Sunday, September 24, 2017

Houdini's bookcase and piano are no longer inside 278

Breaking news from today's open house at 278 in New York. An attendee tells me that the original piano and Houdini's famous parlor bookcase are GONE!

Initially the rumor was that an unknown collector contacted the owner after the first open house in June and a deal was made to sell the items. (This after I was told that the bookcase and piano were to stay with the house.) But the realtor tells me this isn't accurate. She says the owner simply moved them out of the house. Whether or not the owner did this because he plans to sell them at a later date is not clear.

Two bathtubs that dated back to Houdini's time were also on the property in June. One was in the backyard being used as a planter. The other was in the front of the house at the sunken garden floor entrance. Reports are the one in the front of the house is also gone. Despite the legend, I've never heard anything about either bathtub having the initials HH.

(Speaking of initials my tipster confirmed for me that Bess's top floor bathroom does not have the BH tiles.)

The piano, which was located on the garden level, is also said to be original to the house. I didn't look too closely at it when I was there in June, but I do own a copy of a listing of property inside 278 from 1919 (made for insurance purposes), and on that list is a "player piano."

It does break my heart to see these leave the house. I loved that they had survived all these years. But who knows what would have become of them with new owners who might not care about the history. So if they wind up in private collection where they will preserved and cherished as a piece of Houdini history, then I guess that's a good outcome. But it appears the great dissolution of Houdini's historic 278 has begun.

The sale of 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

UPDATE: The above story was rewritten when the realtor confirmed that the bookcase and piano had not been sold, so the comments below may not accurately reflect the information here. Attendees to the most recent open house (10/15) report that they are still absent. I have also now confirmed that the bathtub has indeed been sold.

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    19 comments:

    1. If they're headed for Copperfield's museum in Vegas, then that's better than leaving them in the house for the next owner. They might not care, as John pointed out.

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    2. As i think about it, the only better outcome for the bookcases was if I would have bought them and that would have been just for me. David is putting together his new museum look and I think these will look right at home. Now if a few of us get to see them when he is finished that would be really good!

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    3. I think what Copperfield plans to do is put Houdini items inside that glass front bookcase and display them. That and the piano will be taken good care of. The strings inside that piano probably need to be tuned. Not sure about that bathtub, maybe DC will use it?

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    4. IF Copperfield bought these. We don’t know that yet.

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    5. Kinda sad that they won't continue to stay in the house...seems that them being there really linked the property back to Houdini's time. But as you pointed out, I'd rather see them go to a collector who will definitely preserve them rather than a new owner who might not care about them. Hoping it was Copperfield, or someone else in the world of magic who has the means to take care of these and possibly display them.

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    6. FWIW, I also spoke to an attendee while I was at Sunday's open house, who said the items sold. However, I later during the open house spoke to the Real Estate Agent, Beverly, who advised me the items did not sell, but that the owner is storing them offsite (the rooms did appear larger without them). I can confirm, though, that the piano, one tub and bookcase were missing. Dale from Cleveland.

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      1. Oh? Was there any other furniture missing?

        I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense, especially in regards to the bathtub which was already in a sort of storage area. And why take away only the one tub?

        Something fishy is going on. Maybe this was Beverley trying to put the genie back in the bottle. I'll leave this story as is and hopefully be able to update when I learn more. But I'm betting we won't see that bookcase back in the house again.

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      2. I forgot to mention that Beverly told me the owner donated the piano to a school. If Beverly is correct about the other items not being sold and just being stored offsite, then I believe the owner realized the value of these items and, at the very least, plans to sell them separately, including maybe at auction. If the items did sell, I don't know why Beverly would deny it or why the other tub outside wouldn't have also been purchased. I found Beverly pretty transparent and careful in her representations. In any event, I want to at least thank you here for the heads up for the open house. It was truly an amazing experience. All five levels were open, including the basement. I'll drop you a line separately when I catch my breath from the ambitious, unexpected and awesome trip. :) Dale from Cleveland.

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      3. Thanks Dale. I appreciate the report. I'm envious that you all got to see the basement and the top floor empty. I have some new pics of the basement that I will share soon.

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      4. I'm envious that you got to pose in front of the famed bookcase no longer there! Dale

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      5. Yes, I now realize that was something pretty special. That makes up for not seeing the basement.

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    7. BTW, I'm hearing that the Wine Press, which had been in the basement and dated back to Houdini, is also gone. Possibly included in the sweep?

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    8. I can confirm I saw, touched and photographed the wine press in the basement 24 hours ago! (It did have some mops ends on the very top of it, but it wasn't hidden if you knew to look for it). Dale

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    9. Also slightly hidden from view by stored items was what appears to be an original toilet in the basement. It was missing its pull chain high tank, but Beverly said you can now buy the missing parts. It was on what appears to be original tile, and is in the spot on the map showing a basement bathroom, so I'm assuming it is still affixed to the floor. What looks like an original sink was next to it, albeit not affixed. I don't want to scoop your basement story, but let me know if you need a pic. Dale

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      1. Houdini's toilet!!! Maybe. I thought in Houdini's day the basement floor was dirt. But maybe that's one of the originals from above moved down into the basement at some point?

        I'd love a pic. Working up basement post now.

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    10. The maps you have look like there was a bathroom in the same spot. Looks like original tile right under the ornate toilet. I think it's original. I'll be emailing you some basement pics, including the toilet! Again, it's a bit hidden under stuff. Dale from Cleveland,

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      1. Right. But those floor plans I used are modern. I got them from the relator. I modified them based I what I think I know about the house in HH's day, but I left the basement as is. But it could be there was a bathroom in the basement in HHs day. Another puzzle!

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    11. So I've restored this story rewritten with the new information from the realtor that the bookcase and piano have not been sold, just moved. Attendees at yesterday's open house (10/15) confirmed that the bookcase and piano are still gone. I also now know for a fact that the tub in the front of the house has been sold to a private collector.

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