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Where/how can I find magic posters?
Now, that, is a good question. There are some obvious places, flea markets (highly unlikely), magicians' conventions, auctions of magic memorabilia, magic collectors who trade or sell dupes (like yours truly), Internet and live auctions etc. Let's just focus for the moment on one particular type of venue - antique shows & paper shows.

What can be more exciting than paying $5.00 to walk around a gymnasium filled with tables covered with glass bottles, quilts, old furniture and reproductions of metal signs? Oh, I don't know, maybe rotating your tires? Yes, antique shows are usually a bit of a long-shot when it comes to finding anything of interest - BUT, the truly dedicated collector will walk bare-footed over hot coals in order to have the opportunity to sift through a pile of old theatrical paper at that last antique dealer whose booth you missed the first time around the room. You never know if you do not try, and just once in a while you might find something.

I read somewhere that one collector observed that people at antique shows and trade shows tend to follow a particular pattern (such as walking around the room clockwise - or was it counter-clockwise?), so that he always goes the opposite route, thinking that this will increase the chances of finding a table that has not been picked over by other buyers. But no matter which direction you walk, it pays to arrive at the show early - as any attendee at the dealers' room of the annual Magic Collectors Association convention in Chicago will tell you.

Although you will probably walk away empty-handed, it is important to let the dealers know your wants, even if all they have with them that day is not for you. It only takes one dealer who the next week purchases a trunk of lithos, that could make the trip to the show more than worthwhile. So, I suggest having cards made up that you can leave with each of the dealers. I put simple address stickers on old playing cards, to leave a card that is somewhat memorable and also gets a smirk when I produce it for the dealer.

One of my luckiest collecting coups involved my meeting a dealer who had a great three sheet theatre poster but no magic in his booth. I asked him if he had any magic posters as interesting as the large theatre poster and he said that he did have a couple back home that he had found in a barn (by the way, why are they always in barns? What is this thing with barns and magic posters???) Anyway, I took his number, called him a couple of times until I caught up with him and the long and short of it is that I bought three Samri Baldwin posters (full color wood cut posters from the late nineteenth century) from him, two of which I subsequently traded for Kellar posters. So perseverance definitely pays.

In future installments of this particular answer, we will discuss trading, buying on the Internet, auction houses and whatever other areas you would like to cover.

How concerned should I be about condition when I find a poster?
The more desirable the image, the less important condition is (to a point, of course). If the piece is a highly desirable one, then you won't be deterred from purchasing it or trading for it, because you have to put $350.00 into it for restoration. On the other hand, if it is, for example, a Kellar "imps" portrait and it is missing the top half of Harry's head, you might pass that up. On the other hand, if you are missing a portion of the head of one of the imps, a good poster conservator could fix that.

An oft-heard myth is not to buy posters that have been folded or torn. While folds often disappear when the poster is mounted, tears can also be rendered near-invisible, depending on such factors as paper loss, etc. Of course, there may be exceptions to this observation, but by and large, folds and tears are not a major problem. Better to have a scarce image and then to try to eventually upgrade the image. You are then left with the lesser piece that you can still trade to another collector. After all, everything need not be in mint condition, when you are talking about items that are 100 or more years old. A little wear, in my view, gives the item a certain patina.

How much should I pay for a vintage magic poster?
Sometimes even the factor of scarcity can be offset a bit by horrible condition.
As with any commodity, a magic poster is worth the price that someone is willing to pay at that moment. One can therefore envision a number of scenarios where the prices could greatly vary. For example are you in a room of magic collectors at an auction? Responding to an offer from an antiques dealer not versed in magic collectibles? Bidding on ebay? Trading with another collector?

Among serious magic poster collectors, the main factors to be considered, in my opinion, and in order of importance are:

1) its rarity
2) the performer
3) the particular image (use of color, detail of the lithography, historical significance (which is closely a function of factors 1 & 2)
4) size (8 sheet posters - and even 3 sheets - are costly and may be impractical to hang) and
5) condition (although this factor can increase in importance when the condition is really bad!)

Of these factors (1)and (2) and (3) are closely tied for first place. Also, as the image becomes more common, the more important its condition becomes. Conversely, the more uncommon the image, or desirable the posters of a particular performer, the condition becomes less important.

When I wrote the chapter on magic poster prices in a price guide some six years ago, prices for original stone lithograph magic posters were not at the levels where they now tend to be. In the past few years, the market has seen a rise in values of some of the less common posters of the more desirable performers ( e.g., Houdini), while more common posters (e.g., most Grover George and Fak-Hong posters) have seen only minimal increases.

As with any other collectible, if you study the market and learn about what is or may become available, you will not get ripped off. In fact, you might occasionally snag a deal! Knowledge is power.

