Bob Nelson's Secret Invention

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

Postby RickBelford » 09/08/08 02:27 PM

Hi!

I won Bob Nelson's Secret Invention on the Billy McComb auction. I understand this to be a two way communication device used by mentalists. I was hoping someone might be able to provide me instructions to the device and also be able to tell me a little about its history.

Thanks!
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 09/09/08 06:07 AM

Rick:

This is a nice piece to have because of its association with Billy, but if you actually plan to use such a device (and the vast majority of professional mentalists don't), there are much better quality devices available today with better signal strength and more "invisibility."

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Postby Steve Bryant » 09/09/08 06:56 AM

Do you have the catalog ads for it? If not, email me (stevebryant99@gmail.com).
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 09/09/08 07:09 AM

I've never used such items, Steve, but do know a few folks who did. Let me ask around for a few days. I'm making the presumption, of course, that you're asking about the newer units. If you're inquiring about the old Nelson unit, I can ask around for that, as well. I have or have had a fair amount of Nelson ads and apparatus over the years, but have disposed of most if not all of it.

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Postby Brad Henderson » 09/09/08 06:11 PM

The Secret Invention was designed and built by Bill Dodson of Louisville KY for Bob Nelson. It is my understanding that there are different versions, beginning with units which shocked, to units which vibrated. I do not know if any of the voice transfer units were technically part of the "secret invention" series or not.

Bill Dodson was a fascinating man with an amazing history.
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Postby Diego » 09/10/08 12:00 AM

Robert Nelson first started featuring the "Secret Invention", as early as 1939, and later models were named, the "NEW Secret Invention". It IS likely, that if BIll Dodson didn't make the first ones, he did make most of them, certainly the best ones.
Please remember, while the "S.I" looks cumberson today, it was the most advanced in radio communication then. Also in the 1930's and 40's, Nelson sold or leased them, for $599.00! You could buy a buzz saw illusion or a new car with that money back then...You had to have a serious reason to use it, unless you were a hobbyist/collector with money to spend.
The "S.I" was used for 2-way communication for mental acts, horoscope pitchers, psychic work. Nelson even hinted at it's value in listening covertly to conversations or in card games.(!)
Nelson was constantly beating the drum, about how much MONEY could be made using it, as he did all his products. Several models of the "S.I" came out, over the years.
By the 1960's as transistors came out, he sold a lower priced product, called, "The Mental Mic", and according to one former employee, he remembered maybe selling only one or two a year, by then, as 2-person mental acts had become mostly passe'.
He later sold "Psycho the Telepathic Brain", that did give a silent impulse, for coding/guiding the person on the receiving end. T.A. Waters told me those were partially made from parts used for remote-control model airplanes.
Despite the high prices they originally sold for, they have gone down in price, the rare times I've have seen them sold. I asked the pricest magic collectable dealer a few years ago what he thought they would bring, and he said $100-150. Hopefully they will go up, as I have 3 different models.
The "S.I." did come with an instruction manual, giving details in it's use and upkeep.
As stated in a thread years ago, most cell phones can do what the "S.I" and "Psycho" did, for much less money, and much smaller besides.
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Postby Dick Christian » 09/10/08 01:45 PM

An ad for Nelson's "New Secret Invention" appears on page 79 in the Nelson Enterprises Catalog #26 dated 1959.

The original Collectors Workshop also offered such a device, using then "state of the art" equipment in the 1980s. Called "3001" it appears in a full ad on page 13 in their 1987 catalog and again in a much smaller ad at the bottom of page 32 in the 1990 catalog. Their explanation for the smaller ad is"Our previous catalog included a full page ad on this. But we sold too many that way. This is just too good." The 1990 price was $1,250 plus shipping & handling.
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Postby Diego » 09/10/08 10:46 PM

I talked with someone today, who was a good friend of both the Nelsons and the Dodsons, who said in 1939, Dodson certainly could have made the first "S.I." for Nelson and considering the (then) advanced device it was, who else?

The Nelsons and Dodson were close friends, continuing years with Betty Nelson and the Dodsons, years after Bob's death.
In the 1940s and 50s, the "S.I." was Nelson's highest end item, with 2 and sometimes 4 page ads in his catalog pushing it.
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Postby Steve Bryant » 09/10/08 11:05 PM

I would love to have witnessed a Billy McComb routine that used the Secret Invention, especially in his usual style.
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Postby The Great Roy » 11/21/09 01:05 AM

I just relocated my grandfather's Secret Invention, date of sale July 9, 1948 (the same year transistors were invented). The warranty is still tacked to the inside of the black felt-lined mahogany box and bears Bob Nelson's signature. Both transmitter and receiver have three small vacuum tubes and places for 2 "B" batteries. The earphone wires are threaded through a rhinestone necklace. All in all, a classy piece of equipment.

