Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's this about Houdini's throwing knives?

So in my morning trolling of the Internet in search of Houdini whatnot to share, I've once again come across a story about "Houdini's throwing knives." I've encountered these a few times. First was when one of the knives was displayed at the Houdini Museum in Scranton. Next was when one knife "sold" on the Discovery Channel Show Oddites for $1,300.


But I've been reluctant to post anything about these as it all seems a little suspicious to me. First off, Houdini had throwing knives??? I've never heard of Houdini doing a knife throwing act. The only provenance I find is that they belonged to "the Hartley family, who were companions of Houdini". I've never heard of the Hartley family. Also, in 2003, a completely different set of "Houdini throwing knives" sold in a Lelands auction for a revealingly low price of $349.

The current owner of these knives appears to be a professional knife thrower named The Great Throwdini, who writes on his website:

They were once the knives of THE GREAT HARRY HOUDINI (no kidding, these WERE Harry Houdini's personal throwing knives). They measure an awesome 16.5"and have cork handles. Made by the W.S. Brown Co., Pittsburgh PA.

In the Oddites show, Throwdini appears not as the owner, but as the purchaser. Again, suspicious, but I'm learning many of these "reality" shows employ similar tactics -- like having an actor present an item and then having the owner pose as the expert. But this just makes me all the more reluctant to believe that these knives have anything to do with Houdini, and are just being used as a publicity gimmick for Throwdini's act.

However, I'm certainly willing to have my mind changed. I would love to learn that Harry and Bess did a knife throwing act in their early years.

So does anyone know anything more about these? Maybe Throwdini himself can add a comment? Let's throw some light on these knives (see what I did there?).

UPDATE: Well, it appears there is a verifiable connection between Houdini and a knife throwing act. "Mr. Know-It-All" alerts me to Houdini's first pitch book (the cover of which you can see in Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss) which contains a section called, "How to do an Impalment [sic] Act." Doesn't mean Houdini performed the act himself, but he does present himself as expert enough to teach it, so knife throwing appears to be part of his skill set. Also, cork handles appear to be in line with his suggestion: "For an effective finish saturate the handles with some inflamable [sic] stuff and ignite them and then hurl at subject."

8 comments:

  1. As a former knife throwing enthusiast, to me those handles look pretty flimsy. You can use cork as a handle, but for serious work it has to be sheet cork, laminated under pressure and treated with something to seal it, like beeswax. Is that what you saw in Scranton?

    Otherwise, the handles can't stand up to the constant knocking around (and a lot of knife throwing is having your knife bouncing off the target and landing somewhere you didn't plan on). Definitely never heard of HH doing a knife throwing act, though it's not impossible that he learned it just for fun.

    Also, 16.5 inches is awfully long for a throwing knife. A classic Bowie knife, which is a perfect thrower because you can throw it from blade or handle, is only a foot long.

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    1. Oh, I didn't see these in Scranton. I just recall their press release last year that one would be on display.

      Thanks for the feedback. Doesn't seem likely Houdini would use anything but the best. Unless, of course, these are from his struggling days. But could they be that old?

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  2. These look legitimate for the late 19th century. The cork handles had to be porous to absorb flammable liquid. The extra long blades provided the necessary weight-forward to make accurate throws. Harry Houdini describes this act in his first pitch book.
    Best regards from Canada.

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  3. Oh, he describes this his first pitch book? Well that changes matters. Which book are you considering the first? Magic Made Easy, or one of the post 1900 books like America's Sensational Perplexer? Thanks.

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  4. There is only one known copy of the first (1894) pitch book in existence, at the University of Texas, so if Mr. KIA could kindly give us a citation?

    The man many consider the world's foremost authority on the pitch books, Mr. John Bushey, reports that he has checked out that book (he has a digital copy) as well as the 1896 and '98 books plus all the 1900 - 1924 pitch books and finds no mention of such an act.

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    1. Really? I'll get in touch with John. As you say, he is the man when it comes to pitch books. Thanks.

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    2. I talked to John. It's there. He overlooked it. But he also points out that this is just a book of tricks Houdini is selling. No real evidence here that he ever performed it himself.

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  5. Right, John just e-mailed me the same thing today. Mr. Know It All really DOES know it all!

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