Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The curious case of the incomplete Houdini scrapbook


In the recent Potter & Potter auction of Houdiniana, a major Houdini scrapbook sold for a whopping $43,000 (not including commission). This was, I believe, the high price of the auction. Who won it and what will become of it, I have no idea. But according to David Haversat, who runs Haversat & Ewing Galleries, the scrapbook was incomplete. Therein lies an interesting story.

The complete scrapbook was originally acquired by the late Larry Weeks (of Grim Game fame) in 1948. Larry held in his collection for half a century. Then in the late 1990s, Larry invited David to have a look at the scrapbook. Larry said he felt it was time to do something with it. When David returned, he discovered Larry had cut it up!

"He said he wanted to let everyone have a chance on getting a piece of Houdini from the book," says David. "While some would have been really upset, I understood Larry and could not entirely disagree with his logic. The scrapbook was falling apart and Larry's place was jammed with stuff. If the scrapbook was lost or destroyed, then all the historical items would be gone as well."

David handled the sale of the individual items for Larry between 1999 and 2000. Many items sold on eBay and fetched record prices at that time. Among the items sold were at least 20 Houdini challenges, annotated photographs, letters written to Houdini, postcards, tickets for his movies, photos of Bess and Houdini on vacation, and a receipt for parts for Houdini's airplane. With each item came a note from Larry explaining that it had come from Houdini's scrapbook.


Collector George Daily acquired a good number of the challenges and had them restored. Other major collectors who benefited were Arthur Mosses, Ken Trombly, Sid Radner, Roger Dreyer and Pat Croce (whose own collection was sold in 2014).

Below are a few choice items from the original scrapbook, including a terrific challenge from The Pittsburg Vise that I've never seen before ("The War Between Man and Machine"). There's also an signed affidavit from Houdini to the Pan Pacific Exposition of 1915 assuming all responsibility during his overboard box escape in San Fransisco Bay. I'm excited to share these gems here today.


So do you think Larry did the right thing in cutting up his Houdini scrapbook so more collectors could own a piece? Or did he destroy an important Houdini artifact? Sound off in the comments below.

Thanks to David Haversat.

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15 comments:

  1. The scrapbook should not have been cannibalized. He should have found one buyer to preserve it.

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  2. Totally disagree with Mr. Hevia. Have it go to the "One" person so it will never see the light of day again and be kept under lock and key. I watched the video of this scrapbook by the owner after Mr. Weeks, they mishandled the scrapbook. P.J.

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  3. Destroying the integrity of the album was a mistake. Kept as a whole the scrapbook would have been far more meaningful and significant than an album of scraps. Sad story, really.

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  4. I moved to Florida in the 1990's and lost touch with Larry. When Haversat is quoted as saying Larrys place was jammed with stuff if the scrapbook was lost, then all the historical items would be gone as well.... I had to chuckle as that was a very diplomatic answer for the condition of Larry's home. Weeks had an entire basement of magic that was destroyed. I was primarily interested in illusions and was there trying to help him while things were getting tossed by the building staff. So I can't disagree with the actions of Larry deciding to place the paper in the hands of others who were willing buyers and appreciated Houdini. Robert

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  5. Well, the remainder of the scrapbook survived Larry's behavior intact. If he had not cut out the pages, it would have made it through fine. Better for the scrapbook to go under lock and key than to know it was disassembled.

    Larry weeks reminds us that not all artifacts survive the passage of time. According to that bibliophile article, HH supposedly had vintage posters stockpiled in the basement of 278, autographs of all the presidents up till then, and ephemera of the Booth family. I wonder what became of that stuff.

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  6. Wow David is just a vault of information, and yeah cut it up so maybe we can all have some........

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  7. Larry had the scrapbook on a special bookcase and would often point to it. He indicated that it was time to do something with the book and would have me sell it in the near future. On my next visit Larry opened a briefcase and inside were the contents of the scrapbook, not what I was expecting! Larry had cut out what he wanted to have sold and the process began. What Larry Weeks left inside the Houdini scrapbook were mainly newspaper clippings representing the years 1915-1916. Fast forward to the year 2015, nearly 16 years since I had represented Weeks in selling the Houdini ephemera.... a call came in. An auction company specializing in autographs had referred me to a gentleman who claimed to have a Houdini scrapbook. We spoke and then photos arrived in my inbox. Upon reviewing the photos I knew immediately this was the remainder of the Larry Week's Houdini Scrapbook. Once I indicated I was familiar with the scrapbook, the current owner's story of the ownership became fuzzy and strange. Months later the scrapbook appeared for auction.

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  8. So your saying, the scrapbook may have been stolen from Weeks towards the end of his life??
    But who would want to buy it with just newspaper clippings for 43,000.00. I only wish I was a collector back when you were selling some of the good stuff, like the Pittsburg Vise challenge, awesome. Is any of that around?? I especially like the card from Weeks.

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  9. When this scrapbook first came to my attention, I asked around and was told Larry had sold it in 2011. But when Rick Schmidlin was negotiating the sale of The Grim Game in the final months of Larry's life, he says he saw a Houdini scrapbook -- "in very bad shape" -- in Larry's apartment.

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  10. Yes it was the scrapbook I saw.When I was there for him to sign the paperwork to sell The Grim he showed it to me. He wanted to see if I wanted to buy it for a very high price!I told no and he showed it to me and as he opened the pages it started to crumble so I told him not to open it and put it in a safe place. The next day we went with his nurse to NYU to inspect "The Grim Game." I asked special collection's if they were interested? They said they might but with Larry, there no follow-up.

    I do believe that was taken for Larry with no permission or proof of sale.

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  11. Sorry to here that, Why was Larry such a recluse??
    He could have made some money just doing a touring Houdini show it seems.

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    Replies
    1. Larry had very full career as a juggler. He's considered one of the all time greats. And he was someone who was very much out and about. He went to all the seances and conventions, etc. His "reclusiveness", if we really want to call it that, had more to do with age. Larry lived to 95!

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