Houdini at Liberty

MagicTimes Spotlight News

Weltman Houdini Collection filled with both Magic and Meaning

On Oct. 31st, ephemera, correspondence and memorabilia of Harry Houdini, “The Jailbreaker” may be unable to escape from beneath the auctioneers gavel when items from the Manny Weltman collection are featured in the annual Magic Auction at Swann Galleries in New York City.

Houdini was a magician, author, publisher, researcher, fraternal man, filmmaker, aviator, and collector. Manny Weltman shared several of these interests with “The Elusive American.” Nanette Weltman, Mannys’ widow, in talking with MagicTimes, related how her husband had told her that “the more he studied Houdini, the more of an enigma Houdini became.”

The Weltman collection, a resource utilized on several motion pictures, TV shows and documentaries, was acquired piece by piece over the course of Weltman’s lifetime. A personal dairy of Houdini and his scrapbook on spiritualism, both on sale as part of the auction, were among Weltman’s favorite items in a collection that included film footage, manuscripts, advertising, and photographs.

Manny Weltman’s fascination with Houdini was “a life long passion.” He first came under the spell of magic when as a child in Cleveland, Ohio his father took him to see the Harry Blackstone Sr. show several times. Weltman inveigled his way backstage but, “Blackstone snubbed him. He was gruff. He had no time for a kid,” explained Nanette. Manny, still enamored of magic “looked around” and was intrigued by Houdini. From this childhood beginning grew the extensive collection. “Years later, when Manny applied to The Magic Castle for magician membership (Manny was known for his close-up work with coins) Blackstone Sr. was on the audition committee. Manny told him the story of backstage in Cleveland. Blackstone said, ‘I did that?’ Then he apologized to Manny.”

The Magic Castle always referred all Houdini inquiries to Weltman. Nanette has many fond memories of the Castle and the friendships that magic and the Houdini collection initiated. “He loved to promote magic, especially to kids,” said Nanette. Weltman published “Escape into Legend” in 1993, the first of a trilogy he had planned but his death in May of 1994 left the project unfinished. An A&E Channel documentary contracted two weeks before his passing utilized archival footage licensed from the collection. The program was dedicated to Manny Weltman in memorium. Nanette was prompted to plan the auction by the desire to see these cherished historic items that Weltman had acted as, “the steward” of, once again available to knowledgeable magicians and historians.

“It’s hard. Letting go. The collection has been in storage since his death. Manny wanted the items in the collection to be preserved as a permanent part of history. He used them for his research and writing. He wanted the collection to be meaningful and it wasn’t meaningful in storage.”

On Oct. 31st, Houdini will once again be at liberty. Collectors, historians, and magicians will have an opportunity to capture a little bit of “The Man No Jail Can Hold” when they attend the Swann Gallery Annual Magic Auction featuring items from the Manny Weltman Houdini Collection.

Date and time: October 31, 2002 at 10:30am.
Place: Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, New York 10010.
Phone: 212-254-4710.

To view the auction catalog on the web click: HERE:

—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.

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