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Harry Houdini:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Houdini, Harry, 1874-1926
Title: Harry Houdini Papers
Dates: circa 1641-1943, undated
Extent: 76 document boxes (31.92 linear feet), 26 oversize boxes (osb), 12 oversize folders (osf), 10 bound volumes (bv), 3 note boxes
Abstract: The papers of magician, escape artist, business man, aviator, author, and actor popularly known as Harry Houdini consist of correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, posters, business documents, and material related to magic, performance, theatre, and other topics.
Call Number: Performing Arts Collection PA-00043
Language: Predominately English; some printed material, letters, and documents in French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Spanish
Access: Open for research. Special permission from the Curator of Performing Arts, plus advance notice, is required to access artifacts, art, glass lantern slides, and any restricted material. To make an appointment, please email Reference. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Provenance Attorney, businessman, and theatre owner Messmore Kendall purchased Houdini's personal papers and dramatic library from his widow, Bess, in June 1927. In 1958, the Hoblitzelle Foundation purchased the papers from Kendall and placed them on permanent loan to the University of Texas Hoblitzelle Theatre Arts Library. In 1969, the Foundation gifted the Houdini Papers to the University of Texas. Though the papers includes some books, Houdini willed his magic library, comprised of books related to magic, spiritualism, the occult, and other topics, to the Library of Congress. From the point of acquiring the papers in 1927 to the point of the University taking physical possession in 1958, it is very likely that Kendall continued to add documents and items related either to Houdini or magic to his collection. That is the likely reason some items in the papers post-date Houdini's death in 1926. Once the papers arrived at the Center, librarians began cataloging the papers following best practices at that time. The Houdini papers were part of the Hoblitzelle Theatre Arts Collection, which was housed on the 21st floor of the University of Texas Tower. In August 1965, the material was in the process of being cataloged when a fire broke out in an adjoining room. Staff rescued material, but introduced a new level of disorganization to the papers. Over the years, staff have attempted to process it in various ways. Because of the volume and breadth of collected material, curators and librarians created artificial collections based on subject or format. Consequently, items and documents were removed from the Houdini papers and formed the centerpiece for the Center's Magic Collection, the Playbills Collection, the Theater Biography Collection, the Circus Collection, the Scrapbook Collection, the Theater Arts Manuscripts Collection, among others. During this most recent processing, the archivist made an earnest attempt to reunite material owned by Houdini from the Magic Collection to the Houdini Papers. Based on the presence of Houdini's signature or writing, items inscribed to Houdini, the initials of Robert Evans, the initials of Houdini's librarian Alfred Becks, and the signature or initials of Henry Evans Evanion, items were removed from the Magic Collection and placed back with the Houdini papers.
Preferred Citation Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Harry Houdini Papers (Performing Arts Collection PA-00043).
Acquisition: Deposit, 1958; Gift, 1969
Processed by: Amy E. Armstrong, 2018

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Despite claiming he was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, the magician, escape artist, business man, aviator, author, and actor popularly known as Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, to Rabbi Mayer Weisz and Cecilia Steiner on March 24, 1874. As was often the case for immigrants, the spelling of the family name was changed to Weiss and Erik became Ehrich (whose nickname Ehrie, became Harry). In 1876, Rabbi Weisz immigrated ahead of his family to the United States and eventually secured a position at a synagogue in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1878. Later that same year, Cecilia Weisz, along with their four sons Erik, Herman, Nathan, and William, joined Rabbi Weisz in Wisconsin. After losing his position at the synagogue, Rabbi Weiss and his family moved to Milwaukee in 1882, where the family experienced almost constant poverty. In 1887, the family moved to the tenements of New York City. Ehrich moved around and did a series of odd jobs until meeting Jacob Hyman in 1888. The boys shared an interest in magic and after reading The Memories of Robert-Houdin, Ambassador, Author and Conjuror, Ehrich decided to pursue magic professionally and formed The Brothers Houdini with Hyman in 1891.
The Brothers Houdini performed around New York City in small theatres and dime museums between 1892 and 1894, with occasional engagements in Philadelphia and Chicago, including on the midway at the 1893 Columbia Exposition. In spring 1894, the partnership with Jacob Hyman dissolved and Houdini began performing solo for a short time as Professor Houdini, then rebranded The Brothers Houdini with his actual brother Theo "Dash" Weiss (later known professionally as "Hardeen"). The partnership didn't last long, as Houdini met Willhelmina Beatrice Rahner, known to everyone as Bess, who became his professional and life-long partner when the two married—after only three weeks—on June 22, 1894. The Houdinis performed with traveling circuses and medicine shows in terrible conditions throughout 1895 and in an effort to secure a regular salary, Houdini became manager of a burlesque troupe called The Gaiety Girls. During this same year, Houdini began a series of handcuff escape publicity stunts at police stations across the northeast. The next two years were grueling for the Houdinis, as The Gaiety Girls troupe and other performance companies they performed with folded. The years between 1897 and early 1899 proved no better, as the Houdinis did almost anything to earn income including performing comedy sketches and, ironically, séances. He even attempted to sell his entire magic act and get a regular job. During this time, however, Houdini continued to perform handcuff escapes and accept challenges and earned the nickname "The King of Handcuffs."
The Houdinis lucky break came in 1899. After performing at the Palm Garden in St. Paul, Minnesota, Houdini received an offer to join the Keith-Orpheum Circuit from manager Martin Beck. To promote his show, Houdini continued to perform handcuff escapes at police stations and received great attention in local newspapers. In early 1900, the Houdinis embarked on a European tour arranged by Martin Beck, only to find upon arrival that no bookings had been made. Without Beck's help, Houdini, ever the promoter, was able to secure bookings throughout England, Scotland, and Wales to sold-out shows; many of which broke attendance records. His success continued throughout 1904 in venues throughout central Europe and Russia. Houdini returned to the United States briefly in 1904 and then returned to Europe where he was already an established celebrity.
Houdini continued performing his illusions, handcuff challenges, and escape acts on land and water throughout the country and the world almost continuously for the rest of his life, which was cut short at the age of 52 when he died of peritonitis as a result of a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926.
Themes in Houdini's life which are represented in his Papers:
Cecilia Weiss, His Mother
Houdini described his mother as one of only two women he ever loved. When she died in 1913, Houdini was in such a state of grief that he visited his mother's grave every night for a week and was in an unshakeable depression for over a year. For the rest of his life, Houdini mourned deeply for his mother.
