Sunday, October 19, 2014

Houdini-Margery letters sell for $25,000

A remarkable collection of 14 letters from Houdini detailing and discussing his investigation of "Margery" the medium sold yesterday at a Profiles in History auction for $25,000 (not including buyers premium). The letters include one in which Houdini lays out his idea for the Margery control box (or the "Margie Box" as he later called it).

Click to enlarge.
Harry Houdini amazing archive of (14) signed letters relating to the famed “Margery” psychic fraud case. Extraordinary archive of fourteen (14) signed letters by Houdini; all but two are written to Dr. Daniel F. Comstock in relation to their investigation of purported psychic Mrs. Mina Crandon, aka “Margery”, who claimed that she channeled the spirit of her dead brother Walter Stinson.

Letters date from July 26, 1924 to February 17, 1925, all with excellent content – one featuring an actual design sketch by Houdini of the restraint box used to expose Margery as a fraud. Content from Houdini includes: “I have been bitterly attacked by the National Spiritualist of America, and if Mrs. Crandon possesses psychic power, I want to announce it, and if not, I think the public should be so informed.” – “Been thinking things over and I believe the most comfortable and efficient ‘restraint’ would be to build some sort of box, or cabinet, have the medium seated therein with only her head and hands protruding, and in this way it would be impossible for her to use her head, feet, shoulders or body to ‘project’ things.” – “I immediately sent my assistant to construct a cabinet according to my size, which will be larger and more comfortable for Mrs. Crandon, as Dr. Crandon insists that I must submit to all mechanical devices.” – “You pleaded with Walter [Margery’s dead brother] to permit you to turn on the red light and he replied, as near as I can remember, ‘you can do it but you will kill the medium.’” –– “Regarding the box or cabinet I suggested, wherein only the medium’s head and arms are to protrude, if the box should be too warm, would suggest to use some strong mesh wire, so finely meshed that nothing could be pushed through, and it would not be flexible” – “The New York papers are giving a great deal of publicity to Mrs. Crandon and I think it is about time for the Committee to give the decision.” – “There will be plenty of room in it (the box). The cabinet will be locked down with hasps and staples” – “I want to give Mrs. Crandon every possible chance to make good and if she possesses any psychic power, I will be the first to assist her in proving her genuineness.” – “This investigation has cost me close to one hundred thousand dollars, which I can prove by my bookings and the time I refused to work. Therefore, any one who states that I am seeking publicity or making money out of it, they are making mis-statements.”

Lot also includes a Western Union telegraph from Houdini to Comstock as well as numerous original newspaper clippings and breathless headlines from The Boston Post following the events of Houdini and Crandon. These letters provide an amazing glimpse into Houdini’s thoughts surrounding the most important chapter of his psychic debunking career in the 1920s.

The auction also includes several other nice Houdini lots, one of which I thrilled to say I won! I'll be sharing that treasure here soon.

Congratulations to the seller and winner of these incredible letters.



  1. Is there a link to this past auction? The link you provided takes me to the Profiles in History home page.

    I'm surprised you didn't post about the Houdini items in this auction before the auction date. The Haversat & Ewing auction for example is advertised on WAH.

    1. Well, I struggled with that. I've tried to adopt a policy of not reporting on specific auction items before an auction, unless they are of major historical significance, or if the auction is a Houdini specific auction, which is news in itself. That's so I don't make collectors mad at me for blabbing about every choice HH item, especially in an auction that might be flying under that radar. So I will hold back and report on the sale, which is really the newsworthy part anyway.

      This auction was right on the line. The Margery letters were of historic interest, but this wasn't a Houdini or magic auction, so I decided I would report results only on this one.

      Haversat & Ewing bought that ad on my page. And I will highlight HH items in auctions from sponsors if it's something cool. Yes, I can be bought. :)

  2. Thanks John. The link takes you to the Profiles in History homepage. I can't find this particular auction.

    1. They ran it through Live Auctioneers. Search Houdini. You need to sign in to see auctions that have ended.

      You can also download their catalog at the Profiles site. It was the Oct 18 auction.

  3. Thank you! I found it on Live Auctioneers by the calendar date you wrote. That vintage Sub Trunk photo was a great deal considering the price that Houdini photos are fetching now. The Bess letter date December 1926 was also a good deal. Ten of those Margery letters are photographed and can be read. Amazing! That's not a bad free pass.

    The amount of Hollywood memorabilia that flows through these auctions is staggering. It's almost on an industrial scale. Many of the costumes worn for films are going for $30,000 and upwards. The amount of auctions flowing through Live Auctioneers is staggering! I wonder what sold in the estate of Eileen Hackman...fur coats, china, and pearls? Poor dear.

    1. This has really been an amazing year for Houdini items at auction. I I think there's still more to come.

  4. Yes, at least two more auctions that I know of before the end of this year.

  5. Interesting, I thought the Houdini items went way over the true value.
    The signed photo and the old beat up one at almost 2K WOW!!

  6. Houdini ephemera appears to have jumped in value in recent times. I wonder if that last Potter & Potter auction that focused on Houdini was the catalyst. I also thought that signed photo was a bit too high at over $6,000.
    A genuine Houdini photo or snapshot at a $1,000 can now be considered a bargain basement price.

  7. Yeah like about 4000 to 4500 to high, and photos over a grand it won't last.
    You get some newbies going and there is no telling where they stop.
    Sometimes people just get caught up in the excitement of an auction and will overpay. But good luck in reselling that signed photo fo 6K.

  8. I'm also wondering in the back of my mind if this is all temporary and the bottom will drop out. That upper strata of society with huge disposable incomes might eventually tire of decorating their estate homes with Houdini posters and shackles and move on to the next collectable investment.

    Perhaps Lionel Toy Trains will suddenly be the next big collectable on their radar. And Robb Report will be there every step of the way to guide them to their next collecting adventure.

  9. When it comes to photos, I think it has everything to do with what the photo is, whether it has ever been published, and what it means to Houdini history. Some photos are worth much more than others. I agree that signed photo selling for 6K seemed high. It's not an uncommon shot. But I thought that "beat up" photo of HH and Bess was a true treasure, and I thought it would go for more. Of course, I'm bias. :)



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