Top Hat Magic Co.

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 12/10/03 12:35 PM

Not exactly downtown Chicago, but does anyone have any information/memories of The Top Hat Magic Company, of Evanston, Ill? It was seeing their mail-order catalog that got me into magic. Their catalogs were also advertised in BOYS LIFE, POPULAR MECHANICS magazines in the 1960's and 1970's. Were they strictly mail order, or did they have a retail operation too?
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/10/03 02:33 PM

Boy! I spent more time and money with those catalogs and would gladly do it again. They were my first intro to real magic too. Many a great hour was spent dreaming and wishing when the catalog would arrive.

What I remember the most was that the prices were really good for a kid. It may have been a business, but to me it seemed more a labor of love now that I look back at it.
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Postby Guest » 12/10/03 03:44 PM

Jay Marshall told me years ago that Mr.__________? who owned the company, had positioned it for kids mostly, no doubt why he advertised in the magazines that he did. Knowing they were his market, may explain his prices, which were about the same as Douglas Magicland, or Vic Lawston's.
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Postby Guest » 12/10/03 06:00 PM

How many hours have we dreamed away holding that black and white Top Hat catalog? If I remember correctly, most of the items were from David Robbins (DR in a circle under the illustrations), the home of E-Z magic! Occasionally I see one of those illustrations and suddenly I'm 11 years old again... --Asrah
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Postby Bob Coyne » 12/10/03 07:02 PM

Thanks for posting this topic! I, too, remember how exciting it was to read the Top Hat magic catalog when I was a kid. (Found out about it in Boy's Life I think.) Many times I used to stay up well into the night looking over the tricks and deciding which ones to save up money to get. I mail ordered stuff from there a few times. The other catalog I had around the same time was the Flosso Hornmann one -- my Dad even brought me to their shop once. And AL Flosso sold me Hippety Hop Rabbits!! Seems like a different (more magical) world back then. I guess childhood always does. I do wish I had kept the catalogs though. They were a great feast for the imagination.
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Postby Guest » 12/10/03 10:09 PM

In the early 1960's I found their address in Joseph Leeming's Fun With Magic, the first magic book I ever read (age 7 or 8, found it in the public library). Incidentally, I recently found a good used ex-libris copy of that book for my collection, and it still makes me feel like a kid again.

Anyway, I bought a lot of stuff between age 8 and age 16 from Top Hat and Magic Inc. In particular, I bought my Miracle Ball (a Joe Karson Zombie using a white styrofoam ball instead of the shiny metal ball) at Top Hat, around 1968. I still have it, and it still works just fine.

The Top Hat catalogs were the things that dreams were made of if you were a kid. By the late 1960's, in my teens, I was also receiving Trick Talk, the semi-monthly catalog of new trick listings from Magic Inc. Between the two, my sense of all things magical was honed, along with Mark Wilson's Magic Land Of Allakazam on television.

<sigh> What great memories...

Jon
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Postby mark » 12/10/03 11:31 PM

I hadn't thought of those catalogs in years. I suppose I had pretty much forgotten them as being the source of my first magic as well. I have often tried to pin down the beginning, but couldn't bring it to mind. Now though, I can tell you that I found out about Top Hat Magic in Boys Life as well. I think the first time I ordered a catalog I just figured it looked cool, and the price was right. Little did I know that I would soon be Jonesin' for the next catalog...and that's when I knew that I was hooked. Hooked for life, my friends. Oh sure, I try to tell myself that I can walk away from my L&L catalogs any day of the week, but I'll admit it: Hi, my name is Mark and I am a magic addict.
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Postby Andrew Martin Portala » 12/11/03 06:30 AM

Yep, I remember the magic with my first order was chinese sticks and fooled again and maybe the chinese egg bag.
Do you remember if you order so much you receive a free "rabbit in the top hat tie clasp".But it was made back in the 60's because it didn't work with a 70's wide tie.
I wish I had a Top Hat catalog,however,I have my first magic catalog,Flosso-Hornmann.
First order was 3 1/2 in.linking rings 2.00,steel ball and tube $1.00, and a finger chopper(metal) $1.50
I still have it in the envelope it that it came in.
check out some of these prices( this is 1974 or 75)
Metal vanishing cane $15.00
crystal silk cylinder $14.00
rubber dove $1.00

The trick I always wanted but never got was the Mummy Asrah.
Thanks for bringing up The Top Hat Magic Co.Brought back alot of memories.
Got to go Doug Henning is going to on tonight! :D
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Postby Ira Rush » 12/11/03 08:32 AM

Originally posted by Diego Domingo:
Jay Marshall told me years ago that Mr.__________? who owned the company, had positioned it for kids mostly, no doubt why he advertised in the magazines that he did. Knowing they were his market, may explain his prices, which were about the same as Douglas Magicland, or Vic Lawston's.
Mr._____________ ............

