A Personal Message Regarding our Houdiniana Sale
My father, Jerry Somerdin, was engrossed in the world of magic. He was a master at gaffing playing cards and spent nearly all of his free time perched above a magnifying glass preparing the gimmicks for the effects he’d invented: The Paradox Dollar, Suit Yourself, The Lusthaus Card System, Perfect Monte, and other amazing feats. I remember “The Magicians Little Assistant”, the wind up robot walking across the deck that kicked the spectators card. Every weekend my Dad would ask me, “Rob, are you coming to the city with me to Tannen’s magic shop?”
In Manhattan, I met Tony Slydini. I crossed paths with David Copperfield at a Tannen’s Jubilee. Another kid about my age, Chris Sarantakos (now Criss Angel), was in the scene, too. Little did I know how those formative experiences – now happy memories – would shape my life.
And yet, by December of 2006, I’d all but left magic in the rearview mirror, or so I thought. A local merchant was offering a shadowbox display for sale featuring a collage of material centered around the signature of “Harry Handcuff Houdini, Born April 6, 1874, Appleton Wisconsin.” Houdini had signed a vintage menu, as had his wife, Beatrice.
I was not a collector at the time – at least I didn’t think so. But then again, my entire childhood was encapsulated in that display, and I had to have it.
The asking price was high, but after negotiating, I bit the bullet and bought it for considerably less – “only” $5,000.
That was the moment the madness began. I became obsessed with collecting Houdini memorabilia. Finding it, studying it, and owning it became almost like a sickness. But the ride I took, while wild, was one filled with friendships developed over a shared love of history and of Houdini.
Since that fateful date, I have spent over one million dollars building my collection, which is now being offered for sale by Potter & Potter Auctions. And yet, the catalog of this material represents only a portion of what I was able to gather. (Only two pieces of Houdiniana in this sale are from other collections.) Through friendship, through endless searching, through auctions, dealers, lists, conventions – you name it – I built up what I humbly submit as an important, and dare I say it, historically significant, collection of Houdiniana. So many personal items, some of them offered for sale in this auction, came directly from Houdini’s home and were part of his everyday life.
There’s a certain regret any collector feels when seeing what he’s assembled cross the auction block. But those feelings pale in comparison to the excitement I now feel as auction day approaches. Whether your fascination is for the “hardware” Houdini used (a piece of Molding Clay, a pair of handcuffs, or his “Perfect Mystery” escape), one of his books (my favorite is his annotated copy of New Era Card Tricks), or my Houdini Straitjacket, my fellow collectors can and will enjoy, study, and learn from these artifacts.
Any caretaker of a piece of history has a tremendous responsibility. Bearing that in mind, I’d like to wish the best of luck to all those who take over the stewardship that has enriched my life for nearly two decades. Now, it’s your turn.
The Ricky Jay Collection Auction Preview & Reception
Potter & Potter is pleased to host a pre-auction reception in anticipation of this special sale, on Thursday, February 23, 2023, from 5:00-8:00pm
All lots in the auction will be on display in our Chicago gallery, and wine, refreshments, and appetizers will be served. This event is open to the public and will provide an opportunity to preview the many unusual, curious, and rare objects from Mr. Jay's eclectic and singular collection.
Registration: Please RSVP in advance of the event, by 5:30 p.m. February 20, 2023 so we can prepare for attendees.
Location: Potter & Potter Auctions 5001 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago (at the corner of Belmont and Lavergne Avenues)
Parking: Street parking available.
CLICK HERE to register to the event.
CLICK HERE to order a deluxe hardbound auction catalog.
Potter & Potter Auctions Welcomes Creative Industry Expert Aron Packer To Lead Its Newly Launched Fine and Outsider Art Department
Packer brings over thirty years of gallery management and exhibit expertise to the company's newest division.
Potter & Potter Auctions is excited to announce that Aron Packer has joined the company as a Director and Specialist for the company's Fine and Outsider Art department. This department was recently established after Potter & Potter's debut art auction in December’s, 2022 Fine and Outsider Art Sale.
With Packer's appointment, the company plans to grow its art offering into several premier events per year, establish in-house expertise and thought leadership, and be top of mind for collectors and sellers looking to buy or deaccession quality fine and outsider art and related materials.