Does anyone out there have an Operator's Manual for an S.I. of this vintage?

-----------
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Heir to The Great Roy and Madame Helene
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Postby David Alexander » 11/21/09 02:45 AM

Dan,

You'll have a bit of trouble getting "B" batteries as I don't believe they're made any longer.

You'll find instructions for a replacement you can make here:
http://www.techlib.com/electronics/B-battery.htm

David
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Postby Diego » 11/21/09 06:57 AM

Dan,
Sounds like you have a nice complete set, with the box and contents. I could check to see if any of my instruction booklets would work for the 1948 model.
Tell us more about the career of Roy and Helene.
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Postby Jim Riser » 11/24/09 07:49 PM

B batteries! My we are dating ourselves. I had a couple pre-transistor portable tube radios which used B batteries.

Bill Dodson wrote a nice series of articles for The Linking Ring describing several ways to use electronics in magic. I made my first "talking tea kettle" as a result of reading his articles on induction.

I clearly remember reading the old ads for the Secret Invention and I was working on a project a few years ago which required just such a device. I settled on this unit:

http://www.hearmore.com/store/ProdView. ... onal-Pager

As you can see, these are much cheaper than Bob Nelson's units. These vibrating pagers are designed for in home use and have limited range but are perfect for doing some "mental type" effects. I have used mine for a number of casual gatherings where failure was an option with no problems. For paying gigs I would never rely on electronics as I do not consider them to be 100% reliable. For informal settings where no pay is involved, these can be fun.

To be able to feel the vibrations clearly I wear my receiver unit in my sock or inside the waist band. This makes good body contact and helps to silence any vibration noise from those with super good ears.

For those wanting to play with a poor man's Secret Invention these are an OK substitute.
Jim
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Postby Jeff Haas » 11/26/09 02:11 AM

Wow, I had no idea there were "B" batteries. I had wondered why they skipped from A to C.
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Postby Jim Riser » 11/26/09 07:03 PM

Jeff;
There are many cool things from "the old days" besides B batteries.

This may be OT ....
When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, I set up an old tube shortwave radio in our attic with an antenna run the full length of the house. This radio featured a "magic eye" tube to assist in fine tuning faint signals. These magic eye tubes were mounted so that they were seen from the end or top of the tube. A circular green light was seen within them. This magic disc of green had a pie shaped piece of the green glow which would close down as a station was tuned in. Lots of guys my age listened to stations from all around the world, wrote down what was heard, and sent off letters to these foreign countries begging for QSL cards to confirm our receiving the signal. Many of us had cards from all around the world. In "the old days" we lived our geography.

Years later I picked up my first FM wireless mike receiver. To my surprise it had an identical "magic eye tube" for assistance in tuning in the mike. I think I still have this dinosaur out in the storage shed. The funny thing is that the mike for it was transistor!

All of these tube radios/amps emitted an AC hum that you do not get with today's equipment. One of the problems with tube equipment was that the tubes (like light bulbs) would eventually burn out. In those days you would draw a map of the chassis and write down individual tube numbers as you removed them - so they could later be replaced correctly. This collection of fragile glass tubes with there wonderful array of internal grids were taken to an Olson Electronics or Radio Shack type of place where you could test them. You did this yourself. The tube number was matched up with the correct socket in the tester and the top wire, if needed, was connected. Next the test button was pushed. The tube would begin to warm up and glow while the meter on the tester would indicate if the tube was still good. The bad tube(s) would be identified, replacements bought, all taken home, and replaced within the radio. It once again came to life!

We did grow up in an exciting era. Items like the Secret Invention were miracles at the time when Dick Tracy wrist radios were still fiction.

You would not believe at the goodies that used to come in chemistry sets or what we used to do with the old shoe x-ray machines. We could live on the edge in those days unprotected by tons of regulations! It's amazing that we lived through some of it.
Jim
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Postby David Alexander » 11/27/09 10:46 AM

As Jim and I are about the same age he brought back a number of memories with his last post. How did we survive our childhood when we were allow to play on our own and weren't over-organized and driven from activity to activity like today's kids.
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