Several people have been touch about the Houdini pitch book. To answer the first question, yes it is for sale. It’s not mine, unfortunately, but I have examined it and can put you in touch with the seller.

I posted a scan of the front cover on my last post. Here are a few more scans to give you a better idea of the book. Back cover on the left, inside front cover and first page above right, inside page spread lower right.

Incidentally, a little local interest, one of Houdini’s certificates from “various chiefs of police” (see right hand scan above, lower right) reads:

Chief Constable’s Office,
Sheffield, Jan. 19, 1904.

This is to certify that Mr. Harry Houdini was this day stripped stark naked and locked in the cell which once contained Charles Peace. The cell was searched and triple-locked, But Mr. Houdini released himself and redressed in five minutes, having also opened the iron gate of the corridor.

Charles J. Scott, Commander (R.N.)
Chief Constable, Sheffield,
Witness to the foregoing feat,
George H. Barker, Deputy Chief Constable

Charles Peace? An “infamous murderer”; brief history of his exploits, capture, escape, recapture and execution can be found here.

A few more details of the book:

The book is a soft cover, wire-stitched pitch book entitled Handcuff Tricks Exposed, Illustrated Life and History of Houdini. It was printed by Clegg & Son in 1911 (revised edition).

It has a pictorial yellow wrapper with a bust portrait of Houdini (the “Houdini for President” image) and a reproduced signature. The front cover is worn with minor tears and nicks but it is still attached. The back cover is loose. The last three pages although intact are loose from the staples, the rest are attached.

Overall, considering this paperback is almost 110 years old I feel it has survived in remarkable condition.

The seller has stated, ” I have had this book for many years and it is  only recently that it has surfaced again. I did an amount of research on this particular book and found it to be extremely rare and with a value of around $2000. (That was for bad copies. *) I am open to sensible offers and appreciate this book needs to go to a serious collector.”

* Russell’s note: one copy which went for over $2000 had clear marks of having been folded in half.

Front Cover

I’m offering on behalf of the owner perhaps the rarest of the Houdini pitch books: Handcuff Tricks Exposed: Illustrated Life and History of Houdini, 1911. In good condition for its age; see picture above.

Email me and I’ll put you in touch with the seller who’ll be happy to supply further details.

I’m sure that by now all my astute readers, and even the less astute one, will have answered most if not all of the questions in this year’s SCM Christmas Quiz. In case you haven’t, here they are:

1. The badge of the Sheffield Circle of Magicians is known as the Scaratika. What two magical symbols does it incorporate?

Answer: A Scarab and a Swastika. To the Ancient Egyptians, the scarab was a symbol of Khepri, a manifestation of the sun god Ra, from an analogy between the beetle’s behaviour of rolling a ball of dung across the ground and Khepri’s task of rolling the sun across the sky. They accordingly held the species to be sacred. The swastika is an ancient Indian religious symbol of peace and continuity. It is considered to be a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism and dates back at least 11,000 years.

2. Bess Houdini held annual séances on Halloween for ten years after her husband’s death in 1926. Which secret phrase did her husband Harry promise to use to prove that his ghost was actually trying to contact her?

a) Flowers do not fade.
b) I am Erik.
c) Rosabelle believe.
d) It’s the kiss that holds the key.

Answer: c). “Rosabelle” was a song that Bess used in her original act at Coney Island. Harry Houdini spent much of his later life trying to disprove spiritualism and expose phony mediums. The agreement with his wife was his ultimate means of proving that a return from the dead was impossible. The séances were supposed to continue each year for the rest of her life.

In 1929 a medium reported that the special phrase had been uttered during a séance, but Bess claimed that the news was false – she had been ill during the séance and the secrecy of the phrase could have been compromised. Bess held annual séances for 10 years, and then gave up on waiting and passed responsibility on to magician William B. Gibson.

3. David Wighton was born in London, England in 1868. He is best known for the Mascot Moth illusion in which a woman vanishes into thin air. What is his stage name?

Answer: David Devant. Incidentally,  Devant was the first Honorary President of the Sheffield Circle of Magicians.

4. Who is generally credited as the inventor of the Sawing in Half illusion?

Answer: P. T. Selbit (Percy Thomas Tibbles). A description of the illusion was published by the great French magician Jean Robert-Houdin in 1858, but Robert-Houdin’s idea remained just that, a written description of an effect. Selbit is generally recognised as the first magician to perform such a trick on a public stage, which he did at the Finsbury Park Empire theatre in London on 17 January 1921. In fact, Selbit had previously performed the illusion in December 1920 before a select audience of promoters and theatrical agents at the St. George’s Hall

5. Considered by many to be the father of modern magic, this French magician was originally a watchmaker but later performed throughout Europe during the 1840s and 1850s. The “Light and Heavy Chest” was one of his most famous tricks.

