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About Us
Hatch & Randall
All Booked Up
By Alan Howard
Reprint of article - February, 2003 edition Permission granted by MAGIC MAGAZINE

You can order Magic Magazine issues from us. New for $5 (used prices depend on condition and issue).
Visitors to the H&R Magic Books warehouse encounter a drab building, with a small sign on a side door marking the location. Walking up a bare staircase to a tiny entryway on the second floor, one is not sure what to expect inside, but once the door is opened, wonders are beheld.

The hallway is lined with shelves containing the latest books, magazines, videos, and DVDs. The first room on the right contains the stock of new books, multiples of most everything currently in print. The second room is the center of the business. The walls here are stocked with used and out-of-print titles, all arranged alphabetically by author. A table stands in the center, with packing and mailing supplies against the far wall. A little farther down the hall, there's another storage space, where files of magazines await potential buyers. Across from that is another large room that holds more stock, as well as a large chunk of one H&R owner's personal library.

Not counting the myriad individual issues of magazines, there are an estimated 5,000 different titles, although a "title" might just be a trick explained on a single sheet of paper. Thousands of books, all of which have to be carried up and down stairs when bought or sold. You would think two physics students would have thought of something simpler and less strenuous than that. But if Richard Hatch (he's the "H") and Charlie Randall (the "R") wanted to do things the easy way, they would never have mastered sleight of hand along with physics.

Charlie Randall hails from Colorado, but with his father in the oil business, the family moved around quite a bit - New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, finally settling in Louisiana when Charlie was seven or eight. Randall says he eventually went to college at LSU in Baton Rouge, "because that was what I was told I was going to do after high school." Having to decide on a major, he looked into his favorite subjects - physics, chemistry, and math. "Physics had the most in common with the math and the chemistry, so if I wanted to switch to one of the other two, it would the easiest one to change from. So I started with physics and just never changed." He ended up with a master's degree in physics, and later earned a second master's in computer science at the University of Houston.

Growing up in Logan, Utah, Richard Hatch also did his share of traveling, going even farther a field than Charlie. At 15, Richard spent a year living with family friends in Germany, naturally becoming well acquainted with the German language. Several years later, he spent a semester at the University of Pau in southwest France, studying French. Returning to the States, he graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, but was unsure what he wanted to do next. "I told my parents I wanted to be a writer," he says, "so I went to spend what turned out to be a year in Spain. I figured I would go someplace where I didn't know the language, so when I came back I would have at least learned a new language. And in fact that is what happened - I learned Spanish, but I did not become a writer."

By the end of the year he had decided that he wanted to pursue an interest in physics, which he then studied at Yale. Richard tells how he earned two master's degrees (in science and philosophy) "for good behavior... I didn't write a dissertation, but if you take the courses and have the foreign language requirements, you get them."

After about four years Hatch gave up on the academics, despite having started on the road to earning a doctorate in physics. He decided he would really rather do magic. If that didn't work out he could always go back to school. "That was about 20 years ago," he muses.

Richard Hatch had been interested in magic ever since he was a child, when his grandfather taught him how to vanish a playing card. Randall, however, has to admit that he does not know how the magic bug first bit him. "Unlike a lot of people who can say, 'When I was eight I saw such-and-such,' I don't remember when I first saw a magician.

Charlie claims that it was not until he reached college that he was exposed to real magic. There, he met Robert Walker, who became probably best known for a lot of Twisting the Ace variations. "One day I walked into the cafeteria and he was doing tabled-riffled Faros. This guy did the really hard stuff." Walker said it was very difficult, but there was a "really easy" version, doing the Faro in the hands. "He showed me that, and because he said it was easy I went off and worked on it. I got pretty good at it, and over the years I found a lot of people don't do it because it is kind of difficult!"

