Here's everything I know.
The cell appears to be the same dimensions as Houdini's and shows clear signs of age. Of course, aging can be faked, so the buyer called in a team of antique dealers who gave the cell a thorough examination. They concluded that the wood was mahogany and the patina indicated that it was old. From a sample of the wood finish they concluded it was free of modern poly urethane and has a lacquer finish with several coats of wax. This was used in Houdini’s time for furniture finishing etc. They called the many brass slotted screws archaic and seldom used in the modern world. They also noted the brass was very damaged and pitted and appeared very old. They could not find any current suppliers for the handles, which they believe contains more copper than in the brass trim. After being told the cell was possibly made in England, they suggested the handles may have been forged by Sheffield Forge Masters.
The cell was shipped in one piece, as seen in the above pics. The buyer has not yet discovered if it disassembles in the same manner as Houdini's cell. The stocks are locked to the top and no keys came with it, so the buyer has yet to examine the inside. The plugs are missing, as is the right front locking hasp. (Curiously, this was the same hasp that was seen to be badly bent on the cell that was on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame before its restoration and destruction in a fire.)
But the big news is the cell IS gaffed in exactly the same manner as Houdini's cell. This took several days and a lot of elbow grease to uncover. But this is no minor detail. This is a working Water Torture Cell!
I should say the buyer is not a stranger to me and is someone I consider trustworthy. But I have not examined the cell myself. All I've seen are these photos, plus a few others of the gaff which, obviously, I'm keeping confidential.
However, I have no idea who the seller was, and his refusal to provide any information is both infuriating and suspicious. Anything can be faked these days, so provenance is everything. So I'm not taking a position on this myself. All I can do is offer up a few speculative possibilities:
- This is a deliberate fake. (Because of the lack of provenance, I have to default to this as the #1 possibility. However, the findings of the antique dealers argue against this.)
- This is a genuinely old Water Torture Cell made by persons unknown. (But how many people could recreate the highly secret gaff? And if this is the case, what's the harm in revealing the provenance?)
- This is another Houdini Water Torture Cell, possibly the cell he made for Miss Trixe in 1912. (This would be the dream! But, again, why not provide some provenance if there's nothing to hide?)
- This is somehow the original, unrestored Water Torture Cell from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. (While not something I want to believe, I have to suggest this as a possibility.)
- It's something I've not considered. (Theories welcome.)
So there you have it. The lucky new owner has allowed me to post this with the hope that going public might bring some new information. The cell itself is not for sale. So if you have any information or just want to offer up your own theories, feel free to share in the comment below. And if you have some private information, feel free to email me.
UPDATE: Below is one major difference between this cell and the original restored cell in the David Copperfield collection. Note the hinge. Like big interlaced knuckles on Houdini's cell (made to last). More of a typical hinge on the Canadian mystery cell. In fact, the entire locking plate looks entirely different to me. The knuckle-like hinge is also visible in pre-restoration pics of the WTC in the museum. So this argues against theory #4.
|Click to enlarge.|