Stars of Vaudeville # 636: T. Nelson Downs, The King of Koins
Today is the birthday of T. Nelson Downs, a.k.a. The King of Koins (1867-1938). An Iowa native, he taught himself to manipulate coins and cards as a boy. At age 28, after years of working for the telegraph company, he devoted himself to performing in vaudeville full time, accompanied by his friend Sam Spiegel, a mandolin player. Seeing that vaudeville was governed by specialization, he decided to become the Koin King, a magician who only did coin tricks. In his most popular stunt “The Miser’s Dream” he would produce a seemingly endless number of coins out of thin air. He became internationally famous, performing at such flagship venues as Tony Pastor’s in New York and the Palace in London. Downs wrote several important “how-to” magic books during these years, many of which are still in use to this day.
Then in 1912, after only 17 years as a professional he retired to his hometown of Marshaltown, Iowa and ran a small, local vaudeville house. He was still internationally famous, especially among magicians, but now if anyone wanted to see him that badly they had to make a pilgramge to Marshaltown. Plenty of them did.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.