From whom did T. Nelson Downs learn coin work?

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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 02:34 AM

Growing up in Marshalltown (Down's hometown for much of his life) I had long heard that he practiced sleights while working for the railroad. Practicing and refining is fine, but from whom did he learn the sleights? I doubt that he invited coin magic out of thin air. He must have had a mentor even though he invited the "Downs palm." Somebody must have gotten him started and advised him on his efforts.

I also am curious as to how he got plugged into the entertainment circuit where he found his fame.

Thanks for any info.
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 07:33 AM

In Mark Rosheim's biographical introduction to the Dover reprint of MODERN COIN MANIPULATIONS (retitled CLASSIC COIN TRICKS), he suggests that a skillful local amateur magician named Frank Taylor may have been an early mentor to Downs. I have not seen this information elsewhere, does anyone know anything about Taylor and his possible relation to Downs?
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 07:39 AM

"he invited the "Downs palm.""

I don't wish to appear pedantic. But I must ask - did he invent the Downs Palm? It's indisputably named after him, but I'd always assumed that that was because he used it a lot.

It's a fairly obvious method of palming a coin for vanishing and producing it. I came up with it completely independently, before I'd bought New Modern Coin Magic, and I'd always assumed that countless others had done the same for centuries before.

Dave
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 07:53 AM

I found the source of the speculation that Frank Taylor influenced Downs' interest in coin sleights. It was a letter from Faucett Ross to John Braun which was published in Braun's "Of Legerdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks" column in THE LINKING RING for February 1959 (reprinted in the book collection of Braun's columns, p. 228). Ross found a reference to Taylor in Burlingame's LEAVES FROM A CONJURER'S SCRAP BOOK, citing his skill with with cards and coins and noting that until recently he had been working in Marshalltown, Iowa. Ross followed up with research of his own and found that Taylor had worked at the Bowler House (presumably an inn of some kind) which was part of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad station in Marshalltown where Downs' was night telegraph operation during the same period (Taylor was there from 1882 till 1890). So Ross speculates that Downs must have known Taylor and most likely was strongly influenced by his work, though Downs' never mentioned him. Downs' cited Ed Reno as his earliest influence, but Ross points out that Reno was not a coin man, whereas Taylor was.
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 11:56 AM

Dave, Downs claimed to have invented at least the application of the concealment in question to the palm-forward production of coins in a Miser's Dream routine. That's the specific claim in "Art of Magic" as I read it. As I recall, the title to that section of the book is something like "Downs' Latest Method (for the Miser's Dream)"

As to the provenance of the grip and its use in any way, Gaultier insists that it is the invention of L'Homme Masque. In "Magic Without Apparatus" Gaultier calls this grip the "L'Homme Masque" palm, and uses the phrase "Downs palm" to refer to what we call "Edge Palm". (Not edge grip)

Regarding Downs' early influences, wasn't there the hint of this in some thread here a month or so ago, involving Nate Leipzig?
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 05/08/07 12:14 PM

Not sure what the hints are that you're referring to, Curtis, but Downs was a success before he and Leipzig met (and before Leipzig even became a professional performer). They each had heard rumors about the other prior to meeting, but again, Downs had been successful before any of that.

One other thing: while I don't have any particular information on the concealment or Down's application of it, don't believe everything you read in The Art of Magic. There's some sketchy crediting in there.

-Jim
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 12:35 PM

"he invited the "Downs palm.""

Wasn't there some information on this in the Genii issue some years ago that featured L'Homme Masqu on the cover?

Denis

EDIT: Uh... half an hour late. I shouldn't open too many tabs and wait before reading them :-)
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 01:57 PM

Thanks for the clarification, Curtis - much appreciated.

Dave
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 06:03 PM

Thanks to every one on this additional information, especially the Frank Taylor piece. I will be back in Marshalltown in about two weeks and I'll check with the Historical Society on the Bowler House. Very interesting. For some reason it seems for all of Down's fame, little has been recorded on the biograhical end of things. Perhaps he "retired" too early; with more years and travel he might have gotten someone to document this info when he was still around.
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Postby Guest » 05/08/07 06:25 PM

L'Homme Masque and Downs spent time together in London. It appears that Downs got the method of palming from The Masked Man, but it was done with the back of the hand to the audience, simply as a method of gripping the coins.

