We purchased a significant collection of magic apparatus from the estate of Keith Abson (1912 - 1988)
In the dusty streets of central Victoria, a man stood in front of a young boy with a playing card in his hands, slowly tore it into pieces, and then with magic, put it back together as new. This amazed the young boy and triggered a lifelong passion for the wonderment of magic.
Keith Oswald Clyde Abson (6 June 1912 to 29 September 1988) grew up as the second eldest of 10 children in the rural towns of Wedderburn and St Arnaud in Victoria. During the Depression years, with work scarce for his father and a large family to feed, Keith decided it was best to leave school at 13 to find work on local farms.
In his own partial biography, 'The Magician Dreams', Keith wrote: "Those years taught me how to be tough and sleep out in all weathers and go without food, and travel and mix with all sorts of people and how to entertain those people in all sorts of conditions."
One day the horse-van of Charles (Charlie) Sloggett pulled into St Arnaud and set up an old tent with a sign, 'The Incomparable Sloggetts'. Keith was offered some work and jumped at the opportunity, learning some of the art of show business and the tricks of the magic trade. As with any caravan-magician, it came time for Charlie to move on to the next town in search of the next audience. Keith begged his father to let him travel with Charlie and so began Keith's magical journey.
Keith's network of magicians grew and his confidence in the magic industry grew. His appetite for learning was insatiable and his reverence for the printed word prompted Keith to keep a scrapbook of articles, letters, photographs and guidance notes on how to perform various tricks. When World War II broke out, Keith was camped under a tree in Bendigo, with virtually nothing but his scrap book. He enlisted and began his 1,912 days of service in the Australian Imperial Force.
Wherever Keith went, his book went with him. His service took him to Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and various bases in Australia. He was one of the Rats of Tobruk and used his magic skills to keep the morale high among the men and provide some light entertainment as "Abo the Great". He didn't speak much in later life about his war memories, though he was proud of his service to his country. While stationed overseas he was encouraged by correspondence from his friends Dr Harlan Tarbell and J. Albert Briggs who sent him tricks, letters, books and magazines. While in New Guinea, he left his fighting unit and joined the famous Milne Bay Concert Party and was part of the New Guinea Magic Convention.
Keith named his first son Harlan after Dr Harlan Tarbell and involved him as the mascot of the Melbourne Australian Society of Magicians.
After the war was over, Keith set up his own magic show, 'The Palace of Magic', with his Lady Assistant Eileen, and toured all over Australia, including Tasmania. Eileen eventually grew tired of show business, so they separated, and Keith continued on his own until retiring in 1968.
Keith was involved in several magic clubs, including the Independent Magical Performers of Sydney which merged with the Australian Magicians' Club, of which Keith became President, serving during the mid-1970s. Keith produced the club magazine Gems of Magic, of which there is only one issue previously known to exist. He wrote two documents 'Harlan's Magic Circle' and 'The Magician Dreams' which gives a sense of Keith's deep love of magic and its importance in his life. Chapter 7 of 'The Magician Dreams' is currently in the State Library of NSW.
Keith's collection of scrapbooks of photos, articles, history, tricks, biographies of other magicians continued to grow and form part of the collection he bequeathed to his grandson, James Abson, in his will. Such a collection comprises scrapbooks and papers from the J. Albert Briggs collection, the Harrie Ensor papers, and the estate of George Whittaker (Chandalu) which feature throughout the auction.
Keith said that, "The greatest thing in magic is your own imagination." It is hoped that Keith's collection of magic memorabilia and books spanning back to the 1800s, will spark the imagination of those magicians and historians that are alive today and help continue Keith's 'Magician's Dreams'.