David Copperfield book offers a glimpse into the history of magical crafts

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The man who destroyed the Statue of Liberty and walked through the Great Wall of China aspires to travel through time.

Living in the moment is not enough for David Copperfield.

This is the case in his MGM Grand Theater show, which uses black-and-white footage depicting Copperfield’s father, and a worn, handwritten letter written decades ago.

The illusionist’s zeal to span generations is celebrated on an even greater scale at his own private museum of magic in Las Vegas.

He’s called it the David Copperfield International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, but passersby won’t find an elaborate sign outside, or any indication of what’s inside the 40,000-square-foot, one-off warehouse just a few miles away. from his theater of the same name where he plays 15 shows a week.

Although the secret museum has no windows, it offers an expansive view of the history of magic. And despite its undeniable potential as a ticketed attraction, the museum has never been open to the public.

But now Copperfield is offering the world its first glimpse of the vast treasure trove of supernatural artifacts in his new 272-page hardback book “David Copperfield’s History of Magic.”

“This museum is really an amazing place, but one that I can’t share with the general public because of the secrets they’re involved in,” Copperfield told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a rare interview at the museum, dressed in jeans, a casual zip through shirt and jacket, all in signature black.

“We do tours of the museum for scientists, for the press, for scientists, for filmmakers, for authors. They come here and experience these eight people at once,” he said. “I wanted to share it with a lot more people.”


Entering the space is a cinematic experience, beginning as a replica of Copperfield’s family menswear store and a secret passageway to the undiscovered. A maze of rooms follows, each filled with carefully curated stagings of tens of thousands of magical memorabilia, props, publications, costumes, posters and assorted ephemera.

Copperfield’s Houdini collection, the largest in the world, includes the legendary musician’s water torture chamber, metamorphosis case and straitjacket. The turban Alexander used to read minds, the prop used by Dante for cutting in half, and a costume worn by “Queen of Magic” Adelaide Herrmann from the early 1800s are among the more than 200,000 artifacts Copperfield has collected over the years.

Photos and details of the acquisitions accompany the book’s historical take on 28 of its most pioneering magicians—from a 16th-century magistrate who wrote the first book on magic to a woman who caught bullets in her teeth.

Historians Richard Wiseman and David Britland, both specialists in the culture of magic, contributed to the research and co-authored the book. It’s a sort of elegant scrapbook that combines Copperfield’s expertise and authority on the medium with his appreciation as a fan who still carries a childlike passion for the craft.

As Copperfield says, “The book really gives a great sense of all these amazing stories, amazing lives of all these individuals.”

Copperfield points to the Adelaide Herrmann dress as an example. “During her day, she took over from Alexander Herrmann, her husband, when he died. She caught bullets in the air, escaped, did amazing things and inspired other women to do things they told them not to do.”

Copperfield, the author and performer, is the lone living magician depicted in the book.

“There are all kinds of stories, not just about the past, but about my present here, about things I’m trying to move the art forward,” Copperfield said. “And so it’s not just the magical history of the past. It’s also where it’s going.”

Copperfield charts that direction in his own performances.

“Most of my bandwidth is to advance magic, invent new magic, you know, if you come to my show you will see dinosaurs. There are no dinosaurs in the history of magic, you know, (but) maybe I’m a dinosaur,” Copperfield says, dropping a sly joke. “No no. But I’m really trying to do things with dinosaurs. You know, doing things with time travel and spaceships and aliens, things that changed the language of magic, so I’m not going to be a dinosaur.”


Copperfield’s focused passion and financial resources have placed him in a unique position to assume the role of the greatest living collector and exhibitor of magic. He is routinely listed by Forbes as the richest magician in the world, earning $45 million in 2020, despite a prolonged pandemic hiatus.

The illusionist provides ample income from Musha Cay, its 11 private Bahamian islands, where guests pay upwards of six fees to visit. And he packs his 760-seat MGM Grand theater 15 times a week again.

Many of Copperfield’s contemporaries, of course, regard him as the foremost figure of magic.

“I think, just, for better, he’s the culture of magic,” says Penn Jillette. “I mean, I just want everything to end up in his collection. He has taken his vast wealth and he has handled it so well. We are very lucky to have someone who does such a good job putting together the entire magical history.”

That history conjures up some of Las Vegas’ favorite magical acts. Jillette, who has headlined Teller at Penn & Teller in Rio since 2001, mentions “The Great Tomsoni,” Johnny Thompson and his wife Pam. Both have passed away in the past three years.

“It’s one thing to go to his museum and see all the stuff that makes everyone drool, you know, the (Jean-Eugène) Robert-Houdin stuff and the Houdini stuff,” says Jillette. “I mean, that’s what everyone gets really excited about. But I’m much, much more interested in the fact that he has Johnny and Pam’s stuff.”

Mac King, a 2000 Strip headliner now in Excalibur, says Copperfield has earned his place as the foremost chronicler of magic.

“If someone has the collection and history to write about magic, he’s the man,” King says. “It’s incredible what he can bring to the public. He has all the resources at his fingertips and the fame that anyone but a magician will achieve to read about it. Not many people will read the history of magic from someone they’ve never had before.” heard, but with Copperfield as the author.”

And the author is still a determined artist.

“He’s not just a working magician,” King says. “He does more shows than anyone else and keeps getting better.”

Working away from the stage, Copperfield lobbied Congress five years ago to pass a resolution that would recognize magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure. Entertainment genres like jazz have received the same recognition.

“Sure, the Library of Congress has respected magic and has a lot of my stuff, and they’ve given me quite a bit of recognition. They’ve got some Houdini stuff and they know it’s important,” Copperfield says. to get from them would help young artists to get scholarships for magic… I did it mainly for that reason.And eventually when things settle down, I hope they settle in the world, that they will. ”

Like his forerunners who brought magic to the masses, Copperfield is always wary of his acts and concepts being adopted by other artists. In 2018, he sued a German company for building a replica of the spacecraft featured in his show.

That company had entered into an agreement with “an unnamed magician in Las Vegas” to create a similar flying object. The judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the company from supplying “Flying Object 2 to the magician in Las Vegas,” according to court documents.

Whether his show has been “snatched,” Copperfield says, “it’s, it’s a lot, but I take but I take comfort knowing that if you look at the Houdini exhibit, I’m showing you three sheets and posters of people who are exactly doing the same thing. He’s been through the exact same thing.”

He continues, “Things I’ve done in the past have been copied. There is now a man in Spain who does my whole show. He does dinosaurs. He uses wristbands (a technology used in MGM Grand production). He makes it snow, and I make it snow.

“People say it’s a great show.”

But Copperfield just keeps expanding his ideas.

“Luckily, I’m lucky enough to be able to make things,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot of different transitions of things.”

Copperfield heads to the Bahamas when he needs to focus on creativity and distance himself from what’s being staged elsewhere.

“I have put all my energy into this resort that I have developed,” says the famous magician. “At the end of the day. I want peace. I want happiness. And luckily I can work on new things that will hopefully advance the craft.”

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