Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hardeen tea canister brews questions

A decorative Hardeen tea canister, manufactured by Parnail & Son Bristol, is up for auction September 12 at Mendip Auction Rooms in the UK. Here's a description from online auction site the Salesroom.

Lot 455: A decorative tea canister, manufactured by Parnail & Son Bristol, painted to advertise "The great Hardeen. King of Jail Breakers. Brother of Houdini. Grand Tour of Britain 1905. Never before witnesses acts of Death- Defying Mystery", 91cm high. Estimate: 200 - 300 GBP.

I've never seen something like this. It's interesting. But is it really from 1905? If so, there are aspects that I find perplexing.

First off, "The Great" is not billing that was typically used by either Houdini or Hardeen during their careers (I've actually never seen Hardeen use this, and I've only seen it on a handful of Houdini newspaper ads). It's more common to see King of Handcuffs, Monarch of Manacles, or Hardeen The Mysterious on his advertising.

It's also unusual to see "Brother of Houdini" at this time. It's not unheard of, but the family connection was not generally known in these early days. It was only after Houdini died that Hardeen really exploited the "Brother of Houdini" billing.

Finally, the bottom of the can promises "Never before Witnessed acts of Death-Defying Mystery." But what exactly would Hardeen doing in 1905 that would be considered Death-Defying? This was still the days of the challenge handcuff act and Metamorphosis. The expression "Death-Defying Mystery" arrived with the Milk Can escape in 1908. Of course, Hardeen did bridge jumps, so those could be the death-defying feats referred to here. But like "Brother of Houdini," it's odd to see this specific wording from a later poster used on a piece of advertising that purports to be from 1905.

On the plus side, "King of Jail Breakers" is accurate to the period and Hardeen was in England in 1905.

So what do we think? Is this tea canister really from Hardeen's time? Or is it a later nostalgic recreation?

Thanks to Chuck Romano at My Magic Uncle for finding this one.



  1. the typeface looks period, but it is hard to tell without seeing the can in person to look at the type of metal, weight etc. nice patina, but to me it looks almost in too good a shape to be from then. bus as i said its difficult to tell in a photo

  2. It certainly looks old. I would see no reason to fake Hardeen memorabilia. However what's written on the can does not correspond to Hardeens act in 1905. I say it was created at a later period and each phrase on the can points to some aspect of Theos career. In other words the "Tour of Britain in 1905" sentence does not mean the can was made in's just highlighting that tour.

  3. The real question is WHY was it produced? Was this a one off produced just for Hardeen? Can't imagine it was mass produced since Hardeen did not carry the following of his brother.

    1. I was just thinking about that. Depends I guess on when it was made. I could see these being produced and sold as a nostalgic souvenirs at the Houdini-Hardeen Temple of Mystery in Atlantic City in the '30s maybe.

  4. Yes. How large is it? Any idea?

  5. Do not have the time. Too many shows, projects, etc.

    Any one know any thing about Parnail & Son Bristol.

    Or can research it?
    Certainly odd.

    Dorothy and Dick

  6. Interestingly this company was a wood, glass and metalwork company PRIOR to WW1. During WW1 and after they made airplanes and airplane parts. So I would thing this was made prior to 1916.

  7. It is possible, that someone made that as a tribute to Hardeen, and that it was not mass produced. There is a piece of artwork of hardeen made in 1909, that is a one off and not a mass produced item, There are examples of these sort of one offs for Houdini as well, and I imagine, other performers of the era. Perhaps it was inspired by the shape of the tin looking something like a milk can.

  8. I'm keeping John's observation in mind that Hardeen wasn't publicly promoted as Houdini's brother until after HH's death. It's an interesting observation that this tea canister may have been deliberately shaped like the Milk Can. I've never seen a photo of Hardeen performing the Milk Can while HH was still alive.

    It all leads me to believe that his tea canister must have been produced sometime after 1926.

    1. I've never seen a photo either, but there are posters. He definitely did the can while HH was still alive.

  9. However the company who may have made this can was not producing this type of product after 1916 give or take. After 1916 they were an airplane and airplane parts manufacturer.


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