Saturday, March 16, 2013

Guest Blog: The Replica Mirror Cuffs

Today I'm honored to present a Guest Blog by Master Locksmith and Mirror Handcuff expert Mick Hanzlik.

Mick Hanzlik Mirror Handcuff replica with keys

Recently on WILD ABOUT HARRY there has been quite a bit of interest in Houdini’s Mirror Handcuff Challenge in 1904, and the question I’d like to answer here, is “How many replica Mirror Cuffs have been made?”

Well, the best known replica is made of solid silver and is in the David Copperfield collection, along with the originals, in his private museum in Las Vegas. This replica was made by British silversmiths Hamilton & Co, and was presented to Houdini after he beat the challenge set by the Daily Illustrated Mirror newspaper.

There have been 3 people that I know of, who have built replica Mirror Cuffs, Ian McColl in Australia, Chris Gower from the UK, and also from the UK, myself, Master Locksmith Mick Hanzlik.

Chris built 2 versions of his cuff. One was cast from aluminium and used a small cabinet type key, and the other was made from heavier cast bronze, and used a Yale type key and locking mechanism. Sizing the cuffs has always been difficult, and the 3 of us have approached this in different ways. Chris used a picture made by a friend of his who drew around the original cuffs when he had the opportunity to examine them.

I’ll mention the other 2 methods later.

Chris Gower replicas with cylinder key (left) and cabinet key (right).

Ian made 3 variants of his cuff, all made of nickel plated brass. One used a long thin key to reach the locking mechanism at the end of the barrel. His second version was similar, but used a long Bramah (UK) key to operate a Bramah mechanism also at the end of the barrel. His third version used a shorter key, very similar in looks to the original keys, with a custom built locking mechanism at the keyhole end of the barrel. Ian sized his cuff by enlarging a picture of the cuffs from one of his Houdini books, and estimating the size of the opening for the wrists.

Ian McColl's new replica (top left), non-Bramah replica (top right),
and Bramah lock replica (bottom).

Now on to my replicas. I originally made the key, using the few photographs that exist. Recognising the end of the key in the photographs was identical to a Bramah key, and as the cuffs were made in the UK, it was a pretty sure bet that part of a Bramah lock was modified to fit inside the barrel, I was able to determine that the tip of the key would have had the same diameter as the Bramah one – 6.5mm. I then enlarged the photograph of the key so that the tip measured 6.5mm. I then had a photo of an actual size key, that I then made in brass and steel, and then had nickel plated.

Mick Hanzlik's replica under construction.

Having made the key, I decided to try to build a set of cuffs to match. I found a photograph on the Internet, which showed a perfect side-on view of the Mirror Cuffs. I enlarged the picture using the key that I made, and ended up with what I think is an actual size set of Mirror Cuffs.

It is uncertain to know exactly if I have the size correct, as I have been unable to get any information from David Copperfield’s museum.

I then designed the individual parts and got the flat pieces laser cut and then I riveted them together. The barrel was welded to the rest of the cuffs and the long process of smoothing the surfaces began. The cuffs were then sent to Ian McColl in Australia, who built the locking bolt which operated with my replica key, using a lock mechanism given to me by Jeremy Bramah. Eventually I built the secondary locking system, which can be seen when looking into the keyhole.

Mick Hanzlik's cuff lock mechanism.

The whole thing was then nickel plated.

So there exists 6 different replica Mirror Cuffs at this moment.

If anyone has any further information, please share it.

The completed Mick Hanzlik Mirror Handcuff replica.

Thank you Mick.

UPDATE: Here is a terrific video of Mick Hanzlik's replica Houdini Mirror Handcuffs in action.


31 comments:

  1. What I would love to see is a video showing this replica cuff being locked and unlocked. Would give everyone a sense of how it operates.

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  2. Thanks Mick! A fascinating treatise on the Mirror Cuffs. Hell, I couldn't tell the differences.

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  3. Hello Anonymous (and anyone else...) here's a link to the video of my Mirror Cuffs thst I just filmed. Hope you like it;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46HiQWaHEBk

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  4. Great video! Thanks Mick. I added it as an update.

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  5. Incredible. In your estimation could anyone escape from this handcuff by picking the lock? Is this cuff the most pick proof of any cuff ever made? If one was attempting to pick this cuff while on the wrists how would one go about it?

