Here is a photo of T. Nelson Downs next to a rather imposing stage prop, his coin ladder. http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/alma/0/0/0/doc/al000517.shtml
I was curious about this prop and I knew that Mike Caveney now owns the piece so I wrote him asking him to describe its function. Here's Mike's write-up:
Downs coin ladder is in Egyptian Hall Museum here in my home. It is the one pictured in Mahatma magazine with Downs standing next to it. The effect was this, he would borrow a top hat from someone in the audience and perform the misers dream (which he invented) tossing the coins into the hat. He then placed the hat on top of a little platform on top of the ladder. He would then ask a spectator to name a small number. If three was named, three coins, one at a time, would penetrate through the bottom of the hat and clatter down the ladder. Then another number was named and that many coins would fall down the ladder. It was not a great trick but when Downs became a headline act and started working in large vaudeville theaters and music halls, it was difficult for audiences to see his act. This was a coin trick that could be seen and heard from the back row.