Sunday, October 13, 2002

Vintage posters have a magical allure

Prize possessions

By Marsie Hall Newbold
Enquirer contributor

Who: Steve Faris, 56, of Mount Carmel, a professional magician who owns 200 vintage magician's posters.

On display: Nearly 40 of the colorful advertisements, ranging in size from 14 by 22 inches to 80 by 106 inches, framed and hanging throughout his residence. Mr. Faris' interest in magician's posters began in the early 1970s when he spotted a poster in a Mount Adam's antiques shop.

[photo] Steve Faris and three of his magician posters
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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“It was for a mind reader who billed himself as "Alexander: The Man Who Knows,' ” Mr. Faris chuckles. “He was sort of an early Kreskin.”

Like salted peanuts: “That's all it took,” he continues. “I was hooked.” Now 30 years later, he has amassed examples from all over the world. Many were printed locally and feature Ohio-born magicians.

That's entertainment! “Most of my posters are from the "Golden Age of Magic,' ” he says. “That was from 1890 to 1920. They were originally used to promote the great traveling magic shows of the day and could be found in store windows, pasted on billboards and displayed in theatre lobbies.”

“They usually featured something incredible,” he says. “Scenes like the magician's head floating away from his body or a lady being sawed in half. ”

Of all of his posters, Mr. Faris' favorite is of a magician named Germain from Cleveland.

“He had a very short career because he lost his eyesight,” he explains. “But he was recognized among magicians from that era as among the most artistic.”

Valuable resource: According to Mr. Faris, vintage magician's posters are a rare commodity that can sell for anywhere from $200 to $35,000.”

“Very few survived,” he says. “When they were printed, they were considered disposable material. The next week when the circus came to town, they glued their posters over the top of them.”

On the lookout: Even though he regularly haunts flea markets, antique shows and the Internet for new additions to his collection, his main source is other collectors. “You just never know when someone is going to get into grandpa's trunk and find some old magic posters,” he says.

Learning from the past: As a professional magician, Mr. Faris has a special affinity for these images.

“I've always appreciated and loved the history of magic,” he says. “When I look at these posters it is like a window to the past.”

Share your prize possessions with Marsie Hall Newbold by mail: c/o The Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202: e-mail Please include a daytime telephone number.

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