Salon de Magie: The Klosterman Collection Part I
Search By:
This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 10/30/2021
Robert-Houdin, Jean Eugène. The Light and Heavy Chest of Robert-Houdin. France, ca. 1844. Sturdy and heavy hardwood box with two heavy swiveling metal clasps at its front, a matching curved handle in its lid, and bearing a diamond-shaped strike plate surrounding the keyhole. In performance, the box was proven to be a simple object, easily lifted by the magician or a volunteer from the audience – that is, until the performer commanded it to change its very nature. At that moment, no amount of struggling from the spectator could lift the box from the stage; it was as if the chest had become so heavy as to be immovable. Then, the process was reversed and the chest could again be lifted with ease. Owned and used by the “father of modern magic,” Jean-Eugéne Robert-Houdin, and chronicled in great detail in his famed Memoirs and Secrets of Stage Conjuring. Arguably the most historically significant conjuring prop of the modern era, constructed, devised, and performed by the magician who helped invent the way modern audiences regard magicians and their shows. Widely regarded as an iconic device of wonder and mythologized as the trick that helped “stop a war,” Robert-Houdin’s Light and Heavy Chest is a remarkable object with an unremarkable appearance. But the symbolism this seemingly ordinary object has been imbued with is nothing short of legendary. Furthermore, its creation demonstrates not only the ingenuity of the performer who devised and constructed it, but serves as an example of Robert-Houdin’s deep understanding of human nature, and how shifting the focus of his presentation could vastly alter the perception and impact of a conjuring trick from diverting entertainment to something in the miracle class. When the Chest debuted in Paris in 1845, the principle of electro magnetism was little known. And therein lies the secret of the apparatus: affixed to its bottom was a piece of iron, concealed by a thin veneer or sheet of paper with the appearance of wood. In performance, the chest could be easily lifted, but when set on a rundown between the stage and the audience – directly over a concealed electro magnet - no amount of force could move the box. Robert-Houdin presented the trick as the safest of all strong boxes, telling his audience he had constructed a burglar-proof chest. With banknotes locked inside, no matter how hard a thief tried, no force could move the box. His valuables were secure. But when called to serve his country and perform in Algeria in 1856, Robert-Houdin found a way to cast a new light on the trick, in the process building his own legend to lofty heights. Instead of focusing the presentation of the Light and Heavy Chest on the box itself, Robert-Houdin shined the spotlight on his own ability as a wizard, and his apparent ability to sap the strength of the mightiest warrior on command. Whereas in his Soirees Fantastiques Robert-Houdin’s ingenuity and clever props had been front-and-center (he was a noted builder and exhibitor of automatons and other ingenious mechanical devices, having been trained as a watchmaker), now, in Algeria, he was demonstrating the might of a very visceral, personal kind of magical power. Robert-Houdin made an audience volunteer weak to the point of incapacity, announcing from the stage, “From what you have witnessed, you will attribute a supernatural power to me, and you are right. I will give you a new proof of my marvelous authority, by showing that I can deprive the most powerful man of his strength and restore it at my will.” The volunteer from the audience – reported in Robert-Houdin’s Memoirs as “an Arab of middle height, but well built and muscular…came to my side with sufficient assurance” – was made powerless to lift the box. “The Hercules, quite cool as to my conjuration, seized the box…and gave it a violent tug, but this time the box resisted, and, spit of his most vigorous attacks, would not budge an inch.” When the man made a final attempt to lift the chest, Robert-Houdin wrote that, “…this Hercules, a moment since so strong and proud, now bows his head; his arms, riveted to the box, undergo a violent muscular contraction; his legs give way, and he falls on his knees with a yell of agony!” It was as if Robert-Houdin had stricken him with an invisible force. He had, of course, used the electromagnet to keep the box on the stage just as before, but he also used the power of the invisible current to deliver a swift electric shock to the participant and send him screaming off stage and back to his seat. The provenance of the Chest is well-chronicled in a range of sources, including Ken Klosterman’s Salon de Magie, at page 115: “The chest was at one time part of the collection of John A. Petrie of New Haven, Connecticut. Well known as a manufacturer of professional grade magical apparatus, Petrie gathered an impressive collection of antique magic tricks over the course of his life. … Petrie apparently sold the chest to Samuel Cox Hooker of Brooklyn, New York. Most of Hooker’s collection was purchased by Charles Larson, and then by John McManus. The chest was among the many items McManus sent to the Circus Museum of Sarasota, where it was marked [with the inventory number] CMS-279 at one corner on the bottom. After Charles Kalish obtained the CMS collection, he sold the prop to Rev. Willard Smith, a magician and collector from Massachusetts. In the 1970s the Light and Heavy Chest was purchased from Rev. Smith for the Salon de Magie.” After its acquisition from Smith, the exterior veneer was renewed, and Carl Williams of Custom Magic in Pasadena constructed a display stand that doubled as a mechanism allowing the Light and Heavy Chest to be performed on any stage, without advance preparation. Ken Klosterman presented it several times, as well as on television. The history of the Chest has also been documented in numerous books on the history of conjuring, notably Christian Fechner’s two volumes on the life and magic of Robert-Houdin. A sheaf of documents related to the history of the Light and Heavy Chest, along with several photographs, and the Williams stand (along with an unfinished model of the stand) accompany the box.
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $26,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium: $156,000.00
Estimate: $50,000.00 - $100,000.00
Number Bids:26
Email A Friend
Ask a Question
 I Have One To Sell