How do I know that I have found an original poster and not a copy?
With the rapidly improving printing technologies, that is becoming a real issue. If a good reproduction is in a frame and matted, you simply may not be able to tell. It might help to look at the litho under a magnifying glass. If it is not a really fine copy (such as those produced from the new ultra high technology) you might see that the poster lacks the distinctive pointillistic quality that goes with an original stone lithograph. Also, look at the condition of the paper. Does it have the richness of the paper produced 100 or more years ago - and does any aging look to be consistent with what it purports to be? If you are buying on ebay, beware of the seller who is evasive about the provenance of the item and/or refuses to offer you return privilege for a big ticket item where there was no guarantee of authenticity. Remember - caveat collector!

Is it the real McCoy?
Keep in mind that even before the newer printing technology, there were already a number of very well done reproductions. Most notable among these is a truly excellent reproduction of Harry Houdini's "King of Cards" poster that was published in the early 1960's (a later less real looking repro was also published). Because of the production values of the earlier reproduction, it is very hard to tell whether you have the original or a copy. Hint - one of the repros lacks the name of the printing company in the lower right hand corner. Also, any poster with the words "Lee Jacobs," is probably a reproduction. For more details, feel free to email me.

How should I care for my poster(s)?
Ideally, the poster should be framed and displayed, so that it can be enjoyed, although limited wall space might preclude this option for all of your posters. Use a framer who is familiar with archival framing, also known as museum framing. Do not dry-mount on foam board, please! You will want to use an acid free mat to keep the glass from touching the poster, and you should use UV (ultra violet) glass or, (in one sheet or larger lithos) plexiglass. Prior to framing, the poster may require some restoration. This is ordinarily done by paper conservators, who may perform the restoration in conjunction with mounting of the poster. See linen mounting, below. Restoration is often performed with water colors, matching missing portions, filling in portions of missing margins, that sort of thing.

There are some who advocate the encapsulation of the poster in an acid free mylar sleeve. Please do not confuse this with encapsulating the poster by laminating (which is slightly less favorable than stapling the poster to your wall) or otherwise using a permanent adhesive on it. The advantage to encapsulating the poster by simply placing it into a temporary sleeve is that the poster is allowed to fully breathe, there is no disturbing the natural state of the litho. For historical purposes, for example, if there is anything on the backside of the poster you may want to leave it undisturbed.

What is linen mounting?
Nearly all of my posters have been linen mounted. Either I have purchased them that way from a dealer or other collector, or I have sent them off to a poster mounter to have them done, after. Keep in mind that the term "linen mounting" is a bit of a misnomer, in that the poster is not mounted directly onto the linen or cloth backing - but is adhered with archival paste, to acid neutral rice paper. The paper, in turn, is affixed to a larger piece of cloth. Make sure that the person who is performing the mounting assures that it is reversible.

If you are not going to display the poster, I hope that you will at least store it flat. Keeping a linen mounted poster rolled in a tube may eventually cause some removal of the poster from its backing as changes in moisture or temperature could cause the poster to expand and contract. If you do have to roll it, I suggest taking it out once in a while. Better yet, if it is a large poster that you cannot display or store flat, leave it unmounted.

Whom do you recommend for linen mounting?
I have had excellent results with Sei Peterson at The Poster Repair Company, 1810 Maryland Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201 (410-625-4917) and Chameleon Restoration, 61 Greenpoint Avenue 4th floor, #11, Brooklyn, NY 11122 (718-744-0508). Call first to let them know that you are sending them a poster, to check rates and to learn their backlog (which can vary). I usually send the poster rolled and gently but securely packed, well sealed in a tube of PVC tubing - via UPS second day air or Federal Express.

When are you going to stop asking these annoying questions?

What books do you suggest?
100 Years of Magic Posters by Charles and Regina Reynolds. Although outof print, copies crop up on ebay from time to time. Pound for pound, it is the book. Unfortunately, at any given time, pages of it are being sold on ebay by cretins who disingenuously refer to them as two-sided poster reproductions or "prints."

Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre by David Price (Cornwall Books, 1985). Yes, the same David Price mentioned in the Strobridge Gazette. Out of print but occasionally available. This is a close second - It has many wonderful and unique posters reproduced, quite a number in full color.

Panorama of Magic, later republished as Magic: A Picture History by Milbourne Christopher. Also by the same author, The Illustrated History of Magic

1980 Sotheby's Catalog of the Poster collection of James Findlay sale - I think that being there would have been akin to having been to a great World Series game.

Posters, Identification and Price Guide edited by Tony Fusco. This is part of the Confident Collector series, and can still be found in bookstores. The chapter on magic posters, written by the undersigned, is admittedly a bit out of date (a 3rd edition will hopefully come out this century) but it at least does catalog a sampling of what is out there.

Want more information? Send me your questions!

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