Monday, July 15, 2013

Lost Houdini Spiritualism scrapbook discovered in California

The lost Houdini scrapbook (and me).
Today I'm thrilled to share news of a truly incredible find. A hitherto unknown Houdini scrapbook -- which has possibly gone unseen for 83 years -- was recently discovered by an antique dealer in Southern California.

This amazing book, which Houdini compiled and labeled as "IMPORTANT SCRAP BOOK - MISCELLANEOUS CLIPPINGS," is jam-packed with newspaper clippings about Spiritualism and Houdini's own spirit busting activities. Many of the clippings have annotations in Houdini's own hand. The majority of the material is from 1925 with a few clippings from early 1926.

Of course, 1925 was the height of Houdini's anti-spiritualism crusade, and it was also the year of his exposure of Margery the Medium. Therefore this scrapbook is filled with clippings chronicling Houdini's most famous investigation. It also contains several clippings related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

While the scrapbook is devoted specifically to spiritualism, there are also several semi-related curiosities; such as a clipping about Friedrich von der Trenck (see: Is this Houdini in a past life?), a random Thurston advert, a story about whether pets live on after death, and a page devoted to Houdini's performance before the Roosevelt grandchildren, which is the only full account of this I've ever read (watch for a special blog about this soon). There are also two letters addressed to Houdini, one of which the magician has annotated, and a lengthy article about Houdini in French from a Montreal newspaper. Eerie to think that J. Gordon Whitehead almost certainly read this article.

So what's the story behind this amazing find?

A few weeks ago I received an email from Mike, a long-time California antique dealer, saying he believed he had found a Houdini scrapbook. Frankly, it sounded too good to be true. But the photos he sent were intriguing and he said an expert dealer had concurred that it was a Houdini scrapbook. He then graciously invited me to come have a look for myself.

So, on the following Sunday, I set off to see what I thought couldn't be. Well, I knew on first sight that the unbelievable was true. This is, unquestionably, one of Harry Houdini's original scrapbooks. In fact, I think this might be one of Houdini's most important scrapbooks (hence the title) as it's really a tool for the magician to use in his battles against spiritualists. Many of the damning incidents that Houdini would cite against mediums (suicides related to seances, etc.) as well as stories of their underhanded methods are collected here. And then, of course, there's all the Margery material.

In fact, the importance of this scrapbook might be why it went missing from the collection of over 100 Houdini scrapbooks currently in the Library of Congress, and why it wound up on the West Coast. Mike has no provenance for the book, but it could be that Edward Saint brought this book with him to California when he and Bessie relocated here in the 1930s. Spiritualism was still a hot issue for the couple, and having Houdini's research scrapbook was probably a valuable tool. After Saint's death, the scrapbook could have been sold or given to a magician or Houdini enthusiast by Bess, and then went into storage where it's been for an unknown number of years.

Amazingly, this is the first Houdini item Mike has ever discovered in his 30 years of collecting. "It was a good day," he says.

The exciting news for collectors is that Mike is planning on selling this. He says he would like this important Houdini artifact to go to someone who "will appreciate it and look after it" and also "share it in some way with other Houdini enthusiasts." He has not yet decided whether to sell it through a national auction or privately, but he is open to hearing from interested collectors.

Now, I'm not brokering this and I don't know what price Mike has in mind (I made him the best offer I could), I'm just volunteering to put him in touch with fellow Houdini collectors as thanks for letting me see this amazing scrapbook and share the news of its discovery here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

You can reach Mike by sending me an email via my CONTACT PAGE. I will forward all emails onto him and keep all correspondence confidential.

Now put on your drool cups and enjoy these photos of Houdini's long lost Spiritualism scrapbook!


UPDATE: Nice to see this news getting picked up around the web. Here are some links:

39 comments:

  1. Amazing. Thanks a lot for the post. Great to see a rare and truly Houdini's scrapbook.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks so much for sharing.
    WOW !!
    Now where did I put my lottery ticket. .......
    ;-)
    Cheers
    Narinder

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Mike is the one with the winning lottery ticket. :)

      Delete
  3. As only 1 person will be able to buy this, and many interested fans would like to have a peek, I hope that you (or someone else) has the opportunity to photograph all pages and make this available as a PDF for scholars and fans.

    But WHAT A FIND!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The photos I took above (with my old iPhone) are probably the best I can do. But it is Mike's wish that this be made available to Houdini fans and scholars in some way.

      Delete
    2. Fantastic!
      When doing research for an (completely unrelated) article we went to a library and basically digitally photographed complete books, to study at leisure at home. My brother regularly is in the archives and photographs old documents to decipher at home.
      Photos as above are perfectly fine for the scholar, I'd say - pic 5 is absolutely readable. If you have the whole series of photos it's very easy to make 1 PDF document out of them.
      Brilliant that Mike is happy to make them available! Many will be thankful.

      Remco
      (original comment also mine)

      Delete
  4. Thanks for sharing this amazing find with your readers. This is why we love your website/blog!

    jeff

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jeff. I'm really thrilled Mike allowed me to share this discovery first hand. So much better than if it just appeared one day in auction and then vanished into a collection. It's exciting to be a part of the history of this item. :)

      Delete
  5. Outstanding, John. Even seeing a complete list of its contents would be wonderful. Many thanks and kudos to you and Mike.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure. Yes, a complete list would be great, but there is a lot in there. I was thrilled to have been able to page through the entire thing.