An article posthumously published in 1927 about Houdini's library described it as, "A three-story house crammed with fifteen thousand books, fifty thousand prints, half a million cuttings and four tons of theatrical bills stands on an obscure New York block and domiciles a bibliophile–Houdini the Handcuff King. A dozen and a half rooms are lined with shelves and these with books, old, new, small, large. One is heaped with filing cases of prints. The basement is full of antique posters." Houdini was a lifelong student of magic and his intent to publish a meticulously researched response to Thomas Frost's book Lives of the Conjurors (1876) perhaps served as the catalyst for amassing the books, playbills, clippings, posters, programs, manuscripts, and ephemera that became his personal research library. Magicians and relatives of magicians long departed frequently gave him material, but perhaps two of his most significant suppliers were Quincy Kilby for theatrical material and Henry Evans Evanion, and later Evanion's nephew Robert Evans, for magic material. Kilby was an author, poet, playwright and actor, and one-time treasurer of the old Boston Theatre. Kilby often bartered rare manuscript materials with Houdini and sometimes gave him outright many rare playbills and other material related to theatre. He was Houdini's main source for Edwin Booth material. Evanion was a retired English magician when he reached out to Houdini in 1904. Evanion had himself amassed an enormous magic collection, with many rare items. Indeed, part of Evanion's collection is in the British Museum. Houdini purchased many rare playbills, engravings, and lithographs, as well as a voluminous number of playbills documenting Evanion's own magic career, and many of these in the Houdini papers are marked with Evanion's name or initials. After Evanion's death in 1905, Houdini began correspondence with Evanion's nephew Robert Evans, who is the source for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth century British clippings and periodical excerpts found in the collected material of the papers and frequently bear his initials.
For a man like Houdini, who built a career on spectacle, self-promotion, risk-taking, and trail-blazing, it is only natural that he would be drawn to moving pictures. The new medium allowed him to be immortalized on celluloid and bypass the constraints of the human body, which can only be in one place at one time. Houdini's earliest appearances on film were his outdoor escapes, which he began filming in 1906. A film short called Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt was shown during Houdini's Boston engagement at Keith's Theatre in March 1906 and this is believed to be Houdini's first appearance in a narrative film. Twelve years later, movie houses were beginning to overtake live performances in popularity and Houdini entered the movie making business in earnest. In 1918, Houdini starred in a 15-part serial for Octagon Films called The Master Mystery. The first three chapters received a helpful review in Billboard and it opened in Boston and throughout New England, with Houdini often making a personal appearance. This success propelled Houdini toward Hollywood where he starred in two feature films, The Grim Game (1919) and Terror Island (1920), for Famous Players-Lasky.
Houdini wasn't interested in working only in front of the camera, but also in production. Possibly envisioning a vertical film monopoly, Houdini owned a film processing laboratory, the Film Developing Corporation (FDC), his own motion picture company, The Houdini Picture Corporation (founded in 1921), and a distribution company Mystery Pictures Corporation. Houdini founded FDC in 1916 with the help of investors (including magician Harry Kellar) and his brother Theo, who Houdini asked to manage the company. Houdini sought to revolutionize film developing by mechanizing the process, which at that time was done by hand, resulting in cheaper and faster development. FDC, however, accrued substantial debt and through an advantageous legal and business maneuver Houdini formed another company, the Weehawken Street Corporation (WSC), mortgaged the building to WSC, which leased it back to FDC. The Houdini Picture Corporation made two films The Man from Beyond (1921) and Haldane of the Secret Service (1923), for which Houdini was the producer, writer, and star, but which proved a financial and critical disappointment.
Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.)
Houdini was elected to the Society of American Magicians on February 7, 1903, but in July 1908 resigned, partly out of anger that his magazine, the Conjurers' Monthly Magazine, was not selected to be the official publication of the organization. The Sphinx had been the place where member's reports had been published since the organization's founding in 1902 and it became the official organ of S.A.M. with the March 1909 issue. The separation ended in June 1912, when Houdini was made an Honorary Member. On June 2, 1917, Houdini became president of the Society of American Magicians and became editor of the member's-only newsletter M.U.M. (Magic-Unity-Might) beginning with the June 1917 edition until his death in October 1926. Under Houdini's leadership, S.A.M. grew in number and prestige. He solicited magic clubs all over the country and where clubs didn't exist, he formed S.A.M. Assemblies made up of local magicians.
Houdini's crusade to debunk the mediums and "miracle workers" who practiced spiritualism and who—Houdini felt—played on the emotions of the bereaved to make a living, began in earnest after meeting Arthur Conan Doyle in 1920. Doyle's wife, Lady Doyle, professed that she could communicate with the departed through "automatic writing." In June 1922, Houdini asked Lady Doyle to communicate with his dear mother, but the written communication she produced was full of improbable occurrences; the primary being the transmission in English which Cecilia Weiss rarely used because she wasn't conversant in the language. This disillusioned Houdini who continued to attend séances in order to learn spiritualists' methods, resulting in his obsession with debunking such performers. Perhaps his most intense war was with Mina "Margery" Crandon. Throughout 1922 and 1923, Houdini increased his attack on spiritualism issuing challenges, engaging in debates, and while at the opening of his film The Man From Beyond, including a brief lecture on spiritualism. In 1926, Houdini even testified before Congress in support of a bill that would outlaw within the District of Columbia, individuals from engaging in spiritual practices with the intent to deceive for profit. Houdini continued to offer lectures across the country and in 1924, he signed with the Coit-Albert Lyceum circuit to deliver a spiritualism lecture tour.
Dr. A. M. Wilson, The Sphinx, and The Conjurers' Monthly Magazine
Dr. A. M. Wilson was an old-time magician who performed in the 1860s under his stage name "Aristos." Before that, he was an assistant and pupil to magician Robert Heller. He retired from performing and became a minister, a doctor, and a pharmacist, but remained associated with magic; primarily as the editor of magic journal The Sphinx (the October 1904 issue was his first as editor). Wilson, like Houdini, was outspoken and like Houdini, was known to enter into conflicts with magicians. Houdini's own dispute with Dr. Wilson seemed to begin early in his career when he took offense that the Sphinx never published his likeness on the cover, nor printed any articles about his act. This was one reason Houdini launched the Conjurers' Monthly Magazine in September 1906. Prone to grandiose statements, Houdini boasted that after only two months, the circulation of his magazine had surpassed that of all other magic magazines combined. Very quickly a war of words took place on the pages of each magazine and escalated into a feud that lasted until September 1915, when Houdini and Wilson made amends and ended their dispute. The August 1908 issue was the last of the Conjurers' Monthly Magazine.
