NEW YORK (AP) – Conjurers, cheaters, con artists, hoaxes, pranksters, pranksters, postulants, suitors, showmen, armless calligraphers, mechanical wonders and popular entertainment.
These are the things that interested the grizzled Ricky Jay, the sleight of hand artist, card shark, author, actor and extraordinary scholar on all of the above, who died in 2018 at the age of 72. When he passed away, he left behind a vast treasure trove of rare books, posters, placards and other artifacts that paid homage to many who came before him.
Today, nearly 2,000 of the more than 10,000 pieces that lined his Beverly Hill home will end up in the hands of those wishing to bid in an unusual upcoming auction at Sotheby’s after Jay’s widow, Emmy-winning producer Chrisann Verges returned them.
Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s senior international specialist for books and manuscripts, was one of two auction house experts to visit Verges at his home in California and select what they wanted for the Ricky Jay Collection.
“It’s really a collection of collections,” Kiffer said ahead of the two-day live auction starting Wednesday. “The challenge was to find an institution that is interested not only in magic but also in the circus, not only books but also posters and devices, and all elements of popular entertainment.”
Divided into 634 lots, Sotheby’s estimates the collection at $ 2.2 to $ 3.2 million, hoping for bidders from Jay’s universe, admirers of magic from afar and art enthusiasts looking to decorate their walls. . There is more than enough to choose from.
Harry Houdini is always present, a sort of obligation for any collector like Jay. Closer to Jay’s heart was the early 20th century magician Max Malini. A poster advertises Malini’s appearance at New York’s King’s Theater with a rounded portrait, medals on a lapel, and boastful performances in front of six heads of state. Dating from around 1916, it is one of only two known examples and estimated at $ 15,000 to $ 20,000.
Jay was so in love with Malini that he devoted an entire chapter of his book, “Learned Pigs and Flame-retardant Women”, to the man he described as “the last of the entertainers”.
Malini, Jay wrote, was rarely featured on music hall or theater stages. Rather, he was “the embodiment of what a magician should be.” Not an artist who needs a fully equipped stage, elaborate devices, elephants or handcuffs to accomplish his mysteries, but one who can stand a few inches from you and with a borrowed coin, a lemon, a knife, goblet or deck of cards will convince you that it has worked wonders.
A rare Houdini poster from around 1913 depicts the escape artist upside down in his water torture cell, a very worried look on his face that told the story in the color lithograph by valued at $ 40,000 to $ 60,000.
An entire room on display at Sotheby’s spacious headquarters in Manhattan is dedicated to another that caught Jay’s attention: Matthias Buchinger. He was a German artist, magician and calligrapher born without hands and legs and barely 29 inches tall. Buchinger, who died in 1740 and had lived most of his life in the UK, married four times and had at least 14 children.
Much of Buchinger’s life has been done in calligraphy, including his inking family trees for money. One of Kiffer’s favorite pieces at auction is the tree Buchinger created for his own family, demonstrating his unlikely skill with a pen but also a knife or scissors for intricate paper overlays. Done in 1734, the tree is sold for between $ 20,000 and $ 30,000.
Jay, Kiffer said, was not just a collector who wanted it all.
“He was doing serious research. And I think partly because he was curious about his predecessors, he wondered what illusions and tricks they did and how they performed them. But he has lectured and published extensively. It wasn’t a trophy hunter who would just say, “Well, I want to get the most expensive book on the Conjuring and the rarest and most expensive Houdini poster.” He was looking for things that others might not recognize the meaning of, ”Kiffer explained.
Jay was born in Brooklyn as Richard Jay Potash and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He rarely spoke publicly about his parents, but was introduced to magic by a grandfather, a passionate amateur who encouraged Jay to take the stage and be screened as a boy prodigy. Her first television appearance was at the age of 7. At 20, a long-haired Jay was on his way to stardom, opening up for rock bands and appearing on talk shows.
Friend and admirer Steve Martin once described Jay as: “The con artist who never cheated, the con man who never cheated, the cheater who never cheated, and most importantly, the eccentric collector. of all that is eccentric.
Jay was a frequent presence in David Mamet films, including “House of Games”. , the game and the cards. Paul Thomas Anderson put it in the movies “Boogie Nights” and Magnolia. “
Among Jay’s talents was throwing cards. He previously held the Guinness World Record for a distance of 190 feet at 90 mph. He often turned a modest play deck into weaponry. He could toss a single card so that it went into a watermelon and snips a pencil in half.
Mechanical items up for auction include “Neppy”, Jay’s elegantly dressed automaton and veteran of hundreds of performances around the world in his stage show, “Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants”. Named after Viennese card designer Dr. Johan Nepomuk Hofzinger, Neppy performed a silent routine with his human partner. A card would be torn, handed over to members of the public, picked up and restored by the bespoke Neppy, which stands on a small red velvet stage.
Sotheby’s valued Neppy between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000.
In all, Jay has published 11 books that reflect his web of passions, from maps and curious characters to mysteries unveiled and admired Buchinger. Jay loaned most of his Buchinger treasures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an exhibition in 2016 and wrote the catalog himself.
Perhaps just as revealing to the collector as he is to the collector, Kiffer identified Jay’s fascination with Buchinger this way: “What he liked about characters like Buchinger was not how different they were, but really how similar they were to others.
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