CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions will hold a sale of more than 430 lots of Houdiniana and Magic Memorabilia on Saturday, May 21 starting at 10 am Central time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
This sale features letters, ephemera and treasures with ties to Houdini and his family. Leading the group is a unique curiosity: a carved meerschaum cigar holder presented by Houdini to his brother William, estimated at $10,000-$20,000. It was made in Prague by Emanuel Czapek around 1903, and it is surmounted by a Houdini-like figure dressed in a loincloth and bound in cuffs and leg irons, crouched next to a three-columned structure. It measures almost seven inches long and includes its original silk-lined fitted leather case. This object was held closely by the Houdini family, providing a link between the brothers and demonstrating not only their close relationship but Houdini’s generosity.
Another precious object directly traceable to the Houdini family is a diamond and platinum bracelet given by Houdini to his sister-in-law, Hennie White. The piece weighs 3.89 carats and is estimated at $8,000-$10,000. It is accompanied by a GIA-certified appraisal, its original red leather box, and a photograph of Hennie White wearing the jewelry.
Certain to turn heads is a scrapbook belonging to Houdini, estimated at $30,000-$60,000. This 287-page album with marginalia in Houdini’s hand includes news and magazine clippings and ephemera dating from the 1760s to the 1920s. The bulk concerns spiritualism and related subjects, but it also features material relating directly to Houdini and other magicians of the time. Highlights include business cards of J.N. Maskelyne and S.S. Baldwin, printed ads for The Zancigs, a photo of Houdini seated atop the monument beneath which he would be buried, and Houdini letterheads and programs.
The May 21 sale lineup also boasts photographs featuring Houdini, many of which have never appeared at auction before. Earning status as Lot #1 is the earliest known photograph of Houdini presenting the Metamorphosis magic trick. The vintage photo carries an estimate of $15,000-$25,000. This full-length albumen portrait of Harry and his brother Theo was taken in New York by Feinberg around 1892 or 1893. It is believed to be the first known photograph of the brothers presenting a magic trick that would become a key part of Houdini’s stage show, albeit with his wife, Bess, rather than Theo.
A silver print oval bust portrait of Houdini, estimated at $2,500-$5,000, pictures the magician wearing a black bow tie and tweed jacket. It is signed and inscribed, “To Frances Fielding, / may my likeness conjure up / only pleasant thoughts / Harry Handcuff Houdini / Oct 4/04.”
Completing the Houdini photographic highlights is a full-length photo portrait of Harry and Beatrice “Bess” Houdini, estimated at $2,000-$4,000. It was taken in London by Campbell Gray, Ltd. in 1910 and the image is inscribed and signed on the verso: “To / Mr & Mrs / Hereward Carrington / compliments of / Harry Houdini / New York July 2-1910.”
Stunning vintage magic posters for legacy performers are, of course, part of the May 21 sale. A circa-1905 poster touting T. Nelson Downs, King of Koins, is estimated at $10,000-$15,000. This framed color litho features a bust portrait of Downs surrounded by vignettes of his coin manipulation act, ribbons of silver coins and red flowers. A filmstrip-like sequence at the bottom of the poster shows six poses from his trademark routine, The Miser’s Dream.
An unforgettable circa-1899 poster of Kellar Toasting the Devil is estimated at $8,000-$10,000. This linen backed litho shows a three-quarter length image of the illusionist arm-in-arm with Mephistopheles, toasting each other against an orange background.
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