Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Herman Weiss or an Italian Job?

Recently this photo cycled unsold on eBay. It is said to be of Houdini's half-brother Herman who died when Houdini was still a boy. On the back is written "Herman M. Weiss, Appleton 1882." If legit, it would be only the second known photograph of Houdini's oldest sibling.

Photo said to be Herman Weiss in 1882.

Below is the one known photograph of Herman Weiss. This was discovered by Ken Silverman in the Library of Congress and comes from Houdini's Strange Tales by Patrick Culliton. Herman might be a few years older or younger in the below photo. Is there a resemblance?

Photo of Herman from Houdini's Strange Tales.

I was considering pulling the trigger on this -- the seller had a $79.00 Buy It Now -- until I remembered that back in May a cabinet photo appeared on eBay that was said to be Houdini's brother Nathan (this was also written on the back). That photo did not resemble Nathan and also went unsold. Now looking back, the man in that "Nathan" photo very much resembles the man in the photo of what is now said to be "Herman"!

Photo listed as being Nathan Weiss in 1904.

The name of the seller of the Nathan pic (jerry_storia) is different from the Herman shot (ritamoio). However, both are from Italy with almost identical profile pages, and the layouts of the listings are strikingly similar. Also, while writing on the back is key to identifying both these photos, it both cases the seller doesn't include a photo of the writing in the listing.

Similarities in "jerry_storia" and "ritamoio" listings.

So what's going on here? It would be very exciting to confirm that this is a photo of Herman Weiss. But the dubious "Nathan" pic and the similarities between these two sellers makes me a little suspicious.

Thanks to Adam Steinfeld for the alert.

Related:

UPDATE: The seller has provided me with an image of the back of the Herman photo showing the writing. Not handwriting I recognize.

    13 comments:

    1. I think the first and second photos are probably the same person. However, it's hard to tell which is older. The first Herman has a softer baby face, but with an older man's thinning hair. Whereas, the darker Hermann photo looks more mature and angular. But they both have the same left ear and mouth.The Nathan photo looks like the brother of or an older version of the first Herman.

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      1. The thinning hair is an interesting observation. If that's Herman in 1882, he's only 19. Is that a 19-year-old's hairline?

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    2. It's possible. His face definitely looks 19. If his hair was thinning, the second photo shows that he may have grown it a bit longer, styled it forward, then compensated with a mustache and long sideburns.

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      1. Yeah, that could be. His face does look 19.

        Still spooked about what seem to be eBay shenanigans with these.

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      2. Yes, be cautious.

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      3. I was also excited at first to see his middle initial "M" used. Thought that was pretty obscure info. But then I saw it's on Wikipedia.

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    3. John Hinson great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniJanuary 7, 2014 at 3:08 PM

      Who selling it , try to get in contact with them how he got the picture. Go from there

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      1. Indeed. I just sent a message asking if I could get a photo of the writing and the source of this pic.

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    4. Interesting! At first, the first two photos don't seem to be of the same person at all, but if one looks closely and compares the angles of the heads, the ears, nose, mouth, eyes, chin and hairline seem to match. The hair color seems problematic to me, though. The Herman in photo # 2 definitely had dark brown hair, just like all the other Weisz boys. But the "Herman" in Photo # 1 seems to have a lighter chestnut brown color of hair. Then again, it could be a trick of the light.

      It's possible that both photos are Herman, though. It's also possible that he grew his hair out later for the second photo. I thought for a bit that perhaps the order of the photos is backwards, and that photo # 2 might have been taken when Herman wasn't so sick yet, and photo #1 perhaps shows Herman in a more advanced state of illness, looking still young, but with a slightly thinner face, and thinned out hair (and tuberculosis can cause both weight loss and alopecia). But the second photo seems to be of a slightly older young man than Photo #1, so it's really hard to tell. :\

      Then again, it's entirely possible that our eyes are deceived, and that these are just 2 similar-looking guys, but not the same people. But in any case, they BOTH look like members of the family Weisz.

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      1. Thanks Beth. I know what you're saying about the eyes deceiving. For me, it's opposite. At first I thought the two looked like each other, but now I can't see a resemblance. Maybe it has to do with how much we want to believe. :)

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    5. To my art historian's eye, it's clear that the authentic photo of Herman and the proposed second photo show different people.

      On actual Herman, the upper reaches of the forehead are broader, the eyebrows are thicker, the pouches of the lower eyelids are much more pronounced, the tip of the nose is both broader and less descending, the upper lip is more full, the lower lip's pout more concentrated, and the jaw shorter and more broad. The ears also seem different.

      What's striking to me, in studying this actual photo of Herman from the LOC, is how very much he looks like his brother Ehrich! The positioning and proportions of their deep-set eyes, cheekbones, mouth, and jaw are so structurally similar! Does any other Weiss sibling look so much like Houdini?

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      1. Thanks David.

        There are some shots of Hardeen where you can really see Harry. Also Leo has a resemblance. I'm struck by how much Harry looked like his father. The eyes.

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    6. Thanks for the comment, David. I'd trust an art historian's eye over my own, any day. :p

      And you're right, Herman looked a lot like his half-bro Harry. Harry sure resembled his father alright (esp. with those dazzling blue-grey eyes), but he took after his mother quite a bit too. (Makes me wonder what Harry's paternal and maternal grandparents looked like, and where each of the Weisz kids got their traits from).

      Now I wonder who the chap in the other photo is. I suppose we'll never know. :-\

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