Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's T. Nelson Downs's Birthday!

The Bicycle "Expert" Back (1895)
 While working as a railroad telegrapher in Marshalltown, Iowa, T. Nelson Downs (1869-1938) passed the long, lonely hours teaching himself sleight of hand using coins. The time was well spent -- Downs mastered the art, becoming one of the greatest manipulators of all time. He developed an act in which dozens of coins seemingly materialized at the performer's fingertips. Down's act, dubbed "The Miser's Dream," was the first major advance in coin magic in nearly a century, and is still used by many magicians.

The Bicycle Tri Plaid Back (1905)
As an encore to his "Miser's Dream," Downs demonstrated a similar act with cards, which he apparently plucked from the air. Once produced, the "King of Koins" scaled the cards into the audience, where they were snatched up by eager fans. "It is one of the oldest of the ornamental sleights," Downs advised fellow magicians in his 1909 treatise, The Art of Magic. "Such little exhibitions of skill make a good impression on the audience."

Once common, Downs' throwing cards have become increasingly scarce.  One pictured features a drawing of Downs; the second style pictured, also touting Bicycle brand cards, features his photograph.  These cards remain among the great mementos of his outstanding career.  Below you can see several other back designs that have been featured on his cards:

T. Nelson Downs with the Bicycle New Fan Back
...and with the Bicycle Emblem Back

For those interested in marking the birthdays of other famous magicians, there's a terrific list available at

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