Partial Chronology of Houdini's Life
1874 March 24 Born in Budapest, Hungary
1874 March 24 Born in Budapest, Hungary
1876 Rabbi Weisz immigrates to America
1878 June 19 Weisz family immigrates to America from Hamburg, Germany
1878 September Weiss family moves to Appleton, Wisconsin
1883 Weiss family moves to Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1886 Runs away from home and lives with the Flitcrots in Delvan, Wisconsin
1887 Weiss family moves to New York City; Ehrich returns to his family
1888 Meets Jacob Hyman at his job at H. Richter's Sons
1891 Ehrich pursues magic full-time and with Jacob Hyman perform as The Brothers Houdini
1892 October 5 Rabbi Weiss dies from complications associated with tongue cancer operation
1893 The Brothers Houdini perform in various venues
1894 April The Brothers Houdini partnership dissolves
1894 June The Brothers Houdini perform with Theo "Dash" Weiss as partner
1894 June 22 Marries Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, known as Bess
1895 April-October The Houdinis join the Welsh Bros. Circus and perform throughout Pennsylvania
1895 October Becomes manager of The American Gaiety Girls burlesque show; it folds in April 1896
1895 November 22 Escapes from handcuffs at Gloucester (MA) police station, beginning regular handcuff escape routine; begins accepting challenges from the public
1898 June Publishes first article "Silent Second Sight" in Mahatma
1898 October-November Publishes Magic Made Easy
1899 March Martin Beck sees Houdini perform at the Palm Garden Beer Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota. Beck later offered him a four-year contract with the Keith-Albee Orpheum vaudeville circuit
1900 June Houdinis arrive in England for European tour, but Beck had not scheduled any venues; Houdini makes his own bookings to great success
1900 August Renews passport and lists birthdate as April 6, 1873 and birthplace as Appleton, Wisconsin
1900-1905 Performs throughout Europe and Russia
1905 July Returns to U.S.
1906 March-April Publishes The Right Way to Do Wrong
1906 September First issue of Houdini's personal magazine devoted to magic, Conjurers' Monthly Magazine, is published
1907 May 7 Jumps handcuffed from Weighlock Bridge into Erie Canal, Rochester, NY
1907 November 1 Publishes short story "Dan Cupid -- Magician" in Buffalo Evening News
1908 January 25 Performs his Milk Can escape for first time
1908 May The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin is first published
1908 July Resigns from the Society of American Magicians
1908 August Final issue of Conjurers' Monthly Magazine published
1909 November Buys a French Voisin biplane and makes his first flight at Hufaren parade grounds, Wandsbek, Germany
1910 February Travels to Australia for performance tour and attempt to achieve flying record for first flight over Australia
1910 March 18 Houdini makes first controlled airplane flight in Australia and completes three successful flights at Diggers Rest
1910 May 1 Houdini make his last ever flight at Rosehill, Australia
1911 March Performs the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery during an engagement in Sheffield, England
1912 April Society of American Magicians makes Houdini an honorary member
1912 July 7 Does first overboard box escape off Governor's Island, NY
1912 September 21 Debuts the Water Torture Cell, Circus Busch, Berlin, Germany
1913 June 4 Escapes from the convict ship Success in New York harbor
1913 July Legal name change from Ehrich Weiss to Harry Houdini is finalized
1913 July 17 Cecilia Weiss dies at age 74
1914 July 13 First performs Walking Through a Brick Wall, Hammerstein's Roof Garden, NY
1914 August Houdini and Bess move out of 278 and in with the Dash and his wife at 394 E. 21st Street in Flatbush, NY
1915 September 8 Performs suspended straitjacket escape off Kansas City Post building
1915 September Reconciles with Dr. A. M. Wilson (Editor of The Sphinx), ending their long feud
1916 February 7-13 Performs at the Majestic Theater, Austin, TX
1916 February 10 Performs suspended straitjacket from Littlefield building at 6th and Congress, Austin, TX
1916 June Appears on the cover of The Sphinx for first time
1916 September 25 Signs contract forming the Film Developing Corporation
1916 October 1 Weiss family plot and exedra (designed by Oscar Teale) dedication ceremony at Machpelah Cemetery, Queens, New York
1917 April 5 Brother Leopold Weiss marries Houdini's ex-sister-in-law Sadie Glantz (who was married to Nat Weiss)
1917 June 2 Elected president of the Society of American Magicians
1917 September 22 Papers announce Houdini will forgo vaudeville tour to devote his time to "war work"
1918 January 7 Performs Vanishing Elephant for the first time, Hippodrome Theater, NY
1918 July Work begins on movie serial The Master Mystery
1918 November 18 The Master Mystery Episode 1 premieres at the St. James Theater, Boston, MA
1919 March Acquires a controlling interest in Martinka's & Co. Magic Shop in New York;
Signed a contract to make movies for Famous Players-Lasky
1919 April Arrives in Hollywood; filming of The Grim Game begins
1919 September-October The Grim Game debuts and opens in different cities
1919 October Filming begins for second Houdini-Lasky film Terror Island; Sues Octagon Films for $40,000
1919 December Spends week going through massive new auction acquisition for his Theatrical Collection
1920 January Sells his interest in Martinka's magic shop
1920 February-March Filming of Haldane of the Secret Service
1920 April 12 Terror Island opens on double bill with SEX at The Modern and The Beacon theaters in Boston, MA
1920 April 14 Meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family
1920 April-May Attends a series of séances with various mediums in London
1920 September 24 Houdini's secretary John Sargent dies and Bess's niece, Julia Sawyer, takes over duties
1921 January Miracle Mongers and Their Methods is published
1921 February Houdini Picture Corporation is founded
1921 May-June Filming of The Man From Beyond in the Niagara region and Lake Placid, NJ
1922 April 2 The Man From Beyond premieres at Times Square Theater, NY
1922 May Houdini's Paper Magic is published; Wins lawsuit against B. A. Rolf and Octagon Films
1922 June 18 Lady Doyle gives Houdini automatic writing séance and alleges to communicate with Cecilia Weiss
1922 June 30 Writes letter to New York Times spelling out spiritualism skepticism; it is published on July 5
1922 August 21-27 The Man from Beyond opens at the Rialto Theater, Washington, D.C. and Houdini appears in person, giving a public lecture on spiritualism
1922 September 18 Houdini "openly challenges" Conan Doyle to attend demonstration of spiritualist methods
1923 February Houdini writes Doyle telling him he's joined the Scientific American committee; the magazine offers $2000 to anyone who can take a spirit photograph under test conditions
1923 April-November Gives spiritualism lectures in various venues
1923 May 20 Major exposure article runs in Oakland Tribune Magazine: "Houdini Unmasks the Mediums"
1923 May 25 Conan Doyle publishes rebuttal to Houdini in Oakland Tribune: "Doyle Challenges Houdini Statement"
1923 October-December Haldane of the Secret Service opens
1923 December 24 Conan Doyle pens angry letter to Houdini: "You can't bitterly and offensively--often also untruly--attack a subject and yet expect courtesies from those who honour that subject."