According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, "Adding a professional like Aron to our team is the perfect way to start the new year here at Potter & Potter, but more importantly, it helps set the tone for our company's expansion and growth into new markets. We're thrilled to work with a professional with a proven track record of success in the art market, and can't wait for him to curate the first sale as Director of Outsider & Fine art here.”
Packer shares, "I am so excited to join the Potter & Potter Auctions' team. It is a dream opportunity to be surrounded by the kind of objects and ephemera I have loved and studied for decades. I hope to contribute my distinctive taste and aesthetics in Fine and Outsider Art to this phenomenal auction house and make an imprint in our regional art community and beyond."
The Ricky Jay Collection
February 25, 2023 at 10am CST ♦ in our Chicago Gallery
Potter & Potter is thrilled to bring to auction the remarkable, singular, eclectic collection of Ricky Jay, the lauded actor, celebrated sleight-of-hand magician, and noted author, who curated his own extensive collection of magic, circus, and showbiz ephemera - a one-of-a-kind wunderkammer. From the literature of cheating, gambling, and conmen, to vibrant vintage circus and sideshow posters, flamboyant text-filled broadsides spanning the last four centuries, and memorabilia of magic shows of yesteryear, this, the first of three auctions promises to be a true celebration of curious characters and the rare relics that tell their stories.
This first of three sales from The Ricky Jay Collection takes place in our Chicago gallery on Saturday, February 25th at 10am CST. The gallery will be open for pre-auction exhibition on February 23rd and 24th.
Potter & Potter Auctions Celebrates Harry Houdini's Death on Halloween by Selling The Great Magician's Automatic Flowering Rosebush Apparatus for a World Record $324,000!
This extraordinary illusion with full provenance to the beloved performer traded hands at the company's October 30th, 2022 Salon De Magie -The Klosterman Collection Part III event
Chicago, IL, October 31st, 2022 - Potter & Potter Auctions’ October magic event, timed to coincide with Halloween and the death of escape artist and magician Harry Houdini (3/24/1874- 10/31/1926), marked the occasion in the finest way, realizing $1.2 million.
Chicago, IL, October 31st, 2022 - Potter & Potter Auctions’ October magic event, timed to coincide with Halloween and the death of escape artist and magician Harry Houdini (3/24/1874- 10/31/1926), marked the occasion in the finest way, realizing $1.2 million. But no one anticipated the excitement - or record busting results - one phenomenal item would generate worldwide. That was lot #68, Harry Houdini's Automatic Flowering Rosebush. Estimated at $25,000-50,000, it realized $324,000, nearly 13x its estimate! Watch this lot being sold here: https://youtu.be/mWNEjnK6Smg
This object now holds world's record for the expensive piece of magic memorabilia sold at public auction. Houdini's Automatic Flowering Rosebush owned the spotlight at the sale.
Presale, Potter's experts agreed that this example was among the most elaborate and intricate a mechanisms they had encountered. Clearly, the auction world agreed. This device was made for Houdini in New York by R.S. Schlosser (and possibly other craftsmen) around 1924. In performance, Houdini placed a small earthenware pot on an elaborate metal table. Next, he planted a small red flower in the pot, and covered everything with a gauzy cloth. On Houdini’s command, the flower grew, slowly and visibly, eventually developing into a full size rose bush. To conclude, Houdini removed the plant in its pot from the tabletop and presented it to the audience. This trick was one of several flashy effects used to open Houdini’s final American tour.
Houdini's Automatic Flowering Rosebush was one of the crown jewels from the Ken Klosterman (1933-2020) collection. Klosterman, the former Chairman and CEO of the Klosterman Baking Company, had one of the finest private collections of magic memorabilia in the world. It consisted of thousands of vintage magic props, posters, books, and more - many of them one-of-a-kind pieces of historical significance - which were on display in the private museum built at the bottom of a mineshaft under his suburban Cincinnati home.
According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, "To call the moment in the saleroom electric is to sell it short. From the first bid, at $13,000 to the very end, at $324,000 - a number I still have a hard time grasping - the ride was a steady upward clip. For the last twenty bids or so, it was down to two competitors, and they battled it out fiercely. This sale breaks all records - not even the sale of Houdini's Water Torture Cell comes close."
