- Modified Handcuffs, $4000
Houdini was the real deal. If he was ever arrested, he would be out of handcuffs in a second. He rarely prepared his own props, preferring to instead use commercially purchased irons and handcuffs.
However, Houdini made an exception for his most dangerous trick, the Chinese Water Torture escape. For this trick, Houdini specially modified handcuffs to make sure the catch would give under enough pressure, and thus never cause him to drown. These handcuffs are now among the most valuable Houdini props.
- Judd Leg Irons, $2000
Although not modified, the Judd company leg irons were specially selected by Houdini to use in his more dangerous escapes. Their short chain gave a sense of danger and confinement, but their shackles were just loose enough for Houdini to contort himself free.
- Autographed Straitjacket, $47,000
Houdini used patchwork straitjackets of the same type used to imprison the unfortunate inmates in Bedlam. The rough canvas, thickly stitched together with no attention paid to comfort, could not have cost Houdini more than a dollar to buy. However, with a few performances, an autograph, and a hundred years of preservation, the straitjacket is now valued at a small fortune.
- Arcana of Spiritualism, $700
Like many magicians of the time, Houdini had an interest in “Spiritualism”, an Edwardian form of magic and witchcraft. Spiritualists believed that they could conjure spirits from other worlds, and ask these spirits for favours or special powers. However, over his career, Houdini came to discover how so-called “spiritualists” actually performed their tricks, and later called them out as charlatans.
The Arcana of Spiritualism was a primer text designed to introduce the theory and “scientific” evidence surrounding summoning spirits. Houdini used it first out of interest, and later used it to discredit the faulty logic of spiritualists. Houdini’s personal copy, complete with his personal underlines and notes, recently hit the auction circuit.
- Gambling Bottle, $19,000
Gambling bottles were once a popular way of cheating at dice among the British underclass. They are metal bottles that, when the rim is twisted, exchange dice inside for weighted or pre-set dice. When these dice are inverted back onto a table, they give the desired result.
Although it might seem hackneyed by modern standards, this was one of Houdini’s standard non-escape tricks.