Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Latest on the "lost" posters of Houdini

My story on The lost posters of Harry Houdini and its follow-up, Lost Houdini poster FOUND!, have certainly proven to be popular. Guess this shouldn't be too surprising as magic posters are a sweet spot for collectors. What has been especially gratifying is how these stories have yielded some terrific new information (at least information that's new to me). Here's an update on the latest.

Gale Molovinsky and his
rare Houdini poster
First up, Collector and magic consultant Gale Molovinsky informs me that he owns an "America's Sensation" poster, purchased from Mario Carrandi in 1980 (maybe acquired in this auction?). According to Gale, Houdini commissioned this poster from the St. Paul printing company in London right after he arrived there in 1900. Says Gale, "If you look carefully you will really see the face of the young Ehrich Weiss staring back at you in his American flag colors swimsuit....this is before he became 'The Great Houdini'." Nicely said.

This means along with King of Cards and the two posters for The Houdinis, this is one of Houdini's earliest posters, and possibly the first showing him as an escape artist. That makes it even more special. A clue to its early age is that it's the same size as those other early sheets. Of course, once Houdini hit it big, so did his posters. But we'll get to that a little later.

While we're on the subject of the America's Sensation poster, conservationist Renée Wolcott tells me she has now finished the restoration on the copy recently discovered inside a decaying SAM scrapbook in the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the NYPL Library for the Performing Arts. Congratulations Renée!

On another front, in the original article I featured a photo of a theater display in Salem Massachusetts and speculated that the poster on the far right could be an alternate version of the more well-known Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery poster. Turns out that's exactly what it is. Confirmation was hiding in plain sight on page 24 of Houdini Art and Magic. There you can see a larger picture of the display and can clearly read on the poster: "The World's Handcuff King in the Prison and Barrel Transportation."

Dean Carnegie (Magic Detective) also alerts me to Houdini's use of enormous 24-sheet posters, none of which apparently survive today. But you can see one of Houdini's large street posters (though smaller than a 24-sheet) in Christopher's Houdini A Pictorial Life on page 22. You can also spot the still mysterious "peering through the jail cell bars" poster on the far left this shot.

An example of one of Houdini's larger posters - also note jail cell poster on left

A portion of this large poster appears in Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. However, the missing section seen here appears to depict a bridge jump. As with the lost and found Overboard Box poster, we again see a poster showing an outside stunt. Makes one hopeful that there could be one for the suspended straitjacket escape. The mind boggles at what kind of image Houdini's talented poster artists would have created for that.

Finally, here is another drool-worthy Hardeen poster, found on the back of his pitchbook, The Life and History of Hardeen (from my own collection). Oh to see this one in color.

Hardeen poster impressive even in black and white

Thanks to all the generous collectors and friends who have come forward to share their images and information.

UPDATE: NYPL shows us "America's Sensation" in color.


  1. I love the way the Houdini poster blog of yours just took off and got a life of its own, amazing! So much incredible information came out of this and it was so great to see the color versions of some of these pictures. I'm sure more will turn up over time! GREAT JOB!

  2. Thanks, Dean. Yes, I love how this has taken on a life of itself. So cool to finally see some of these sheets in color and learn more about them. Maybe it will inspire someone to share a completely unknown poster...? Ok, I won't get greedy. ;)

  3. What Dean said. Good work.

    Don't you just love the internet? It would have probably taken quite a while to do this sort of research once. Now some of the sources come to you.

  4. I'm dying to know what stunning unseen posters are out there right now, hidden folded up in books and files in dark rooms and basements of God knows how many libraries and residences. I just love stuff like that.