In their report on the auction, the UK's Daily Mail claimed the cuffs "were a vital prop in Mr. Houdini's Chinese water torture escape." It appears the tabloid got this from Mike Heseltine, specialist in conjuring and performing arts at Bloomsbury, who speculated that the cuffs "could have been used in the Chinese Water Torture trick." The Times took the bait and are also now reporting that the cuffs "are believe to have been used" in the Chinese Water Torture Cell.
However, there is nothing to indicate that these cuffs were used in Houdini's most famous escape. In fact, Houdini did not even wear shackles in the USD. (He did wear handcuffs like these in the Milk Can.)
|Look, Ma, no cuffs!|
Other irons at auction include a pair of Lilly Leg Irons estimated at £2,000-3,000 [Lot 45], and a round barrel screw key padlock estimated at £1,000-1,500 [Lot 46]. Both were left by Houdini to Joseph Dunninger and later presented by Dunninger's widow to Richard John Silmser. They were then purchased by Joseph M. Tanner who sold the irons to John Fisher from a catalogue of Houdini memorabilia issued in 1988. Letters of provenance are included in both lots.
Houdini’s personal copy of Arcana of Spiritualism by Hudson Tuttle 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 £250-350 [Lot 20].
You can view the full action catalog and download a PDF at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions.