Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection
This digital collection consists of ten scrapbooks owned by the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) whose vast collection of memorabilia pertaining to the history of magic came to the University of Texas in 1958. The scrapbooks contain playbills, theater programs, clippings, photographs, prints, correspondence, and other materials dating from ca. 1850 to the 1920s. Most of the content falls into two categories: notices and reviews of performances by magicians, and articles about magic and spiritualism. Nearly every scrapbook contains elements of both categories.
Four of the scrapbooks are associated with working magicians who owned the finished object prior to its acquisition by Houdini, and who most likely personally compiled the material: Professor Harry Helms (American, born between 1865 and 1868, died 1924), Herr Jansen (born in Denmark, 1883-1955, also known as “Dante”), S. S. Baldwin (American, 1848-1924, also known as “The White Mahatma”), and Professeur Em. De Verli (probably Belgian, active 1866-1909). These scrapbooks trace the careers of these magicians and their contemporaries with extremely rare clippings, photographs, and promotional materials such as programs and handbills. A fifth scrapbook was owned by a Dr. Merlin, perhaps also a professional entertainer, prior to 1922 when it was given to Houdini by Merlin’s sister. The other five scrapbooks are chiefly comprised of articles about spiritualism, magic tricks, and related subjects. Two of these thematic scrapbooks have evocative titles: “Snake Charmers and Other Conjurers” and “Magic Illusions: Spooks No. 1.”
Taken together, the scrapbooks present a vivid picture of a type of performance that thrived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before motion pictures overtook theater as the dominant form of entertainment.
The objects in this digital collection are located in the Harry Houdini Papers and the Magicians Collection.