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 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 who are the movers and shakers in the business world of magic, such as:
Jay Marshall, one of the longest-serving deans of the Society of American Magicians from 1992 to 2005.
George Schindler, the longest-serving dean of the Society of American Magicians from 2005 to the present.
Milt Larsen, the founder and lifelong president of The Magic Castle.
David Berglas, one of the longest-serving presidents of the Magic Circle and the International Man of Mystery.
Ken Klosterman, the world president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Scott Penrose, president of the Magic Circle.
Stan Allen, the publisher and owner of the world’s largest magic magazine and owner of Magic Live.
Gary Ouellet, the producer of the World’s Greatest Magic TV shows on NBC television network from 1994 to 1998.
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 still 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 professionally-made promotional videotape of their act, so that they can go out and promote themselves. No other magic organization has ever offered this service to their members.
These promotional videotapes were recorded with big professional cameras and state-of-the-art editing systems. It was totally free, no strings attached.
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 of our slogan “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. Together, there are thousands of tricks and routines for our members to learn and perform.
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. They do their thing and we do ours.
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.
In August 1977, The Magic Magazine chose me, Tony Hassini, for their front cover. The title was, "Hassini: Powerhouse of Magical Versatility. This was a huge honor as the year prior they had chosen to put David Copperfield on the front cover for the January 1976 issue. The year before that, January 1975, Doug Henning graced the cover. I was in the best company in magic. See the copies of the magazines below.
I was so honored that I purchased 300 copies, so I could send them to my friends and family. Looking back, I realize it was part ego/part vanity, that caused me to share these copies with those I knew. Today, I am still grateful and humbled by the recognition for my hard work at the time. Now I have less ego, less vanity, and more humility, as I realize, I could not have accomplished this without the support of the magic community itself.
Reflecting, I realize how funny it is the way we look at things change as we grow older and wiser. Even so, the experience caused me to work harder to get where I am today and improve the IMS for not just our members, but magic as a community. I never stopped promoting magic and the best magic has to offer to the world. I will continue to do so.
So there you have it, my journey from a young naive boy in Cyprus, to the founder of the biggest magic society in the world that continues to touch thousands of lives.
We look forward to welcoming new members to our ever-expanding family (and it is truly a family) of magic enthusiasts, whether they be collectors, amateurs, or professionals. You all have something to give and to share, and we have lots to share with you. We are happy to take this amazing journey with you no matter where you live in the world.
Until then, may magic be ever in your favor.
Chairman/CEO of the International Magicians Society