A Brief History of IBM Ring 175
by Tim Arango
Ring 175 received its charter from the International Brotherhood of Magicians in January, 1965 after several years of informal meetings in various locations around Tampa.
No history of Ring 175 is complete without some background on the founder and guiding light, Warren Hamilton.
Warren Robert Hamilton was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 7, 1906. He enjoyed a normal mid-western childhood until bitten by the magic bug as a boy. A wonderful artist and craftsman, Warren was able to construct and decorate his own apparatus and entertained his family, friends, schoolmates and others around town.
Upon graduation from high school he joined a traveling show where he lived in a trailer he designed and built himself. It was a tent show that was popular at that time and Warren was a jack of all trades as he kept the show equipment in working order while acting in the shows and performing magic during intermissions.
While on tour he became an accomplished performer. After a full day of work and travel he would practice sleights by performing each one 500 times – that’s 500 times perfectly. If he messed up a sleight on the 498 th attempt, he started over and continued until he could do it flawlessly 500 times. And by performing to a different audience every day, he honed his showmanship.
After traveling around the country, Warren entered the U. S. Army Air Force prior to World War II ending up at Drew Field, an Air Force Base in Tampa. Shortly after arriving here he left the Army with a service-connected disability, and settled here.
Warren lived with his cousin on Morrison Avenue in Hyde Park. There was an apartment above a garage and he lived upstairs with his workshop below. A small showroom and office were also downstairs.
This is where he started building his beautiful magic for dealers around the world.
As an admirer of Floyd Thayer, the best magic builder of his day, Warren also designed, decorated and put his unbelievable paint job/finish on the finest wooden magic in the world. He was an artist. Not only did he carefully design and cut the multi-layered stencils, but also he spent hours making each item of his magic an individual piece of art.
During this time a neighbor girl, JoAnne Young, helped design his signature piece, JoAnne the Card Duck, which he named after her. Miss Young had no real interest in magic, but like all of the neighborhood kids enjoyed hanging around Warren’s workshop. She later became a professor at University of South Florida.
Warren was such a perfectionist that after completing two dozen of the ducks, he would notice a flaw not visible to anyone else and throw the whole batch in a pot-bellied stove he used to burn scraps.
In addition to JoAnne the Card Duck, Warren also built: Yogi Bear, the Westgate Bowl Production, a Silk Cabby, Square Circles in three sizes, the Country Cousin Duck (a plaid version of JoAnne), a Dancing Cane, a Night Club Table, the Vanishing Boy, the Doll House and many more magical items.
Because of it’s outstanding quality, Warren’s magic was in great demand by dealers. He sold to Tannen’s, Abbott’s, Jack Chanin, Anverdi, his favorite Ronald Haines from Haines’ House of Cards and many more. Since he was a one-man operation, he wasn’t able to supply every dealer who wanted his apparatus.
But Warren was not only a mechanic (as magic builders are known) but also an excellent magician. He entertained at parties and events all around Tampa and annually presented his big stage show at Gorrie Elementary School only a few blocks from his home. He performed as Warren the Wizard.
Several weeks before a performance at Gorrie he would drop by and present a few items from the show. Then the children would draw pictures of their favorite trick and at the actual performance would be given prizes for the best drawings. It usually resulted in a full house.
And that isn’t all. Warren was an avid collector of magic, books, posters, etc. Magicians from all over the world would drop by when they were in town to visit and look through his huge collections. Visitors included, Blackstone, Birch, Harry Lorayne, Jay Marshall, Eddie Fields, Rajah Raboid, Mars the Magician, The Great Lester, Carl Rosini, Ken Klosterman and every other magician who came anywhere near Tampa.
Eventually the place on Morrison Avenue was sold and Warren moved to Drew Field, which by now was a light commercial area only a few miles away from his previous location. There he had a separate, enlarged workshop, a bigger office and show room and well as living quarters.
Warren used marine plywood for his apparatus because of its strength and ability to withstand muggy Florida summers without warping. The dancing cane was made only of Alaskan Cedar for the same reasons. He would never compromise and just wouldn’t make the apparatus if the cedar or plywood were not available.
He did his own metal work, devised jigs to make the various parts of the duck and developed a method of spray painting that, by mixing extra air with the lacquer, put the paint on practically dry. He used tiny piano hinges where need and when they weren’t available he made his own. His springs were hand wound of piano wire for the internal mechanism of the duck. Hand sanding was done with emery paper so fine that it felt like fine stationery.
The application of numerous layers of stencils; each used to provide a different color (up to six) gave the finished product the Hamilton look that has never been duplicated.
He worked night and day to make the best possible magic. But, even when his hands were covered with lacquer and sawdust, you could ask him to show you something and he would execute a sleight perfectly every time. Sure evidence that the early hard work paid off.
To say he was a perfectionist would be an understatement. The magic he made was of exquisite, one of a kind, quality. If he actually charged what it cost him in time, effort and material to make a duck it would have cost $250 instead of the $12.50 it sold for originally. Fortunately he had a small income coming in from some real estate he owned as well as a government disability pension.
Not only did the great performing magicians drop by to see Warren, but also the local magi were always around and Warren made them feel just as welcome – he never met a magician he didn’t like.
By the mid 1950′s, so many people were dropping by that it was decided a group would meet at his place on a semi-regular basis. Eventually the group outgrew his showroom and started meeting in various locations around town.
In the early 1960′s the group was approached by representatives of the International Brotherhood of Magicians who wanted to form a Ring in Tampa. Finally, in 1964, the local group agreed to become officially associated with IBM.
The Ring received its official Charter as Gasparilla Ring 175 (Warren wouldn’t allow the ring to be named after him) in 1965 and held a spectacular installation banquet at a hotel on Courtney Campbell Causeway. Dignitaries came from all over Florida to either perform or help the club celebrate. The entire evening was an outstanding success with a wonderful meal, excellent performers and Hamilton magic as door prizes. Everyone agreed it was the best installation banquet they’d ever attended.
Ring 175 flourished, but always had trouble finding a good meeting place. It met at Warren’s, the Red Cross Building, at a bank in Sulphur Springs, various member’s houses and offices and the Hyde Park Methodist Church. Lectures were usually in a classroom at the University of Tampa where the rent was only about $15 for the night.
Over the years the original members died or moved away and while some are still in town they are unable to attend current meetings. Tim Arango is the sole original member who is still active and Mike Wheeler who joined just after the club started is also still a member.
Warren died September 23, 1971 at Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital from service connected disabilities and Tampa’s greatest magical guru was gone but not forgotten. He had no family – his only brother had died before him – and his will stipulated that his magic, posters, and books be sold and the cash distributed to some needy friends.
Fortunately he left a legacy that allowed the club to continue for the more than thirty years since his death. No doubt he is looking on from above and is surely pleased with what is going on at the meetings. But he would probably tell us to practice each sleight 500 times perfectly before using it in front of an audience.
In a final tribute to Warren the Wizard, Ring 175 was renamed the Warren Hamilton Ring in 2002.