Own a Piece of Houdini

I don't mean a lock of hair or a toe nail—nothing weird.

This Saturday, April 9, one of the largest auctions of Houdini memorabilia ever held will take place in Chicago, held by Potter & Potter Auctions. You can download a pdf of the catalogue. And the whole shebang is up on Live Auctioneers where you can also bid on these fabulous items from anywhere in the world.

Why so fabulous? No matter whether you are wealthy or not, you will likely be able to purchase something touched in some way by Harry Houdini, the world's greatest escape artist and icon of the 20th century, in this auction.

Do you want a lockpick he might have twiddled between his fingers or toes to free himself from some diabolical device?


Or you can buy one of his sets of props that he used for the trick where he swallowed a bunch of straight needles and then some thread, thereafter removing the thread from his mouth with the needles dangling along its length.



There are buckets full of Houdini's handcuffs and various forms of restraints, including these metal mittens that will set anyone into bondage a quiver; and a display of restraints also owned by Houdini and later used as a lobby display for the 1950s Tony Curtis biography of the escape artist.



Lot 120 features two canisters of 35mm film featuring 26 minutes of clips of Houdini, some perhaps not seen by anyone in 90 years. The frame grabs below are enough to make Houdini collector's wet their pants.




The auction catalogue describes the films:

The reels contain tantalizing glimpses of Houdini at his best—and at his worst. Scenes from The Master Mystery, including many of the first robot to appear in a motion picture, abound, as well as unedited scenes from Houdini's funeral procession and the moving of his coffin, coverage of his Australian flight in his own biplane, and a number of public straight-jacket escapes, including various angles showing how Houdini was strapped in to the jacket and hoisted in the air. In one scene, he dangles from a rope in Washington, D.C. with the Washington monument in the background as he wriggles free. The Master Mystery scenes involving a chair escape and the robot are spliced together with shots not included in other releases of the footage, and they are also edited in a different manner. At the funeral, Bess Houdini is seen swathed in black crepe. Houdini's brother and Houdini's assistant Jim Collins are seen as pallbearers. A throng of thousands watches as his coffin is carried to a hearse. A number of sequences filmed in Paris are included, and this footage consists of out-takes from Houdini's aborted projected called The Dupe. Material from that film was salvaged for inclusion in another Houdini serial, Haldane of the Secret Service . Sold together with beta masters of the footage as well as a recent DVD transfer of all footage. The broadcast quality film is some of the finest known, and offers both theatrical and real-life glimpses of the great escape artist taken from original nitrate film in the Houdini estate.

And there are so many letters, notes, books, and photographs autographed by Houdini that it will suck a lot of wallets dry. These two photos are among my favorites although neither is signed. The first shows Houdini, who had virtually every photo of himself airbrushed into fetal smoothness, in his natural middle-aged state—looking pretty tired. The second is Harry with Teddy Roosevelt's grandchildren, no doubt after entertaining them and, perhaps, the president as well.




In addition to the various manuscripts and published books (including the H.P. Lovecraft manuscript commissioned by Houdini and as yet unpublished), there are several scrapbooks including a mammoth one of Houdini's own with his handwritten notes which is estimated to sell for between $25,000 and $35,000 and will likely go for much more.




And no Houdini auction would be complete without some original stone litho posters.



The catalogue for the auction is immense—this is only the smallest peek into the sale. Houdini remains the most famous escape artist and magician in history. When you see the prices these items sell for, you'll know why.

If you want to actually be in the room when all the fun goes on, and the folks with really big bucks are phoning in their bids, Potter & Potter auctions is located at 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite 121, Chicago, IL 60613 (773-472-1442). The website is www.potterauctions.com.