A world of mystery and magic awaits behind the drab brick walls of a Northwest Side warehouse
The brick warehouse on the Northwest Side is a place you could drive by a thousand times without ever wondering what’s inside.
It doesn’t help that some of the windows are bricked over, others too high to see through.
The building’s owner, Gabe Fajuri, isn’t particularly worried about burglars.
“If you stole an automaton bear that drinks wine, who is going to sell it for you?” Fajuri said, pointing to a 1930s plug-in teddy bear holding a tin cup in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other.
Fajuri — a Detroit native whose neatly trimmed beard, thinning hair and glasses bring to mind a friendly shrink — is underselling the merchandise.
On the other side of the brick walls lies an auction house crammed with the weird and wonderful. Potter & Potter specializes in vintage magic memorabilia, although it handles many other items as well. On Oct. 29, Harry Houdini’s “automatic flowering rosebush,” a 1940s “vanishing radio” and an 1890 “spirit trumpet” will be among the hundreds of items on auction. There’s also a “Fu Manchu hand chopper” and countless books about magic and its history — all of it coming from a Cincinnati man with a museum built 85 feet beneath his home and reached by private elevator.
“You’d walk up to a mirror, and the mirror would swing open. Now there is a whole room decorated like an Egyptian tomb,” Fajuri said.
But Fajuri bristles at the suggestion that he’s merely running a magic or costume shop. “While I understand we sell posters with clowns on them, we’re not clowns ourselves. We’re selling [for example] a first edition of Moby Dick for $60,000 or something signed by Picasso,” he said. The auctioneers also recently handled the sale of the circus exhibit from the Museum of Science and Industry. One item, a mechanical re-creation of a big top, sold for $14,400, Fajuri said.
A stop at the front reception desk offers a taste of the building’s inner life. Last week, someone called wanting to know if Potter & Potter would be interested in auctioning off a painting by serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
“The number of conversations here that don’t happen anywhere else,” Fajuri said, before joking, “Would you mind taking the vanishing radio off of the spirit cabinet?” Fajuri said his interest in magic and collecting began as a child growing up in suburban Detroit. His father, a lawyer, would bring home books on magic tricks.
“By the time I was 15, I was going to conventions where people were talking about the history of collecting,” he said. In college, he sold items on eBay to make a little extra cash. He started his auction house — Potter is the English translation of his Jordanian name — in 2007.
Almost every object has a story. One day last week, Fajuri led a visitor through the warehouse. A scattering of circus mannequins lay on the concrete floor, their arms raised as if protesting the indignity of their circumstances. Fajuri picked up a vintage circus playbill for Frank I. Frayne, a rifleman. A favorite trick involved standing with his back to another performer and using a mirror to shoot an apple off the performer’s head.
During one performance, Frayne accidentally shot and killed his fiancée. “One story is that he committed suicide” after the accident, Fajuri said. “But the fact is, he lived another eight or nine years” and got married, he said.
The tour wound through a studio, where items are cataloged and photographed for upcoming auctions. The warehouse itself has a musty odor and is filled with every kind of curiosity imaginable: a roulette wheel from America’s gold rush days, carousel horses, a circus wagon wheel, a 1940s Philco TV.
Much of what Faguri auctions come from estates. “They say there are three Ds in the auction business: death, divorce and debt,” he said. Sometimes he’s in the house with a divorcing couple and must take on the role of a family counselor, he said.
He won’t take just anything — cookware, furniture, for example.
He’s sold mummified heads, “strange taxidermy” and torture devices from another era. “We’ve sold them on occasion. It’s not like we’re out looking for it,” he said. Buyers range from Hollywood celebrities (he won’t name them) to everyday folks — collectors and hoarders.
“Next week I’m going to North Carolina, and one of the two stops I’m making, the gentleman has six buildings filled with antiques,” Fajuri said.
Some objects fetch a few dollars at auction, all the way up to $150,000 last year for a wooden chest owned by the 19th century French illusionist, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin.
And if anything, the pandemic has been a boon to business, said Fajuri and owners of several other Chicago-area auction houses. With lockdowns in place, it helped potential bidders get used to the idea of online auctions.
“We used to do a hybrid auction, where it was both live in-person bidders and also internet bidders. When COVID started, we went to a strictly online model, ... and we have not gone back and don’t have any plans to,” said John Leonard, who owns Leonard Auction, an estate auction house based in Addison.
