Tuesday, January 19, 2016

If not Soo or Foo then who?

Click to enlarge.
The eBay mystery seller who listed a treasure trove of early Houdini rarities earlier this month is back with what he says is the last Houdini item from the scrapbook of magician Charles Dunbar of Boston. This time the item being offered is a terrific hand-written postcard that is already up to $1,125 with 9 days still left to go.

Normally, per my somewhat loose auction reporting policy, I wouldn't post about this until after the auction had ended. However, these rarities have created quite a stir among collectors and just their appearance has been news. Also, in this case, I think I can help correct the auction listing.

You'll notice that on this card Houdini has written: "A new Chinese magician is expected over here soon." The seller, who is a non-magic antiquarian dealer, speculates that Houdini could be talking about Chung Ling Soo, and includes this in the auction heading and description. It would certainly add interest and value to this item as Soo is the most famous "Chinese" magician of them all.

However, this was written in December 1900, and William Robinson had already established himself as "Chung Ling Soo" earlier that year. In fact, Houdini and Soo shared the bill at the Alhambra in July of 1900. So this is not a reference to Chung Ling Soo.

It's also unlikely this is Ching Ling Foo, a genuine Chinese conjurer who was responsible for making "Oriental magic" all the rage at this time. Foo actually returned to China in 1900 and would not reappear in the UK until 1904, at which time Houdini helped arrange a showdown between Foo and Soo -- which is one of the wildest stories in magic. (If you haven't read Jim Steinmeyer's brilliant Chung Ling Soo biography, The Glorious Deception, it's a must.)

So who this "new Chinese magician" might be is a mystery to me, although I admit I haven't tried very hard to suss it out. If you have any ideas, drop a comment below. And let's all enjoy watching this last beauty sell.

UPDATE: Final sale price was $2,150 with 20 bids.

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12 comments:

  1. First one that comes to mind is Long Tack Sam, but he would have only been 16 years old in 1900. Chang also would have been too young. FuManchu wasn't born yet, though he wasn't Chinese, nor really Asian for that matter. The writing says the Chinese was 'expected over here soon'. Maybe the person never made it or was not a big hit.

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    1. It's likely this person never became well-known. And when Houdini says a "Chinese magician", does he means a magician who is really Chinese, or just another "Chinese" magic act (like Soo). I believe there was a flood of Chinese acts at this time -- even The Great Lafayette was doing a Foo imitation as part of his act in 1900.

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  2. If we don't know who it is, then it must be "Foo-Ling-Yu".

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  3. Or Fool ME Too, regardless wonder if this postcard reaches 4500 like the previous beauty did. Personally I don't think it has quite the value as the German PC.......

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    Replies
    1. Agree. The German postcard was an actual Houdini postcard with great escape imagery.

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  4. Whoa! What happened? This is now back to $87. There must have been a massive bidding retraction.

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  5. Probably because the handwriting on this postcard looks just too neat and clean to be HH's. In all my 51 years on Planet Earth, I've never seen HH handwriting look that beautiful. HH was an individual who didn't stay in school long enough to learn smooth cursive.

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  6. The handwriting looks fine to me. It appears two bidders are playing games, bidding up the price until they discover the under bidders high price and then retracting their bid. I'm sure this is against eBay rules. This auction is dirty.

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  7. Things tend to get dirty wherever there's money involved. The pro tennis world was just hit with a game fixing scandal. Players deliberately losing for large sums of cash.

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  8. Its not dirty I retracted my bid because of poor customer service from the seller. Be careful John, don't listen to Connolly.

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    Replies
    1. My apologies then. And I shouldn't have used the word "dirty." I knew that was a mistake. I had a long day at work and I was feeling a little cranky and dark. I hope the auction works out for all, because it's a very nice item.

      Delete

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