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The Curious, Astounding Collection of the Magician Ricky Jay

They took away so much. More than a dozen Buchingers. The 1903 “Houdini in Russia” poster, commemorating when the illusionist, stripped naked and locked in a Moscow cell, escaped in 28 minutes “to the unspeakable astonishment of the Russian police.” The 1898 window card with the vivid illustration announcing the latest achievement of Kellar, legendary magician: “Self Decapitation.”

These, and so much more, to be transported elsewhere with the bang of an auctioneer’s gavel.

But wait, ladies and gentlemen! Astounded though you certainly are by all that has come before, please remain plastered — in your seats, that is — for the stupefying conclusion to this tale!

After Sotheby’s removed the nearly 2,000 items it had selected — 200 times 10, ladies and gentlemen! — Verges looked around.

There were still thousands of books. “Modern Card Tricks Without Apparatus.” “Will Goldston’s Further Exclusive Magical Secrets.” “Best of the World’s Best Dice Games.” “The Amusements of Old London,” volumes I and II.

There were still the original notes for the acts of magicians long gone, including a 1905 script by Germain the Wizard, once known for his bouquet-of-flowers illusion (“I wish to borrow once more, this time a lady’s kerchief for a few moments…”).

There were still posters celebrating sword-swallowers and spiritualists and strongmen able to withstand a cannonball blast to the stomach. Still ancient pieces of paper meant to be slapped up on a wall and forgotten, yet still here, still celebrating the diversions of another time. Still — so much.

Here, then, ladies and gentlemen, was Ricky Jay’s last illusion, as explained by his astonished wife, Chrisann Verges:

“Sotheby’s took their shipment,” she said. “And you can’t even tell it’s gone.”

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