Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The most historically significant Houdini auction lot EVER?


Potter & Potter Auctions has released the online catalog for their upcoming Spring Magic Auction and it contains a wealth of Houdiniana. Chief among the lots are two recently discovered Houdini spiritualism scrapbooks from the Dunninger collection. Those are expected to fetch a very high price. However, it's Lot 360 that has me losing my mind this morning!

Lot 360 is "Elliot Sanford’s Houdini Manuscripts and Archive." The hitherto unknown Sanford worked as Houdini's secretary in the final weeks of the magician's life and was eyewitness to all that occurred before and after Houdini's death. He was also one of the pallbearers at Houdini's funeral (so identified in Christopher's Houdini The Untold Story, which is the only biography to mention him). Among letters, books, and postcards given to Sanford by both Harry and Bess is an unpublished manuscript he wrote detailing his time spent with the Houdinis. Here's just part of the mind bending auction description:

The manuscripts total over 100 pages, both holographic and typewritten, and are filled with tantalizing looks inside the Houdini home, Houdini’s ill-fated final tour of America, including the fateful episode in Montreal that would cost Houdini his life. Other elements discussed include the Weiss and Rahner families, the aftermath of Houdini’s death, and even the magician’s finances and the nature of his estate and how it was dealt with after his untimely passing. Various drafts and outlines, both typewritten and handwritten are included. In all, an archive of historical significance, filled with tantalizing unpublished data and anecdotes regarding the most famous magician the world has ever known. Sanford began working for Houdini as his business secretary in the last weeks of the magician’s life. His story, told in these pages, but as yet unpublished, describes in minute detail his time with the great magician, from the moment of his first interview for a position as assistant in Houdini’s dressing room, to the time of the fateful death blow delivered to Houdini in Montreal, and beyond. Sanford had a front row seat to these moments in history and recounts them in great detail in the pages of his unpublished memoir, offered here for public sale for the first time. The material in these pages has been virtually unknown until now and is an un-mined trove of lore not incorporated in to any published Houdini biography.

While rare posters and original props will always fetch the highest auction prices and cause the greatest stir, this is the kind of thing I consider a true treasure. A poster doesn't really tell us anything new about Houdini. But these pages hold the possibility of rewriting Houdini history, or at least enhancing our understanding of those critical last weeks and their aftermath.

Might they reveal whether Houdini was ill before Montreal? Might they provide new insight into Bess's substance abuse? Just looking at the sample pages melts my brain. A "near-accident" at Houdini's grave? The "lab" on the top floor of 278? Depending on what these pages contain, yes, this could very well be the most historically significant Houdini auction lot...ever!

Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction will be held April 28, 2018 starting at 10:00 AM. Previews take place at Potter & Potter's Chicago gallery April 26 & 27, from 10:00am to 5:00pm. The printed auction catalog, which sports a terrific Houdini cover (right), will ship approximately three weeks prior to the auction.

UPDATEUnseen Elliot Sanford archive sells for $48,000.

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27 comments:

  1. WOW. I hope this all comes to light soon! Amazing.

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  2. Truly extraordinary -- and one can only hope the secrets within the manuscripts will be shared by the new owner, and if so, sooner rather than later. (I wonder if the "lab" on the top floor of 278 is the little room previously thought to be Houdini's office, off the workroom, and what would have been considered a "lab"? There doesn't seem to have been any other unused space on the top floor. I wonder if it could have been a photo lab?? (e.g., the "doctored" spiritualism pictures?) Or who knows what? So interesting to speculate about this and everything else that may be in those papers.

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  3. John--what about Houdini's throwing knives? You're not feeling it?

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    1. Not really. Remember this post: What's this about Houdini's throwing knives?.

      Just realized I should add that link to my related posts.

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  4. There is definitely a danger here that a collector will jump in and swoop this treasure trove of information. It could disappear into the collection of an individual unwilling to share it as the descendants of Bernard Ernst have done with the HH diaries.