1924 January-December Continues giving spiritualism lectures throughout the country
1924 May A Magician Among The Spirits is published
1924 May 5 Houdini writes Doyle offering to send copy of A Magician Among the Spirits and Doyle-Houdini friendship ends
1924 July 23 Houdini and Scientific American committee have first séance with Mina "Margery" Crandon at her Boston home
1924 July 24 Houdini and Scientific American committee second séance with Margery at Charlesgate Hotel, Boston, MA
1924 August 25 Third séance with Margery at Charlesgate Hotel; Houdini's "Margie Box" is used
1924 August 26 Fourth séance with Margery at Charlesgate with reinforced "Margie Box"
1924 August 27 Fifth séance with Margery at Charlesgate. Margery failure is reported in press the next day
1924 October 6 Signs deal to create Red Magic syndicated newspaper insert
1925 January-December Continues to expose spiritualists and their methods
1925 January 2 Exposes Margery's methods at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA
1925 April 20 Houdini's librarian, Alfred Becks, dies
1926 October 22 Houdini punched in the stomach by J. Gordon Whitehead in dressing room of Princess Theater, Montreal, Canada
1926 October 24 Houdini gives his final performance ever at Garrick Theater, Detroit, MI
1926 October 25 Undergoes operation and appendix removed
1926 October 31 Houdini dies at 1:26 pm
1927 June Bess sells Houdini's theatrical collection to Messmore Kendall
1927 July Houdini's magic and spiritualism library donated to the Library of Congress
*All dates from "Chronology" are from Wild About Harry []


In addition to material in the papers, the following sources were used:
Buranelli, Prosper. "Houdini's Literary Escape." The Bookman, January 1927
Cox, John. Wild About Harry. []
Moses, Arthur. Houdini Speaks Out, "I am Houdini, and You are a Fraud!" Xlibris Corporation [self-published], 2007.
Silverman, Kenneth. Houdini!!! The Career of Eric Weiss. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Scope and Contents

The Harry Houdini Papers are arranged into eight series: I. Houdini's Act, 1907-circa 1920s, undated; II. Correspondence, circa 1800s-1926, undated; III. Writings, circa 1894-1926, undated; IV. Promotional Material, 1894-1926, undated; V. Photographs, 1900-circa 1920s; VI. Personal and Professional, 1903-1927, undated; VII. Film Career, 1919-1925; VIII. Collected Material, circa 1641-circa 1930s, undated. Houdini was a prolific collector of material related to magic, performance, theatre, and other topics. The bulk of the papers consist of this collected material.
The Houdini Papers were housed in the University of Texas Main Building tower when it caught on fire on August 10, 1965. Some items were indirectly affected by the heat, smoke, and water used to distinguish the fire. As a result, a large portion of this material—particularly correspondence—has water damage. The ink on letters is smeared and has migrated to other pages making some letters difficult to read. Other items, such as photographs were ruined or have adhered to other photographs or papers. Some documents have the appearance of dirt or soot. Though the Ransom Center Conservation Department cleaned such items, some are stained. Because of this associated damage, some photographs and other documents are restricted from use, but they are still listed in the container list.
There are many duplicate publications, playbills, and photographs in the papers. For preservation and paging purposes, three copies were maintained in the body of the collection and the remainder are housed separately in the "Duplicate Material" boxes. In cases where duplicate material was removed, the appropriate "duplicate box" number is also listed in the container list. For example, the Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used by the Boston Medium "Margery" to win the $2500 prize offered by the Scientific American is listed as being in box 11.18 and box D2. The duplicate material is restricted; however, researchers may contact the Performing Arts curator for permission to access these boxes.
Series I. Houdini's Act, 1907-circa 1920s, undated (0.5 box, 2 note boxes) contains a few items associated with Harry Houdini's performances. It is difficult to determine the intent, purpose, or authorship of the notes about magic tricks and the drawing of a swing apparatus in this series. It is unclear if these were illusions used, considered, or studied by Houdini. Of particular interest are the glass lantern slides Houdini used to illustrate his spiritualism lectures between 1923 and 1926. Houdini had the slides especially made by the Standard Slide Company in New York and many of the images used on the slides were taken from Houdini's extensive collection of engravings and photographs. Special permission from the Curator of Performing Arts, plus advance notice, is required to access the glass lantern slides and the artifacts. To make an appointment, please email Reference.
Series II. Correspondence, circa 1800s-1926, undated (7.5 boxes) is further arranged into three subseries: A. Letters to Houdini, B. Letters from Houdini, and C. Third-Party Letters. Subseries A. Letters to Houdini includes letters, telegrams, and postcards from world-famous, local, and amateur magicians from all over the world, as well as retired magicians, magic suppliers, and other performers. These letters reveal a great deal about Houdini and his interests, his feuds, his friendships, his frequent generosity, and the history of magic. Very often Houdini corresponded with relatives of deceased magicians to learn more about their career or to add playbills or other memorabilia to his extensive magic collection. Of interest regarding Houdini's rare books and manuscripts collection are letters from theatre impresario Quincy Kilby, who was a significant source of Houdini's theatre collection.
The letters are in alphabetical order, most often by the name used in the signature; which may be either a given name or a stage name. Because magicians often use both, researchers should look in the container list under all names used by a performer. In most cases, there is only one or two letters and many are in languages other than English, primarily German or French. There are several correspondents with a large volume of letters, including: Ernst Basch, Dr. Walford Bodie, Birchet "Kit" Clarke, T. Nelson Downs, Henry Ridgely Evans, Robert Evans (nephew of Henry Evans Evanion), Ottokar Fischer, Marie Frikell (widow of Wiljalba Frikell), Professor Hoffman, Quincy Kilby, Robert Kudarz, Alexandra Nicholas (Eleanor Bishop), Edwin Fay Rice, William Ellsworth Robinson (Chung Ling Soo), Augustus Roterberg, Alex Weyer, A. M. Wilson, and M. M. Wood. Any enclosures such as programs, clippings, and photographs are included with the correspondence. In a few instances, a file may also include carbon copies of the outgoing letters written by Houdini, but for the most part, the few outgoing letters that exist in the papers are in Subseries B. Letters from Houdini.
The relatively few letters addressed to Houdini's magazine Conjurers' Monthly Magazine are also included in this series. The subject of the letters include subscription requests, advertisements for the barter and exchange column, comments on the magazine, article submissions, general magic happenings, as well as comments regarding Houdini's books. Some letters include typed comments which served as internal memos between Houdini and his brother Leo Weiss who assisted with the magazine.
