Saturday, August 11, 2018

Ransom Center has three Vanishing Elephant posters

A poster for the Vanishing Elephant has long been one of the holy grails of Houdiniana. That's because, apart from a few newspaper ads, there is no known advertising or poster art for this famous feat, which Houdini performed for 19 weeks at the New York Hippodrome in 1918.

But now thanks to the Harry Ransom Center, we finally have a Vanishing Elephant poster! Or at least what's described as a watercolor prototype for a poster. Was a finished poster like this ever produced? That I don't know, but this artwork belonged to Houdini himself.

The poster image (right) comes from the Ransom Center's website. It was reproduced in black and white in the first U.S. paperback edition of The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini (curiously it's not in the hardcover or later paperbacks). The watercolor was also displayed at the Ransom Center's Houdini celebrations in October 2016 and most recently as part of their Vaudeville! exhibition.

But it gets better. That's because the Ransom Center has two more Vanishing Elephant poster images. One is a second watercolor prototype of a similar design (you can see it in their recent Facebook live talk). The other is a broadside with bold white lettering against black reading: LOOK OUT FOR THE VANISHING ELEPHANT. In many ways, this one is the most remarkable in that it's the only printed poster that I'm aware. And what a great line. But to see that one, you'll have to visit the Center itself.

The Harry Ransom Center recently completed a two year re-cataloging of their Houdini and Magic collections. Access to the collections is free to anyone with a photo ID. Details about using the collections can be found HERE.

Thanks to Eric Colleary for allowing me to share this image.



  1. Great stuff! The artist who painted this watercolor prototype must have seen that iconic photo of HH posing with an elephant in that faux Hippodrome photo. HH is wearing along overcoat in this painting and his hair is grey as in that photo. We still don't know if a full scale Vanishing Elephant poster was ever produced.

  2. Incredible!!!
    The poster image was reproduced in The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon. It is identified as illustration 33 in the book and is credited to the Hoblitzelle Theater Arts Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the University of Texas at Austin.

    1. Ah ha! Yes. Thanks. Curiously, it's only in the first U.S. paperback edition. It's not in the hardcover or later paperbacks.

    2. Well all be damned, that is curious.

  3. Fantastic! (Interesting style. Somewhat reminds me of the work of Winsor McCay.)

  4. Wouldn't it be great if someone created a finished poster from this prototype?

  5. Yes, it would be a fantastic poster! I like the Egyptian embellishments--it's quite eclectic!

  6. TAOM 2021, will hand out the first reprint of the vanishing elephant watercolor poster proofs, as gifts to the convention participants, in September!

  7. Yes, TAOM 2021,, will hand out the first reprints ever of the two watercolor poster proof, as gifts to the convention participants, in September.