Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Big contract + a vacation!"

I know my general policy is to not report on eBay auctions in progress, but I'm making an exception here because the seller is a good guy who facilitated my getting a cherished collectible, so I'm happy to return the favor. This also continues the recent boom in handwritten Houdini letters, although this one is a little hard to read in spots. Would anyone like to help decider it?

Click to enlarge.
Original, not a copy or reproduction, letter entirely hand-written and signed by Harry Houdini measures a large 8.5" x 11" on Hotel Statler St. Louis stationary. Perfect piece for framing with a photo.

(? means I'm not positive on the word. Feel free to contact me if you're able to decipher or know more history of this period of Houdini's travels.)

"Jan 19, 23 - Dear Van der Weyde - Rushed? off the Orpheum tour for 20 weeks. Will be back maybe May or June. Big contact? + a vacation. Have worked hard 2 years (yes ?) + ? will be a pleasure trial? Had a seance with Tompkins? in Chi. Will tell you all about it when I get back. Enclosed find my ? regards to you 2 - Houdini

Henry Van der Weyde (1838–1924) was a Dutch-born English painter and photographer, best known for his photographic portraits of the late 19th century. His is considered a photographic pioneer in the use of electric light in photography.

UPDATE: Sold for $1,056.00.



  1. Let's take this one step at a time. Koval was correct, he has HH playing at the Orpheum Theater in St. Louis Jan 15-20. There is also a list of Orpheum Theater dates for the next several months in the Koval Diary. HH was not fibbing when he mentioned that 20 week Orpheum tour.

    Big contact + a vacation is actually Big contract. The next sentence: Have worked hard 2 years (yes siree). HH meant "without a doubt."

    Moving on: ? will be a pleasure "trip". I can't make out that first word. It may have referred to a place HH went to for vacation that summer of 1923. Koval shows blanks for June, July and August.

    1. The first sentence is: Rushed off on the Orpheum tour...

      The word "Rushed" is correct.

  2. Ebay description says this is to Henry Van Der Weyde (1838-1924). Probably not; Henry moved from U.S. back to England in 1870, and lived there the rest of his life. This correspondence is with William Van Der Weyde (1870-1928), also a photographer. Henry was William's uncle, and William lived in NYC during the time of the correspondence (you can find other letters from Houdini to William in other auction catalogs). William was involved in taking photographs to debunk spiritualists.
    Gallery of Henry photos:

    Gallery of William photos:

    This blog post:
    (particularly the comments) gives background on them.

  3. Great catch Bill!

    That last sentence might read: Enclosed find my verite regards to you 2--Houdini

    Verite is French for "truthful." HH may have enclosed something in the letter as a gift to the recipients.

    Koval has HH performing in Chicago the previous week, so HH's comment about recently having a séance in the Windy City is confirmed. I try to cross check info that I learn from HH's correspondence to Koval's entries to see how accurate he was. So far I give him high marks.

  4. I read the last sentence as 'enclosed find my route' :)

    1. Yes, both of you are right. HH didn't punctuate that sentence with a period after "route" and didn't capitalize the "R" in regards.

      He must have enclosed his theater itinerary so that Weyde could track him for a reply letter.

  5. Leona--click on the eBay link to the auction photo of this letter. You will be able to really zoom in.

    The first word of that 5th sentence might be "Today": Today will be a pleasure trip.

    Some chowderhead punched those notebook binder holes in this letter. What was he thinking?

  6. "Rushed off on the Orheum tour for 20 weeks. Will be back May or June. Big contract plus a vacation! Have worked hard for 2 years (yes seree) + this will be a pleasure trip."

    "Had a seance with Tompkins in Chicago. Will tell you all about it when I get back. Enclosed find my route - regards to you 2"

  7. I'd like to believe it was team effort!