$20,000 Houdini poster finally escapes from cellar to lead a collection for sale

Over 100 rare and valuable vintage magic posters were discovered in a suburban Chicago home last year. The prize among them is a rare poster advertising Harry Houdini, of which only five examples are known.

The Houdini poster, and the others in the collection, will be featured in Potter & Potter's auction of rare posters on March 26th in Chicago.

"These posters were one man's collection, but had been in storage for decades," said Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

"Finding them all in one fell swoop was the kind of discovery collectors and consignors dream of. It was obvious to me - immediately on seeing the collection - that we had uncovered something very special. It would take a lifetime to build a collection like this." Now all of the images will go up for sale.

Most of the posters were purchased in the 1970s, before the explosion of interest in collecting began. At that time, vintage lithographs of this nature rarely traded hands for more than $50. Today, however, prices are significantly higher. "That's what makes this exciting," Fajuri added. "This is the kind of 'big find' you see on TV, but never expect to happen to you."

Houdini poster
...and for my next trick: Houdini shows he really can escape handcuffs
(Click to enlarge)

In The Houdini image the most important and valuable of the posters in the collection. It carries a pre-auction estimate of $15,000/$20,000. The lithograph depicts Houdini, locked in handcuffs and standing in front of a judge and jury at the royal court of Cologne, Germany in 1902. After being decried a fraud by a German police officer, Houdini brought suit against the policeman for slander - and won.

One of the savviest publicists of all time, Houdini commissioned the poster to capitalize on the favourable verdict. It was printed in 1902 and should make an excellent investment.

Dozens of other magicians' posters were in the collection. Another highlight is a rare eight-sheet (7 x 9') billboard advertising The Great Nicola, who also performed escapes and stunts, ala Houdini.

The massive poster (estimated at $2,500/$3,500), one of only three examples known, includes vignettes of Nicola's crowd-drawing stunts - escaping from prison cells, water-filled cans, tied to a railroad track, and from shackles and handcuffs.

But, Fajuri cautions, "The auction will include posters in every price range, as many modestly priced, attractive vintage posters were among those we found." Small window cards advertising Howard Thurston, one of Houdini's rivals (and the subject of a new book by Jim Steinmeyer), are among the affordable pieces in the auction, with one iconic portrait of the great magician carrying a starting bid of only $80.

Vintage circus posters, including one advertising an early appearance of P.T. Barnum, will also be featured. An illustrated catalogue of all of the posters is available from Potter & Potter.

Exhibition takes place March 22 - 25, 10 am - 5 pm. The auction begins at 11 am on March 26th, and will beavailable to online bidders.


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