Salon de Magie by Gabe Fajuri and Ken Klosterman
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2007)
Eugene Burger has often said that "The house of magic has many rooms." (I have often said that some of them should remain locked.) One wing of that house is inhabited by The Collectors—and to some, they can be a difficult breed to understand, especially those who dwell in the rooms marked "acquiring and accumulating" and "owning and hording." It sometimes seems to me that this is a group of residents who live their lives blithely unaware of the inescapable fact that one of these days, sooner or later, they're all going to die—and then, like it or not, somebody else is going to own all that crap.
Ken Klosterman, with the help of Gabe Fajuri, has created an elegant manifesto for an alternative view of the role of The Collector—of "learning about the background of tricks, the stories they had to tell, and preserving them for the future." That simple sentence, drawn from the pages of this remarkable and sincere book, does not limit itself to the past, but also embraces the future. This is a role that presents The Collector as having far more in common with an open-armed philanthropist than with a hand-wringing miser. Ownership, in and of itself, has no value; what the owner contributes of himself has value. Ken Klosterman has much to contribute.
Few if any collectors start out as such. Mr. Klosterman, like most, began as an amateur magician, and for a time, in the early years of marriage and fatherhood, he also performed professionally, supplementing his income from the family baking business. But recognizing (with a push from his father) a need to focus more on his business than his passion for magic, he looked for another way to enjoy magic without the demands of performing. A serendipitous visit to Magic, Inc. in Chicago, circa 1970, led to Mr. Klosterman's meeting Jay Marshall, Robert Lund, and Dr. John Henry Grossman three notable figures in the collecting world. Although neither of the specific (and differing) visions of collecting that Lund and Grossman presented to Mr. Klosterman appealed to him, nevertheless, he writes, "I walked out of the front door of Jay Marshall's shop a changed magician. No longer did my interests lie in stepping on stage to amuse and amaze. My interest in magic was now as a collector."
Although this book is intended to document the history, and some of the contents, of the collection Mr. Klosterman has amassed in the ensuing 36 years, he has done more than that. He has created a physically beautiful book that achieves the rare accomplishment of doing justice visually and verbally to the treasures it describes, rather than merely taking inventory and cataloguing the results for the record. He (along with Gabe Fajuri) has written a history book of sorts a valuable reference work not merely of interest to collectors but also for anyone who enjoys studying the history of magic a book not merely about things but very much about people. He has paid tribute to those before him who helped to salvage and preserve the history of the art he loves. And he has offered up a celebration of magic's past, present, and future fueled by a generosity of spirit that makes no effort to conceal the wonder and joy he has experienced through his passion for collecting.
A few years ago I had the pleasure not only of visiting the Salon de Magic described in this marvelous book, but in fact spent several days enjoying the author's generous hospitality. I believe that, over a three-day period, I only left the collection to eat and to sleep other than that, I spent every available moment poring over books, poking through files, probing in showcases, and perusing stacks of posters an experience akin to being handed the keys to The Smithsonian and left to rummage through its contents at one's infinite leisure. I learned a lot, and I thrilled at the opportunity.
As Mr. Klosterman took me through the collection, how-ever, what struck me was the pleasure he clearly took not simply in owning these rare magnificent jewels, but rather in sharing that joy with anyone with a similar appreciation. Whether he was exploring the contents of Dr. Jaks' Book of Mysteries (beautifully profiled in these pages); handing over a copy of Our Magic inscribed to Paul Fleming by his mentor, Karl Germain; tiptoeing through secret doors and passageways; or performing a rare trick of Del Ray's; throughout, his eyes fairly twinkled with the same blissful glee as that of a 10-year-old hobbyist unpacking his latest mail-order magic trick fresh from the mailbox. That mix of joy and generosity is what stayed with me when I left Mr. Klosterman's home, and if you pay just a bit of attention, you might just notice the aroma of that elixir rising from the pages of this lovely book.
The first section, "Origins of the Salon," traces Mr. Klosterman's personal path to collecting, and then pays respects to five men whose efforts as early collectors pro-vided foundations for Mr. Klosterman to build on, namely: Louis Levassor, Thomas Chew Worthington Ill, Charles Larson, and John J. McManus whose original holdings now comprise approximately two-thirds of the Klosterman collection and Charles Kalish, who "sold magic ... and ... was a storehouse of information about magic."
Levassor "was a wealthy entrepreneur who enjoyed both collecting magic and entertaining magicians at his lovely home." "Larson was a wealthy hobbyist who wanted to know how tricks worked ...." "McManus was a lifelong hobbyist magician and lover of rare, unusual items." And "Worthington was a part-time professional magician, ... an opinionated and passionate prestidigitator ... (who] loved magic and loved magicians."
