Saturday, April 9, 2016

Potter & Potter Houdiniana auction results

Potter & Potter held their remarkable auction of "Houdiniana" today, and the results did not disappoint. It was a wild ride with some lots soaring to new highs while others offered up surprise bargains.

As I've already reported, the most publicized lot, the unpublished manuscript for The Cancer of Superstition, sold for $28,000 (all prices noted here are before 23% buyer's premium). A collection of letters from Houdini's manager, Martin Beck, which I considered to be the most historically significant item in the entire auction, went for $26,000. A Houdini scrapbook sold for $43,000 in what I believe was the highest price realized. Houdini scrapbooks have certainly become hot auction items lately!

The Castle Lock display case featured in the 1953 Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis locked up $27,000. (It sold for $22,000 in the 2014 Pat Croce auction.) A Houdini lock pick brought $3,200 while a ball and chain, authenticated by Dunninger, went for $8,000. A pair of black McKenzie Mitts grabbed $5,500.

Martin Beck correspondence - $26,000.

Houdini scrapbook - $43,000.

Castle Lock display case - $27,000.

Houdini's Needles - $18,000.

A set of Houdini's Needles, complete with box, fetched $18,000. Twenty-six minutes of film footage, including film of Houdini's funeral and some missing footage from The Master Mystery, brought in $4,000. A 1904 "Caught" and "Flown" Christmas card sold for $3,200 while a colorful 1908 Christmas card sold for $3,000.

Photos sold fast and furious and ran the gamut of prices. An original photo of Houdini and Ching Ling Foo sold for what I thought was a low $300 (estimate was $400 – $500), while an 8x10 from The Grim Game sold for a surprisingly high $1,500 (estimate $600 – $800). Grim Game stills in general seemed to fetch premium prices. A pic of Houdini and the Roosevelt grandchildren (his toughest audience) sold for $750. A street scene of Houdini shooting a movie sold for $1,900.

But the image I thought was the photo of the auction -- and the one I most wanted for myself -- was the infamous "frenemies" shot of Houdini and Margery at Lime Street. I bowed out and let it go at $1,300 (and will probably kick myself forever).

Houdini and Ching Ling Foo - $300. Houdini and Margery - $1,300.

Street shoot - $1,900.

A postcard showing Houdini's historic Australian flight flew away with an impressive $3,200 (estimate $1,000 – $1,200). Another postcard showing Hardeen and his two "prize winning" pups brought $400 (another one I'll kick myself over). A wonderful pen and ink cartoon from 1905 -- "Oh! He’s here again, is he!" -- drew $2,600.

1905 pen and ink - $2,600.

The best bargains seemed to be books. A copy of Handcuff Secrets in very good condition sold for $375. A near fine copy of Magical Rope Ties and Escapes went for a low $250, and The Right Way To Do Wrong for $175. The pitchbook Houdini: His Life and Work in Prose and Picture by Hardeen sold for only $60.

Surprisingly, posters came in at the lower end of their auction estimates. The famous "Houdini for President" lithograph featured on the auction catalog cover sold for $12,000 (estimate $12,000 – $18,000). A King of Cards sold for $9,500, below the estimate of $12,000 – $15,00. In a 2014 Potter & Potter auction a King of Cards sold for $17,000. Finally, a sensational original lobby display and transport case was a steal, IMO, at $7,000 (estimate $7,000 – $9,000).

Houdini lobby display and case - $7,000.

Poster fragment - $650.

If you log into Live Auctioneers you can see all the auction results.

Congrats to Potter & Potter and all the buyers and sellers in what was yet another historic and exciting Houdini auction.

UPDATE: These two lots came late in the auction so I missed them yesterday. An unusual signed photo of Bess and Julia Sawyer in French costumes and wigs sold for $2,400. A Robert-Houdin glass column mystery clock brought a whopping $42,000!

Bessie and Julia - $2,400.  Robert-Houdin clock - $42,000.



  1. Well I won the poster fragment above, but also refused to bid any higher on the King of cards poster as it appeared as if it was me and one other person bidding. If I didn't bid it would have sold for 6500. I bid 15K on the one in 2014. Since then I realized there's just to many of them around to warrant such a high price. One of kind items are much more valuable, my opinion. Also got burned on an item which closed and I won, turned my back and they reopened it and was out bid?? Some kind of BS I think.

    1. Congrats on winning that poster fragment! That was something else I had my eye on. I really love it. Kinda reminds me of the title card of the Tony Curtis movie. :)

      The auction house dates it as Circa 1910, but I date it Circa 1915. That's when "The Genius of Escape" billing shows up, and I expect this is from his 1915/16 U.S. Vaudeville tour in which he played several cities for the first time. I'd love to think this might be from his famous week in Oakland in November 1915 when he played against Hardeen. It's very possible. Much of the billing that week emphasized that it was his "First Time Here."

  2. Has anyone done the math? The Cancer of Superstition manuscript sold for $28,000, but the 24% Buyers Fee is another $6,720. Ouch! That $43,000 scrapbook was actually $53,320. Double ouch!

    As Brando said in the Godfather: How did things ever get so far? I don't know. It was so unfortunate. So unnecessary.

    1. Yeah, you need to consider that buyers fee when bidding. It's a killer. And I believe the fee is more for online bidders.

  3. Both the auction companies that appear to be on their game these days have similar buyer's fees. Haversat auction is 17%, Potter 20% or 23% if bid online. These guys have to earn a living too. Personally anything over 20% is just greed.

  4. Isn't that French costume photo in Secret Life?

  5. I got some nice items from both auctions, now I need to stop before spending gets out of hand (or, to some, before it gets further out of hand). I purposely held my hand behind my back during yesterday's auction during some of the more pricey lots for fear my hand would do the unspeakable and click "bid". Having said all that, anyone know when the next reputable Houdini auction is?

  6. My best guess would be around this coming October?

  7. Yeah its more for online bidders, then they charge you more to use a cc to pay, and the shipping fees are not in line with others auction houses. Its getting to be a little out of hand, like 28.00 for every 100.00. I think I'll just watch for a while, spent over 10K in the last two auctions.....

  8. Last auction I paid for items won in the Haversat auction by paypal. They did not charge any extra. In fact the Potter auction does not offer paypal to my knowledge? Don't know what they charge extra for using other credit card services?

  9. Potter and Potter are greedy they charge 2 to 3 percent more for cc, the charge a hell of lot more for shipping, and of course the buyers premium is more. If I wasn't addicted to collecting Houdini I would never darken there door again......