Egyptian Hall MuseumEgyptian Hall Museum is the oldest private magic museum in America. Its roots can be traced back to 1895 when magician (and later Register of the U.S. Treasury) William W. Durbin, built a small theater behind his home in Kenton, Ohio. At that time, the most famous magic theater in the world was Maskelyne and Cooke's Egyptian Hall in London. Not to be outdone, Durbin christened his new theater America's Egyptian Hall. To decorate the walls he collected photos and posters from other magicians he met during his travels.
Word of Durbin's magic theater spread and soon magicians, both famous and otherwise, were scheduling visits to Kenton during their cross-country vaudeville tours. By 1926, when Durbin hosted the world's first magic convention in his backyard, the walls (and ceiling) of Egyptian Hall were covered with images of most of the great magicians of the day. As president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Durbin used the pages of their Linking Ring magazine to further spread the reputation of Egyptian Hall and his burgeoning collection.
Two years after Durbin's death in 1937 America's Egyptian Hall was sold to Tom Dowd who remembered attending (with his younger brother Bob) the early magic conventions at Durbin's home. The building was raised off its foundation and rolled two miles down the road to a spot next to the Dowd home. Tom would eventually spend seventeen years as secretary/treasurer of the IBM, helping it grow into the largest magic organization in the world while his wife Mary worked as advertising manager of the Linking Ring.
After World War II there were many who recalled the early conventions and the good times enjoyed by all who attended them. This led to a series of "Back to Kenton" parties held at the Egyptian Hall Theater.
It was in 1953 that magician/collector David Price Jr. of Tennessee visited the Hall and asked the question that would ultimately change his life, "got anything for sale?" Tom Dowd offered him the entire building but ended up selling just the contents. Durbin's original collection of magical memorabilia was moved to the Price home in Nashville and in 1955, David constructed a modest building to house his treasures. By 1967 the little museum was bursting at the seams so the Prices built a new home with an attached museum in nearby Brentwood, Tennessee or as David's wife Virginia always referred to it, a museum with attached living quarters. David Price spent forty-six years increasing the collection a hundred fold, turning it into the largest repository of magician's lithographs in the world. In addition, he assembled a monumental collection of books, periodicals, letters, photos advertising material and apparatus that represented thousands of magicians whose lives spanned a four-hundred-year period. Visitors from around the world made the pilgrimage to magic's Mecca to see the legendary Price collection including Mike Caveney in 1980.
David contributed dozens of articles to the leading magic magazines but the fulfillment of a dream occurred in 1985 with the publication of David's book Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater which was a comprehensive history of magic lavishly illustrated with rare graphic material from his collection.
When David Price passed away in 1999, his son, Dave Price III, decided to sell the museum. He asked George Daily and Mike Caveney, two well-known collectors and historians, to make him an offer. An agreement was reached and six tons of ephemera were trucked to Pennsylvania. The two partners laid all of the Kellar posters out on the floor and divided them equally. Then came the Chung Ling Soo posters, followed by Herrmann and Houdini and on and on for several weeks. The result was the creation of two world-class collections. Duplicates and selected other items were set aside for an historic two-day sale and auction (the largest magic sale ever up till that time). George's half of the collection moved into his home in Pennsylvania while the other half traveled to the Caveney home in Pasadena, California. Mike Caveney retained the name Egyptian Hall Museum along with many of the original items that decorated Durbin's theater.
Though the physical surroundings of Egyptian Hall Museum have changed dramatically over the past 115-plus years, the goal of the institution has remained unchanged. It is a privately owned enterprise where the magician's art is preserved, studied and shared with others.
In 1979 Mike Caveney published his first magic book and today his company, Magic Words, is respected worldwide as a source for superior quality books on the practice and history of magic. Many researchers have visited Egyptian Hall and used rare images in their own books and magazine articles.
The museum is always interested in adding additional material to its archive and, in this way, it will remain a living, growing endeavor. Egyptian Hall Museum, now well into its second century, will continue its mission of collecting, collating and disseminating the rich history of the conjuring arts.