HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL MAGICIANS SOCIETY
Hello, I’m Tony Hassini. I am the founder of IMS.
Sometimes, people ask why and how I started IMS.
Basically, I wanted to have a magic club that can provide a platform for anyone who has a desire to learn magic, either as a hobby or profession.
I was born on the island of Cyprus with severe disabilities. I have a hearing impairment where I have to wear hearing aids my whole life. And I have dyslexia, which makes it difficult to learn. People with dyslexia take twice as long to learn and read.
As a disabled child, quite often I was picked on by the kids. I grew up with no self-confidence and I was extremely shy.
In my teen years, I accidentally discovered magic. And I got to work in a magic shop. Magic helped me gain my self-confidence. As a result, I realized that there could be many more youngsters that could benefit from magic.
I founded the International Magicians Society in July of 1968 with a handful of local magicians in New York as a D.B.A. (doing business as International Magicians Society). As the years went by, we incorporated IMS in three different states at different times for tax purposes. At the moment, the IMS is a Nevada State Corporation.
In 1999, we obtained the trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark office.
At the time I started IMS, all of the magic fraternities and clubs were extremely secretive. And you could not join any of them, unless you had two people sponsoring you. At IMS, we made sure that you did not need sponsors and we will accept you as a member without any conditions, as long as you have the desire to learn magic.
Just like any clubs or fraternities, it took a long time to grow. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, where the VCRs and videotapes grew in popularity. And even then, only 30% of households had VCRs. Realizing this new phenomenon, I created several magic teaching videotapes for beginners and offered a lifetime membership with free video cassettes. And that was the wind that the IMS needed to set sail.
And by having a lifetime membership, the number of members of IMS kept increasing and never decreasing, because they didn’t have to pay dues. And with any club that has dues, their members inevitably drop out and their number of members fluctuates.
In the 1990s, India’s most famous magician, PC Sorcar Jr. became the president of IMS for India. And our membership jumped up to 20,000 members very quickly.
In 2001, Guinness World Records published their annual book. On page 84, they declared the International Magicians Society is the World's Largest Magic Organization with 23,000 members worldwide.
In the 2000s, we signed up IMS Presidents in China, Hong Kong, and Macau, where the membership grew again to 37,000 members.
Back in 1964, when I was toying with the idea of starting my magic club, I was looking for a reason of why will I start another magic club. There had to be a reason.
The more I thought about it, the more I came to terms with myself. The club has to have true meaning and true goals that can be sustained.
One morning, I woke up and the answer was there, clear as daylight: TO PROMOTE AND PRESERVE THE ART OF MAGIC. That was the slogan and that was the promise that I had to make to our members.
Now I know this sounds corny. Or it’s just another slogan. Can I really deliver on this promise?
How do you really promote magic? What do you do? By performing magic shows? Will that promote magic? All of the magicians perform magic shows already and that does not really promote magic. So I had to come up with something more unique to fulfill this promise of promoting magic and magicians.
To promote magic, I decided to create the Merlin Award as a recognition award and to recognize magicians for their outstanding contributions to the art of magic.
But my interest was not to promote the magician in the magic community. The magic community already knows the magician.
My intention was to promote the magician to the general public. That was the biggest challenge of my life. Therefore, I had to create an award that will do just that.
I had an idea of having a trophy of a well-dressed magician in a tuxedo and bow tie pulling a rabbit out of a hat. As a result, I approached art students and offered a prize, if they can create such a trophy.
I had a number of mock-ups, but I didn’t care for any of them. None of them had what I was looking for.
Then in 1964, Carol Michaud, an 18 year old young lady who was an art student, came up with the Merlin Award statue as we have it today. At first glance, I fell in love with the statue. And then I fell in love with the young lady herself. I proposed to her. And a year later, we got married and raised three beautiful children. Carol passed away back in 2005.
But to bring this Merlin Award statue to life, it took many years. That’s because making molds for a statue that has so many undercuts and fine details would have been extremely costly. I was told by many mold-makers that if I can simplify the statue, making the mold would be simpler and cheaper. But I had no intention of compromising the design of the statue.
By the mid-1980s, technology innovations have changed to where we were able to make molds and cast the Merlin Award statues. That was when we began presenting the Merlin Awards as a recognition award to outstanding magicians for their contributions to magic. Please see the photos below this article.
This reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkein, the author of Lord of The Rings. He began writing The Lord of The Rings in 1937 and finished in 1949. Then the books got published in 1954. He tried to sell it to film-makers and was rejected numerous times, because the technology was not there yet. And it was in 1999 when the technology was finally there for Peter Jackson to start shooting the Lord of The Rings trilogy. So the moral of the story is things do take a long time to get off the ground.
At the end of the day, the Merlin Award did become the most recognized magic award to the general public. The Merlin Award was received by presidents and deans of the largest magic fraternities in the world. Just to name a few:
Jay Marshall, the past dean of the Society of American Magicians, received the Merlin Award.
Ken Klosterman, the past president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, received the Merlin Award.
Milt Larsen, the founder and president of the Hollywood Magic Castle, received the Merlin Award.
Some of the world’s greatest magicians have received the Merlin Award. For the list of names and photos, please go to the Merlin Award page.
The Merlin Award became to magic what the Oscar is for the movies, the Emmy is for television, and the Tony is for theater.
Okay, to promote the art of magic, I had accomplished this dream by promoting the Merlin Award to the general public. And the main media, TV, newspapers, and magazines pay attention to the Merlin Award and it’s recipients. This is a proven fact throughout the years.
Look at the magicians who have received the Merlin Award. Numerous magicians have told me, after receiving the Merlin Award, that the Merlin Award makes them want to be better magicians. And some of them went on to become giants in the industry.
Now comes the big question: How do you preserve the art of magic? Yes, there are many books on the art of magic. But I didn’t want to go through that route. I wanted to take a different approach. I wanted to videotape the best magicians in their fields. For example, I’ll take the best card magician, like Harry Lorayne, and have him teach his craft on video. Then I will take the best coin magician, like David Roth, and have him teach his craft on video. And by taking the best guys who are experts in their fields and having them teach their work on video, this way, we preserve them and their magic, as well as their moves, sleights, philosophies, and secrets. It’s like freezing them in time. In the process, the IMS had created numerous 50-volume video home study courses. And these include:
Magic Academy 50-volume video set
Best of The Best 50-volume video set
Masters Series 50-volume video set
IMS Pro Magic School 50-volume video set
Platinum Collection 50-volume video set
Diamond Series 50-volume video set
and so many other DVD video sets.
Today, the International Magicians Society has the largest magic teaching video library. And this is how I was able to preserve the art of magic for the generations to come. Mission accomplished.
But I didn’t stop there. I also created a complete magic video course called “Magic with Science” that we provide to public schools free-of-charge to encourage the next generations to gain from it the way I have. Magic has changed my life. So I want to change many other lives.
At the time I’m documenting the history of IMS and my struggles throughout the years, I'm over 80 years old. And I realize I’ve spend my entire life dedicated to the cause of promoting and preserving the art of magic.
There were times I felt I was chasing an impossible dream. When I heard the song from the play "The Man of La Mancha" called “The Impossible Dream”, it all came together for me.
So what are the chances for a boy born in poverty on the island of Cyprus to discover magic and through magic find a fame and wealth, travel to more than 100 countries, dine and wine with peasants, kings, and queens, and never lose the common touch?
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s my life. It has been an amazing journey. And all I can tell you is this: through magic, anything is possible.