"Robert M. Tracey", President and member of the Chicago assembly of SAM"

Can still see his picture on page 2 or 3 of that catalog...

Boy do I remember that catalog and the many orders I placed with them, I couldn't wait for the mail to come when I placed an order.

... and remember boys and girls, send a 10 cents service charge if your order is less than a dollar..


Oh those were the days !
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Postby Guest » 12/11/03 01:19 PM

Hi Guys,

Thought you may enjoy these scans:

http://www.simplymod.com/images/magic/t ... g-1965.jpg
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Postby Todd Karr » 12/11/03 01:33 PM

I also loved the Top Hat catalog, which I ordered from Boys Life when I was a Cub Scout. My friends and I had to combine our spare change to make the minimum one-dollar order to avoid the ten-cent service charge. What a thrill when our package arrived, although I never got the Bouncing Hat to work (apparently a crew cut was necessary). Lots of dreams there for a little budding Houdini.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/03 02:16 PM

I remember it well; in fact I still have the catalogue. Most of it, anyway the cover and the next few outer layers have peeled away over the years. Not surprising, considering that it was acquired in 1956 (when a genuine Rice 12 silk was fifty cents, a milk pitcher $2.50 and an actual Walsh vanishing cane $12.50 - and, at that, prohibitively expensive even though the included an 18 SKS Spectrum Silk with the purchase).

Thats where it started for me as well. And it hasnt ended.

The curious thing is that whenever I run across the catalogue and flip through it, its as though it was only the preceding week that it came in the mail. As I read, every word is remembered just as if it had been first read only a few days before, when in fact its been more than 45 years.

The other curious thing is that until this thread was started very little has been said of the company whereas so many here had their first exposure to magic through that catalogue. I suppose that the brick and mortar that were Top Hat Magic Company in the 50s, 60s and 70s is gone but, based on these posts, I suspect that it continues to exist in another way. Perhaps Top Hat Magic Company is a part of one of the real secrets of magic? Or is it one of the secrets of something larger?
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Postby Guest » 12/11/03 02:50 PM

John,
It is interesting that Robert M. Tracey, and Vick Lawston,(House of a Thousand Mysteries) did start many into magic. Their catalogs,(should also mention the Douglas Magicland catalog in this genre) were our "wish books"....But they are little mentioned or noted today. When Bill Schmeelk gave his talk on Vick Lawston, at The Los Angeles Conference on Magic History, last month, I found it sad, that Lawston's passing just a few years ago, went unnoticed by the magic community.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/03 05:53 PM

I went to Top Hat Magic in Evanston. I think I made two visits there, circa 1972 or '73. I needed to get a ride from the southwest suburbs to Evanston.

They definitely had a shop, and not a bad shop at that. I remember that Bud Tracey was a bit dour and impatient with customers--but maybe that's the memory of every excited kid who comes into a magic shop. I remember it as being small but pretty well stocked. Lots of Grant effects, as indicated in the catalog.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/03 06:56 PM

Jim,

As I live in Evanston now, could you please let me know where Top Hat was located (if you recall).

Thanks!
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Postby Guest » 12/11/03 08:23 PM

According to the address listed on the front of the catalog,(see Michael S.' post/scans) it was located at 907 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Ill.
My first purchase was a set of Adams' Linking Rings,($1.00) the Spirit Silk, that untied itelf, (50 or 75 cents) and the Will Dexter's "101 Magic Secrets",($1.00). (My mother insisted I should buy a book to read .)
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Postby Andrew Martin Portala » 12/12/03 07:22 AM

Thanks Michael S for the great scans! Too cool! :)
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Postby Guest » 12/12/03 12:52 PM

Diego - I also got the Dexter book, though my editon was called 131 Magic Tricks for Amateurs - not the usual beginner's book! I still have a list of tricks I want from that catalog! Anyone remember the floating glass? --Asrah
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Postby Guest » 12/12/03 07:09 PM

Thanks for the wonderful Top Hat scans! I had that catalog, and I recognized it immediately. I was 13 years old in 1965...

I didn't order much from Vick Lawston, but I did get an "extra loop of rope" version of Cut and Restored Rope there (the first one I learned). I also got plans for a Devil Illusion that materialized a devil into a cloth cabinet. Some 35 years later I finally used that illusion plan to materialize an alien on a football field for a science-fiction marching band halftime show! ;)

Jon

Note to Chief Genii Richard Kaufman:

How about a feature article on Top Hat's Robert Tracey, Vick Lawston, and Douglas Magicland? These people started more kids on magic than anyone will care to admit, and they deserve a moment in the sun. :)
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Postby Guest » 08/27/05 01:19 PM

I have been reading this old post about the Top Hat magic catalogs. I am working on a short film about being a kid (I was born in 1952) and studying the pictures in the catalog and dreaming of getting the tricks. Which I sometimes did (including Mummy Asrah!). I am trying to track down a catalog from the mid 60s or so to buy or for someone who has one and doesn't want to sell to do some scans for me.

