Auctions | December 16, 2013

Magical Props & Books Conjure Up Top Prices at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions

Handcuffs, leg irons and other props used by famous escape artist Harry Houdini were among a collection of early Victorian books, and other magical ephemera sold in a sale at Dreweatts and Bloomsbury Auctions Godalming saleroom in Surrey on Thursday 12th December.

A pair of handcuffs belonging to the famous escape artist, Harry “Handcuffs” Houdini, generated a great deal of pre-sale interest from the press, as well as the bidders. The handcuffs were made in Birmingham and had been tampered with by Houdini to release when held in a particular position. Believed to have been used in his underwater escapes to guarantee an impressive but safe escape, the rare survivors were purchased by a private collector, who was bidding online, for £2,806 [Lot 47]. The same buyer paid £3,050 for Houdini’s Lilly Leg irons [Lot 45].

Both were accompanied by signed letters that track their provenance through the world of magic. Previous owners had included mentalist and escapologist Richard John Silmser, handcuff collector Joseph Tanner of Wheeler-Tanner and John Fisher, Gold Star member of the Inner Magic Circle.

Both had been discovered by magician Billy McComb in a rusty collection of props, used in Houdini’s stage acts which passed to the widow of Houdini’s brother, Theo Hardeen. Also found with the restraints was a round barrel screw key padlock which sold for £976 [Lot 46].

One of only three recorded copies of Conversazione; or, Mirth and Marvels, an Annual Dish of Table Talk by magician and ventriloquist, Mr. Henry, topped the conjuring lots. Including a rare hand coloured illustration of Mr Henry performing (pictured right), it was sold for £3,050.

Mr Henry appeared in London and the provinces between 1820 and 1828, publishing the Conversazione in around 1822He was performing at the Adelphi Theatre in London at this time and is described by Harry Houdini in his book, The Unmasking of Robert Houdin, as having “interspersed witty conversation with descriptions of his various tricks” [Lot 202].

A group of clocks used by actor and stage magician, John “Klox” Forrest, so called for the unique use of timepieces in his magic act, sold for £2,440. The popular collection included a ‘Demon Alarming Case’ and two model long-case clocks both with ‘John Klox’ named as maker. Included in the collection was a poster depicting Forrest performing with one of the clocks in Monte Carlo [Lot 81].