Houdini’s masterful magic props lead bibliophile sale

SURREY, England — Select props from the world of magic, including a legendary pair of handcuffs, belonging to historic illusionist and escape artist, Harry Houdini are headed to the auction block Dec. 12.

Houdini’s props are among the 260 lots of items featured in Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions Bibliophile sale, which also includes conjuring books, prints, magic memorabilia, and more. Online bidding is available, without any additional fees, at www.dnfa.com.

Harry Houdini handcuffs

Harry Houdini handcuffs

Known at the beginning of his career as “Harry Handcuff Houdini”, the Hungarian-American escape artist prepared the pictured handcuffs specially to ensure a fool-proof escape. Houdini would normally use unprepared apparatus, so the rare pair was probably for use in his particularly risky Chinese Water Torture, or other underwater acts. They are accompanied by a typed letter from magician Billy McComb, detailing how he acquired them.

McComb explains how he found them amongst a large collection of rusty props purchased from the widow of Houdini’s brother, Theo Hardeen. Better known as ‘Dash’ Houdini’s brother was his stage partner before his wife, Wilhelmina Beatrice ‘Bess’ Rahner, replaced him in the 1890s. Whilst restoring the cuffs, McComb discovered they had been modified by Houdini. Such examples are rare survivors from the escape artist’s acts. This pair and letter are together estimated at $2,700 to $ 4,000 .

Other props used by Houdini include a:

• Pair of Lilly Leg Irons also estimated at $2,700 to $4,000

• Round barrel screw key padlock (pictured right), estimated at $1,300 to $2,000

Both were left by Houdini to his friend, and one of the world’s most talented mentalists,

leg irons

leg irons

Joseph Dunninger. Previous owners include mentalist and escapologist Richard John Silmser; handcuff collector Joseph Tanner of Wheeler-Tanner and John Fisher, gold star member of the Inner Magic Circle.

In addition, Houdini’s personal copy of Hudson Tuttle’s Arcana of Spiritualism is among the rare magic-related books in the auction. With engraved portrait bookplate and a few pencil underlinings and markings, it is estimated at $330 to $700.

Tricks and props from the collection of the actor and stage magician, John “Klox” Forrest, include several early pieces produced by Bland’s and Hamley’s. Forrest first worked as a child actor, appearing in the films Great Expectations in 1946 and Tom Brown’s School days in 1951. He also had a lead role on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire opposite Vivien Leigh in 1949. As a child, while living in Cookham, Berkshire, he was taught conjuring by Horace the brother of Stanley Spencer, eventually turning to magic as a profession and appearing as a cabaret performer in Paris and Monte Carlo as John Klox.

Additional lots expected to draw much bidding attention include:

• Illusionist Ralph Chart’s Artist’s Palette, which carries a presale estimate of $475 to $675

• 19th century conjurer’s table made of ebonised wood, featuring carved and partially gilt cabriole legs which is expected to fetch $400 to $500

The auction will be held by Dreweatts and Bloomsbury Auctions at the Godalming saleroom in Surrey. The catalog and details of online bidding with no additional fee can befound at www.dnfa.com.

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