Coin Magic Legend T. Nelson Downs Celebrated

As reported this morning in the very same newspaper that a century earlier crowned him “King of Koins,” Marshalltown, Iowa honors T. Nelson Downs with a new public mural.

The Times-Republican article provides a great thumbnail sketch of the magician and favorite son of Marshalltown.

The mural is part of the town’s development initiative to “beautify downtown and acknowledge the area’s celebrated history.”

Magicians know T. Nelson Downs (we can’t get used to calling him “Tommy”) as a prolific inventor and performer of great renown. The mural may tease non-magicians into learning more about this exceptional man.

After touring the world and authoring two books likely on your bookshelf as you read this (Modern Coin Manipulation and The Art of Magic), he retired to Marshalltown in 1912 where he managed the Lyric Theater on Main Street. He opened a vaudeville-movie theater just down the block from the Lyric.

T. Nelson Downs, like all magicians we know, got in trouble for distracting his fellow student in class.

Marshalltown writer Lori Wildman uncovered a note from one of the young magician’s teachers.

The unnamed instructor wrote: “Tommy Downs you may stay after school and write 100 times ‘I must not fool away my time in school,’ referring to his first attempts at conjuring in the classroom. About 20 years later the same teacher congratulated Downs on his fine talent backstage at a Los Angeles performance.”

We were surprised to read that T. Nelson Downs allegedly had “special 50-cent pieces made especially for the fit of his hands. After years of practice with regular half dollars, Downs used those special coins in his performances. Fellow magicians recalled Downs’ strong, yet delicate hands, which were able to hold up to 40 coins at once and palm 10 at one time.”

Scandal, we exclaim!

This is the first we have heard this outrageous blasphemy.

Rick Fisher of FAB Magic in Colon, Michigan generously posted a video of T. Nelson Downs performing some the sleights he invented. We have carefully analyzed the video and yet saw no evidence of feked coins. Check it out for yourself here:

Downs died at his home at 7 S. Third Avenue in Marshalltown, Iowa on September 11, 1938 from diabetes-related complications. He is buried in the Fairview section of Marshalltown’s Riverside Cemetery. “King of Koins” is on his tombstone.

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