Thursday, June 20, 2002

NEW HOUDINI POSTAGE STAMP

WASHINGTON - Harry Houdini, America's most famous escape artist and magician, will return to the spotlight July 3 in New York City when the U.S. Postal Service issues a new commemorative postage stamp in his honor.

The Harry Houdini stamp will be dedicated at a 10 a.m. first day of issue ceremony held in conjunction with the SAM (Society of American Magicians) 2002 Centennial Convention from July 3-6 at the Hilton New York, 1335 Avenue of the Americas.

David Copperfield, hailed as "the greatest illusionist of our time," will join David Solomon, vice president, Area Operations, New York Metro, Postal Service, in the dedication of the stamp.

The Houdini stamp will be available at the ceremony and at New York post offices starting July 3. It will be available at post offices across the country beginning July 5.

Although registration is required to attend SAM 2002, the stamp ceremony will be free and open to the public. Doors will open at 9:45 a.m., and the ceremony will take place in the Grand Ballroom. The public is also invited to attend a special lecture by Marie Blood titled "Uncle Harry and Me." Blood is the niece of Harry Houdini.

The 2002 issuance of the stamp coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Society of American Magicians. Houdini served as president of the society from 1917 until his death on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1926.

"Harry Houdini is considered one of the great magicians of our time," said Tony Curtis, who participated in the unveiling of the Harry Houdini stamp design in Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2001. "I was privileged to play him on the screen and tried, when I made the movie, to instill all the subtleties and genius of the man."

Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 24, 1874. His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was four and settled first in Appleton, Wis. His "professional debut" occurred at the age of nine, when he appeared as a contortionist and trapeze performer at a five-cent circus staged by a friend. He went on to perform magic and escape tricks in dime museums (exhibitions that featured human oddities and curiosities for a low price), medicine shows, circuses and other small performance venues.

Houdini's name was Ehrich Weiss until he changed it in the early 1890s as a tribute to the famous French illusionist, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. He began performing escape tricks on vaudeville stages in the spring of 1899, and by the following spring he had become a star known as the King of Handcuffs. Houdini astonished audiences with his daring escapes, not only from handcuffs but from straitjackets, ropes, chains, jail cells, and trunks submerged in water.

Beginning in 1915, Houdini thrilled huge crowds with his suspended straitjacket escape. In this "outside stunt" Houdini was bound in a straitjacket and a rope was tied around his ankles. He was then hoisted high above the crowd and suspended from a beam that projected from a window in a tall building. In a 1916 performance in Washington, D.C., an estimated 15,000 spectators watched Houdini free himself from this terrifying predicament.

In his later years Houdini crusaded against spiritualism and worked to expose fraudulent mediums who claimed to be able to contact the spirit world. Houdini, who believed that these people preyed on grieving families, used his knowledge as an illusionist to reveal their methods. Ironically, Houdini died on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1926. He was one of the best-known performers of the early 20th century, and his name remains synonymous with magic and escape today.

The portrait on the Harry Houdini stamp, which depicts a confident, self-assured man at the height of his career, was taken from a 1911 lithographed poster in the collection of Gary H. Mandelblatt. Designed by Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Ariz., the stamp contains a hidden image that-when viewed through the official U.S. Postal Service Stamp Decoder-appears to wrap Houdini in chains.

Current U.S. stamps, as well as a free comprehensive catalog, are available toll free by calling 1 800 STAMP-24. In addition, a selection of stamps and other philatelic items are available in the Postal Store at www.usps.com.

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Issue: Harry Houdini
Item Number: 452100
Denomination & Type of Issue: 37-cent commemorative
Format: Pane of 20 (1 design)
Series: N/A
Issue Date & City: July 3, 2002, New York, NY 10199
Existing Art: Collection, Gary H. Mandelblatt
Designer: Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, AZ
Engraver: N/A
Art Director: Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, AZ
Typographer: Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, AZ
Modeler: Joseph Sheeran
Manufacturing Process: Offset with Scrambled Indicia
Printer: Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. (APU)
Printed at: Williamsville, NY

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