Saturday, March 25, 2017

Houdini Torture Cell photo escapes with $889

A terrific original photo of Houdini inside his Water Torture Cell sold for $889.20 (including 17% buyer's premium) at Haversat & Ewing's "Houdini's Birthday Auction" today. The photo shows the cell on stage flanked by assistants Franz Kukol, Jim Collins and James Vickery. (The fourth assistant is unknown to me.)

What makes this shot extra special is we see Houdini inside the inner cage, or what he called "the steel grill." This appears to have been later removed from the escape. I believe this photo has only ever appeared in Milbourne Christopher's' Houdini A Pictorial Life, and that image does not have the clarity seen here.

This latest Haversat & Ewing auction contained several other nice Houdini lots. A two-page letter on rare stationary with excellent content ("Do you know in my hardship days I NEVER borrowed a single dollar!!!!!!!!!") went for $6,142. A pair of vanishing umbrellas owned by Houdini took $1,099. Even I was able to land a 1925 "Beware" pitchbook (I've been after one of these).



  1. Frankly I'm surprised that that this USD photo didn't crack the $1,000 boundary. Still, the HH market thunders on unabated.

    1. It beat the estimate but, yeah, I thought it might sell for more as well. I was thinking of putting in a $1000 bid myself. I'm wondering how many of these there are. Was this Christopher's photo?

    2. As you pointed out, it's in Pictorial Life. Was this the actual photo he used to publish in the book? Maybe? You have to wonder how many HH photos were printed from the glass negatives. In some cases many, and in others probably not.

      Is there water in the tank? It looks like this USD shot and others taken at this session were just for a photo shoot.

    3. Appears the cell is empty. I'm sure this was staged just for the pics.

  2. No, this photo was not the actual one used in the book or Christopher's photograph. I republished the Pictorial Life and the photo used in 1976 I would say was a second or third generation. The one in the auction was very crisp. There was another image from the same collection before Houdini was hoisted above the USD.
    Dave Haversat

  3. Yes It seems like the Houdini is coming down in price, signed books for less than a grand??? The USD pic is common so maybe that's why it didn't make it up there.
    Hope the trend continues with Potter/Potter auction.