Subseries B. Letters from Houdini includes letters as well as "love notes" that Houdini sent or left for his wife Bess. Addressing Bess as "My sweet little wife" or "My dear little popsy wopsy" or "My darling baby," Houdini's letters and notes reveal a very intimate glimpse into their marriage. In a revealing letter dated January 1, 1918, Houdini provides "just a few important instructions, after our conversation, in case I die first" wherein Houdini advises Bess in the event that she once again enter "the 'bonds' of wedlock" that she should protect herself and make the suitor sign away his marriage rights, otherwise "they will have half of everything I worked and slaved for, suffered and went hungry and sleepless nights to earn." Houdini re-read this letter in June 1918, February 1921, and May 1926 and noted that he still agreed with the content of the letter.
After Houdini's death, Bess annotated some letters such as the June 1924 telegram where she stated that Houdini sent her "hundreds of wires" and added "my letters and wires will form a pillow for my head when I join my beloved." The folder of undated notes includes quick jottings Houdini left for Bess. On one such note, Bess described them, "Every morning I would find a dear little message like these, on my pillow…"
The few outgoing letters are regarding various topics including a segment of letters about a manuscript by Professor Hoffmann (Angelo Lewis) that Houdini was helping get published, a letter to Dr. Leo Weiss about publishing an illusion by M. M. Wood in the Conjurers' Monthly Magazine, and copies of letters Houdini sent to newspaper editors in 1912 regarding an advertisement he wanted published while also asking them to "please read it over carefully, to see that there is nothing libelous in same."
Subseries C. Third-Party Letters includes letters sent to Bess from friends, letters sent to Houdini's brother Theo "Dash" Weiss from other magicians and associates, a letter sent to Houdini's assistant Franz Kukol, and a letter from Houdini's brother Leo to an unidentified woman (possibly his wife). The letters to Theo Weiss from Max and Felix Berol discuss property lots Houdini had considered purchasing. Houdini and Theo were helping Henry Evans Evanion's widow, Mary, secure a pension and letters with her demonstrate that effort. The other letters provide details about performances and magic gossip; particularly the letters with Albert Hill.
Series III. Writings, circa 1894-1926, undated (3 boxes) is arranged into four subseries: A. Magician Research and Notes, B. Book-Length Works, C. Unidentified Manuscripts, and D. Published Works by Houdini. Houdini wrote about magic and magicians throughout his entire career and published six books. Additionally, he published articles in popular publications and, as editor, he was a frequent contributor to the Society of American Magician's monthly newsletter M.U.M. He also wrote numerous pieces for his short-lived magazine Conjurers' Monthly Magazine. As a result, he spent a lifetime accumulating notes, gathering research, and collecting material in support of his writings.
Subseries A. Magician Research and Notes includes assorted notes about different magicians and illusionists. In many cases, the notes extend to one or more typed pages with the subject clearly listed. In other cases, the notes are jottings written on scraps of paper, the back of envelopes, and anything at hand. Often, it is difficult to identify the magician who is the subject of the note. As a result, it is difficult to determine if certain notes were used and to what end; however, many appear to have been used in The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (1908). When the subject of the note could be identified, it is filed alphabetically; however, there are three folders which are in no identified order. The "interviews and other typed notes" folder contains more formalized notes regarding plans for a book; for example, a list of magicians that should be included. The interview notes are summaries of biographical information either gleaned directly from the magician himself or from a third-party, such as an assistant or contemporary magician. The assorted notes are either unidentified or there is more than one name listed on the note. The "filing notes" provide directions to where something may be filed within Houdini's original filing system. For example, one note says, "Gun trick, see Mathews."
Though Houdini published six books, there is only material associated with A Magician Among the Spirits (1924) and The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (1908) in Subseries B. Book-Length Works. The material that is associated with these two books is minimal and there are no working drafts or complete drafts, but rather small segments of typescript manuscripts and documents related to the end of book production or marketing. Of interest is the page in folder 10.5 that lists the different locations where copies of the manuscript were stored for safe-keeping and the two folders of correspondence in which Houdini requested permission to publish from different authors and publications. It is clear that Houdini envisioned a revised edition at some point, as he went through the published edition and made extensive corrections directly in the text, glued in small sheets of paper for longer corrections, and for even longer corrections, he laid in entire sheets of paper. Houdini gave this corrected version to Head of Production at Harper and Brothers, Arthur W. Rushmore, for safekeeping. A revealing note written on the flyleaf by Rushmore states, "This volume, with changes by the author was given me by Houdini to be held for any subsequent edition. He considered himself in constant danger because of his investigations and wanted this volume where it would be safe. It was never reprinted and these ms. changes are the only copy in existence."
The notes, fragments, and drafts filed with the material for The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin was not originally identified and associated with this publication. After comparing passages from the typed manuscripts and the published text, it is highly likely that these pages are associated and therefore have been filed under this title. The working draft titled "Robert Houdin" in folder 11.2 is an incomplete draft and also includes clippings and illustrations from Houdini's magic collection that were considered for the publication.
Subseries C. Unidentified Manuscripts is comprised of writings, some with titles, but of which the purpose and intent is unknown. Because Houdini contributed to many publications, it is likely they were published somewhere, but this is unable to be verified.
Subseries D. Published Works by Houdini includes printed advertisements, articles, letters to editors, pamphlets, and short stories. There are no drafts for any of these works, only these printed versions. The articles related to magic and spiritualism are arranged by the name of the publication.
The few advertisement clippings are paid ads that appeared in the entertainment columns in newspapers promoting Houdini's appearances at different venues, such as the London Hippodrome.
The pamphlets and booklets are in alphabetical order by title and range in date from circa 1884-1885 to 1924. All of these appear to be either written by Houdini or commissioned by him, as most are promotional in nature. There are two editions of Harry Houdini The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist; printed in 1910 and updated in 1922, with a 1923 letter from a publisher suggesting future editions. As the title suggests, the 63-page booklet details all of Houdini's successes to that point, while boastfully claiming "Even the salary of the President of the United States is a small item beside Houdini's earning per anum."
According to a note handwritten on it by Houdini in 1921, Mysterious Harry Houdini - Tricks Requiring No Practice or Special Apparatus was his first "book" printed in Chicago sometime around 1894 or 1895. This, along with Magic Made Easy by Professor Houdini, are the oldest items documenting Houdini's earliest attempt to make a living in magic. Going by Professor Harry Houdini, the 25 cent booklet advertises tricks, techniques, and personal instruction, as well as trading in magic apparatus or books at Harry Houdini's School of Magic located at 221 E. 69th Street in New York City. These are very rare and extremely fragile. Magic Made Easy by Professor Houdini, King of Cards and Handcuffs is too fragile for handling; therefore, it has been digitized and a copy is available to researchers.
