A Price Guide To Magic Books by Michael Canick

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii June, 1997)

Here is a title that will be of great interest to collectors of conjuring literature. Given the increased trade in used conjuring texts in recent years, it might at first seem surprising that no one has previously attempted to produce a volume of this nature, attempting to attach current market values to a broad catalog of the actively traded literature. But on second thought, given the volume of that very same "increased trade," and the volatile nature of what might pass for "current market value," the task seems simultaneously imposing and ephemeral. Also, the very people most capable of producing such a list would appear to possess the least desire to see such an item released, as it makes the task of valuation far easier and more accessible to the tyro competitor, be he dealer or collector, buyer or seller.

So much for why we have never had such a volume before, but Michael Canick has plunged headlong into the dragon's path and attempted to slay him. The result is a workmanlike and easily described production: a comb-bound manuscript of 192 pages containing more than 5500 entries. Up to three valuations might be provided for any given title, including a known "low" value, a known "high" value, and a recorded "auction" sale price. This information is provided in the main list, which is organized alphabetically by author. A supplementary reference section is organized alphabetically by title. Dates of editions are generally provided where available. Accompanying bibliophilic details may be included, such as edition, quality, publisher, the presence of a dustjacket and other data, but such information is spotty at best, and more than occasionally unreliable. The author provides 11 preliminary pages of commentary, explanation, and details of notes and conventions of the volume. Also included are two "straight edges" printed on board stock that contain a chart of all the abbreviations used throughout the volume, to serve both as handy reference guide, bookmark, and as an aid in reading across the columns of text.

The big questions are, where do the valuations come from, and how reliable are they? The primary sources are "magic dealers' lists and catalogs, auction catalogs, and observations at magic conventions and book fairs." The prices were generally drawn from information available and pertinent to the period 1993 to 1997. The author does provide a list of catalogs, dealers, galleries and the like which were included as source materials, but note that none of the valuations provided are individually referenced to particular sources, dealers, sales, etc. Of course, Mr. Canick is a dealer himself, hence his interest in and exposure to all of this source material. Some will note that he is in fact relatively new to the field. Prior to branching out into the realm of dealership, Mr. Canick was primarily a collector of magic-related fiction, a narrow sub-specialty to be sure. Hence there will certainly be errors in a work of this nature, along with debates about the significance of those errors, or perhaps even concerning the author's qualifications, as he wades into territory of which many experts feel protective.

I think it can safely be said, however, that the majority of the valuations here are currently sound. Of course there are outliers, and we are left to draw our own conclusions as to their relevance: while the author mentions the now infamous Neil See auction, for example, he does not indicate which auction price listings stemmed specifically from that sale, a notation that would have indeed been useful. Ultimately, the really pressing question is not how many entries are mistaken, or how many common volumes are missing while rare editions are included, or how many bibliographic details are absent—frankly all of these flaws and more can readily be found—but rather, how long will those values that are accurately rendered actually remain valid? Given the fluid nature of the market, along with inflation, the valuations recorded here are only slightly more stable than the price of personal computers. Some of these numbers are already suspect, by the millennium most will certainly be, and two years after that they will be close to useless. While it may well be that values for the most commonly available titles will remain the most stable for the longest time, nevertheless this can be offset by the fact that the values of the rarest volumes will probably only hold until the next major auction. Individual predictions may vary, but the limited shelf life of this work is undeniable.

Yet while that shelf life limits the book's value, it does not entirely negate it. When you consider that while this book is explicitly not intended as a definitive bibliography—and the absence of bibliographic detail and reliability renders such an intention impossible— nevertheless, it's a bargain as an approximate reference guide. The two-volume Bibliography of English Conjuring 1569 - 1876 by Raymond Toole-Stott is difficult to obtain (as its listing in the book at hand appropriately testifies), and the handful of other conjuring-related bibliographies are also out of print. Certainly the average amateur magic bibliophile, with a few hundred volumes to his or her name, who would like to have some basic reference information along with an idea of the value of his or her collection, will consider his or herself lucky to have access to the wealth of information Mr. Canick provides here. And so, as a poor man's Toole-Stott, if you will, this work will be invaluable to many. For that same amateur book-lover who, considering the speed with which magic books go out of print, needs to purchase used volumes from time to time—as any serious student must—this work will allow for a quick check that the price asked is a reasonable one. By the same token, given the temporal nature of the primary purpose of this book—namely to provide current valuations—along with the minimal production values, it must be acknowledged that the purchase price seems a tad high. Comparable works in other antiquarian fields often command similar prices, but the quality is usually far, far in excess of the low-end job we are presented with here, with not even a single illustration provided. Mr. Canick indicates that he hopes "to publish an expanded/updated edition of this guide in several years." Indeed, buyers would have probably preferred a situation where they might have paid less now, but would have been willing to pay a reasonable price for future and timely updates. Then again, despite the misgivings of some in the industry—just to give you an idea of the subculture, there are dealers of standing who even refuse to mail their lists to their competitors, as if such copies would be hard to obtain—Mr. Canick may have simply opened the doors for similar (and perhaps even better) projects from others. Time will tell, and while there are those who will laud this work and those who will lament it, the truth probably lies somewhere between, and in spite of the course production, most interested parties will break down and purchase the book, grumbling all the while.

8 - 1/2" X 11" comb-bound; 192 pages; not illustrated; 1997; Publisher: Vokanick Press