“We have found that bidders like it better. They seem to respond better and they seem to be spending more money that way.”
Leonard said 2020 was the company’s best year ever.
“After we got over the initial shock, it ended up being the best year we ever had — 2020. And it’s gone up since then,” Fajuri said.
Some of Fajuri’s most intriguing objects can be found in his office: Gold-leafed books, some dating to the 1600s, that expose witches as charlatans. There’s a tiny silver chest that opens to reveal a twittering, fluttering songbird.
What he won’t reveal, unless it’s already widely known or explained in a book, are the secrets behind the magic objects in his possession. Many of Fajuri’s closest friends are magicians and he grew up doing magic tricks. He says he owes the magicians, past and present, an allegiance.
“It’s far more interesting to be bewildered or wonder at how it happened than it is to learn that I had a piece of double-stick tape in my hand,” he said.
2022 Auction Schedule & Highlights
The previous year was record-setting on many fronts at Potter & Potter, and 2022 is already off to an auspicious start.
January's Vintage poster sale - clocking in at a whopping 828 lots - realized several records, and can boast a 97% sell-through rate, with 800 of the lots finding new homes at the fall of the auctioneer's hammer. From civil rights and travel posters to circus lithographs and wartime propaganda, bidding was fierce and frequent for nearly 10 hours in our Chicago saleroom. Our next vintage poster auction is already on the calendar for this summer and consignments are already being accepted. Contact us should you wish to consign.
Our late winter and spring schedule is equally packed. Forthcoming annual installments in our go-to categories (gambling memorabilia and books, circus and sideshow collectibles, fine books & manuscripts) are all planned, along with the second installment from Ken Klosterman's Salon de Magie on March 26th. The deluxe hardbound catalog is now available for purchase.
Our Fine Literature & Modern Firsts sale, on April 21st, will bring to market cornerstones in both categories, from inscribed works by Fitgerald and Hemingway to high spots from the pens of their contemporaries (and those writers who inspired them).
Later this spring, look for a catalog of movie memorabilia collection that's truly "of the moment" - with a strong Chicago connection, too - alongside rare and unique Houdiniana in our May auction, some culled directly from the family's personal holdings and which has gone unseen for over 100 years.
The above are only a portion of what will find its way to Potter & Potter customers in the next four months - and rest of the year looks equally exciting, too. Stay tuned to this space or our email list for regular updates.
The Salon de Magie Virtual Tour
In anticipation of next week's auction, we've produced - along with our friends at Art of Play - a virtual tour of Ken Klosterman's famous Salon de Magie museum, led by Potter and Potter president and magic expert, Gabe Fajuri.
Click below to take a final look at one of the most significant and unusual collections of magicana in private hands. From Robert-Houdin's Light and Heavy Chest to Houdini memorabilia and more, this "museum down the mineshaft" was home to true relics of magic history.
SPECIAL NOTE: At the conclusion of Saturday's auction, Potter & Potter will conduct a brief Broken Wand ceremony for Ken Klosterman, a rite that has been used for decades to celebrate the life of a magician who has passed away. The ceremony will take place immediately following the auction, and will be broadcast via the live video stream.
Preview and Reception - The Salon de Magie - October 28th
Salon de Magie: The Klosterman Collection Part I
Potter & Potter is pleased to announce the first sale from Ken Klosterman's legendary collection of magicana, the Salon de Magie, on October 30, 2021 in its Chicago gallery.
This important collection, gathered over a span of five decades, has been home to many of magic's finest relics, among them props and memorabilia from the careers of many of magic's great "golden age" illusionists.
In addition to the remarkable objects included in the collection, the Salon itself is a jewel box showplace like no other, outfitted with secret passages and hidden doors, all buried down a mine shaft some 83 feet underground.
Exclusive pre-auction private tours of the collection, with all lots on display in situ, will be conducted on-site in Loveland, Ohio from October 1-5.
These tours, scheduled by appointment only, will offer bidders a final opportunity to view the Salon de Magie and its holdings, including the objects that will be part of this first history-making sale, as well as forthcoming auctions. We strongly encourage all potential bidders to join us for a last memorable look at this remarkable museum.
Please contact the staff at Potter & Potter now to schedule your appointment and view what has been widely regarded for over half a century as one of the finest collections of magicana in private hands.