Series IV. Promotional Material, 1894-1926, undated (2.5 boxes) is divided into four subseries: A. Printed Material and Ephemera, B. Posters, C. Clippings, and D. Publications about Houdini. Considering Houdini's near forty-year career, there are relatively few handbills, playbills, or programs documenting Houdini's performances. Subseries A. Printed Material and Ephemera contains bills divided between escape challenges and Houdini's other performances. The challenge handbills give details about contests issued by individuals and groups inviting Houdini to attempt to remove himself from restraints such as straitjackets, handcuffs, manacles, sea bags, wooden packing cases, and even in front of a loaded canon. The general performance handbills, playbills, and programs date from 1900 to 1926 and advertise Houdini's overboard box escapes, spiritualism lectures, charity benefits, as well as other performances. Each of these is listed individually in the container list.
Subseries B. Posters includes over forty publicity posters and broadsides advertising Houdini's appearances in cities throughout the world. The posters are in alphabetical order either by venue name or by the text most prominent on the poster. The earliest poster is dated 1894 when Professor Houdini performed at the Globe Museum in New York City's Bowery. An undated poster, possibly from 1897, advertising "Spiritualistic Entertainment" performed by Professor Houdini and the rare billing of Mademoiselle Beatrice Houdini, a "psycometric artist," performing the "greatest séance ever introduced in America" documents the Houdinis own foray into spiritualism. The bulk of the posters are from Houdini's 1920 tour of Great Britain when he played at the chain of Empire, Hippodrome, and Pavilion theatres. Many posters are digitized and are available via the Ransom Center's Digital Collections Portal and are so noted in the container list by a camera icon.
In Subseries C. there are numerous clippings documenting the publicity Houdini received beginning in 1896 to after his death in 1926, with a few clippings dating from 1927 to 1943; the year Bess Houdini died. Messmore Kendall purchased the Houdini papers from Bess in June 1927 and very likely continued to add clippings related to Houdini. Most of the clippings are brittle and very fragile.
Series V. Photographs, 1900-circa 1920s (1 box) includes promotional portraits, family portraits, casual snapshots with magicians and other entertainers, as well as Houdini's spiritualism exposé evidence photos with Bess and Oscar Teale demonstrating the methods used by self-proclaimed mediums.
Series VI. Personal and Professional, 1903-1927, undated (1.5 boxes) comprises documents and ephemera related to Houdini's personal life and interests. The most personal are the few diary pages that exist in the papers. The page dated February 15, 1915, communicates Houdini's final wishes for the disposition of his mother's letters to him and two personal letters; one to his mother before his marriage and a love letter from Bess. He asks that a pillow be made of them and it is to be buried with him. As with the letter to Bess regarding her marrying after his death, he reviewed the note on three later occasions. At some point, he handwrote at the top, "in case letters are not found until after I am buried, please burn [underlined twice] them" signed Houdini, Ehrich Weiss. A note dated 1917 details Houdini's visit to Colonel T. Allston Brown and in 1918, a visit to his coffin. The two other entries were removed from an actual diary book and it is Bess Houdini's notes that are the most significant. On June 22nd 1926, Houdini wrote on the day of their 32nd wedding anniversary, that it was raining and they couldn't travel to Coney Island. A few months later in December 1926, Bess added the details of that last anniversary together and that her "heart is breaking. I need my dear one's strong arms about me to help me." On June 22, 1927, Bess reflected on the above entry, "My first anniversary alone. I am desolate. H. Cohen called. Had my treatment." The other journal entry of January 8, 1927 is pasted to the back of one of Houdini's little notes he left every morning for Bess.
The rare books and manuscript catalogs and receipts give a small sense of Houdini's varied collecting interests, which included magic, the supernatural, the theatre, and Americana. The complete catalogs include booksellers such as Frank Hollings. Suckling & Co., Dunster House Bookshop, Thomas F. Madigan, George A. Van Nosdall, and Maggs Brothers. The lists, notes, and clippings include fragments removed from catalogs highlighting a single item and perhaps sent to Houdini by others. There are many handwritten and typed notes, made by Houdini, his librarian Alfred Becks (noted by his initials), or other assistants who worked on his collection. One listing for the Joseph N. Ireland records has several annotations by Houdini. The clippings and articles are regarding rare books and manuscripts generally. There are less than ten invoices and receipts for rare books and documents Houdini purchased, including David Garrick's travel diary to France from 1751, Edmund Kean correspondence, Scot's 1584 Discoverie of Witchcraft as well as engraved prints, playbills, and programs which are held in other collections at the Ransom Center.
Houdini's tumultuous relationship with the Society of American Magicians is reflected in the material he retained, as most of it dates from his tenure as President, with a few items predating his resignation in 1908. There is almost a complete run of the Society's member newsletter, M.U.M., but there are several years that are missing issues. Additionally, there are three typed manuscripts by Kit Clarke and one by C. Fred Crosby that were published in the newsletter.
Series VII. Film Career, 1919-1925 (4.5 boxes) includes documents and ephemera associated with Houdini's involvement with Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, his Film Developing Corporation (FDC) / Weehawken Street Corporation, Houdini Picture Corporation, Mystery Pictures Corporation, and Octagon Film Corporation. This series is arranged alphabetically by company name and then within each company either by film title or by subject.
Famous Players-Lasky Corporation produced The Grim Game (1919) and Terror Island (1920) starring Harry Houdini. As his role was limited to acting, there is only promotional material including film stills, a title card (which was used by Houdini as a file divider), and advertisements.
Houdini's earliest venture in film production was his Film Developing Corporation (FDC) / Weehawken Street Corporation, which was founded by Houdini and a group of investors in 1921 and dissolved in 1925. Financial statements, correspondence with his lawyer Bernard Ernst and accountant George M. Sachs, a mortgage contract, and tax documents dating from 1920 to 1925 are included.
Despite Houdini owning Houdini Picture Corporation and having written, produced, and acted in its only two films, The Man From Beyond (1921) and Haldane of the Secret Service (1923), these films are represented in the collection with promotional material only. There are film stills and publicity shots for Haldane of the Secret Service. The range of promotional material is more extensive for The Man From Beyond and includes press kits, lobby cards, promotional posters, and newspaper mat molds. Many posters have been digitized and are available via the Ransom Center's Digital Collections Portal and are so noted in the container list by a camera icon. In addition, there are three silent film title cards and limited correspondence.