Richard Hatch's interest in magic also truly awakened when he was shown the intricacies of sleight of hand. While in Germany, he met Fredo Raxon, a professional magician. Raxon prided himself on the fact that he didn't use props such as Richard had been working with - the Square Circle, Dove Pan, and other off-the-shelf items. Raxon used cards, psychology, and sleight of hand. "And that kind of set the hook," says Richard. "He pointed me toward books by Vernon, Slydini, and Hugard. He didn't give me formal lessons, but he kind of mentored me. When I came home from that year in Germany, I put all those props in the closet and started making a more serious study of books."

Hatch claims that because he spent so much time practicing that he had little social life as a teenager. "It became a very introverted thing, so much so that after my freshman year in college I made a conscious decision to give up magic cold turkey."

But magic could not stay completely out of Hatch's life. By the time he was considering graduate school, one idea that helped push him toward Yale was the proximity of Connecticut to New York, where Richard might perhaps be able to take lessons from Slydini. Magic eventually overwhelmed Richard's academic interest and he abandoned his doctoral studies to delve further into conjuring. As his promotional materials now state, Hatch chose "to violate the laws of nature rather than discover them."

Needing a project to work on, Richard chose as his "magic dissertation" to translate The Magic of J.N. Hofzinser by Ottokar Fischer, which had been published in Germany in 1942. Through his resources at Yale, Richard was able to obtain the copy belonging to the Library of Congress, along with permission to photocopy it. After his translation was published in 1985, more translation jobs came his way, perhaps most notably Roberto Giobbi's Card College series.

Richard admits to having a preference for historical items, both in his personal library as well as in his shows. This passion is also evidenced in his continuing search for the true man behind the myth of Erdnase. Hatch still presents re-creations of Hofzinser's work in performance, along with other classic effects. His work meshes with that of his wife, Rosemary Kimura, a classically trained violinist. Having met while both were graduate students at Yale (Richard took violin lessons from Rosemary), they eventually got engaged and married. They spent a year or two in New Haven, while Rosemary continued her music studies and Richard studied magic professionally.

During this time, Richard was given the opportunity to do a full-evening show at a local theater. "I did not have that much material," he recalls, "so it was my suggestion that it be an evening of magic and music - I would do the magic, my wife would do the music along with an accompanist, and the theater thought that would be fine.".

Working along with a pianist, Richard and Rosemary have created Chamber Magic, a show that features the classical skills of both partners. A look at their program shows a piece by Bartok followed by an interpretation of Robert-Houdin, culminating in a combination of Kreisler and Vernon, with Max Malini and Scott Joplin encountered along the way. "I think what makes it most interesting is when it is an ensemble performance, with all three of us performing simultaneously," says Richard.

The Hatches moved to Houston in 1985, when Rosemary had an opportunity for further her musical studies there. They liked the city, and Richard found it "very welcoming to me as a magician." Within a short period of time he was able to establish himself as the house magician at several venues, as well as becoming a society performer at balls, galas, and fundraisers.

Earlier, in 1980, Charlie Randall had already moved to Houston, having accepted a job that put him at the Johnson Space Center of NASA. Ready to graduate from college, Charlie started looking for a job in geophysics, figuring that was the easiest area for him to gain employment.

"I kind of wanted to be an astrophysicist," he says, "but I realized I'd have to get a Ph.D. and I'd gotten tired of school by that point. I got one offer from the Singer-Link company in Houston that was working for NASA. So I checked that out, and by the end of the trip I was like, 'Hey, whatever you want, I'm your guy! I'll wash the tires on the shuttle; this is just great!'" Randall was offered, and accepted, the job, despite having better offers from oil companies doing geophysics work. The thrill of working with space was more powerful than mere money.

In his present capacity, Randall is a systems engineer working for Cimarron, a subcontractor to Boeing. He writes command and control software, specifically for "attitude control" on the International Space Station. He points out that this "is not nearly as critical as it could be on an airplane - in space you're not worried about a few thousand feet! You're more worried about if you're going to go into a spin or something like that."

Since the space station is now an international project, the U.S. and Russia back up each other as to which one controls the attitude, so the software Charlie writes has to interact with the Russian software. This has allowed him to make several working trips to Russia, which he has really enjoyed.