Any help appreciated. You can email me at: todd@gipstein.com

Thanks,

Todd Gipstein / Merloc
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Postby George Olson » 08/27/05 10:06 PM

My best friend and I used to ride our bikes to Evanston and habg out. As I recall it was on a short street near the El trackes just down from Wieboldt's Department Store.

As a matter of fact, when I was 13 (1949) we were riding home from there and I got run over by a car on Dempster Street at Milwaukie Ave near Park Ridge.

Spent the next 14 weeks in the Hospital and then the entire summer on crutches. But boy did I get a lot of Magic in. Ever do a show on crutches? Really fun. Thanks for the memories.

GO
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Postby Tom Smith » 08/31/05 10:40 PM

Oh, those images were great! I ordered from here as well as Sun Magic in Williston, VT. The illustrations were classic Adams and Robbins and you just wanted everything! I ordered from Boys Life (not many magic catalogs advertised now, what's happened? Don't boys still want X-Ray Spex, Venus Fly Traps, Mystic Smoke, and Money Makers?) in the late '70s and Williston was only 1 1/2 hours away. Though there was no store, the mysteries arrived in three days. Their catalog was a quarter and contained a free trick - a Fortune Fish! I thought it was the coolest thing ever! Twenty years later we used the fish as a cornerstone in a grant application to help teachers get kids excited about science through magic. We won! Who knew where those daydreams would lead? Ah, great stuff! Thank you. Tom www.wonderworkshops.com
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Postby Guest » 05/22/07 01:28 PM

I remember Top Hat Magic Company very, very well. I was in their store in Evanston several times as a child/youngster. My father took me there as a small boy. Here are some recollections:
Top Hat Magic Company was located at 907 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, IL. It was just off Main Steet as I recall. The store had an electric sign over the door with the trademark Top Hat rabbit emerging from a top hat with a magic wand. It was a little spooky, so it was appealing to a small boy. The windows, as I remember, looked like they were never dusted. On the wall on the right when you entered, there were dozens of rubber masks displayed. The floor was made up of small octagonal tiles like you'd find in an old bathroom. There were magic tricks displayed in glass cases that were on three sides of the store. There were also joke and novelty items and false beards--things like that. I think that the owner, Robert M. Tracey, likely had college age customers from Northwestern University nearby, so I think that accounted for the joke and makeup items. In the back of the store was a dark curtain that led to an office. It had an oak desk with an old black dial up telephone on it. I recall seeing Mr. Tracey there standing and speaking on the phone with an ashtray with cigarette stubs in it. There were no demonstrators in the store. I never saw one trick demonstrated, except an "Oh No!" card trick that Mr. Tracey showed to a friend and then gave to him. Usually, you had to ask him for what you wanted. He would let you look at a trick as long as it wasn't in a sealed package or envelope. I remember him saying, "I cannot show you anything that comes in a sealed package". You just had to buy it and take your chances. I did buy a very nice production box from him that had a Chinese character on the front. It was very nicely made and I think someone locally in Chicago must have made it. He was very friendly when I bought that trick, commenting "It is very nicely made" which it was. He wrapped it in a piece of brown wrapping paper and put it in a brown paper bag. On the left side of the store was a door leading to a stairway that went to a basement. This is where he kept his inventory. It was lit by one bare light bulb hanging from a wire. It looked very spooky. My sister said she wouldn't ever want to go down there--you might get scared by a mask hanging somewhere. There was also a door outside the entrance on the left that appeared to lead up to an apartment. I always wondered if Mr. Tracey lived upstairs of the shop. His prices were significantly lower than other mail order magic dealers, and he did not charge postage fees. I was shocked as a boy to see postage fees in other catalogs I ordered after getting one from Top Hat. When you ordered anything mail order--catalog or tricks--you had to wait and wait because he mailed everything 3rd class. I remember waiting three weeks for a catalog that was mailed from Evanston to our house in neighboring Skokie--it took forever. The tricks were always packed in small boxes stuffed with newspaper. I always wondered who Robert M. Tracey was, never knew anything about him. He looked like a magician with a pencil mustache. But, I never saw him do a trick except once.
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Postby Guest » 05/22/07 10:56 PM

All this talk of Top Hat and Vic Lawston, what memories. A number of years ago when Paul Harris spent some time at my house he mentioned that VL was his first catalog and Daryl knew the whole Pumpernickle poem. I have a vintage VL catalog. Like to get a Top Hat....

Tom
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