Arts & Culture

Illusions, alchemy occupy Rock lobby in alum’s exhibit

Collection donated by H. Adrian Smith ’30 shows off rare books on performance magic

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 7, 2014

Aspiring wizards still reeling from not getting into Hogwarts would do well to pay a visit to the John D. Rockefeller Library this weekend.

Selections from the H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring and Magicana are currently on display in the Rock. The collection features books and objects associated with the practice and performance of magic that were collected by H. Adrian Smith ’30 during and after his time at Brown. Short on pocket change?  You might consider performing magic on the side, as Smith did to partially fund his undergraduate career.

“It’s kind of remarkable that somebody who started a book collection while he was a student became a major collector in the field,” said Holly Snyder, curator of the University’s American historical collections. “A lot of our special collections are compiled by Brown alumni who want to give back to the library at the end of their collecting careers.”

Organizers structured the exhibition  to highlight the vibrant images displayed in the texts, Snyder said. The exhibit features several books detailing depictions of tricks like illusions, mind reading and sleight of hand. The titles themselves are entertaining to read, including “Scheidler’s Art of Conjuring Simplified” and “Endless Amusements: Or, the Art of Legerdemain Made Easy to Young Persons.” But the pieces on display are only a small part of the entire collection, which is permanently housed at the John Hay Library.

“It’s one of the finest magic collections anywhere,” said Thomas Horrocks, director of special collections and the Hay Library. “It covers a wide range of things for a long period of time.” The magic collection was last put on display for a magicians’ convention, and security guards had to be hired to ensure that the visitors did not try any of their sleight-of-hand skills on pieces in the collection, Snyder added.

Other items not featured in the display include 3-D objects like gag pieces and card sets as well as several other volumes and larger items that could not fit into the display cases.

The Smith trove is not the only special collection at the Hay. Though the library is currently undergoing renovations and accessibility to special collections is limited, the building’s holdings are eclectic and extensive. The Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection features 6,000 lead toy soldiers, according to the Hay website. Resources also include papers and manuscripts of various authors from Dante to Thoreau. The Snell Mycology Collection boasts over 300 monographs and serials on mushrooms. Horrocks’ personal favorite is the McLellan-Lincoln Collection, he said, which includes thousands of documents and manuscripts either written or signed by Abraham Lincoln himself.

The H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring and Magicana will be on display in the lobby of the Rock until March 26. Students can email requests to Snyder if they would like to view a part of the special collection up close.

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