Mystery Pictures Corporation was a foreign film distribution company and interestingly contains the broadest volume of material associated with Houdini's film projects. The primary project undertaken by Mystery Pictures Company was the American adaptation of the original Italian film, Il Mistero Di Osiris, produced by VeraFilm Roma. The business and administrative files are in alphabetical order by Houdini's original folder title, noted in the container list with single quotation marks. In cases where no original title existed, one was supplied by the archivist. Many of these files contain correspondence regarding intellectual property and legal issues, as well as invoices and receipts. Related to the creative aspect of the film, which had several names including Ashes of Passion, Reincarnation, Il Mistero Di Osiris, and the final title Il Mistero Di Osiris or The Mystery of the Jewel (Talisman), are adaptations beginning with an original play script by Agnes Fletcher Baine, the Italian script with English translations, and the Mystery Pictures Corporation story and script.
Houdini signed a contract with Octagon Film Corporation to appear in a 15-part mystery serial called The Master Mystery. It was released in 1919 and each installment had its own title. The papers include the scripts for all but one of the fifteen episodes and 23 silent film title cards.
Series VIII. Collected Material, circa 1641-circa 1930s, undated (53 boxes) forms the bulk of the papers and it is further arranged into ten subseries: A. Magician and Entertainer Files; B. Subject Files; C. Robert Evans Material; D. Autographs and Letters; E. Manuscripts; F. Photographs, Engravings, Prints; G. Scrapbooks; H. Posters; I. Periodicals; J. Publications and Printed Material, and K. Artifacts.
Subseries A. Magician and Entertainer Files is in alphabetical order by name; which may be either a given name or a stage name. Because magicians often use both, researchers should look in the container list under all names used by a performer. The performers reflect Houdini's broad collecting interests and he amassed files about all categories of entertainers, or people associated with the entertainment business, including ventriloquists, acrobats, spiritualists, mind readers, escape artists, jugglers, clowns, and of course, magicians. Very often, there may be only one item, or in some cases, there may be multiple folders for an individual. For the most part, this material was already arranged in alphabetical order. It is unclear if this was the filing system used by Houdini or was imposed by the Ransom Center between the 1960s and the 1990s. Since that could not be determined, the arrangement was maintained.
An explanation of format terms used in the finding aid:
  • Article-long form narrative; usually removed from a magazine or journal
  • Broadside-single sheet advertisement; mostly text
  • Business brochure-single sheet folded in half with program of services offered, etc. and without actual performance dates listed
  • Cabinet card portrait-card photographs, generally portraits, which measure 4 1/4 by 6 1/2 inches, including the mount
  • Calling card-small card, similar to a business card, but bearing only a name
  • Carte de visite portrait-small-format photographs affixed to card stock, typically portraits, and the image was a standard size of 3 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches
  • Chapbook-small books or pamphlets, usually cheaply printed
  • Clipping-short narrative usually removed from a newspaper
  • Handbill-small printed advertisement, often with only one performer listed; intended to be distributed by hand
  • Letterhead-only the portion of the stationery with the design; usually has been cut from an actual letter
  • Magic trick descriptions-includes typed manuscripts, clippings removed from publications, printed and published material, newsletters
  • Playbill-often skinny and long, sometimes large, printed advertisement; usually with a bill of multiple performers or cast; intended to be hung as an advertisement
  • Printed advertisement-not a playbill or handbill; usually a decorative and colorful design
  • Stationery-blank sheets of personalized stationery; often very elaborate designs, in multiple colors, and featuring drawings or photographs of the performer
  • Tear sheets-Sheets torn from a publication, usually to send as proof of inclusion
  • Tintype photograph-photographs produced directly on lacquered metal, usually iron
Of interest are the files belonging to the Sphinx editor A. M. Wilson. The material dates between 1904 and 1923 and is primarily incoming correspondence from magicians and magazine subscribers. There are some letters from his son, Dyke, and letters related to his medical and pharmaceutical practice. Included is a small amount of manuscripts submitted by readers for inclusion in the magazine, clippings, playbills and business cards sent by magicians, and magical apparatus suppliers. Writings by A. M. Wilson for his column, Sphinx advertisements, and an issue of the Sphinx is also present. It is unclear how Houdini acquired these materials.
Subseries B. Subject Files contains advertisements, articles, broadsides, brochures, business cards, catalogs, clippings, engravings, handbills, letters, manuscripts, notes, pamphlets, photographs, playbills, postcards, scrapbook pages, scrapbooks, sheet music, and sketches collected by Houdini on very broad subjects pertaining to magic, the occult, spiritualism, and performance, as well as unrelated topics such as crime, medicine, science, the city of New York, mothers, museums, fairs, weather, and animals. Most of these files include clippings from British periodicals sent to Houdini by Robert Evans (his initials are frequently present, as well as broad subject terms he provided). The nature of this relationship is unclear, as is whether Houdini requested Evans send him material on various subjects; or, if Evans knowing Houdini as he did, sent him material on a variety of subjects that he knew would interest Houdini. For the most part, this material was already arranged in alphabetical order by subject. It is unclear if this was the filing system and/or the terms used by Houdini; however, in some instances, a Houdini envelope is present with a term (such as Fairs) handwritten on it. In those cases, the term is maintained and is so noted by single quotations in the container list. It is unclear if the rest of the arrangement was imposed by the Ransom Center between the 1960s and the 1990s. Since that could not be determined, the arrangement is maintained.
There are several subject files which are particularly interesting; not necessarily for what they include, but for the subject matter. The "mothers" file for example, no doubt reflects the deep affection and connection Houdini felt for his mother, who he described as one of only two women he ever loved.
Houdini is said to have had a fascination with death and there are several items in the papers that appear to reflect that. The "Chinese torture" file includes photographs sent to him by E. A. Dean. The "crime" files contain a photograph of and two clippings about Garfield Burley and Curtis Brown, who were lynched by a mob in Newbern, Tennessee, on October 8, 1902. Also of interest are the large volume of British criminal broadsheets. These single sheet publications date from the 1678 to 1875 and detail the week's most heinous murders and included confessions, trials, verdicts, and sentences. Often, following the execution, another sheet was printed with an eyewitness account of the execution itself. Many of these sheets are ballads. Printers include Birt, Catnach, Disley, and Rial.
The file titled "indigenous peoples" was ascribed by the Ransom Center and includes tintype drawings of people native to all continents—particularly Africa, South America and Asia—as well as sample cranial structures. Many of these are labeled. The intent and purpose of these is unclear.
There are several folders of uncategorized Robert Evans clippings, which are organized broadly by century and people and places.
