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Lot 60: HOUDINI, HARRY. 1874-1926. Magician's steel crate with hinged lid, 28 x 28 x 36 inches, sides perforated with half-inch round holes, trap bottom, exterior painted green.

Est: $50,000 USD - $70,000 USDSold:
BonhamsMarch 06, 2020New York, NY, US

Item Overview


HOUDINI, HARRY. 1874-1926.Magician's steel crate with hinged lid, 28 x 28 x 36 inches, sides perforated with half-inch round holes, trap bottom, exterior painted green. Provenance: Estate of Harry Houdini. Sold by Bess Houdini to the Amazing Dunninger [Joseph Dunninger, 1892-1975], c.1927. Loaned by Dunninger to Paramount for the production of the 1953 film Houdini, in which it appears as the 'underwater crate.' Sold by the Amazing Dunninger to Henry Mueller in 1967. On exhibition at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada 1968-1997. Sold to Tom Thayer, 1997. Sold to the present owners, 1999. Sold with a DVD copy of the 1953 film, Houdini.
Constructed of steel with a solid lid designed to be padlocked to the body, small holes on each side, and a sliding 'trap door' on the bottom through which the illusionist can make his escape, this crate boasts an amazing pedigree and history. While on exhibit at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame, the piece was identified as having been used by Houdini in his underwater escape trick, though the museum claimed it was only used twice, as the weight of the steel made it far too dangerous. We have not been able to confirm its use in performance by Houdini, unfortunately. All of the other references to Houdini's underwater trick, both in actual waterways and onstage in the Hippodrome tank, refer to the illusionist being nailed into wooden crates or packing crates (though some are reported to have been reinforced with steel or lead). We can say with confidence that it was part of Houdini's estate (it appears on an inventory listing of property sold by Bess Houdini to Joseph Dunninger shortly after Houdini's death).
Joseph 'The Amazing' Dunninger was a popular 'mentalist' who specialized in illusions and debunking mediums, also a passion of Houdini's. He was reportedly close to Houdini and his wife Bess, and purchased a quantity of property from the widow after Houdini's sudden death in 1926. As early as 1930, Dunninger published an advertisement to sell props and other material in The Linking Ring, the official publication of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, offering the steel crate for sale:
'IRON BOX ESCAPE. Will stand lobby inspection. Used by Houdini. Worth $400. Tremendous bargain ......... $175.'
In 1938, the iron box again appears in a Dunninger ad in the same publication offering items for sale:
'IRON BOX ESCAPE. Sensational for overboard or stage presentation. Belonged to Houdini.'
The 1938 ad also mentions the Houdini Trunk of all Nations illusion and the Houdini Lattice Cabinet (with Houdini's name mentioned in all caps) both of which made their way to the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls along with the steel trunk in the 1960s.
The steel create does appear in the 1953 film Houdini starring Tony Curtis. The Amazing Dunninger was hired as creative consultant on the film, and many items from his Houdini collection made their way into the final cut, including the collection of handcuffs sold in these rooms on December 5, 2018 (lot 244). The crate is clearly visible in the overboard escape sequence in the film, the perforations on the steel crate making for a dramatic scene as the water pours out in torrents while the crate is pulled up from the bottom of the river.
An unusual theory has been floated about the origin of this steel crate, inspired by a blind item in a 1939 issue of the magic periodical The Jinx, edited and published by Theodore Annemann from October 1934 to December 1941 (thanks to mymagicuncle.blogspot.com for the clue). For some backstory, Houdini and fellow illusionist Harry Blackstone, Sr. nursed a bitter feud in the early part of the 20th century which apparently dates from the intro... For further information on this lot please visit the website

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Accepted forms of payment: Wire Transfer



Auction Details

Fine Books and Manuscripts

March 06, 2020, 10:00 AM EST

580 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10022, US


Live bidding may start higher or lower

Buyer's Premium

$1 - 2,999:27.5%
$3,000 - 399,999:25.0%
$400,000 - 3,999,999:20.0%

Bidding Increments


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