Illusionist David Copperfield has become a dedicated guardian of the secrets of magicians going back more than a century, amassing a stunning collection of artifacts tracing the history of magic. In a huge Las Vegas warehouse he's created what he calls the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Copperfield says he has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last two decades acquiring some 80,000 pieces, including apparatus and stage props, books, notes and posters of great conjuring artists. Most are irreplaceable, so he considers the collection priceless.
"So, there are many, many secrets in this place," said CBS News' John Blackstone.
"And ghosts. Ghosts and secrets here, you know," replied Copperfield.
Copperfield took CBS News on a magical history tour of his collection, which he has no plans to open to the public.
Most of the gear of famed illusionist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) is here.
Houdini's water torture chamber, which other magicians (including Copperfield) have emulated.
"If Houdini were alive today and standing right here, he'd see his entire life surrounding him," said Copperfield. Appropriately (perhaps), Houdini's library was cut in two; half is here, half in the Library of Congress.
Left: Mirror cuffs, from which Harry Houdini was able to extricate himself in 1904 after answering a challenge to escape a supposedly escape-proof bond.
A closeup of the Mirror Cuffs. Though the "trick" of Houdini's escape was never revealed, some suspect the locksmith who created the "escape-proof" cuffs was an accomplice.
A poster advertising Harry Houdini's water torture trick.
But the magic of stage illusionists is no trick, says Copperfield. "It's not just a trick. Yes, there's a secret, but it's not a trick. You know, 'trick' kind of belittles it. There's a secret, there's a method behind it."
Houdini's Iron Maiden apparatus.
Chung Ling Soo (the stage name of U.S. magician William Ellsworth Robinson) was famous for his trick of catching a bullet fired from a rifle. In 1918 in London the trick went tragically wrong -- he was shot in the chest, and died in a hospital the following day.
The rifle that ended the life of Chung Ling Soo.
Chinese conjuror stage prop.
The turban worn by "Alexander, The Man Who Knows": Mindreader Claude Conlin, who performed acts of mentalism and psychic readings in the 1920s.
Water release port, from the Houdini stage illusion.
Clocks by Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805-1871), a French clockmaker who passion for magic led to his career as a magician and creator of many classic stage illusions.
The cane of Harry August Jansen (1883-1955), who performed under the stage name "Dante the Magician."
In the Copperfield collection's library is the 1584 "Discoverie of Witchcraft," which aimed to expose charlatans who would trick the public. It's considered the first published book on the machinations of magic.
A copy of S.W. Erdnase's "Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table: A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Cards," published in 1902. In an attempt to deflect attention from the book's revelations, it was bound with a cover reading, "Notes on Steam Engines, Pumps, Boilers, Hydraulic & Other Machinery."
French magic sets dating to the 17th century.
Copperfield's museum features a room filled with dummies once used by famous ventriloquists. Pictured at left: Charlie McCarthy, the right-hand man of Edgar Bergen.
"There's so much secrecy in here and so much . . . really unique things, that we try to keep it [in] a special place," Copperfield told John Blackstone.