Just as every great magician knows that he could not exist without his mentors, so does Mr. Klosterman evidence the fact that the same holds for collectors, and he pays homage to his in these informative and at times warmly personal segments. This section concludes with a 28-page chapter entitled "Creating the Salon," which takes the reader on a tour, complete with photographs, of the collection. No two-dimensional portrayal can do justice to the reality of visiting the Salon de Magic yourself, but these pages will certainly give you an appetizing taste.
And it must be mentioned that the collection is an unusual one in some ways. While there are certainly larger collections in private hands, the Klosterman collection is notable, among other reasons, for its jewel-like quality; it is rich with standout and select pieces. Yet at the same time, the collection reflects an equitable philosophy; despite the number of literally unique prizes, this is not a snobbish collection that, for example, worships at the altar of Okito but snubs the likes of Abbott's; that glorifies Germain but ignores McDonald Birch.
The balance of the book is comprised of "Selections From the Salon," presented in four sections. The first, "Objects of Wonder," begins with the oldest items in the collection, including a 3000-year-old wooden lock; various cups and balls; and a "Bonus Genus" that was handed down through several generations of the Bamberg dynasty. This segment is followed by several extraordinary automata; proceeds to objects associated with Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, including, of course, the Light and Heavy Chest; then addresses items associated with Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser. This first section concludes with 19th century magic kits of French origin.
The next (and lengthiest) section concerns "Magic of the Golden Age," including items associated with Alexander Herrmann, Chung Ling Soo, Harry Kellar, Harry Houdini, Imro Fox, Carl Willmann, Karl Germain, Frederick Eugene Powell, T Nelson Downs, Theo Bamberg (Okito), and Howard Thurston.
Throughout, the approach is invariably thorough while remaining engaging and readable. Segments typically begin with background material on a given subject or individual such as a three-page overview about automata, or a two-page biography of Hofzinser punctuated by a relevant handbill or photograph, or in some cases, a poster reproduction, like a rare Chung Ling Soo poster or an image of the exquisite Strobridge lithograph, the Kellar "Walking Through the Woods" poster. These historical overviews are then followed by material profiling specific objects, such as a Herrmann Die Box or the Germain Flower Growth.
These objects are stunningly photographed by Mark Mussio, and most of the featured props and objects are presented in full-page color plates. To say the book is lavishly illustrated doesn't begin to capture the clarity and detail of these images. This is a collector's document that, unlike some of its miserable predecessors, will never be mistaken for a mail-order catalog or an album of postage stamps. And every item is also accompanied by the details of its provenance—many of which will often capture the reader's eye with an interesting name or historical note. Of course, such details assure the value of this book to collectors and historians of today and tomorrow, and despite the care with which Mr. Klosterman attends to such matters (with the help of his young curator Sean Owens), he is always willing to learn more. As he writes in his preface: "I want this book (to) serve as a reference, and to be as accurate as possible. Details and follow-up are important!"
The third section, sub-titled "Devices of Ingenuity," features items created by master builders, inventors, and commercial magic dealers, beginning with Carl Brema, and including David P. Abbott, Servais Le Roy, Dell O'Dell, Dr. Jaks, and more. Here you will find material on items like an Abbott-Virgil Talking Skull, a rare Blackstone "Bathing Beauty" trick (also made by Abbott's Magic), Raymond's Duck Pan, and David Abbott's Talking Teakettle. To his credit, Mr. Klosterman refuses, for lack of defining evidence, to make an absolute statement regarding the teakettle's paternity, which he cautiously says "is believed to be the one that belonged to Harry Kellar."
The book concludes with a section sub-titled "Pieces of Curiosity, Puzzlement, and Pleasure," including items which in some cases remain unidentified or otherwise mysterious, and closing with a handful of particularly rare and unusual lithographs. A useful index of more than 10 pages completes the package.
Along with the commitment of Mr. Klosterman and the efforts of his collaborators, the vision of this book has been unarguably realized through the skilful efforts of its editor and designer, William L. Broecker. I have long been a fan of Mr. Broecker's work; he has repeatedly demonstrated a sophisticated and tasteful eye for design along with a superior editor's touch, and this stunning book continues his track record in grand form.
While collecting often seems to reek of the ancients, this is a book that brims with life. Profiles of individuals like Dell O'Dell, Me Duvall, and Stanley Jaks burst with appreciation for their lives and their magic. The description of a prop like O'Dell's Sand and Sugar trick include details of her performing routine; the pages concerning Jaks' legendary "Book of Mysteries" include words from a talk he gave to the Magicians' Guild in 1951 in New York City. Throughout, the props, the people, the pages, come to life and there can be no greater achievement for a book about magic's history, a love letter by one of magic's lifelong suitors.