Of course, there is the sleight of hand practice time to consider as well. While not a professional entertainer, Randall's love of, and dedication to, card magic has remained serious enough for him to have been invited to the prestigious annual Fechter's Close-up Convention numerous times now. Charlie has also considered performing for the public, thinking he wouldn't mind working a restaurant gig, where he could benefit from the repetition of doing routines in front of live people on a regular basis.

H&R Magic Books was not started with the intention of being a full-time job, or even a job at all. It simply began as a way for Richard and Charlie to get themselves more books.

It was in 1988 when Hatch and Randall first met, originally at meetings of the Houston Association of Magicians. Charlie says he got to know Richard over the next few years "because he was the guy in town who had the biggest magic library. Books were always what I loved, and we would talk about books a lot. I would go to his house and borrow a handful, and I remember asking how he went about building his library. He said older guys in town would die or want to sell their things, so you could buy them up."

The pair were each buying a lot of new books and figured there should be a way they could continue to do so without spending so much money. Realizing they could get a wholesale price by ordering as few as three copies of a title, it was easy to see that the two of them only needed a buyer for that third book. But then if they bought six copies, and could sell four for full price, their own copies would essentially be free.

The business really started in 1990. When Houston-area magician Wayne Raeke decided to sell his library, he offered it to Richard, who brought Charlie in on the deal. Together they made an offer for the lot, which Raeke rejected. Instead, Hatch recalls, Raeke invited them to "pick out what we wanted for ourselves, and he would price them. So, Charlie and I worked as individuals. He bought some, I bought some, then Wayne invited other people in from the magic community who bought the books at his prices."

After this process, Raeke was still left with over 1,000 books that nobody locally wanted. Hatch and Randall were invited back to make another offer. "But we already had the books we wanted," says Richard, "so we were looking at the books with different eyes. We would get them strictly for resale and made a bid on that basis."

The purchase left the budding entrepreneurs with quite a few duplicates, so they made up a list and got the word out that they had books for sale. They took boxes to the next TAOM convention, where people could stop by their hotel room and look through the priced books. "We didn't see ourselves as dealers, we just had all these books," they say. "Then we started a mailing list and had a little classified ad, and this all worked so well that we figured out how to buy other libraries. From there it kind of took off."

Next, they bought a library from a lifetime collector in Iowa, and later acquired Bill Severn's collection, which left over 50 boxes stacked in Charlie's living room.

Their next major purchase was from Bill Whittington, a magician in San Francisco who owned the Golden Gate Magic Shop. He was running a co-op, basically a book club where every month he would send out a list of new titles he was intending to order. Customers would tell him which ones they wanted, and by virtue of ordering early, they were entitled to a discount. Charlie was a member of the co-op and Bill was ready to get out of the business he pitched it to Charlie, knowing he and Richard had been sending out lists. When H&R bought out Whittington they got his list of his co-op members as well as his valuable files of contacts with publishers

A big transition came in 1994, when Mickey Hades closed his shop in Seattle. Purchasing the Hades collection gave them ten times as much inventory. "Before that, we were pretty much able to work out of our homes," Randall says. But with 142 boxes and over 2,000 different titles on their way from Hades, they knew those home-based business days were over. The boxes stayed in a rented warehouse for a year or more, and H&R put out several book lists during that time.

Finally, they decided it was time to move to a new location, one where the stock could be placed on shelves and not just dug from boxes when an order came in. Moving into the new warehouse in April 1996, H&R is now the sole tenant of the building.

Books continued to flow in and out of the H&R offices. One highlight came with the opportunity to purchase part of Martin Gardner's collection. Charlie recalls reading Gardner's column every month in Scientific American when he was young, "and I never had the slightest inkling I would ever meet the guy, much less visit his house in North Carolina a couple times. That was a big thrill!" One of Richard and Charlie's visits resulted in an interview with Gardner [MAGIC, April 2000]

The Gardner purchase led to one of the rarest items H&R has handled, Gardner's personal copy of S.W. Erdnase's Expert at the Card Table, a first edition signed by book's illustrator Marshall D. Smith. Along with some letters and material from Smith, it sold on eBay in February 2000 for $10,259.

