Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Blog: Silver Mirror cuffs made before the challenge? Not so fast...

Today we have a Guest Blog by Master Locksmith and Mirror Handcuff expert Mick Hanzlik regarding a new finding about the silver Mirror Presentation cuffs.


There has been a lot written about Houdini's Mirror Handcuff Challenge of 1904, but not much information has been available about the silver replica handcuffs that he was presented with by the Daily Illustrated Mirror, to commemorate his victory.

We know that he was presented with the silver cuffs about six weeks after his victory, during a performance at the Brighton Hippodrome, and we also know that the original cuffs and the replicas were kept in the family in the possession of Bess and they eventually were seen together in a glass case at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls.

Both handcuffs are now owned by illusionist David Copperfield, and are housed in his private Museum of Magic in Las Vegas.

Recently there has been speculation as to when the replica handcuffs were made.

Click to enlarge.
In the Kalush/Sloman book, The Secret Life of Houdini, it states that after analyzing the marks on the sterling silver replicas, an amazing fact surfaced. It stated that the date mark was for 1903, a year BEFORE the challenge took place, so it was evident that the Daily Mirror conspired with Houdini to create a "highly dramatic and exciting challenge"

Well, this of course is possible, but I want to give one reason why there may have been some confusion.

I have been in touch with the London Assay Office who have controlled the marks on silver for hundreds of years. I sent them a photograph of the marks and they came back with the following information:

The H&CO mark is the maker's mark, Hamilton and Company, who were based at 202 Regent Street, London.

The lion denotes that the cuffs were registered with the London Assay Office.

The leopard head denotes that the cuffs were made of Sterling silver.

The "h" denotes the date. 1903.

BUT - it has been confirmed that the date marks did not run from January to January.

The date marks ran from May to May.

The challenge was March 17th 1904. The replica cuffs were presented to Houdini about six weeks after the challenge, so at the latest, that would be towards the end of April 1904. During those six weeks, the cuffs would have to be registered as required by the Assay Office, so that would have had to have been before May 1904, therefore the 1903 "h" mark would have been the only one that could have been used.

Of course, the silver replica cuffs COULD have been made any time between May 1903 and May 1904 and still carry the "h" date mark, so there is still uncertainty when they were actually made. The records for the makers Hamilton & Co would give the definitive answer, but the company stopped trading in late 1904, so they are probably lost forever.

My personal thoughts are these: The replica cuffs were presented to Houdini about six weeks after the challenge. Six weeks would in my opinion, be just about long enough to make the replicas, get them engraved with the inscription saying that Houdini beat the challenge, and then get them registered with the Assay Office.

As the challenge created so much publicity for the Mirror and Houdini, I think that by presenting Houdini with the silver replicas, they were able to gain even more publicity.

So I would like to think that they were made in those 6 weeks following the challenge. Maybe we will never know, but the research continues……

-Mick Hanzlik

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11 comments:

  1. My feeling always has been that if Houdini did indeed have the Mirror cuff made himself that the Daily Mirror never knew it. There would be the potential for someone to come forward even many years later to tell the real story. That never happened and Houdini was too smart to be put in a position to let this happen.

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  2. Great research.

    Houdini and the Mirror wouldn't need to commission the handcuffs themselves to prearrange the escape. Houdini, or he and the Mirror, would just need a duplicate key.

    I think the strongest argument against this being a genuine challenge is how hard it would be pick a double Bramah lock in any conditions, let alone while wearing handcuffs.

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  3. What if a genuine challenge and Houdini was able to make an impression of the key?

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  4. Has anyone ever made a replica of the Silver Mirror Cuffs?

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  5. A locksmith would have to answer about an impression of the key. I'd have to doubt it. A Bramah key is a cylinder with notches spaced around it. It's not a flat object.

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  6. Generally one would use a wax like substance and get a impression of the key on both sides and head on. Remember Houdini was an expert in these regards.

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  7. I would think that attempting to make a duplicate key from a wax impression would be almost impossible using the resources that had back in the early 1900's. Possibly today, with 3d printers, it might work, but the Bramah lock is so precise, that even if just one of the cuts in the key was slightly different to the original, the key just would not work.

    Also, in answer to the question asking if anyone has made a replica of the silver presentation cuffs, why would anyone want to? It is just a solid, non working copy, just to be looked at. Surely if anyone was going to make a replica Mirror Cuff, it would need to be a working model (like mine)

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  8. I totally agree with not having a reason to replicate the solid cuffs. I was just curious. I'm sure it would make for a very expensive paper weight. =)

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  9. The replica cuffs were actually presented to H on stage at the Brighton Hippodrome on Saturday 14th May 1904. Interestingly, the handbill advertising this states that he escaped in 62 minutes - previous reports I've seen said an hour and 10 minutes. Also, it says that it took the safe-lock maker, N Hart, 5 years to make the original pair - he apparently started making them before H even arrived in the UK then!

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  10. The replica cuffs were actually presented to H on stage at the Brighton Hippodrome on Saturday 14th May 1904. Interestingly, the handbill advertising this states that he escaped in 62 minutes - previous reports I've seen said an hour and 10 minutes. Also, it says that it took the safe-lock maker, N Hart, 5 years to make the original pair - he apparently started making them before H even arrived in the UK then!
    Paul Zenon

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  11. I should add too that the Daily Mirror (Daily Illustrated Mirror as it was in 1904) had only been existence for a few months (established November 2003) when the challenge took place, so it could not have commissioned the manufacture of the actual cuffs before that point, let alone 5 years in advance.
    I've also just realised that this post was a guest blog by my friend Mick Hanzlik, who was kind enough to show me the replica cuffs he manufactured, and to present me with one of the replica keys he made. He was a lovely man and is sadly missed.

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