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2016 APHA Conference Keynote Address

Rick Jay thrills the audience with his swap book. (Paul Moxon)

Rick Jay thrills the audience at the Huntington Library with his “blow book” while Alan Jutzi looks on. (Paul Moxon)


5:30-6:30 pm friday, october 7

Collecting the Enigmatic: Ricky Jay in conversation with Alan Jutzi

Every person who registered for this year’s APHA conference “The Black Art & Printer’s Devils : The Magic, Mysticism, and Wonders of Printing History” undoubtedly shared a least one (or several) moments of thinking, “Well, what’s this going to be like?” when looking over the program. The speakers presented a rich menu of surprises and enticements. And leading that bill of surprises was the keynote speaker on Friday evening, October 7, the bibliophile, scholar and performer, Ricky Jay.

Jay’s keynote was presented as a conversation with retired Huntington Library Chief Curator of Rare Books Alan Jutzi. Jay began, however, with a little flourish that set the stage brilliantly for the rest of his remarks: he amazed the audience with a “blow book” in which images appeared as if from nowhere, new each time he riffled through the pages. Jay talked about the blow book as one of the oldest of conjuring tricks, and one that gained its prominence because of the printing press (which made its production practical). The wonderful illusion and Jay’s knowledgeable commentary were the perfect departure point for the presentation.

The conversation then focused on Jay’s life as a collector, and he spoke fondly about his 5,000 volume, 4,500 image collection, as well as of the Mulholland Collection, of which he was curator. He cited the early influence of his grandfather and of the magician Milbourne Christopher, and talked about his strategy for building a collection without a fortune: “befriend dealers.”

Jay sees no clear reason to separate his performing life from scholarship. Because the mastery of his trade as magician depended on his ability to learn from those who preceded him, his appreciation for collections and collectors of the history of magic, unusual entertainments, and remarkable characters grew early. Because he traveled for his performing career, he began to look for book dealers and shops everywhere he went. He began integrating his scholarship and his performing in the 1970s when he began lecturing on his investigations of ephemera related to extraordinary individuals, which resulted in his book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (1986), a book about “peculiar performers and outrageous acts.”

Matthias Buchinger

Jay discusses Matthias Buchinger. (George Barnum)

At the end of the presentation, Jay showed images from Jay’s Journal of Anomalies and his other publications, including his most recent book Matthias Buchinger: The Greatest German Living which was published to accompany an exhibition of Buchinger’s drawings from Jay’s collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earlier this year.

With Ricky Jay’s magical keynote, the conference got off to a surprising and delightful start.

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