Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Experts appraise Pawn Stars

An episode of Pawn Stars called "Houdini's Handcuffs" aired last night, and the Handcuff experts are having their say today at Handcuffs.org.

Briefly, the show featured a man bringing in a pair of handcuffs and leg-irons he found among the belongings of his deceased brother. Paperwork showed they had come from the Sidney Radner Houdini Collection auction held in Las Vegas in 2004. Magician Murray Sawchuck was called in to give his appraisal. After telling some (somewhat questionable) stories about Houdini's methods, Sawchuck proclaimed them legitimate and valued them at "over $10,000." The store purchased them for $6000.

I'll leave it to the experts to take it from here:

"Houdini's Mother's Ghost" says:
This "appraiser" named Murray was horrible! He actually called this style cuff "Darcy" instead of "Darby" which ANYONE in the cuff collecting world would know. This instantly tells me that he is a novice handcuff appraiser and should not have been the one to to the show. He has been a magician for 25 years, but this fact does not make him anywhere close to being an expert on cuffs.
He never asked for the seller to produce the Certificate of Authenticity (golden colored cards) which would have come with each cuff and was signed by Mueller and Radner.
He should have come prepared with the auction catalog from the 10-30-2004 auction and tried to match up the cuffs with the item number on the paperwork. The prices realized list should have been factored in as well.
His figures which I will report later on are also too high. He stated that combined, the cuffs were worth about $10,000. McKenzie Mitts barely went for that.
The leg ion had been repaired, and a bad job at that. I know no one who would pay $5,000 for a repaired Providence Tool Leg Iron even if a picture of it is in the catalog.
This Murray also stated that "Houdini had a key to every lock in the world as there are only 102 to 105 different locks in the world"
I am not sure if he means HANDCUFF locks or ALL kinds of locks.
Very disappointed by this Murray's evaluation!

Mark Lyons says:
I too, am not pleased with this episode.
As having been the resident appraiser for 3 handcuff segments, I am saddened by this attempt to appraise these cuffs. This was an important episode and the facts presented should have been much more accurate.
I never heard of Murray before and am surprised that he was chosen over me to do this segment when it is apparent that he has never heard of Darby cuffs before. I was not even asked to do this show.
This episode was particularly important as the title was called Houdini's Handcuffs and should have contained some valid facts about Houdini, the Providence Tools cuffs that were featured, and the Radner Auction.
In the segment, Murray tells the story of how Houdini is challenged to do a wooden crate escape by a hardware store. Then he goes on to say that Houdini's assistants (Collins?)break into the hardware store at night, replace the long nails in one of the panels and substitute it for much shorter ones. Houdini then just knocks the board out with his elbow. I believe the escape could have been done with such a technique (have not read that chapter in Patrick's book yet), but I highly doubt the story about breaking into the hardware store.
I would like to see some discussion about this. If this is not true, I would be disappointed that Murray is starting or perpetuating a rumour on a show that is watched by millions. On the other hand, he may have caused a discussion that keeps the Houdini name alive.
On a cursory search of the Radner Auction book, I have found only 1 Providence Tool cuff and that is for a handcuff (Item number 23) and it came without a key. I have not seen a Leg Iron yet. If there was one in there, it should be with a key.
I agree that Murray should have shown the Radner book along with the closing prices and the Certificate of Auth.
Any appraiser doing an appraisal of an item that is the title of the show owes it to the show's producer, the viewing public and the cuff collecting community to to a thorough and complete appraisal!

Ron Spitz says:
I agree with all the above posts. There is a set of Prov. LI's listed in the catalog but no picture or mention of a repair. It was lot #113 with key.
The guy selling these "Joe" looks familiar but I can not place him. Murry is a local magician and I've seen him on some TV programs.
All in all it was a poor segment.

Joe Fox says:
I AGREE with everything posted above...Murray, the "appraiser" was a joke. The things he said will falsify history, and will be taken now by viewers as "fact".
Murray (Sawchuck) is well-known in the magic world for the past two decades. He was "America's Got Talent" last year, and was featured on VH-1's "Celebracadabra" reality series. Plus many, other TV programs. He was even on the dating show "Love Connection" (which, if you saw -he'll never live down).
Murray is a talented magician-illusionist and consultant...but nowhere in his career was he an escape-artist or handcuff collector. I doubt he ever even held a pair of antique shackles in his handcuffs previous to the filming of the episode.
It was quite clear (to me) that he was reciting a memorized script, not having 1st-hand knowledge about anything he was stating (as stated above, his mention of "DARCY" cuffs - clearly showed he was out of his element).
Murray is an excellent SELF-PROMOTER (as any professional performer should be)---his appearing on the above mentioned TV shows - is proof of that.
He doesn't give a DAMN about Houdini or handcuffs - nor should he---his goal was to get featured on a popular national TV show - and he accomplished that.
Don't be surprised if he pitched the whole idea to the producers: Have some guy (shill) come in with "Houdini Handcuffs"...and then have me called in as an "expert". The Producers bought the idea and went with it.
Yes, I hated his segment and the twisted lies he stated...but, admire him for his promotional skill, and blame the Producers who hired him, and "green-lighted" the segment.
It's Reality-TV: These programs are mostly scripted and/or edited in ways to create stories & drama. This program is full of hired actors who bring in the items too.
Making such statements as: "Houdini had every single key to every lock in the world" and "In the early 1900s - there were only 105 keys made for every lock in the world" alters history and gives the impression that Houdini's career can be blown-off simply by the fact he had hidden keys, requiring no skill to escape (with no mention of Houdini's truckful of lockpicks and hand-made tools that he traveled with and used).
Bring back Mark Lyons.
Hopefully this episode will be forgotten in a few months.

