It appears that ultimately the late Harry Houdini has fulfilled his promise to communicate from beyond the grave. Well-heeled and/or devoted collectors will do his bidding, so to speak, when they participate in the annual Swann auction Galleries’ magic auction in NYC on October 30th, 2001. Although other items will be offered, the auction will highlight 110 Houdini related items from the collection of Doug Edwards.
Originally scheduled as a daytime auction for Oct. 25th, the date was recently changed to the evening of Oct. 30th to more closely align the event with a date particularly freighted with meaning for students of magic and especially Houdini aficionados. The following day, October 31st, is both Halloween and the 75th anniversary of the death of the renowned magician, escapologist and anti-spiritualist. Edwards, noted for his own numerous inventions, books, and wide ranging collecting interests, spoke with MagicTimes about the upcoming auction and his decision to part with these highly desirable items.
“I’ve been interested in magic since the age of two. I began collecting in 1970 when I realized that props made years ago were often better crafted than contemporary pieces. Since 1996 my primary focus in collecting has been acquiring items related to Harry Houdini. Now, my life situation and interests have changed enough for me to acquiesce to letting this exceptional part of my collection go.” In 1994 Edwards sold, “the largest Cardini collection” to David Copperfield. Edwards has also disposed of his Arthur Lloyd and Roy Benson collections. “Who knows? I may even some day be talked into releasing my antique magic set and my magic poster collections. Who knows?”
MagicTimes inquired why Edwards had decided that this was the time and venue to divest himself of the Houdini items. “I’m not getting any younger. I’ve been there; done that. I’ll focus more on the Doug Edwards persona.” Among his popular, recently marketed items are Really Haunted and his book Doug Edwards Packs a Wallop. “So, my letting go can be someone else’s exciting acquisition; their once in a lifetime opportunity. Collections are meant to be sold.” Edwards told MagicTimes, “I wouldn’t allow any other auction house to touch my collection. Swann’s integrity, probity, courtesy and attention to detail are second to none.”
Veteran Houdini expert and magic historian Stanley Palm commented on the items from the Edwards collection being offered at the auction, some of which Edwards acquired from him. “It’s a good collection, a big collection. Doug has been meticulous in so far as acquiring items in pristine condition. He has been very particular.” Why the great interest in Houdini? “Every body knows the name,” said Palm. “For some, it’s the only name they know. There are a few hard core Houdini specialists but there are many general collectors who want just one piece or item for display. The name Houdini, more so than Herrmann, Kellar or Thurston is universally recognized.”
Houdini’s wallet is among the trophies from Edwards cache awaiting successful bidders at the Swann auction. There is correspondence from Kellar to Houdini including an invitation from Kellar to Houdini to accompany him to Dr. Hookers’ house on Remsen St. in Brooklyn Heights to view the card rise. Another letter, written by Houdini to his wife Bess just three months before his demise, sells the entire act to her for $1. “This was to protect his assets in the event of a lawsuit,” explained Edwards. “He didn’t fear reprisals from the dearly departed but litigation from legal representatives of mediums he exposed.” This piece came into Edwards’ hands via the Hinson family, Bess’s relatives.
How much will the auction sale ultimately generate as far as dollar amounts? Those planning to bid must consult their conscience, the tealeaves and their wallets. As far as The Great Mystifier himself, it seems he’s not tipping anything. For some, “The Jail Breaker” may acquire a new nickname, “The Bank Breaker.” We won’t know until the final gavel falls.
For more information about Swann Auction Galleries, their schedule and catalogs click: HERE.
(Note that the magic auction dates and catalog are not yet available on their site).
—Richard Steven Cohn
Richard Steven Cohn has written for Genii, Magicol, M.U.M., The Yankee Collector, MAGIC, as well as magic themed articles for Brooklyn Bridge Magazine and Stagebill. He is a magical consultant for television and theater and performs both as a single and with his wife Alexandra.