Perhaps Downs invented the idea of doing it with the palm to the audience, in an unconventional way of concealing the coin.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 05/09/07 06:59 AM

I might be wrong gegood, but I believe I read somewhere that Downs had been writing his autobiography for a time. I also read in another post that a gentleman collected a kind of scrapbook Downs had maintained throughout his life.

Davis Ben certainly has uncovered more information on Downs in his Vernon bio.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/09/07 08:04 AM

Anything that Downs wrote would have been done with the expectation that it would have been rewritten by a ghost writer, as John Hilliard did with "The Art of Magic" in 1909. Downs made no pretense that he was any kind of a writer and thought of himself as a person with "limited vocabulary."
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Postby Guest » 05/09/07 09:59 AM

Again, I'm disappointed that someone as famous as Down's does not have a suitable biography. The Canadian writer who wrote the intro to Modern Coin Magic (Dover paperback) did a good job gathering additional info. He even stated that he was working on a biography but, alas.

I will look at the Vernon bio by Ben. Also, I may renew my membership in the people who have the Ask Alexander database; I signed up early at the lowest membership level and they never supplied me the info I need to sign-in to the database. I don't know if the $95 membership allows access.

Regarding the notebooks, I think there were only one set (I could be very wrong about this). They were assembled by C.R. "Bud" Tracey of Sioux City Iowa who I assume passed away in the late 1980s or early 1990s (a guess on my part). Last month this is what Mr. Hatch wrote about the notebooks (scrapbooks):

According to the 4 page article by C. R. ("Bud") Tracy, who made the scrapbook, at that time (1974) it consisted of 45 acetate 8.5 x 11 inch sheet protectors, for a total of 90 pages. Mr. Tracy continues the article with a detailed description of the contents which included photos, letterheads, businesscards, programs, correspondence, 6 inches of a Pathe News reel film of Downs (the original 300 feet had disintegrated), membership cards, newspaper clippings, telegrams, tokens etc. An few pages and items from the scrapbook are shown. The scrapbook was assembled by Tracy (not Downs) for display at a magic convention. Tracy was a very good friend of Downs, probably his best friend in has latter years, and inherited much of Downs' memorabilia, as I understand it. I have heard that Tracy's Downs collection was willed to the Magic Castle, but don't know if that is true or what the current status might be.
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Postby Guest » 05/09/07 10:15 AM

One other thing: This is for the more wealthy members of the forum.

I get this idea from the county court house in Marshalltown. Recently, someone had a life-size statue of one of the city's founders made and placed right in front of the court house.

How about a Down's statue somewhere else on Main St., near his Vaudeville/movie theater location, a few blocks from where he lived? He could be in one of the classic poses that appears on his large poster.

Anybody with deep pockets interested?
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Postby Guest » 05/09/07 10:50 AM

I seem to recall from my visits to Faucett Ross' house that he sold a good deal of Down's props and materials to CR Bud Tracy.

I believe Tracy moved to Florida at some point.

Just hazy memories, but may be of help to someone researching.
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Postby Guest » 05/09/07 02:36 PM

When I saw Dai Vernon lecture in NJ around 1976 he said that Downs didn't invent that palm but that Robert-Houdin did. He said Houdin used to hold a candle with the coins so gripped (an idea I immediately liked). I have been unable to find this reference in any of Houdin's books so far. But this perhaps links to what John said about The Masked Man; both of them being French perhaps one invented it and shared it with the other.

Best,
Bobby Torkova
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 05/10/07 05:53 AM

Well--it appears that Tracy's lost scrapbook of Downs sounds like a reasonable place to begin a biography of the King of Koins. I'd check the Castle to see if the scrapbook did indeed complete its journey to the West Coast. The American Museum of Magic might have valuable information on Downs.

