The Magic of Magic

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Potter and Potter

Though eyes turn dim, and ears mere ornament,
May we with inner senses sense beyond

    – Karl Germain, “A Winter Solstice Sonnet”

There is a subtle, invisible essence generating from all things.  That’s a basic magic belief.  Magicians in every culture have attempted to tap into and manipulate that essence since the beginning of time. 

Karl Germain a magician-illusionist in the early-20th century was no different.  What made him different was the grace with which he performed his feats.

His father developed numerous props to help him in his elegant illusions.  Like any great magician, he was a master of misdirection.  By controlling their attention, Germain was able to trick audiences into believing what they thought they saw.  

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1878, Germain began practicing magic as a boy.  At the age of eight he presented an impromptu version of the “Spirit Cabinet” for two schoolmates.  By 20, he was touring the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits.  In Britain and Ireland Germain was billed as “The American Wizard.”   

I am acting contrary to his express wishes in presenting these publications to the fraternity because he should at long last be given credit for the tricks his fertile brain added to the history of magic, despite the fact that he wanted no part of such laurels.
— Stuart Cramer

His routine included a dove act, a full light spirit séance, mind reading, a flower growth illusion and his legendary Egyptian water jars.  The water jars was an illusion in which ten metal jars were shown empty.  Then they all miraculously filled with water which was poured into an aquarium.   

By 1915, Germain was one of the most renowned magicians in the world, known for his well-designed performances, inventiveness and color posters.  By 1916, the magician lost his eyesight and was no longer able to tour. 

Germain’s act was cloaked in secrecy.  When he was onstage he made sure to lock his trunks so none of his secrets would be discovered.  He also refused to discuss any of his tricks with fellow performers.  With few exceptions in later life, he also refused to be photographed or recorded.

His secrets would have gone to the grave with the magic man if not for his friend Stuart Cramer.  Cramer, a novice magician, knocked on Germain’s door one day in the 1930s.  That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Germain’s death in 1959. 

Cramer took care of the aging magician, ran errands and was his companion.  He also kept notes of their conversations.  After Germain’s death, Cramer gathered together his friend’s diaries, notes, and scrapbooks and wrote two books on the magician.

"I am acting contrary to his express wishes in presenting these publications to the fraternity because he should at long last be given credit for the tricks his fertile brain added to the history of magic, despite the fact that he wanted no part of such laurels,"  Cramer said.

The books included over 100 effects, many previously unpublished; full-color Germain poster reproductions; photos and memorabilia; plus Germain’s lectures, notes, writings, letters, artwork and poetry.

On May 16, Potter and Potter Auctions, Chicago, featured the magic collection of Jay Marshall Part IV on the block. A selection of Germain’s memorabilia was offered for sale.  

 Karl Germain

Water Jars; 10; nickel-plated; likely Roterberg; circa 1915; each 6 inches high;  $720.  

Lithograph Poster; color;  “Germain the Wizard. Coming Events Cast Their Shadow Before”; three-sheet; Schmitz-Horning Co., circa 1908;  41 inches by 76 ½ inches;  $780.

Lithograph Poster; color; “Germain the Wizard. Witch’s Cauldron”;  three-sheet; Schmitz-Horning Co., circa 1908;  41 inches by 76 ½ inches;   $5,280.

Original Poster Art; gouache; “Germain the Master of Magic”; painted by magician’s father; circa 1910; 13 ½ inches by 23 1/4 inches;  $3,840.

Mummy Trick; 2; wooden figures in form of Egyptian serfs; hand-carved by Germain’s father for vanishing doll trick; circa 1900; each 7 inches high;  $6,000.       

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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