Fechner’s Collection is amazing. The last three auctions -
one in France and two in the United States - are only a portion
of it. Most of the items that went on this auction were British
and American. Mr. Fechner is keeping the French collection, which
includes unique Robert Houdin posters, apparatus and an extensive
second auction in the US took place at Swann Galleries in New York
City, on Thursday, October 26, 2006. The beautiful illustrated catalog
contained 375 lots. There was something for everyone: Antiquarian
books (that included various editions of Hoffman, Pinetti and Erdnase)
rare magazines, autographs, assorted memorabilia (autographs, photographs,
letters, etc.), and our favorite: magic posters. There were more
common posters like Carters, a Karmi, Levante, Dantes, and quite
a few high end pieces – like some very nice Chung Ling Soos,
Kellars and exquisite Ionia posters. The highlights among the posters
were the two Houdinis: A rare “Amsterdam Jail Cell”
image, and an “Eclipsing Sensation” poster.
and I have been working all year long to acquire the Houdini Amsterdam
was opportunity to view and examine the lots four days before the
event, and during the morning on the day of the auction.
auction started promptly at 1:30 pm. I would say there were approximately
75 people in the room, along with the many that participated via
telephone and via the internet. Several well known collectors and
magicians attended the event: Bill Kalush, David Blaine, Ricky Jay,
John Gaughan, George Daily, Charles and Regina Reynolds, Roger Dreyer,
Herb Zarrow, Meir Yedid, Mario Carrandi, etc.
first lot was a Casino de Paris Annie Abbott poster. We wanted that
poster. Things started with us obtaining that particular lot at
$1900. This done, our strategy was to wait through 180 more lots
for the Harry Houdini Amsterdam piece. Things went as expected during
this event: The book people bid on the books they were looking for,
the British magicians were able to go home with some David Devant
treasures, poster collectors were able to obtain that image they
were looking for…and then…there was mysterious bidder
# 419 obtained almost every high end piece in the auction –
at a dear price, we might add. This bidder was determined to outbid
anyone that stood in his way. The Monkey Cups and Balls Automaton
was purchased for 30K, we think he also got the Chung Ling Soo stage
costume at an unprecedented price of 13K. The auctioneer even joked:
“I think someone is going to have fun on Halloween.”
Another Soo poster was purchased by # 419 for 28K, and a Dante 3-sheet
poster went for 20K! We might add that never, ever, have we seen
a Dante sell for so much money. In our experience Dante posters
range from $100 - $3000 tops. Mr. 419 purchased a rare Abe Duval
poster for 15K and a David Devant cinematographic flip book for
44K (yes: $44,000 US Dollars).
came the Houdini posters…All we can say is that Norm put up
a good fight against #419. Bidding went from $5000…to $20000…to
$30000 to $55000, then Norm raised his card and bid $60000 and #419
bid $65000. We were tempted to bid to $70000, but it would have
been too crazy. This poster was not worth that much. Most of the
knowledgeable collectors stopped bidding at 30K, and the fight was
between us and #419. We dropped out and #419 got the Houdini Amsterdam
Jail Cell poster.
next poster was Houdini’s Eclipsing Sensation. We already
have this image, so we were just sat down and watched. Again, the
same story repeated itself between a phone bidder and #419. The
phone bidder dropped out at $60000, allowing #419 to outbid him
fortunate thing was that now we had enough money to bid on two posters
we wanted – which we would not have bid on had we obtained
the Houdini: A drop-dead-gorgeous Ionia 3-sheet (probably the most
beautiful poster in the room), and a Ten-Ichi poster (we only know
of two poster images of Ten-Ichi – this is one of them).
paid dearly for the Ionia, but luckily #419 was not bidding against
us. We think that this was because the catalog image of this poster
could not capture how beautiful it was in person.
although we all spend a lot of money, everyone was quite happy after
the auction – especially Mr. Fechner. Although he did not
attend, we can imagine how happy he would be with a bidder like
#419, who easily spent nearly half a million dollars.
who was bidder #419? Originally I thought it must have been David
Copperfield. Who else can afford such high prices? Also, he does
not have the Houdini Eclipsing Sensation, and he has to go for it,
I thought. Others surmised that it was a wealthy collector from
Canada. Yet there was a rumor that it was someone outside of magic.
The Auction House would not tell.
in our current electronic age, news travel quite fast. A friend
called us this afternoon to tell us to take a look at the Genii
Forum and check out the link for an Indian Company that purchased
the magic treasures.
that is my humble report. Alongside this message I am posting a
couple of photographs I took of the auction. Tomorrow night (Monday,
October 30) I will be updating our website, and will include more
photographs of the auction and some of the posters. Check us out
then at Nielsen Magic.
thoughts: After finding out the identity of #419. We had a bittersweet
feeling. This is the first time in any magic auction that a private
company outside of magic bids for these treasures. We are happy
for the seller, who is able to get better than expected prices for
the items. But what is to become of these magic items? Will we ever
see these rare posters and apparatus ever again? Currently, it is
great to call George Daily or Mike Caveney and ask either of them:
“I know you have that piece…can we use it in a book?
Do you have information about it?” Or one can contact David
Copperfield or Bill Kalush...or the Magic Circle…And now,
a bunch of these items will be somewhere in India, owned by people
outside our community. They will be gone!