Professor Otto Maurer (1846-1900) was a fixture of New York’s magic scene for nearly three decades. Born in Germany, he immigrated to the U.S. as a kid, and was an amateur performer, working initially as a tinsmith. This led organically to fabricating and repairing magic props. In 1878, he hung out his shingle at 321 Bowery, at a time when that location would have been central to the entertainment industry, surrounded by dime museums and variety theatres, in an atmosphere not unlike today’s Broadway. His customers and friends included Harry Houdini, Thurston, T. Nelson Downs, Trewey, Imro Fox, Horace Goldin, and Arnold De Biere. He also did a mail order business. The catalogs are now collectors items:
The catalog itself was a work of artful deception. Maurer had no grand storefront as depicted on the cover; he operated out of the basement of his house. In addition to selling tricks and props, Maurer also taught magic, and he is generally considered influential in transmitting the “back palm” to America’s magic community (it is what it sounds like — a technique for holding small things like cards and coins in the back of the hand while showing the front. Does that sound hard? That’s why magicians get the big money).
For more on Maurer, I refer you now to two articles: this one on the excellent Magic Detective Blog and this one on the Historical Marker Database. At the latter you will read about the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors’ Windows on the Bowery project, which I have had the honor to be a part of. The exciting news is that they are releasing a book version of that wonderful undertaking, beautifully designed and full of fascinating information. I’ll be plugging it here when it’s available, as I contributed 2 or 3 of the entries (though I’d have plugged it here anyway). Tom Klem, who is mentioned in the Magic Detective article for his praiseworthy efforts to secure a gravemarker for Maurer, is also associated with the Bowery Alliance.
By the time Maurer passed away in 1900, the center of gravity for New York’s show biz world had moved uptown. After his son took over the business, he moved it to Brooklyn. It was later taken over by magician and magic shop entrepreneur Frank Ducrot.
To learn more about early variety and vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,