10 of the most expensive pieces of magic memorabilia



2015-06-26 11:33:18

We take a look at 10 of the most expensive pieces of magic memorabilia ever sold

Honourable Mention: The Maskelyne Escape trunk - $17,000

The trunk was used in a short play - Image: Potter & Potter

John Maskelyne (1839-1917) was one of the most innovative magicians in history and is credited with the invention of a number of illusions that have become standards – including levitation. He is perhaps less well known as the inventor of the pay toilet.

The trunk dates to around 1900 and was used in the short play Will, The Witch and the Watch, which utilised a range of magical effects. A performer would be interred within, to miraculously escape moments later. It made $17,000 at magic specialist Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago in 2012.

10) The Great Leon’s Sarcophagus - $22,000

The sarcophagus would probably have been used as an escape cabinet - Image: Potter & Potter

Leon Levy (1876-1951), or The Great Leon, was a popular American magician known for his impressive stage shows which played out at a frenetic pace.

This faux Egyptian sarcophagus was likely used as an escape cabinet and passed through the hands of a string of magicians including Levante and Charles Reynolds.

It sold for $22,000 at Potter & Potter in 2012.

9) Cardini’s photographic scrapbook - $24,000

The photographs show Cardini both onstage and off - Image: Potter & Potter

Cardini (1895-1973) was born in Britain but worked in the US for the majority of his illustrious career. His extraordinary technical ability is reputed to have come about as the result of practising sleight of hand in the freezing trenches of the first world war.

A master of close up magic, he was enormously successful and performed in some of the biggest vaudeville shows of the era. The book features around 150 unpublished photographs of Cardini and his assistant and wife Swan Walker. It made $24,000 at Potter & Potter in 2013.

8) Crambrook’s Catalogue 1844 - $26,000

Crambrook's Catalogue was an early outlet for conjuring tricks - Image: Potter & Potter

Crambrook’s catalogue was the first to offer conjuring tricks and provides a fascinating insight into the evolution of various illusions. It first appeared in 1843, with this third edition issued in 1844.

Alongside its varied deceptions and devices, it offered “a complete exposé of the baneful arts by which unwary youth too often become the prey of professed gamesters".

It made $26,000 at Potter & Potter in 2012.

7) Houdini billboard - $27,000

The billboard stands at over nine feet tall - Image: Guernsey's

This billboard accompanied the legendary Harry Houdini on his world tours in the 1910s and 1920s, promoting him as “the first human being to successfully escape from a regulation straight jacket as used on the murderous insane."

The enormous sign stands at over nine feet tall and was later used in the 1953 film Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It sold for $27,500 at Guernsey’s in New York in 2008.

6) Barnardo Eagle’s Handbook of Magic - $32,000

Barnardo Eagle was an early star of the stage - Image: Martinka

Barnardo Eagle (1806-1858) was one of the stars of the early era of stage magic and clearly had a taste for the bombastic, touring as The Royal Wizard of the South.

In doing so he set himself in direct opposition to John Henry Anderson, known as The Great Wizard of the North, with whom he maintained a strong rivalry.

His daughter, Georgiana Eagle, was among the first successful female magicians and eventually became Queen Victoria’s personal psychic. This third edition manual for magicians was published in 1846 and made $32,000 at Martinka in New Jersey in 2011.

5) Houdini’s Magic in Boston manuscript - $40,000

Houdini commissioned Magic in Boston in the early 1900s - Image: Martinka

"Magic in Boston 1792-1918” was commissioned by Houdini and written by HJ Moulton in the early 1900s, although it was not published until 1983.

Alongside the manuscript, which concerns the early history of magic in America, the book features a range of correspondence between the two men.

It sold for $40,000 at Martinka in 2011.

4) Houdini’s straitjacket - $46,980

Houdini used straitjackets in many of his escapes - Image: Christie's

The escape from the straitjacket was one of the hallmarks of Houdini’s performances, and he often performed the feat while hanging upside down.

This straitjacket was made by the Swanfeldt Tent Awning Co. and was acquired by the magician in around 1915. It made $46,980 at Christie’s New York in 2011.

3) Houdini’s Water Torture poster - $55,000

The Chinese Water Torture escape is undoubtedly Houdini’s most famous. He would be lowered into a tank of water and locked in, while a curtain was lowered – obscuring him from view.

Less than three minutes later he would emerge dripping wet from behind the curtain.

This poster, printed in 1914, became the most valuable magicians’ poster ever sold when magician and collector David Copperfield bought it for $55,000 at CRG Auctions in Las Vegas in 2004.

2) Cardini’s stage worn tuxedo - $60,000

Cardini's pioneering stage wear was endlessly imitated - Image: Potter & Potter

Cardini was the first magician to dress like a magician. His adoption of the tuxedo, top hat and dress shirt was endlessly imitated by performers throughout the 20th century.

This particular outfit would have been worn throughout countless performances and its importance to the history of the form entirely justifies the $60,000 paid at Potter & Potter in April 2013.

1) Houdini’s water torture cell - $150,000

Houdini performing the Water Torture escape - Image: Library of Congress

When Houdini died he left his famous water torture cell to his brother, Theodore Hardeen, along with an instruction to burn it. Hardeen ignored this and passed it onto a collector.

Eventually it ended up in the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagra, remaining there until 1995 when the building burned down.

David Copperfield bought and restored the frame in 2004, and today it stands in his unmatched personal collection of magic memorabilia. The price he paid was $150,000.

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