Thomas Nelson Downs
T. Nelson Downs, King of Koins
Place of Birth
Marshalltown, Iowa. USA.
Downs possessed the ability of superior manual dexterity and skillful sleight-of-hand. He was a master in the art of conjuring and manipulation, specializing in coins.
T. Nelson Downs was life long friends with Harry Houdini.
Thomas Nelson Downs was born in Marshalltown, Iowa on March 16, 1867. He was the youngest of six children in the family of Thomas and Cordelia Downs.
His family moved to Iowa from the New York state. Downs' father, the Marshall county superintendent, died when his son was not even a year old.
Downs never took any training in magic; all his tricks were self-taught. By the age of 12, he became an expert in card and coin manipulation.
He further mastered his skills by the age of 17, when he took a job as a railway telegrapher and had plenty of time to practice with coins.
In September 1895, Downs decided to quit his telegraphy job and launch a career in magic. At first, he toured Iowa with his partner, Sam Spiegel, a mandolinist.
By 1897, Downs concentrated only on the coin tricks — a rare specialization at that time, and established himself in vaudeville, which was a popular avenue for magicians.
The success of Downs career allowed him to get booked into Tony Pastor's New York theater, and to London's Palace Theatre soon after that.
He was equally successful in Britain and Europe and at the peak of his career, Downs traveled frequently, performing at royal courts; before several reigning Monarchs and heads of state.
While performing his tricks, he could palm up to 60 coins at a time. One of his most famous tricks was "The Miser's Dream", in which he seemed to pull countless coins out of the thin air. His act also included many other effects, including the Coin Ladder.
In 1912, at the young age of 42, Downs decided to retire in Iowa. After moving back to Marshalltown, he rarely left the area.
Not quite comfortable with idle retirement, Downs kept busy by opening a vaudeville house on Main Street, a few blocks from his own home at 7 South 3rd Avenue. He also sold a line of magic equipment.
Many visitors, other magicians, streamed to his home to share gossip and the latest tricks as well as to brush elbows with the famous sleight-of-hand artist.
Downs wrote several books on magic before and after his retirement. His first book, Modern Coin Manipulation, was published in 1900 and is still issued in reprints today. His other books include The Art of Magic and Tricks with Coins.
Downs was married twice. He had a son in his first marriage with Nellie Stone, who died in childbirth in 1895. He subsequently married Harriett Rocky on June 3, 1905.
He retired around 1928. In 1935 he was honored with a testimonial dinner.
Thomas Nelson Downs died on September 11, 1938 in Marshalltown, Iowa. He had suffered a stroke, which paralyzed his left side; he was 71. He was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown. His gravestone reads "King of Koins".
The Historical Society of Marshall County features a display about Downs in its museum.
Information credit: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians.
Photo Credit: New York Public Library Digital Gallery. Profile photo, courtesy of Tom Frank.