Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Cancer of Superstition is FOUND!

Potter & Potter Auctions have just made the catalog for their April 9th auction of "Houdiniana" available online and it's a stunner! Early correspondence between Houdini and Martin Beck, unseen film footage, a lobby display board, the infamous "frenemies" photo of Houdini and Margery, and...The Cancer of Superstition.


It's hard to say what is the most significant item in this auction, but it could very well be this 31 page unpublished work in progress manuscript for The Cancer of Superstition, a book Houdini was writing at the time of his death with the great H.P. Lovecraft. It has long been considered lost and a bit of a mystery. Not anymore! As the auction description notes:

Houdini, Harry and H.P. Lovecraft (ghostwriter). The Cancer of Superstition. Circa 1926. Collection of 31 leaves, paginated 1 – 10 [11 – 13 lacking] 14 – 34, being an unpublished manuscript of a work in progress on superstition, divided into the three sections, “The Genesis of Superstition,” “The Expansion of Superstition,” and “The Fallacy of Superstition.” Scattering of typed corrections over misspellings or word changes. Differing inks observed between first ten leaves and remainder of file. Pagination inclusive of bibliography (two leaves). Minor foxing, a few short tears and nicked edges, fine overall.

Previously known only in outline and through part of a first chapter, the work was suspended soon after Houdini’s death as the magician’s widow Beatrice did not wish to pursue it further (see Joshi and Schultz, An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (2004) [116 – 17]). The material here shows the project further along than other surviving sources have indicated it had reached, Lovecraft and Houdini putting forth a general theory of the history of superstition as an “inborn inclination” traceable to “primitive races” “utterly ignorant of the laws of Nature” that now “persists only through mental indolence of those who reject modern science.” Situating superstition at great length among an array of pre-modern belief systems including animism, fetishism, witchcraft, and black magic, the fascinating document shows the authors struggling to balance this primitivist theory of the development of superstition against evidence of what was really a cross-cultural “scourge” surviving among their contemporaries, even the well educated, introducing citations of early twentieth century studies on superstitious beliefs among students and faculty at prestigious American universities. The few missing pages from the first section distract but a little from the overall strain of thinking revealed in the second and third parts, and a bibliography at the rear provides the full spectrum of ideas Lovecraft and Houdini were negotiating before the project was unexpectedly cut short.

Potter & Potter have put a $25,000 to $40,000 estimate on the manuscript. This will definitely be one to watch. But so will so many of the lots in this amazing auction of Houdiniana.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the catalog from the Potter & Potter website. You can also buy a printed edition for $35. The auction takes place at 10:00 AM on Saturday, April 9th in Potter & Potter's Chicago Gallery.

Lots are viewable and open to bid online at Liveauctioneers.com.

UPDATE: Not mentioned in the auction description above is the uncredited work of author C.M. Eddy Jr. on this project. For more on Eddy and the statues of this project at the time of Houdini's death, check out Joe Notaro's Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence to read an amazing letter written by Lovecraft after Houdini was hospitalized in Detroit:

"Poor Eddy, who with my aid has been doing some revision for the nimble wizard, is quite worried about his unexpected intervention of the gods."

UPDATE 2: For more on Eddy and his work on this project, read: C.M. Eddy, Jr. and The Cancer of Superstition manuscript.

UPDATE 3The Cancer of Superstition brings $28,000.

Related:

13 comments:

  1. Based on this news, I just posted a related post that I was originally saving: http://harryhoudinicircumstantialevidence.com/?p=3894

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  2. This is no find. These are Mario Carrandi's letters that he consigned, nearly everyone knew Mario had these, for years. Jim

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    1. This is Mario's consignment? I was under the impression it came from another collector who acquired it within the last year or so. But maybe he got it from Mario?

      Either way, it is new and a "find" to me, and I suspect to many others. You insiders maybe know where are the bones are buried, but it's still exciting when those bones are finally brought out into the open so us paleontologists can finally learn from them. :)

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  3. This has now hit the larger news, and according to The Guardian, the "manuscript was discovered in a large collection of memorabilia from a now-defunct magic shop."

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  4. I know more about Lovecraft than just about anyone. This auction house has the information 100% wrong. Lovecraft did not write one sentence of this manuscript. It was written by author C.M. Eddy Jr. I would suggest the auction company correct their details as it is misleading. B.L.

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  5. The Cancer of Superstition was written by C. M. Eddy, Jr. for Houdini from an outline/notes from Lovecraft. Eddy's grandson has accompanying correspondence related to the manuscript. Eddy was a ghostwriter as well as an investigator for Houdini.

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  6. Thanks for the info. But why be Anonymous? If you want to put yourself forward as an authority, and it sounds like you are, I think we'd be more receptive if you use your name and let us know who you are. But I know some people don't like putting their real name online, and that's fine. But if you feel strongly about this, I'd contact P&P and explain who you are and what information you have that they might have missed.

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  7. My copy of the auction catalog arrived today and it is beautiful. You can see the material in the correspondence photos much more clearly.

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    1. Mine too. It's a fantastic catalog. So many amazing things in this auction. What I wouldn't give to read those early Martin Beck letters.

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  8. I understand what you mean. Those many letters of correspondence are so close--and yet so far.

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  9. I posted one comment under anonymous as I don’t typically follow Houdini. The other anonymous post is not from me, most likely another follower of Lovecraft. Point is auction houses like to throw the Lovecraft name around in the hopes of demanding more money for the item. As both myself and the other post mentions, this manuscript was written by C.M. Eddy Jr. who also wrote for Weird Tales. If this site promotes history, then promoting the correct history is important. B.L.

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    1. Sorry for the confusion. I did mention C.M. Eddy in this post from 2011 when this first came to the attention of most Houdini buffs. What I posted above I didn't write -- it's the auction description. But you're correct that it should mention Eddy's involvement. I will do an update pointing this out. Thanks. Good to have a Lovecraft person contributing here.

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