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  6. In my opinion, the picking process would have taken much longer than the time that Houdini completed the challenge. If the lock just had one Bramah lock, and not the "double nested" locks, it would have needed many picking operations. Here's an example; The inner Bramah lock has six sliders (or tumblers) so each slider would need to be picked individually to the correct height to make the key turn, just 1/6th of a revolution. So in order for the key to turn one complete revolution it would need 36 picking operations. The cuff opens with 6 complete turns of the key, so that means 36 x 6 picking operations = 216 operations. But this lock also had an outer set of sliders, this time there are 8. So 8 x 8 = 64. Then x 6 to turn the key 6 times = 384. So if it was possible, it would need a total of 570 picking operations to get the key fully turned. In a situation where you are governed by time, and the distraction of a theater audience, I don't think the concentration needed would be there. Coupled to the fact that the cuffs were on the wrists in a certain way, it would have been almost impossible to get full access to the keyhole. Any theories would be welcome.....

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    Replies
    1. Wow, that's fascinating. Thanks Mick.

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  7. Let's just say the escape was legit ......if the cuffs were not realistically possible to pick could Houdini have made a set of duplicate keys based on visual inspection of the cuff and key with a good possibility that one of them would work? In other words is the key so complex that an expert could not develop a key that would work after visually being allowed to inspect it? I understand the latest theory that Houdini made the cuff himself and the entire proceedings were part of the act. At the same time don't you think one of the news people involved would have spilled the beans at some point in time if this were the case?

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  8. If you look at the pic of Houdini being locked into the cuffs it appears they are being locked key hole up with Houdinis wrists on top of one another. This would be the only position that would allow him access to the keyhole....or at least the best access to the keyhole.

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  9. Would a Daily Mirror employee in on the scheme eventually spill the beans? Not necessarily. Houdini was good friends Alfred Charles Harmsworth, the owner of the Daily Mirror. Mr. Harmsworth had a symbiotic relationship with Houdini. Houdini's Mirror Challenge boosted the circulation of Harmsworth's paper.

    Anone in The Mirror who talked would have faced the wrath of Mr. Harmsworth. If you were a Mirror employee of Mr. Harmsworth, would you welcome his anger and wrath? Well... would you Mr. Anonymous?

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    1. All very true. There would be absolutely nothing in it for a Mirror employee to "spill the beans." All it would do would lose him his job. And who would they "spill the beans" too back then? HH had pretty good relationships with all the major papers. Ratting out Houdini and the Mirror was not going to make a journalist's career. Just the opposite.

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  10. Harmsworth probably had the power to blacklist you from the newspaper industry in Great Britain. You would have had to pack your bags and find a job far enough away where his arms could not reach you.

    If the Mirror Challenge had been genuine, Houdini would have gone down in flames. Hanzlick's description of the difficulties in picking this lock in a dark cabinet in a limited amount of time makes this clear. I'm still amazed at Houdini's ability to open this handcuff with his wrists locked in them.

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    1. If Houdini made the Mirror cuff (and I think he probably did) I think he cleverly made one loop slightly larger so he could slip that side then use his free hand to open with the key. You can clearly see one loop is larger. You also see this on the Russian Manacle, another cuff made by HH.

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  11. Certainly could see that an employee would not spill the beans at that time....but the people involved lived more than likely many years after the event in 1904. Years after, perhaps decades and no one as far as we know comes forward to tell the tale that the entire event was a sham? I'm not saying it did or did not occur but it does seem funny that we did not hear a peep from anyone as the years went by. Also there are other ways an escape artist such as Houdini could open the cuff aside from picking.

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  12. Dorothy Dietrich here again...
    When I did the Travel Channel show about The Mirror Cuffs on Mysteries At The Museum they wanted me to say the whole thing was a set up by Houdini. This caused friction with the director. This is the reason, I believe, she ran the shoot some 7 grueling hours. I would not say it because there is no real way to know what happened. I also did not want to be a spoiler attempting to hurt Houdini's image. I gave them two explanations part of which they briefly used and through research I believe to be so.
    1) Houdini was able to sneak into the building of the newspaper and knew where the Mirror Cuffs were because of his several visits there. Even if they were locked up he could have gained access. Or they left him with the cuffs for a length of time. It would have been a simple matter for him or his assistants to make an impression of the key.
    2) Knowing Houdini's style he would have preferred not to leave behind people in town after town who would have later squealed and told of collusion. Which did not happen. That alone would have been a big story in itself. The cuffs could have been brought in by one of Houdini's assistants, or a friend, or the person who made them as a suggestion for a challenge, which the promotion minded newspaper jumped on.
    For more info go to...
    http://www.houdini.org/dorothydietrichtravelchannelhoudini.html
    The Travel Channel's 2:46 minute promo for the show is still online at...
    http://www.travelchannel.com/Video/keys-to-houdinis-secrets-16342
    and also the same (?) 2:41 minute promo at
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUNaBSfO3p4

    Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum
    First for 15 years at New York's Magic Towne House, now in Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini.

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    1. Dietrich here again.
      Correction...I only gave them on the shoot the first part of explanation number 2 above up to "big story in itself". The other part never came up.

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    2. Huh, that's interesting. I've never really thought that HH could have somehow made a copy of the key. That's definitely a possibility. Thanks Dorothy.