Lots of traveling...writing a biography is not an inexpensive undertaking...
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Postby Guest » 05/10/07 10:07 AM

Deep pockets would be necessary. Some time back Roy Rogers contacted a sculptor friend of ours to learn how much a life-size bronze of him on Trigger would cost. Our friend said without hesitation, $1 million. (Roy didn't buy.)

A bronze of a man without a horse would be cheaper, but figure not a nickel less than $150,000 and that's low, I think.

As for a biography, the problem is Downs was a small-town boy who worked up an act, went off to vaudeville and did it, did well with it, made his money, and then, instead of living in the big city as he probably could have, went back to small-town America and lived out his days. It would be hard to make a story out of that absent a cache of his letters where his own voice could be heard.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 05/10/07 10:33 AM

Hi David--I believe Downs wrote letters periodically. Wasn't he in touch with Eddie McLaughlin and Faucet Ross during the 1930s?
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Postby Guest » 05/10/07 11:49 AM

Yes....and lots of letters have found their way into private hands.
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Postby Guest » 05/10/07 12:06 PM

The Downs-McGuire correspondence was published in THE LINKING RING many years ago, and latter republished in booklet form by Karl Fulves, I believe. The Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin (which recently acquired the Mamet collection with its Ricky Jay correspondence) has extensive correspondence from Downs to Houdini, when both were young and headling in Europe. Great stuff. If the Houdini side of the correspondence could be found (I suspect that C. R. "Bud" Tracy had it and donated it to the Magic Castle), that might make a nice volume...
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Postby Guest » 05/10/07 07:05 PM

When I saw Dai Vernon lecture in NJ around 1976 he said that Downs didn't invent that palm but that Robert-Houdin did. He said Houdin used to hold a candle with the coins so gripped (an idea I immediately liked). I have been unable to find this reference in any of Houdin's books so far. But this perhaps links to what John said about The Masked Man; both of them being French perhaps one invented it and shared it with the other.

Best,
Bobby Torkova
Bobby, I don't think you'll find it in the Hoffman translation of Robert-Houdin's "Melting Coin". However, Hoffman did describe something very close to this (and even closer to what we now know as "Edge Grip Display") in Later Magic. See "The Melting Coin (Improved)".

Which is not to say that Robert-Houdin didn't invent or use the move as Vernon described, just that you're not likely to find that reference in the Hoffman translation.
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 05/11/07 06:34 AM

Thank you for providing the correct name for Eddie McGuire Mr. Hatch. I had mistakenly wrote McGuire as McLaughlin in my earlier post. You have provided interesting and valuable information for anyone thinking about a bio on Downs...

Is there a Castle member on the West Coast willing to ask if the Tracy scrapbook is housed in the Castle archive/library? This is getting interesting...
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Postby Guest » 05/11/07 07:37 AM

Leo, I wasn't sure that McLaughlin was in error in your post, as Eddie McLaughlin of Clinton, Iowa was a skilled coin man and one of Downs' closest friends in his later years. So there may have been correspondence between them, although given their geographical proximity, probably less than with Downs' friends that were further away...
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 05/15/07 05:51 PM

Yes Mr. Hatch. you are correct again. I believe that Downs corresponded with both gentlemen.
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Postby Guest » 05/16/07 02:25 PM

Someone has been working on a biography of Downs for a couple of years....but info is hard to come by. I have seen a rough draft of what has been dug up so far.
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Postby Guest » 05/22/07 10:35 AM

Many of the answers, from the man himself, appears in the MUM article at the link below:

Regarding the Downs bio, would it be possible to get a copy of the draft?

I'm heading to Marshalltown on Thursday and I'll poke around the museum there to see what else I can find.

See Down's article: http://www.illusionata.com/mpt/view.php ... e=articles
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Postby Guest » 11/10/07 08:57 PM

The earliest reference to the concealment with the candle that Vernon references, that I've found, is in Stanyon's 1901 book, Magic.

It's an unnamed reference after the Finger Palm (Front Finger Clip) entry.
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