacklight act. The picture would be assembled, with the regular lights on, showing a scene. The lights are turned to blacklight and the scene changes to something different. Other rag pictures made one figure right side up and another when turned up side down.

Many of these innovations were pioneered by John Balda. His Balda Art Service in Oshkosh, Wisconsin was the primary supplier of Rag Picture materials for over 50 years.

The presenter, David, is a regular at these events. I don’t know where he finds the time to do all his research. His talks are always well prepared and never boring. He is a performer cut from an old school cloth, commanding the stage with his presence and resonant voice. More later as David performs the Rag Picture act in the Saturday night show.

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