      I love how "reality" shows come and tell you what "reality" to give them.

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  13. Dorothy Dietrich here again...

    That is a similar problem we had with the Brad Meltzer Decoded show. When we got wind of that kind of action, we asked not to be connected with the show beyond what we told them directly. We sensed that what they told us the show was going to be about was NOT what they had actually planned, so we challenged them about it. We had spent a whole day traveling to Manhattan and filming. We then never billed them our fee or asked for expenses. I believe they then gave part of our information to others to say. We lost some publicity by not being on the show but did not want our reputation damaged in any way. For sure we do not believe Bess had a hand in "murdering" Houdini. That is what, in my opinion, this horrible show concluded. Not sure how the others who were on the show felt or what they knew.
    For more on this we have 4 pages of info at
    http://www.houdini.org/houdinimurdered.html
    Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum
    First for 15 years at New York's Magic Towne House, now in Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini.

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    1. Yeah, I think they did give your info to another interviewee. Talk about unethical. That show was shameless.

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  14. That does sound more plausible.....Houdini may have set this all up but perhaps the newspaper did not even know themselves. Someone posing as the creator of the cuffs could have approached the Mirror with the background story. All along Houdini had the second key and the rest was showmanship. This way there is no one that could ever expose him later on. I'd bet my money this was how it all went down.....assuming it was a set up to begin with.

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  15. There are one other possibilty :Houdini knew the leading locksmiths in London. Someone could have made the key since it was stated that several locksmiths claimed to have examined the lock. I also made a replica of the mirror handcuff in 1996.
    Johan Ahlberg
    Sweden

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  16. Sloman and Kalush point out in their book that the replica cuffs the Daily Mirror presented to Houdini had been manufactured A YEAR before the date of the actual challenge. At the time of the challenge, the Mirror promised to make a replica for Houdini after the showdown.

    The fact that the Mirror lied about the replica strongly implies that Houdini and the Mirror conspired together. Hanzlik, An expert locksmith, confirmed what I had eventually realized: The Bramah lock is too hard to pick from inside a dark cabinet within an hour--and with your wrists locked in the cuffs.

    And Houdini played it for all it was worth. After a short while of struggling, he stepped out of the cabinet to get a better view of the lock under the lights of the theater. Brilliant.

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  17. Apparently the cuffs were NOT made a YEAR before the challenge. There is some confusion because the Silver hallmark of 1903 was still valid at the time the cuffs were
    made and marked. The 1904 hallmark came in later. The hallmarks did not run January to January.Until 2000, the hallmark letters were changed in May of each year, so therefore, as the silver presentation cuffs were made just after the challenge, the 1903 mark would have been stamped on them

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    1. Really? I'll be darned. That is interesting. So not the smoking gun this has been made out to be. Thanks Mick.

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  18. Yes, thanks Mick! I wonder if Bill Kalush knows this? Another error in his book.

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  19. The idea that the cuffs were made for Houdini himself and the challenge was just showmanship really tarnished this mystery for many. If this last bit of info is true, and we have no reason to think it's not, this challenge escape goes back on the list of real mysteries as to how Houdini escaped from these cuffs. Here is the hope that the next book written about Houdini does not make similar mistakes. I'm convinced Houdini could not have picked the lock but perhaps some sort of key that could be adjusted to match the tumblers in the lock or just a duplicate key somehow made from impressions of the original.

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  20. I was never a fan of the Kalush book. The whole spy thing was a horrible stretch obviously just to find a new angle to sell more books....then the exhumation talk...again just to try to sell as many books as possible. I'm all for American Capitalism but it's Houdini we are talking about here.

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    1. There is true gold in the Kalush book but, yeah, I have similar issues with it. I think Bill Kalush is a great guy and he's obviously completely committed to Houdini and magic history. I think he might have been sucked into the sensationalism by his co-author Larry Sloman and the publisher. I think you might have to sell your soul somewhat to get a biography published these days.

      Delete
  21. Anonymous wrote, "Is this cuff the most pick proof of any cuff ever made?"

    I believe this cuff was able to be picked, as I believe any lock is pickable. I do not believe it was picked in this instance in the time.

    I created a kingbreaker cuff a few years ago & am still working on a way to get out of it now. I am not saying it is escape proof, but it takes time to find a method of escape.

    Mick Hanzlik was present when I revealed this, so can verify it.

    Back to the Mirror cuff, I am certain it was a staged event to tie in with the promotion of the new Mirror paper.

    Everyone's a winner!

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  22. I just read a snippet from the Times newspaper who I assume covered the escape in 1904. It states that Houdini emerged triumphant with the "handcuff in pieces". This is a real weird way to describe the cuffs being in an open state. Any thoughts as what this could mean if anything?

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