For those who cannot join us, a deluxe cloth bound catalog has been issued for the sale. Purchase your copy here. Limited quantities available.
A public preview of the auction lots will be held our Chicago gallery on October 28 and 29 from 10am to 5pm.
Old Year, New Year, New Address
As 2020 draws to a close, everyone at Potter & Potter would like to extend sincere thanks to our customers and consignors alike for what has been a year like no other - for so many reasons. We'd also like to make three brief announcements.
-Our offices will be closed from December 23 to January 4th, 2021, though we will intermittently be attending to calls, emails, and packages, both outgoing and incoming. Regular shipping will resume in January.
-Access to online accounts and past auctions are currently suspended due to server issues, but login capabilities - and our next auction catalog - should be back online next week, if not sooner.
-The new year will bring a big change at Potter & Potter; namely, a new address. The move to our own facility is already underway, and with more space to spread our wings and a full calendar of auctions already on the books, the coming year is looking bright. Watch this space for more information on our newer, bigger, and better permanent home here in Chicago.
Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you!
Magic Sale to Offer Property From The Historic Home Of Harry and Bess Houdini, Including The Bathtub From Their New York City Residence.
This can't miss event also features apparatus, posters, and props from the Jim Rawlins collection, as well as premier Houdiniana and memorabilia from other prominent 20th century magicians and performers.
Chicago, Il, June 25, 2020 - Potter & Potter Auctions is excited to announce its upcoming Magic Collection of Jim Rawlins IV event to be held on Saturday, July 25th starting at 10am, CDT. Given the current public health situation, this sale will be streamed live from Potter & Potter's gallery and held on www.potterauctions.com. Bids can be placed on the company's website. Phone and absentee bidding are available as well. All lots are available for preview now on Potter & Potter's website.
Lot #380, Harry and Bess Houdini’s bathtub, is certain to capture the eye, interest, and curiosity of enthusiasts worldwide. This enameled, cast iron tub measures 60 x 26 x 23”. It was removed from the Houdini's home, located at 278 W. 113th Street in New York City, and is accompanied by extensive documentation and photographs related to its provenance. This material includes a letter of authenticity from the homeowner, attesting to the history of the object and its presence in the home during and since Houdini’s time. The tub has wear consistent with its age, but is intact and entirely structurally sound. This once-in-a-lifetime find, which carries and auction estimate of $8,000-12,000, would be a remarkable addition to a private collection or one held by a museum or historical society specializing in the history of magic, New York City, or Houdini.
This unusual piece of Houdiniana generates more tantalizing research questions than it answers. What is known about the tub is that it is from the third floor bathroom of the Houdini's home. This indicates that it was likely used most often by Houdini's wife, Bess. A closer study of its materials and form may reveal other secrets behind the Houdini family's domestic priorities and sense of the aesthetic. Although there is no way to prove it, it is entirely possible that Houdini may have conceptualized or rehearsed parts of his escape acts in this tub. The idea of him using it to practice endurance feats or breath-holding is a tantalizing one, indeed.
There is something for every collector among this sale's 500 lots of finely curated offerings. Additional selections of top-tier magicana include:
• Lot #56, a giant card wheel from c. 1940, is estimated at $8,000-12,000. This fully provenanced and oversized apparatus, believed to be a unique example, was a feature of magician Chuck Vance’s shows for decades.
• Lot #188, a working aluminum spirit lock, is estimated at $5,000-10,000. This entirely mechanical prop, which opens on voice command, was made by engineering expert Jon Martin in the 1940s and is one of a handful exant.
• Lot #287, a Tarbell orange vase combination from F.G. Thayer of Los Angeles, is estimated at $5,000-7,000. This prop from 1927 is perhaps the finest example of the wood turning talents of Floyd Thayer. Offered for sale for $8.50 to his students, this apparatus was devised by Dr. Harlan Tarbell and advertised as part of his famous Tarbell Course in Magic in the late 1920s.
According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, "While the idea of owning a famous person's fixtures may seem bizarre at first blush, on reflection, I find the idea of items from Houdini's historic home at 278 W. 113th Street entirely enchanting. The fact that rock-solid provenance backs up what are truly one-of-a-kind artifacts makes the auction of these relics even more exciting. I can't wait to see what the new owners of these pieces of history do with them."