The book business continues to expand, now to the point where Charlie, now 44, and Richard, who's 47, have hired three full- or part-time employees. Russ Cooper, who came on in 1999, serves as office manager. Cooper, who has a side business in creating kaleidoscopes, has no interest in magic, but comes from a background that includes bookstore work. Working alongside Russ are Brian Buscemi and Jason Walker. Together, the team manages the in- and out-going inventory of between 4,000 to 5,000 different titles - often close to 20,000 actual books!

After so many years selling books, it seemed to Randall a natural extension of the business to get into publishing - as if there were already not enough magic books coming out. Charlie admits, "There are so many books, and so many of them are, for lack of a better word, crap. A lot of it should not be published... then we add ours to that! But I like to think everything we've published so far is pretty good."

H&R's publishing endeavors have certainly received more praise than pans. Of the more half-dozen or more titles they have produced, their bestseller has been Derren Brown's Pure Effect, which soon goes into a third printing.

Hatch and Randall each say they have cut way back in the number of books they now purchase for themselves. This is partly because they now have access to many of the books there at the shop and do not need to have personal copies in their homes. And it is partly because they have no more space in their homes.

"I have tons of books now!," says Charlie. "For a while I would take one of everything for myself, but I've gotten pickier, because I have no room for everything." Charlie's wife, Paula, puts up with his magic obsession with good humor. Her interest, the past five years has been centered around their daughter, the ever-effervescent Emily. A new brother or sister (Charlie and Paula decided not to find out ahead of time) is due at the end of this month.

The Randalls live in what is usually referred to as "the tree house," a large home on 14-foot stilts (to avoid flooding from the river it overlooks), with a tree growing up through the center of the home. A den in the middle of the house holds Randall's personal library, the walls lined with shelves overflowing with books. There may be more titles here than in the H&R shop - Charlie estimates around 4,000.

Rosemary Hatch also tolerates her husband's involvement in magic, especially since they perform together. Most of Richard's collection resides in that third room at the H&R warehouse, thereby "reserving space" at home for their children, Catherine and Jonathan. Even though books occasionally threaten to fill the house, Rosemary is happier to know that Richard now buys "much fewer" books.

"I'm in a kind of letting go phase," he says. "I have a lot of books I never access that I probably don't need and should sell. But I do like the historical books and the limited editions, many I would like to have and keep. I try to define my interest more narrowly, to keep my books both within the bounds of my budget and my household. Having the business has cured me of a lot of collectivitis. I don't feel a compulsion to own every magic book, or even every worthwhile magic book."

Despite surrounding themselves with books, neither of the H&R partners feels books are a particularly good investment. Because of the discounting done by wholesale distribution, books must triple in value before an owner will see a return on his original purchase price. Many people do not realize that when they sell a book, it is unlikely a dealer will give them as much for their used copy as they can pay for a brand new copy that's still shrink-wrapped.

With the constant deluge of new material, Richard realizes, "Part of our job is to read the books so we can give an informed opinion to customers. But there is so much stuff that comes in that it tends to pile up by the bed until it comes time to write up the reviews."

Charlie agrees, saying, "We try to, if not fully read them, at least pick out what we think are the better ones so we can write some kind of realistic review. Even if we don't think a book is good, we will try to tell people what's in there. Different people have different criteria for a book."

Hatch and Randall admit, "This business could do so much better if we were just in it for the money. Obviously we want to make as much money as we can, but we don't want to make it at someone else's expense." They won't go out of their way to sell something they don't feel is good, but if people want those items, H&R does their best to supply them.

"We're not the world's best salesmen," says Charlie, "and we don't want to be. We'd rather be the nice guys. I'd prefer that everyone knows us and likes us, and trusts our opinion on stuff."
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