Thursday, January 21, 2021

The American Museum of Magic has a fabric King of Cards poster (update)

Magician Franz Harary recently live streamed a tour of the American Museum of Magic's Research Center with Curator Jeffrey Alan. This part of the museum is not open to the general public. Inside are some true treasures, including many Houdini items. You can rewatch the video in full on Facebook.

One thing that stood out for me was an original King of Cards poster made of "fabric". I've never heard of a poster from this era printed on fabric (and would love to be educated). But I can see how it makes sense, especially for a traveling show. This has a Welsh Bros. circus header which dates it as 1898. I'm wondering if this is the same poster that was uncovered by Edward Saint and featured on the cover of Genii in October 1941? As far as surviving King of Cards posters go, this has to be one of the most intriguing.



Several other interesting Houdini items are shown, including the brass pails used to fill the Water Torture Cell with hot water. (I'd love to see these reunited with the cell some day.) Also a file said to have belonged to Bess containing an inscribed cabinet photo of the teenage Ehrich Weiss. The photo was sent to a relative in Budapest who gave it back to the adult Houdini during his visit in 1901.


The American Museum of Magic of located in Marshall, Michigan. The museum is currently open by appointment only. Visit their website for more info.

UPDATE: David Haversat, who certainly knows a thing or two about Houdini posters, provides the following:

This lithograph is not actually printed on cloth. This is a very early preservation of the poster being mounted on a cloth material. It’s much thinner than the linen used today. Depending how they adhered the poster to the material, the poster can appear to become part of the cloth. Some old time preservation materials included an item called Chartex, it utilized heat to bond the poster the this type of gauze. It’s a terrible material in today’s standards, but worked back then. 
There have been recent reproductions of the King of Cards printed on “oil cloth” or silk material on eBay. Those are reproductions. The one in the Lund Museum is authentic, and mounted to old preservation material.

Thank you David!

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13 comments:

  1. I caught this last week and was blown away as well by those artifacts. Mr. Alan wasn't able to go thru this in more detail and that's the downside to the tour. I wished he could have kept going with Bess' file box of goodies. The USD buckets in the museum look like they perfectly match the ones in that iconic photo of HH dangling over the cell.

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    1. I always thought the Houdini pails/buckets in the AMA were the ones Bob Lund bought from Martin Sunshine for filling the Milk Can, NOT the USD.

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    2. Possibly he used them for both? You can clearly see pails just like these in the USD photos. And in his scene and prop list for the USD act, HH writes: "We carry four brass tubs to hold this water..." (meaning boiling water to warm the cell which would otherwise be filled with a hose).

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    3. He prolly had the pails for the Milk Can, and pulled them out of storage later when he developed the USD. There must have been occasions where the USD wasn't feasible and the Milk Can substituted. The pails did double duty. Did HH continue doing the Milk Can now and then into the 1920s?

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    4. He did continue to do the Milk Can and Double Fold into the 1920s. He featured the Milk Can as part of his first spiritualism lecture tour in 1924.

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    5. Thank you! I guess the Milk Can was too good to completely drop. What's not to like? Self contained, practical to lug around, and easier than the USD. I would love to see a photo of HH doing the MC in the 1920s.

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  2. By "fabric" are you talking about cotton, canvas,or ____? If it was for/during his run with The Welsh Brothers Circus, it could have been unrolled and displayed outside, like other banners that featured the various acts...thus the need for it be printed on fabric so it would last the season, displayed in heat, wind, rain etc.

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    1. I'm just using the word Jeffrey Alan used. "Fabric". I would like to know myself what kind of fabric.

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  3. So unless as another has wondered, if it was later linen-backed for preservation, if it was printed directly on the fabric, it makes sense that it was for outdoor show purposes to last town after town, rather than a poster pasted to a fence, that would be trashed shortly afterwards.

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  4. This lithograph is not actually printed on cloth.
    This is a very early preservation of the poster being mounted on a cloth material. It’s much thinner than the linen used today. Depending how they adhered the poster to the material, the poster can appear to become part of the cloth. Some old time preservation materials included an item called Chartex, it utilized heat to bond the poster the this type of gauze. It’s a terrible material in today’s standards, but worked back then.
    There have been recent reproductions of the King of Cards printed on “oil cloth” or silk material on eBay. Those are reproductions. The one in the Lund Museum is authentic, and mounted to old preservation material.

    Dave Haversat

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    1. Thank you David! I've posted your comment here as an update.

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  5. Very interesting and good timing. I am performing the trick that fooled Harry Houdini in my virtual show this evening

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