Final Part of Jim Rawlins’ Magic Collection Comes to Auction with Potter & Potter

Liz Catalano
Published on
Chuck Vance’s giant card wheel from the Rawlins collection. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.
Chuck Vance’s giant card wheel from the Rawlins collection. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.

For 25 years, Jim Rawlins built his collection of magic memorabilia one item at a time. He eventually acquired over 7,000 pieces of magic posters, ephemera, costumes, tokens, and more. “People always say you’re just a caretaker for what you have, and boy, that’s really true,” he now says about his collection. In 2018, Rawlins decided to sell his collection with Potter & Potter Auctions over a series of four sales in 2019 and 2020.

“Jim’s a very thoughtful collector in that he wanted to build something that would be dispersed, but he always wanted to do it in a conscientious way,” Gabe Fajuri, the President of Potter & Potter Auctions, said in a conversation with Auction Daily. “He had a lot of different categories represented, a lot of different performers, manufacturers, and dates so that it appealed to all collectors. He loved it all, and he still does.”

The fourth and final part of the Rawlins collection will cross the auction block at 10:00 AM CDT on July 25th, 2020. Almost 500 lots are on offer, a number consistent with each of the previous sales. Several notable items in Rawlins’ collection will make their first appearance, including a card wheel used by Chuck Vance (USD 8,000 – $12,000). The piece, which measures six feet high without the arranged cards, includes detailed instructions to accomplish a matching trick.

A hallway with items from the Rawlins collection. Image from MagicCollectibles.com.
A hallway with items from the Rawlins collection. Image from MagicCollectibles.com.

Each previous event has shown a diverse interest in Rawlins’ extensive collection. “Having something that appeals to a wide range of new collectors or new customers helps drive a successful auction,” Fajuri told Auction Daily.

The first sale, held on February 23rd, 2019, offered several key pieces, including a prop used by Virgil (Virgil Harris Mulkey) to shoot a faux bullet through an assistant. The prop, which included a Space Age rifle, a target, and other necessary accessories, sold for $9,000 after a starting estimate of $1,500 to $2,000. A collection of 1930s and 40s blueprints from the Thayer Magic Company also reached $11,000 after 26 bids. These blueprints contained detailed explanations of the Mummy Case, Buzz Saw, and Lester Lake Guillotine tricks.

The second Rawlins sale of 2019 was on June 29th. Both vintage and modern magic memorabilia were featured in the auction. Standout lots included an unusually decorated Imp Bottle ($7,000) and Tom Mullica’s cigarette case ($2,200), used for his signature “Nicotine Nincompoop” act. Most recently, Potter & Potter presented the third part of the Rawlins collection on February 29th, 2020, the auction house’s first magic event of the year. A letterpress handbill issuing a challenge from the Geo. Innes Dry Goods Co. to Harry Houdini, asking the illusionist to escape from a wooden packing case, sold for $7,000. This price was almost five times the high estimate ($1,500).

Houdini challenge letterpress handbill, 1923. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.
Houdini challenge letterpress handbill, 1923. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.

Rawlins started collecting Houdiniana in 2005. He avoided the category for ten years prior, believing it to be too expensive. Despite this late start, he managed to acquire several notable Houdini items. Available in the first installment of the collection was a pair of Houdini-owned Bean Giant handcuffs ($8,000), while the following sales have included Houdini busts and ephemera. The upcoming auction will offer Houdiniana items from other collections, including a fruit or wine press, a wagon wheel used as an escape device, and a selection of signed portraits and ephemera.

Standing out among these lots is an enameled cast iron bathtub from the residence of Harry and Bess Houdini ($8,000 – $12,000). Sourced from the couple’s home on 113th Street in New York, several items likely located in the top floor bathroom have now been made available to magic collectors. The Houdinis bought the house in 1904, using it as a base to entertain their friends and store escape props.

“The fact that rock-solid provenance backs up what are truly one-of-a-kind artifacts makes the auction of these [Houdini] relics even more exciting,” says Fajuri in a press release.

Harry Houdini’s 113th Street bathtub. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.
Harry Houdini’s 113th Street bathtub. Image from Potter & Potter Auctions.

“With things like that bathtub, while it wasn’t Jim’s, it’s anybody’s bet where the bidding will stop or even start,” he later told Auction Daily.

In a statement for the upcoming event, Rawlins expressed his wish for the future of the collection: “The funny thing about the objects we collect and care for is this: as they pass from one hand to the next, the joy of ownership goes along with them.”

For more information on the upcoming auction and to place a bid, visit Potter & Potter Auctions. The sale will begin on July 25th, 2020, at 10:00 AM CDT. It will be streamed live from the auction house’s gallery in Chicago, and collectors can place bids on the Potter & Potter website, over the phone, or via absentee bidding.