Answer: Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin.

6.  What was the stage name of famous British magician Newton Edward Daniels?

Answer: Paul Daniels.

7. These two German magicians were famous for their work with big cats.

Answer: Siegfried & Roy.

8. A magician makes a coin vanish from his or her hands. Which European country is connected with this sleight?

Answer: France (French Drop).

9. Invented by Theo Bamberg some time in the early 1900s, this little container is a classic prop for coin magic.

Answer: Okito Coin Box (Okito was Bamberg’s stage name).

10. The inaugural meeting of the Sheffield Circle of Magicians took place on 18 May. But what year?

Answer: 1920.

There was also a tie-breaker question, which we didn’t have to use. It was:

Tie Breaker: Claude Conlin was a mind-reading magician with a disreputable past. He had been married seven, eleven or even fourteen times, depending on who you believe. He was a con man, possibly a murderer and was imprisoned for fraud. Nevertheless, he was probably the highest paid mentalist of his time. What was Conlin’s stage name?

Answer next week.

Houdini_Edwards_smThe text above is an excerpt from Stevie Edwards’ poem ‘To Houdini’ which was printed in issue 1 of the Stonecoast Review. You can read the full poem here.

Stevie’s blog is here.

Some time ago I had a phone call from a woman who asked if she could call in to the Lounge to talk about a local magician. The woman was author Ann Beedham and the magician she wanted to discuss was Randolph Douglas, known as Randini. I have to confess that I’d never heard of the guy. Ann brought with her copies of magazine articles she’d written about Douglas — his short career as an escapologist; his friendship with Houdini; his museum, The House of Wonders, in the Derbyshire village of Castleton a few miles from Sheffield.

He was clearly a fascinating character and I promised to see what I could discover about him. I spoke to local magicians and those interested in the history of magic and escapology. Most had only heard of him vaguely, if at all. At this point I was beginning to think that Ann had set herself an almost impossible task in producing an entire book on this elusive man. I’m very pleased to say I was wrong.

A few days before the Southport IBM Convention Ann called in with a copy of the book. Absolutely fascinating! Randini: The man who helped Houdini is impeccably researched, copiously illustrated (32 colour plates alone!), and should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in the history of magic and escapology. (And that should mean everyone who reads this blog!)

I rang the publisher and managed to get hold of stocks in time to take them to Southport. It became one of our best-sellers. Thanks must go to Peter Lane, who bought a copy on the first day and passed the word around, and to Eddie Dawes, who kindly gave us a mention during his History of Mystery talks.

I could continue, but I’ll let Ann Beedham tell you a little more:

“The stunt that helped to make Houdini a legend — escaping from a straitjacket whilst suspended hundreds of feet in the air wasn’t invented by the Master Mystifier. That honour belonged to a long forgotten Sheffield schoolboy… Randini: The Man Who Helped Houdini is the remarkable story of a fan who helped reinvent his hero. Modelling himself on the escape artist, collecting every picture and news item, the young Randolph Douglas lived in world almost as magical as the music halls glowing like coral reefs in the grey industrial wasteland. His pocket money bought not toys but locks, handcuffs and even straightjackets as he dreamed of future glory.

“But it wasn’t just a daydream. Somewhere along the way fantasy and reality emerged as Houdini, the man who dined with princes, the man who was more famous than anyone, came to tea and began a friendship that lasted to the end of his life. But it wasn’t just a star pandering to a wide-eyed fan…”

“What Douglas did next would change the course of magic’s history.” William Kalush and Larry Sloman, The Secret Life of Houdini.

This A5, 240-page book includes copies of letters between Houdini and Douglas; unpublished images from The Magic Circle archives; a detailed look at The House of Wonders, with its eclectic collection of locks and curiosities, details of acts seen at the Sheffield Empire; plus extensive background notes.

We now have further stocks available for immediate despatch from our own little glowing reef here in Sheffield. Randini: The Man Who Helped Houdini is available at the bargain price of £9.99, plus postage £2.65 (UK First Class), £4.20 (EU Air) or £7.77 (Rest of World Air). Paypal accepted.