Patrick Culliton says:
First off, Murray did a Godawful job of being an expert. That said, he did an excellent job of selling Murray, which, in my opinion was the best thing he could do on that staggeringly cliched and boring show.
Everything Murray said was wrong, but, he said it great. He looked good--and memorable.
I thought he did really well.
In addition, the Radner auction in Las Vegas wasn't like the Houdini Hall of Fame auction at Butterfield's in Los Angeles. In Las Vegas, Sid Radner auctioned many treasures that he had owned since he bought them from Hardeen. There is no question that Hardeen sold and gave Sid Radner many precious items that had belonged to Houdini and himself. The Water Torture Cell, the handcuff Houdini called the Hungarian Manacle, the Frame for Walking Through a Brick Wall just to name a few. Many cuffs and picks.
I know that Sid kept the manacles he got from Hardeen separated from others he collected. He didn't mix them with the Wresch collection or the Raymond collection.
I believe that the provenance, and the known history which really is the story of Sid
Radner and Theo Hardeen is good enough and that the estimate was pretty close.
I think it is up to the current owner to find out everything he possibly can about these cuffs.
If he posted some photos and said, "Guys, tell me about these," nobody will be able put them right in Houdini's hands, but, the auction records give these cuffs more credibility than we're used to and there's a lot of help researching cuffs today--like this website. Then again, sometimes, as in the case of the Russian Manacle, the Mirror Cuff, the French Letter Lock Cuffs, and the Hungarian Manacle, which is owned by Sid Radner and used at his yearly seances, these cuffs show up in photos of Houdini.

The discussion continues at Handcuffs.org.


  1. It's just a TV show guys. Outside of magicians I highly doubt anyone watched or cared

  2. You're right that the general viewer doesn't care, nor should they really. Pawn Stars is a lite show. But this site, and Handcuffs.org, is WAY beyond the general when it comes to Houdini. Around here we care. Probably too much. :p But that's what we're all about.

  3. I say, "Off with Murray's head".


  4. I think I've seen him do that trick. :p

  5. No doubt about it John. Maybe the influence of this site could get this Murray guy to redo that show. Also they didn't mention that lots of those things considered Houdini's was also Dash's or only Dash's. Sid mixed the stuff together cause at the time did it matter?

  6. Yeah, they didn't mention that at all. That's what I always think whenever I encounter Radner Collection cuffs. Sure, they came from Hardeen, but who's to say they were used by Houdini. You also hear the stories of Dash going down to the hardware store and buying handcuffs to sell as "Houdini cuffs" -- but I don't know if that's true. For me, the valuable cuffs would be one's that are gaffed. Then you know they were used for something. But by Houdini or Hardeen? No way to know.

  7. On the upside, I did like how they showed such reverence for Houdini. I was worried we'd get a "Who's that?" from Chumly or something.

  8. I know Houdini has been dead a long time, but I still get burned when people try to explain his tricks on TV. Burns me up even more when they are WRONG! lol

  9. Wow lots of upset people!

    Sorry about that! Please remember with television we shot hours of footage... what the editors and directors choose to put in is there choice.

    Yes I made a mistake on our first take saying Darcy Cuffs, as one of the production staff was named Darcy and it was an honest mistake. All the other takes it was corrected and pronounced correctly 'Darby Cuffs' which I knew very well what they were called.

    But for everyones concern... those were 100% Houdini's Handcuffs and YES it was stated on auction house paper.

    It does amaze me how many people think they know me so well that they can state what I know and don't know and what I am into or not... Must be mentalists!


  10. Thank you for the comment, Murray. I'm sorry your episode is getting a rough reception among the handcuff set. Also sorry they used the "Darcy" take. I absolutely understand how easy it is to misspeak when cameras are rolling on you. I really appreciate the visit and hope you stick around and enjoy some of my less "controversial" news pieces. :) Thanks again.

  11. Pat Culliton's review added.

    I'm amazed this is now my all-time most viewed story. Nothing like a little controversy to bring in the readers and viewers.

  12. Darcy....my eye!

    I wonder how a guy who is comfortabel in front of an audiend, could confuse thename of the MOST COMMON handcuff in Europe with the production asistant's helper's name, especially when (and if) he just met her an hour prior.

    I think it is BS!

    I just met McKenzie Phillips a couple of days before I did a Pawn Stars episode and did not confuse the McKenzie Mitts by calling them "Phillips" when I did my appraisal.

    I this Murry should stick with what he knows best...disappearing!

    Mark Lyons

  13. Too many errors...this should have read:

    Darcy....my eye!

    I wonder how a guy who is comfortable in front of an audience, could confuse the name of the MOST COMMON handcuff in Europe with the production asistant's helper's name, especially when (and if) he just met her an hour prior.

    I think this is BS!

    I just met McKenzie Phillips a couple of days before I did my Pawn Stars episode and did not confuse the McKenzie Mitts by calling them "Phillips" when I did my appraisal.

    I think this Murry should stick with what he knows best...disappearing!

    Mark Lyons

  14. It should be noted that Murray returned to Pawn Stars to appraise a Houdini straitjacket, and that time he did an excellent job.

  15. Just tell us the cost $2.00 or $100,000 that is why this was started

  16. We have a 1900's houdini magic set still in the box. What would this be worth?

  17. What would an early 1900s houdini magic set be worth in mint condition in the box?

    1. Early 1900s? I don't know of set earlier than 1934, one of which you can see here:


      You can see this sold for $200 in 2012. If you have one of these mint and complete, I expect it could fetch more, but I don't know how much.

  18. I happen to have a pair of handcuffs that my grandfather would be 120 years old was in vaudeville he gave these to me 37 years ago and said they were given to him by harry Houdini