Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Harry Ransom Center reopens Houdini and magic collections

Over the past two years the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has been re-cataloging their massive Houdini and magic collections. Performing arts curator Eric Colleary tells us the process is finally complete and the collections are now back open to the public.

"As you might imagine, I'm absolutely thrilled about this," says Eric. "It's taken a bit longer than we expected, but the results are meticulous and detailed and will finally make the collection more visible. They came to us in 1958 as part of the Messmore Kendall Collection - Kendall having purchased them from Bess after Harry's death. Kendall merged his collection with Houdini's and it's always been a challenge to separate the two and to arrange the papers in a way that would make sense."

The center has launched online finding aids for all three collections:

Harry Houdini Papers:

Harry Houdini Collection:

Magic Collection (formerly called the Magicians Collection):

The Ransom Center also has books that belonged to Houdini's library. Those that have been identified can be found HERE. The center is also home to one of the three McManus-Young collections of historic magic books which is catalogued HERE.

I've been going through these listings and what I'm seeing has me gobsmacked! And talk about meticulous. The center has even cataloged a seed found among legal papers inside Houdini's strongbox. A magic seed perhaps?

Access to the Harry Ransom Center's collection is free to anyone with a photo ID "and a sense of curiosity." Details about using the collections can be found HERE.

If you want to learn more about the collections, Eric Colleary and archivist Amy Armstrong will be hosting a Facebook Live discussion this Thursday, August 9, at 1:30 PM CST.

Learn about the recently re-cataloged Harry Houdini Papers and magic collections in the Ransom Center’s holdings at The University of Texas at Austin. Join Ransom Center archivist Amy Armstrong and performing arts curator Eric Colleary for an engaging conversation via Facebook livestream. 
Feel free to post questions in advance on the event page here!

For more info on the above visit the Harry Ransom Center's Facebook page. For information about visiting the center itself, check out their official website.

UPDATETreasures from the Harry Ransom Center revealed.



  1. Just clicking onto the opening pages of those Harry Ransom links gives you information. Apparently HH left no will for his drama collection so Kendall purchased the drama library from Bess. The Library of Congress got the magic, spiritualism, and occult books. Books and papers left 278 after HH's death in an orderly fashion.

    1. Yes, it's nice they provide the story of how the collection came to the center. The story as I understand it is Kendall purchased the dramatic collection, and when he came to pick it up at 278, he saw all of Houdini's private papers, etc., and asked if he could buy those as well. So he walked away with what must have been the first great private collection of Houdiniana.

      And I believe HH willed the dramatic collection to Bess. He knew it was the most valuable and wanted her to have that asset.

    2. I never saw the point of willing assets to your spouse. I thought by law the surviving spouse takes custody of the items after the death of the partner.

    3. Guess it doesn't hurt to make sure, especially when you're talking about something with such value. Here's exactly what the Will reads:

      THIRD: I give, devise and bequeath to my wife, WILHELMINA RAHNER HOUDINI, absolutely and forever, my entire dramatic library, my household effects, furniture, trophies, silverware, ornaments, jewelry, diamonds and personal effects, including my oil paintings.

  2. Is that plaque an original from 1910 or just a replica very interested in that item. Hope you can prove it's an original let me know. M S

    1. I think we are safe in assuming it is the original. All the material in the HRC came from Houdini's own collection and papers. This was the plaque Houdini owned and displayed.