Collective Magic: An Interview with Ken Trombly

This week Collective Magic introduces Ken Trombly, an avid magic collector and magician. He has also contributed articles to numerous publications such as Magic Magazine and M-U-M. Mr. Trombly started his collection over 30 years ago and highlights include Houdini posters and broadsides as well as photographs of Bess Houdini and Cecilia Weiss, Houdini’s beloved mother.   Houdini: Art and Magic, opens at The Jewish Museum today, Friday, October 29. It is organized by guest curator, Brooke Kamin Rapaport. Joanna Montoya, Curatorial Assistant, coordinated this interview.

1. When did you become interested in magic and when did you start collecting magic objects?

Like many kids, I became fascinated with magic at about the age of 9 or 10. Unlike the majority, I never seem to have grown out of it. As to collecting, I have always been fascinated by the imagery found in the posters and other advertising of old time magicians, and while in junior high school  had reproductions of old magic posters decorating our basement, which I had taken over as my “magic room”.  I began collecting actual magic posters, I guess, when, while in college I took a poster of faux-psychic Uri Geller, who was appearing nearby, down off of a wall – and I still have it some 40 years later. In law school I learned about a collector in Tennessee who was putting out lists of duplicate magic posters in his collection, and that got me started in earnest on a lifelong passion, which began with magic posters, and has gradually spread out to the wider area of magic ephemera. Following in the tradition of my late Tennessee collector friend, David Price, I am selling duplicates, although he did not have the benefit of the internet. My website is

2. What is a favorite piece in your collection?

Thanks for asking about “a’ favorite piece, as opposed to the more usual (and less answerable) “the” favorite piece.  A favorite piece, which is currently on loan for the exhibit, is definitely the late 19th century Liebler and Maass poster of “the Houdinis” Harry and Bessie for the “metamorphosis”. It is  so early in their career, that while Harry had then begun featuring an “escape” type effect, he was still sharing the billing with Bess, and we also know that he was still very much performing  more traditional conjuring tricks.  It is fair to say that at the time this poster was printed, Harry Houdini was a total unknown, and it is miracle that the poster survived, showing up in the stock of a poster dealer on Boston’s Newberry Street,  decades later. There is a certain simple quality to this early poster that is very appealing to me.

3. What was your first Houdini experience or memory?

Probably reading about Houdini in the “Classic” comic book about the history of magic. It is appropriate that it was in the form of a comic book, because he seemed almost like a super hero.

4. What is your favorite Houdini illusion?

The mirror cuffs challenge.

5. Which magician today do you think has achieved the fame or intrigue of Houdini  in popular culture?

Probably David Blaine. He has succeeded in blurring the line between more traditional conjuring. performance art and physical daredevil stunts.

6. How do you think Houdini would fit in today’s dizzying entertainment culture?

An ageless Houdini would, no doubt, continue to capture the public imagination, as he did some 100 years ago. On the other hand, if the were still alive, at 136, I suppose he would create a sense of wonder merely by his longevity!

Related Links:
Houdini: Art and Magic
Blog: Happy 136th Birthday, Ehrich Weiss
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Arthur Moses
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Kevin Connolly
Blog: Collective Magic: An Interview with Jeff Taylor

Upcoming: An interview with Bruce Averbook, a lifelong magic enthusiast and collector, on Friday, November 4.

<small>Image credit: The Houdinis, Introducing the Only and Original Metamorphosis, Change in 3 Seconds!, 1895, lithograph.  Collection of Ken Trombly, Bethesda, Maryland. Photo by Dean A. Beasom.  / Cover image of The Jewish Museum’s exhibition catalogue, Houdini: Art and Magic.</small>