      Delete
  6. Thank you for sharing this with us cuff collectors.
    I don't visit here as much as I should and might have missed this had you not mentioned it on HC.Org.

    I hope a magician with deep pockets does not get the opportunity to purchase this and put it in his private museum.

    The world needs to have access to it or at least be able to read each and every page.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, good. Thanks Mark. I try to only share Houdini cuff related stuff at handcuffs.org, but this was one I din't want anyone to miss.

      Delete
    2. Yes, like the one in NV where so many other incredible items are that we can't see!

      Delete
  7. what a great find, he all ways comes up in a mystery, after all these years

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's amazing how these things continue to show up, isn't it?

      Delete
  8. John, I have just added this to my collection.

    Hold on, I have just woken up...... I was dreaming!
    I could only ever dream of owning a piece of Houdiniana like this.
    I hope whoever buys this will share it & it is not locked away again. I know we won't get to hold it in our hands (you are a lucky man John), but Houdini fans, enthusiasts & "obsessives" would love to see it!
    Many thanks John & Mike for giving us the chance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That first sentence made my heart skip a beat. :)

      I am lucky to have been able to page though this.

      Delete
  9. Hello all,

    This is Mike, the guy who discovered the scrapbook. I'd like to offer a hearty "thank you" to John, who posted my find on this wonderful blog. "Thanks" as well go out to all who have expressed an interest, and to all who have commented here. John is forwarding your emails to me and I will be getting back to every one of you.

    It is an honor and a privilege to be sharing this here for the first time, and yes, it was a great find a "good day." More than anything, though, I am happy to be able to provide new insight into the man who was Houdini.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a truly wonderful discovery. Thanks to both Mike and John for letting us get a glimpse of this. I'll bet there are more than a few gems in the pages of that book! Quite mind boggling!!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. It's really incredible for something like this to survive all these years, and in still very readable condition - WHOOPS!, forgot my "drool cup"... OK it's now in place, (LOL). Seriously though, it's appearance from the leather clad binder is something most people would've quickly throw away when 'cleaning' without ever even opening it. Thanks for the opportunity of sharing this very important piece of "Houdini History".

    --Vince o--o

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great find!

    Looking at the clippings, I realized I also have a copy of the same front page of the Boston American, that Houdini sent Shadow, (daughter of Samri) Baldwin along with a letter he had written her. "The enclosed might interest you...."
    How many could send not just a clipping, but FRONT PAGE of a newspaper, noting their activities.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wow! What a find! Extraordinary!

    About the TR grandkids - can you confirm a date on that performance?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can and I will. Going to do a whole post on it, probably next week.

      Delete
  14. Fascinating. Normally I am not big on Houdini's anti spiritualist period, but even I can really see this as a treasure trove. What we really need to do is fund a museum group of some sort so we can ensure this sort of thing can be bought and shared openly with everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was always least interested in his spiritualist period as well, but things like this and the treasures from "The Margery Files" have really gotten me interested. It is a period that reveals Houdini's character the most.

      Delete
    2. B Thorn: I'm totally with you on that!

      Delete
    3. Oops, sorry about the typo, B Thom.

      Delete
  15. Fantastic! This is great.
    Also, so funny that Margery is described as "The Short-Skirted Medium"! What a minx!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Let me add my thanks in your sharing this gold. I am particularly interested in Houdini's spiritualism period as I've been researching a book on the billet worker Bert Reese for the last 10 years. Houdini had a number of encounters with him and would love to eventually know if anything of Reese is in the scrapbook. I hope that when it gets sold you will be able to share where it ended up to see if it would be available to scholars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Bobby. Glad you enjoyed this. Off hand I don't recall anything in it about Reese, but I really just skimmed through it. Yes, I will follow this book as far as I can.

      Delete
  17. Thank you for this revelation This is equally important to H P Lovecraft researchers. I believe that J C Henneberger was partly funded by Houdini with Weird Tales, and through him met Lovecraft. Lovecraft met with Houdini in New York many times, and at first shunned Houdini's inquiries to write and perhaps spy for him, but then introduced his friend C M Eddy Jr to him - and Eddy quickly became a close associate of Houdini. Houdini funded Eddy clandestinely by buying his music. (There are published letters to this effect in one of Houdini's biographies). I hope more Houdini scholars will investigate that later period of Houdini's work on spiritualism that sometimes included Lovecraft.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris. I did a little something on The Cancer of Superstition HERE.

      When I go back and have another look at the scrapbook (which I hope to do soon for a "sequel" post), I will keep an eye out for anything Lovecraft related.

      Delete
  18. I understand people may get mad at Copperfield but I truly don't know of anyone else as deserving as himself to own this piece he really loves his stuff!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can think of one other person who's "deserving". ;)

      Copperfield would be a good caretaker of this, that's for sure. But there are some other major collectors who would take good care of it and make it available for research as well.

      Delete
  19. Congrats on a great find - I love new Houdini info as well as Lovecraft info, also anything on Hereward Carrington new or old would be of interest too - I am still working on the Hereward's biography.

    ReplyDelete

Translate

Receive updates via email