Harry Houdini Books, Posters & Ephemera at Potter & Potter Auctions
Chicago — Potter & Potter Auctions is pleased to announce their upcoming Houdiniana sales event to be held on Saturday, October 20, 2018 starting at 10am at the company's gallery, located at 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60613. All items from this upcoming sale will be on display and available for preview on Thursday, October 18th and Friday, October 19th from 10:00am to 5:00pm in the Potter & Potter facility.
True to its name, this sale offers a breathtaking array of materials and ephemera related to legendary magician Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Although Houdini passed away more than nine decades ago, interest in his life story and legendary performances, as well as his impact on the entertainment industry, are still as strong as ever. It’s go big or go home with lot #62, an eight-sheet (109” x 86”) color lithograph billboard from 1924 titled Buried Alive! Egyptian Fakirs Outdone. Master Mystifier. This can’t-look-away broadside advertises a sensational stunt that Houdini would never perform - an escape from a coffin buried under shovelfuls of heavy earth. It pictures Houdini’s head floating above an Egyptian scene featuring the Sphinx. It is estimated at $5,000-7,000. Lot #95, a c. 1901 brochure titled Tremendous Success of Houdini is estimated at $500-750. This four page publication from c. 1901 includes testimonials from London newspapers of various Houdini appearances at the Alahambra Theatre in 1900. And lot #23, a pictorial newsprint brochure advertising Houdini’s performance at the Orpheum Theatre, is estimated at $250-350. This c. 1914 rarity, titled The Justly World Famous Self-Liberator Harry Houdini, features a bust portrait of the magician on its cover.
There’s no denying Houdini’s appeal translated seamlessly across continents and cultures. Lot #22, a 1921 Spanish language cinema magazine promoting the films of Houdini is estimated at $200-300. The publication, Tras La Pantalla (After the Screen) includes halftone movie stills and drawings of Houdini. And lot #96, a 1903 Russian language color lithographed image of Houdini performing at the Yar is estimated at $250-350. It shows a caricatured Houdini on stage in locks and chains before an audience. The Yar was a Moscow restaurant that attracted elite social and political figures and featured top-tier entertainers.
This sale’s offering of about 100 antique to modern magic book lots is bound to generate tons of interest. Houdini scholar John Bushey specialized in Houdini pitch books and this sale includes some of the finest from his collection. Lot #1, a truly rare and incredible 1898 copy of Houdini’s own Magic Made Easy by Harry Houdini. King of Cards…Monarch of Shackles and Handcuffs is estimated at $3,000-4,000. It was published in Chicago by B. Schulman, and includes spirit photos of Houdini freed from shackles by a ghost, a merchandise catalog listing 62 props and apparatus, “Hints for Amateurs” and an ad for Prof. Harry Houdini’s “School of Magic” in New York. Lot #208, a highly desirable first edition of S.W. Erdnase’s The Expert at the Card Table, is estimated at $6,000-9,000. This 1902 book - considered an essential modern work on sleight of hand - is illustrated with over 100 drawings “from life” by Marshall D. Smith. And lot #224, a rare copy of Burling Hull and Ormond McGill’s copiously illustrated The Encyclopedia of Stage Illusions is estimated at $400-600. Only 500 copies of this book were published in 1980; of these, many were suppressed due to copyright infringement.
It’s all treats and no tricks when it comes to the apparatus available through this October Houdiniana sale. Lot #290, a fine, turned hardwood cannonball vase is estimated at $4,000-6,000. It measures 19-1/2” high and is nearly identical in appearance to the one illustrated in the pages of Thayer’s Magical Woodcraft catalog from 1912. Lot #327, a traveling ball vase set made at the turn of last century by Martinka, is estimated at $1,500-2,000. With this illusion, the performer lifts the lids, shows the audience red and blue balls, then replace the lids. Soon after, they again lift the lids to reveal that the red and blue balls have changed places. And bird’s the word with lot #368, a modern vanishing bird cage made by Nielsen Magic of Las Vegas. This trick enables the performer to make a cage full of doves disappear silently, effortlessly, and smoothly with one move. It is estimated at $1,200-1,500.
This sale’s selections of remarkable automatons should have collectors moving and grooving. About a dozen fine examples are on offer, with several from French artist Pierre Mayer. Lot #275, Mayer’s Blooming Orange Tree automaton and music box from 2005, is estimated at $3,000-5,000. When the handle is turned, a small tree first grows flowers, then bears orange fruits. Finally, the orange at the top splits open to reveal a silk handkerchief pulled by two butterflies. This magnificently rendered piece is signed by the maker and is modeled after the famous automaton/magic trick of Robert-Houdin. And lot #286, a c. 1990’s Satyr Head clockwork automaton from the Collectors’ Workshop of Middleburg, VA, is estimated at $4,000-6,000. Its design is based on 19th century models and consists of a heavily cast bronze satyr’s head with exposed works. When activated, the figure’s eyes and teeth move, the satyr’s grotesquely long tongue unfurls, and cards appear from his mouth and from between his horns.
Potter & Potter Auctions enjoys a well-deserved reputation of being the world’s finest auction house for buying or selling magic-related archives. For example, the company sold a Chicago Magic Roundtable 1946 scrapbook featuring signatures, brochures, business cards, photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings for $19,200 on a $2,000-3,000 estimate at its August, 2018 magic sale. October’s auction also features outstanding magic collections. Lot #60, a group of ephemera related to escape artists from the first half of the 20th century is estimated at $800-1,200. This intriguing collection includes advertisements, signed publicity photographs, postcards, programs, letters, photographs, instructional booklets, and other ephemera, from performers including Doc Weiss, C.B. Yohe, J.H. Trudel, Murray, Nicola, Herbert Brooks, Earl Lockman, Maurice Raymond, Leon Hormori, and others. And lot #66, a small cloth autograph album signed by top talents from the 1909-1912 timeframe is estimated at $2,500-3,500. It includes inscriptions by 28 magicians, hypnotists, and ventriloquists, most notably Max Malini, Harry Houdini (signing “Harry Handcuff Houdini/The Original Handcuff King,” dated in his hand), Chung Ling Soo (signing “Sincerely Yours/Chung Ling Soo”, and adding Chinese characters), Dante (signing “Jansen”), and many others.
This Houdini-themed comes full circle with comprehensive selections of posters, letters, props, photographs, and other antique magicana. Worth a second look is lot #61, a glass column double mystery clock after Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. This fabulous example, estimated at $10,000-20,000 is handsomely decorated with a clear glass dial, a single arrow-shaped hand, Roman numerals, four griffins, and a pale emerald plush-covered base with gilt appliques. In June, 2018 Potter & Potter sold a mid-nineteenth century Robert-Houdin glass column mystery clock for $36,000. Lot #149, a color lithograph, A Dream of Wealth. Chung Ling Soo, is estimated at $3,500-4,500. This 30” x 20" linen-backed poster from 1915 features the magician producing endless quantities of coins and bank notes. And finally, there’s no escaping lot #68, a pair of Providence Tool Co. Handcuffs from the Houdini—Wresch Collection. This marked, 19th century set of handcuffs includes its original key and is accompanied by a series of letters fully documenting its provenance and chain of ownership from the Houdini family onward. It is estimated at $4,000-6,000.
According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, “Houdini continues to inspire magicians and attract collectors - his memorabilia consistently commands high prices at auction. John Bushey was a personal friend, making this auction a bittersweet celebration of a truly passionate collector and scholar's lifelong pursuit of rare and desirable Houdini memorabilia.”
Image: Lot 66: Magicians’ Autograph Album. Estimate $2,500-$3,500