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The World's Oldest Magic Shop

by Jack Flosso as told to Ben Robinson

In the 1860's two brothers named Francis and Antonio Martinka opened a small conjuring and toy shop in the small town of Essen, Germany. It was a fabulous place, ticking with appearing and disappearing bowls of fish; handkercheifs that metamorphosized into eggs; and tinsmiths carefully cutting the sheets of shiny tin to provide the cups (for the legendary cups and balls trick) for every montebank (itinerant performer) in the Western World.

With the success of providing the Herrmann family, the Bamberg family and other renowned stars of the theatre of the day, the Martinkas set out in the 1870's (after nearly 12 years of service in Germany) to America, to New York City, where nearly 10,000 Europeans had recently moved.

About 1875 the two brothers from Essen opened in what is now referred to as Chelsea; or the flower district in New York's lower West side. In the 1870's New York was small and village-like. In the area which is now 6th Avenue between 24th and 28th streets the Martinkas opened their shop. Seven or eight employees gleefully made the tricks of the trade under the cherrful, but stern Mrs. Martinka. All customers were treated as customers; no tommy-nonsense was tolerated in this house of Hocus Pocus. Alexander Heimberger, Alexander Herrmann, W.E. Robinson (later to be the world famous Chung Ling Soo), Sarem Ellison, and others were alowed free access to the workshop and back rooms.

The Martinka Bros. store even had a Palace of Mystery which was a little less grand than the title advertised; a small stage in the back became the testing ground for the wonders produced, and a continuing platform for party entertainment. The Martinkas realized the fraternal family of magicians, though, the world's first magic society, The Society of American Magicians, would not come into being until 1902 when several magicians in the back rooms of Martinka's wrote the Charter and By Laws.

When the century turned the Martinkas had been in business for nearly 40 years, which at that time was longer than any other conjuring shop. In New York they were frequented by many small boys who hoped one day to succeed the Great Herrmann (the man who provided the calssic portrait of a magician with a goatee and flowing tails).

About 1918 the Martinkas began to think about retirement, after nealry 53 years in Europe and America. Retirement would be easier though more sedate. They had done well in New York.

to be continued...

Martinka


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