Subseries C. Robert Evans Material contains notes and notebooks sent to Houdini from Henry Evans Evanion's nephew. The notebooks appear to be handwritten transcriptions of portions—or in some cases—entire works published between the 17th and 19th centuries. The notes are likewise copied excerpts from various published sources. Again, it is unclear if Evans served as Houdini's proxy researcher and requested this of Evans; or, if Evans engaged in this on his own.
Subseries D. Autographs and Letters includes single signatures removed from correspondence or actual autographs, but most of this series is comprised of letters Houdini purchased. The letters date from the 1700s to 1901 and are arranged first by letter volume: single letters, multiple letters to or from the same recipient, and letter collections; then alphabetically by name. Many of the single and multiple letters are from people associated with the theatre or some other creative pursuit, but not magicians. There are three large letter collections: Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, James Northcote, and William Frederick Wallet.
Robert G. Ingersoll was an attorney, orator, and an anti-spiritualist. It is likely for this last characteristic that Houdini collected this material. It is made up of original outgoing letters from Ingersoll to various recipients from 1872 to 1899. There are also various documents associated with Ingersoll and third-party correspondence from members of the Illinois legislature to Present-Elect Ulysses S. Grant recommending Ingersoll for the position of U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. There is also an 1801 letter from Jared Ingersoll, delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the United States Constitution, to John Sleet. The original dealer folders are included for many of the letters. These letter are included in the Index of Correspondents.
James Northcote was an English painter who specialized in portraits and historical events. These letters were received by Northcote and sent from family, prominent people, and some third-party correspondence where Northcote is mentioned. Originally, these were bound into two volumes, but were removed by the Ransom Center sometime between 1960 and 1990. Houdini typed an annotation regarding Northcote and the nature of the letters which he signed and attached inside the volume boards. The first folder contains a photocopy of this note preventing the need to open the boxes containing the original binding and boards. These letter are included in this finding aid's Index of Correspondents, but many of the names are not identified.
William Frederick Wallet was a popular circus clown who performed before Queen Victoria in 1844, after which he referred to himself as the Queen's Jester. The letters date from 1883 to 1890 and are from Wallet to Thomas Gibbons. They are attached to paper gatherings which at one point likely formed an album. Pages also include clippings, programs, photographs, a letter and poem by Edwin Waugh, a poem by George Byrne, a letter from D. A. Seal, a letter from J. L. Toole, and a letter from John A. Dingess. These letter are included in the Index of Correspondents.
Subseries E. Manuscripts includes handwritten documents and fiction and nonfiction writings. Many of these are unidentified and why Houdini collected them is unclear. The German "Anthropometrischer Congress zu Berlin" may be associated with the indigenous tintypes located in box 72.
Subseries F. Photographs, Engravings, and Prints is a general category comprised of visual materials that are either unidentified or defy easy categorization. Included is one photo album, possibly from the late 1890s, containing travel snapshots wherein the people and location are unidentified. Based on an image of the ship SS Saratoga present in the album and the nature of the photos, it is likely Cuba. The album may have belonged to a friend, or because of Houdini's varied interests and collecting habits, it may be something he purchased.
Subseries G. Scrapbooks includes twelve scrapbooks; at least six of which were assembled by other magicians including Professor Baldwin, Herr Alexander, Professor Helms, Dante the Magician, and Dr. Merlin. These scrapbooks include clippings, playbills, programs, and photographs documenting the careers of their previous owners, and often contain material about other magicians. The other scrapbooks have loose and specific themes such as magic, magicians, spiritualism, snake charmers, and other illusionists. Some of these scrapbooks are digitized and are available via the Ransom Center's Digital Collections Portal and are so noted in the container list by a camera icon. Bound volume one is a large scrapbook containing letters from movie fans from around the world and addressed to Houdini care of Famous Players-Lasky. The letters date from 1920 to 1922 and are organized alphabetically by country name. The construction of the scrapbook includes pages in which each is covered with envelopes containing the folded letter. The scrapbook itself is made of brittle paper and the weight of each page bearing the envelopes and letters makes it impossible to use, so it is restricted.
Subseries H. Posters includes four posters; only one of which is related to magic. There are two 1912 posters for the convict ship Success which was on display in London. Houdini would later perform an escape from one of her cells while the ship was on display in New York harbor in 1913.
Subseries I. Periodicals contains almost sixty titles and ranges from single to multiple issues, as well as portions of an issue. Most topics relate to magic, spiritualism, or entertainment more broadly. The British encyclopedic periodicals such as the Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction and the Gentleman's Magazine were sent to Houdini by Robert Evans; many of these were still wrapped in string into parcels by year. Red Magic was a Sunday supplement geared toward children that printed tricks, jokes, riddles, and optical illusions. It was put out by the New York World and Houdini was listed as the Editor; though he probably had very little hands-on involvement with selecting the material. This and other periodicals dating from the 1920s were almost all printed on paper that has become brittle and is too fragile to use. Many of these titles are restricted, as noted in the container list.
Subseries J. Publications and Printed Material includes published books, booklets, a map, and single sheet items. Many are related to magic or history.
Subseries K. Artifacts includes magic apparata, a Houdini picture frame, and two decks of playing cards. The provenance of the cards and magic apparata is unclear and may not have belonged personally to Houdini. Special permission from the Curator of Performing Arts, plus advance notice, is required to access the artifacts and picture frame. To make an appointment, please email Reference.

Related Material

For additional materials related to Harry Houdini or magic at the Ransom Center, see the Harry Houdini Collection, the Magic Collection, the Scrapbook Collection, the Poster Collection, the Prints Collection, the Playbills and Programs Collection, the Albert Davis Collection, the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary File Photography Collection, the Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records, the Silent Film Title Card Collection, the Sarah Bernhardt Collection, the Elbert Hubbard Collection, the McManus-Young Collection, the Vertical File, the Literary Files Collection, and the Ransom Center's library holdings.
Additional materials from Houdini's personal collection can be found in various assembled collections at the Ransom Center including the Edwin Booth Collection, Circus Collection, Playbills and Programs Collections, Theater Biography Collection, Theater Arts Manuscripts Collection, and the Ransom Center's library holdings.

Index Terms


Evanion, Henry, 1831?-1905.
Hardeen, 1876-1945.
Houdini, Beatrice, 1876-1943.
Houdini, Harry, 1974-1926.
Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899.
Northcote, James, 1746-1831.
Robert-Houdin, Jean-Eugène, 1805-1871.
Wallett, William Frederick.
Wilson, A. M. (Albert M.), 1854-1930.


Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.
Society of American Magicians.


Escape artists.
Magic tricks.

Document Types


Container List