HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL MAGICIANS SOCIETY
Hello, I'm Tony Hassini, the founder of the International Magicians Society and the mastermind behind the Merlin Award. Allow me to take you through the journey of how it all came to be from a shoe-shine boy to the founder of the International Magicians Society and the creator of the Merlin Award.
I was born into poverty on the island of Cyprus, a disabled child fighting for a future. At the age of 15, I decided to venture beyond the island, moving to London, England. There, I worked a myriad of jobs, from shining shoes to washing dishes, while attending English classes in the evenings.
My life took a significant turn when, at 16, I landed a job at a magic shop. It was as if I'd been asleep all my life and suddenly woke up. I fell in love with magic, and this love affair would last me a lifetime.
In 1964, I boarded a plane to the United States, hopeful and yearning for the American Dream. New York City welcomed me with open arms, and I soon began working at Tannen’s Magic Shop, crafting magic tricks for them.
During this challenging period of settling into my new life, I dreamt of establishing a unique magic fraternity that would welcome members unconditionally, eliminating the need for sponsorship from two existing members who also needed to pass a qualifying test—a requirement that other magic organizations had in place at the time. My vision was to create something original, departing from traditional models, an innovative fraternity which later became the International Magicians Society. Young and ambitious, I was eager to break away from traditional institutions. I chose the motto: “To promote and preserve the art of magic.”
That slogan looks good on paper, but the question was “can I deliver on the promise”? Fulfilling this promise was to be an entirely different challenge.
To promote the magicians to the general public, I wanted to create a magic award that would do the job.
I reached out to art students from various colleges and universities and offered prize money to whoever could carve the best Merlin Award statue with clay.
I had several students came up with several different carvings, none of which I was satisfied with.
Finally, an 18-year-old New York University art student, Carol Michaud, carved the winning Merlin Award statue, which is exactly the way it is seen today.
At first glance, I fell in love with the Merlin Award statue. Then I fell in love with the young lady who created the statue. And so Carol and I began dating.
A year later, 1965, Carol and I got married and we raised three beautiful children. Carol passed away on October 6, 2005.
The Merlin Award became the pillar and the symbol of what will become the International Magicians Society four years later in 1968.
I formed the IMS as a DBA. In the beginning, I had a handful of members. And attracting new members was difficult.
I made the decision not to present the Merlin Award, until we had 20,000 members, because I wanted to promote the Merlin Award to the general public and the main media. I knew without a substantial membership, I would have never accomplished my goal. As an example, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, felt the same way. He did not monetize Facebook, until he had 1 million followers.
It makes good business sense. If anyone was going to take this Merlin Award seriously, we had to have the membership to back it up.
However, I did want to test the waters, before our membership grew to 20,000 members. So, we unofficially presented the first Merlin Award in 1984 at a private ceremony to an incredibly talented young illusionist who was creating new and original illusions. That young man was Franz Harary. His “thank you” note is below.
In 1986, two years later, we also unofficially presented the second Merlin Award to Rocco Silano, one of the most creative sleight of hand artists, at a private ceremony. In his “thank you” note below, he wrote that the Merlin Award motivated him to become a better magician.
The following year, Rocco Silano competed at the Desert Seminar in Las Vegas. Not only did Rocco win the grand prize, he also won the coveted Siegfried & Roy Golden Lions Head Award.
In the meantime, we continued to wait patiently for our membership to grow to the magic number of 20,000 members.
In 1998, our membership finally reached 20,000 members. Now we could have an official Merlin Award presentation. We invited members of the press and media to the Horizon Casino Resort in Lake Tahoe, where we presented the Merlin Award to the extremely talented Tony Clark for Magician of The Year.
In 1999, as the millennium year was approaching, we decided to have a survey and choose The Magicians of The Century [Millennium Magicians].
Siegfried & Roy and David Copperfield were tied as the winners.
The owner of The Mirage Casino, Steve Wynn, spared no expense for a very large elegant party with food, champagne, and lots of flowers, where we presented the Merlin Awards on February 1, 2000 to Siegfried & Roy for Magicians of The Century [Millennium Magicians].
See the video link here:
The next day, we delivered David Copperfield his Merlin Award for Magician of The Century [Millennium Magician]. David Copperfield used his “Magician of The Century” title in his promotions, including on his stage in a large projection screen with his awards. David Copperfield also printed the Millennium Magician title in his program guides.