    I'm willing to pledge up to $500, and PayPal John by the day of the auction, and if he can get enough people who are willing to do the same, he can bid high on this lot--perhaps up to $15,000 or more. If he wins, he can post all of the contents right here on WAH as a separate item just like the Chronology.

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  5. I heard about an Eliot Sanford manuscript many years ago. I had doubted it would ever come to light. Somebody who had known Sanford wrote about him and the manuscript. I believe this person wrote that Sanford really knew Houdini. I think I'll ask Alex.

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    1. The auction news of those manuscripts is the first time Sanford's name appears in WAH.

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    2. Indeed, he's a new player to me. The only place I found him mentioned was in Untold Story. Christopher names the pallbearers who actually carried the casket. Other bios list only the honorary pallbearers (Martin Beck and such). I did hear a little something about this material last year. But I never knew the name (or I had forgotten it).

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  6. When I win it I will send John copies, DC

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  7. Oh yeah... i know who will nab these

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  8. I think this is over-rated hype. Sanford worked for Houdini for a few weeks. He didn't know anything more than Houdini's long time trusted staff. DM

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    1. It may be, but given the crucial time period during which he worked for Houdini, and the fact that he seemed to be such a meticulous note taker, there's a good possibility that there will be something notable here.

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    2. Maybe prudent to lower exceptions. And it could be Sanford didn't know anything more than other members of Houdini's trusted staff. Thing is, we have nothing like this from any of Houdini's trusted staff! This is the first manuscript from an insider that I'm aware. And the full extent of Sanford's time with HH isn't yet clear. He mentions the USD accident, so it was at least a month. And he mentions Bess's move to a new home, so that's several months after. So it certainly has the potential for revelations.

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    3. I agree with John. What we have here is the testimony of another eyewitness who appears to have had a ringside seat to those fateful events of October. None of the other trusted, close staff members wrote a detailed report. Sanford's account is the kind of material that should have made it into Silverman's bio. I wonder if he had tried to track down this evidence. It would certainly be a bust if the contents didn't contain any new and startling revelations.

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    4. I've always wondered what happened to those key members of the Houdini team, notably Julie Karcher and Julia Sawyer. They vanish after HH dies never to be heard from again. The assistants, of course, all go to Dash with their secrecy oaths intact. We have heard from Dorothy Young. But she wasn't around in '26.

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  9. Re: Harry Houdini on NPR

    Quote

    Post by houdini's ghost » October 28th, 2010, 9:20 pm
    I got a call a couple of days ago from a lady named Rori Gallagher, who asked me if I would care to join Ken Silverman and Brooke Rappaport on this NPR radio show that originated from Boston.
    What they hoped to get from me, she explained, was the secrets of some of Houdini's tricks.
    I made sure we both understood each other, I explained I was a Magic Castle member and I'd be breaking their rules.
    She asked me if I could suggest any magicians who might reveal some of Houdini's secrets and I said, "Valentino?"
    I told her I thought this was National Public Radio--not the National Enquirer. I told her I didn't believe people really wanted to know how magic tricks worked--they tend to be disillusioned. Pun intended.
    So, I didn't participate. But, I look forward to hearing it.
    I found something very interesting at the above link:
    "I lived on Block Island, RI in the early 80s,
    was a member of a writers group. A man named Elliot
    Sanford was also a member, an elderly man in his eighties
    who had been Houdini's piano player for several years towards the latter part of HHs career. He was writing a memoir of his experiences. It was extremely interesting. He became a close to the family, spent time in the home.
    "I dont know if the book was ever finished.
    "Good raw material."
    Posted by Dan Wetmore, on October 28th, 2010
    Elliot Sanford is in Houdini's full evening show programs as the musical director and I believe he was an actual pall bearer.

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  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. I've deleted the above comment by request of the owner who does not wish to be identified. The owner was also kind enough to read me a few snippets from the manuscript and...there is gold here. :)

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  11. Updated with sale price: $48,000 (including 20% buyers premium).

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