Houdini Master of Magic
LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick
Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions.
During Harry Houdini’s final American tour in 1925 and 1926 he used his “flight of time” alarm clock trick to mesmerize audiences. The magician would cause 6-8 alarm clocks to invisibly fly from his hands to the ends of chains dangling from a board across the stage. When the clocks mysteriously reappeared, their bells rang loudly.
Then there was the flowering rose bush. Not just any rose bush. This green plant sits on the magician’s table waiting for the performer’s command. Once the magician waves his hand over the plant the bush slowly begins to sprout and grow real red roses. The trick ends and the flowers are distributed to delighted audience members.
And then there’s the sensational talking skull? This mechanically operated papier-mâché skull clicks its jaws once for yes and twice for no--answering questions from the audience and magician.
People collect vintage magic tricks, magic illusions, books on magic, and Harry Houdini memorabilia because it’s fun and interesting. Prior to the 1970s mostly magicians collected magicana. That’s changed. Nowadays it could be almost anyone from the novice magician to the kid next door.
Some of the most popular items date back to the late-19th and early-20th century. Houdini is at the top of the list. He was a great self-promoter and even small items like his photos command attention. Other famous vaudeville magicians such as Thurston, Carter, Blackstone and Raymond are also desirable.
Anything once owned by these magicians is said to possess psychic residues of the magician.
Houdini was especially interested in the after-life. He told close friends before his death that he would make every effort to contact them after he passed away. He died on Oct. 31, 1926. Every Halloween since then mediums and magicians gather and attempt to contact him.
And then there’s Carter the Great. He started his career as a journalist and lawyer in America. He developed a passion for magic and became a famous stage magician, illusionist and escapologist. Carter also realized there was too much competition in America so he went to Europe where he became famous. One of his most well known tricks was sawing a woman in half. He even had nurses in attendance for dramatic flavor. Other Carter tricks included making a live elephant disappear and cheating the gallows.
Nowadays, some of the most popular magic items are posters. These vintage, colorful lithographs show magicians performing death-defying tricks. They also let audiences know what they can expect to see on stage. Advance men traveled to cities and towns distributing these posters several days before a performance. Never meant to survive long, these colorful beauties are considered works of art today.
Other interesting items are magic tricks. These extremely well-made tricks from the turn-of-the-century still show up for sale in auctions around the country.
On Oct. 29, Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago featured its Salon De Magie sale. In the sale were selections from collector Ken Klosterman’s collection.
Here are some current values.
Scrapbook; of magician Carter the Great; South America 1917-1918; includes playbills, programs; broadsides, handbills and news clippings; $300.
Houdini Photograph; sepia-toned bust portrait; smiling Houdini in coat, vest and tie; inscribed and signed; New York, 1919; 8 inches by 10 inches; $1,560.
Talking Skull; mechanically operated papier-mâché skull; Colon, Michigan; Abbott’s Magic Novelty Company; circa 1949; $1,800.
Flight of Time Alarm Clock; faux spring-loaded alarm clock; New York, R.S. Schlosser- circa 1924; 3 7/8 inches diameter; $1,920.
Flowering Rose Bush; faux copper plant with hammered metal leaves; grows real roses resembling time-lapse photography; New Haven, Petrie & Lewis; circa 1945; $3,600.