The following year, 2001, Guinness World Records published in their book on page 84 “The International Magicians Society, with 23,000 members, is the biggest magic society in the world.” See the pictures below.
The Merlin Award was now firmly established as the most coveted award to receive by magicians around the world.
The membership continued growing and we felt that it’s time for us to go all the way and present the Merlin Awards to other high achievers in the world of magic.
That same year, 2001, we hosted another party in Las Vegas, honoring some of the most prestigious magicians and some of the highest achievers in magic. And that was the beginning that led us down the road of presenting over 300 Merlin Awards.
My favorite Merlin Award recipients are the best and brightest in the business world of magic, such as:
The longest-serving deans of the Society of American Magicians, Jay Marshall and George Schindler.
The president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Ken Klosterman.
The founder and lifetime president of The Magic Castle, Milt Larsen.
One of the longest-serving presidents of the Magic Circle, David Berglas.
The publisher and the owner of the world’s largest magic magazine and owner of Magic Live, Stan Allen.
The producer of the World’s Greatest Magic TV shows, Gary Ouellet.
My intention was to create a magic fraternity that will be different than the other magic fraternities. I believe we have accomplished that. We do not charge annual dues or fees. Our 10-year membership is only $50. And with that, we give our new members 10 full-length magic teaching videos, just to give them a good start in the learning of magic.
Below, you will see Genii Magazine issue September 1994, where we have a two-page advertisement offering to our members free-of-charge a promotional videotape, so that they can go out and promote themselves and get ahead of the competition.
These promotional videotapes were recorded with big professional cameras and state-of-the-art editing systems. It was totally free, no strings attached. How many other organizations will make such offers to their members?
Below, you will find a copy of Magic Magazine issue December 1998, page 9, where we congratulate the Merlin Award winners to wish them a happy holiday season and promote the winners of the Merlin Award.
In Genii Magazine, issue July 1999, Johnny Thompson accepted the Merlin Award on behalf of Channing Pollock, who could not make it to the party. See the photos and article below.
Regarding our slogan “To promote and preserve the art of magic”, we did and still do promote the art of magic and magicians with the Merlin Award.
Regarding the second part “to preserve the art of magic”, we created one of the largest video teaching magic libraries, featuring the best and the brightest master magicians sharing their secrets. These teaching videos include the 50-volume Magic Academy, the 50-volume IMS Pro Magic School, the 50-volume Best of The Best, the 50-volume Platinum Collection, the 50-volume Diamond Series, and the 50-volume Masters Series.
Some of those master magicians who taught in our magic teaching library have passed away, but they continue teaching in our magic video library for future generations. And that, my friends, is how we preserve the art of magic and the magicians.
Today, we have over 57,000 members worldwide and we are still growing exponentially.
A handful of magicians have tried to compare us with the other magic fraternities. There is no comparison, as there is no reason for us to mimic the other magic fraternities.
Each year, we present the Merlin Award at our annual dinner party in Las Vegas. At the same time, we traveled to the four corners of the world to present the Merlin Award in different countries to magicians at their own show on stage, inviting the media to promote that magician and his show, constantly promoting not only that magician, but also the art of magic itself. That has been our intention from day one.
And we still welcome new members. As long as they love magic as we do, we will welcome them as part of our ever-growing family.
We do not see any of the other magic fraternities as competition. As a matter of fact, some of their members are also members of the International Magicians Society. I, Tony Hassini, am good friends with most of the presidents of the other magic fraternities. In the big picture, magic is an inclusive community.
Looking back, in August 1977, The Magic Magazine chose me for their front cover. The title was "Hassini: Powerhouse of Magical Versatility". A year before, January 1976, The Magic Magazine chose David Copperfield for their front cover. And the year before that, January 1975, The Magic Magazine chose Doug Henning for their front cover. When I was published on the front cover of The Magic Magazine, my ego and vanity caused me to go out and buy 300 copies, so I can send them to friends and family. Today, I don't feel that way. I am humble and grateful that I was given that opportunity, which made me work harder to get where I got today. It's funny how we look at things as we grow older. Below are the magazines.
There you have it: my journey from a young boy in Cyprus to the founder of a society that has touched thousands of lives. We look forward to welcoming new members to our ever-expanding family of magic enthusiasts.
Until then, may magic be ever in your favor.
Chairman/CEO of the International Magicians Society