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Harry Houdini Rare Vintage HOUDINI CHALLENGE Poster Handbill '08

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Harry Houdini Original Vintage Magic Memorabilia Collectibles Autographs For Sale
Harry Houdini
Rare Antique Vintage HOUDINI CHALLENGE Poster Handbill


Here is an Amazing piece of Houdini History !

Part of a Houdini’s marketing genius was generating widespread  attention by  offering  any government agency or well known company to issue a public Challenge to a seemingly impossible escape from jails, handcuffs, locked wooden boxes and straitjackets, .  This was primarily in his early years from about 1903 to 1910.  These Houdini appearances would be promoted in various cities with large and small size “HOUDII CHALLENGE” Posters.    Some were repeat performances form cites he successfully escaped from.  The Hosts of these previous escapes would claim they think they knew how Houdini escaped before and now they removed those “loopholes’ and made it even More difficult for Houdini to escape.  

Many of these challenges were arranged with local merchants in one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing . Rather than promote the idea that he was assisted by spirits, as did the Davenport Brothers and others, Houdini's advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, although Houdini himself never claimed to have supernatural power.

 What we are offering here is an Original small size promo poster handbill for a Houdini Challenge in 1905. 

Additional Info on this Antique Paper:  If you’re a long time collector of historical 19th and early 20th century documents you will immediately recognize the obvious super lightweight vintage feel and look of this Houdini Challenge paper, that was replaced around the 1920s and 30s with much heavier paper used over the past 120 years.   Not quite as thin and light as antique tracing paper, but a much thinner rag type material than modern paper, that you know when you feel it.   I also read while researching that this thin paper was used by printer sin the 19th and early 20th century because ink was more adhesive to the particular cotton material.   There is an abundance of interesting and informative “History of Paper”  resources online that go into more detail on the evolution of paper over the past 2000 years, since the Chinese invented the first paper about 2200 years ago. 

This 120 year old paper has subtle age toning and is oo lightweight that we placed the Historic Houdini Challenge in a double protective plastic sleeve so it can be viewed and enjoyed without having to pull it out and risk tearing the fragile paper.   To show you,  we have done a brief video.  

HOUDINI, Harry (Ehrich Weisz). Houdini – May Co.: Packing Case Challenge. Allied Printing, 1908. Houdini challenged by the May Co. to escape one of their packing cases on stage in one of their athletic suits at Keith’s Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio. Paper challenge (7 x 5 ½”). Tear in the upper left corner and uneven cut along the top.

Note: Photo not included but just to show how amazing this historic piece will look framed with such a photo  (which similar photos can be easily found online). 

Provenance:  From a prestigious Magic Collection.   See images below of articles written back in 1905 and 1908 when Houdini performed at Keith's in Cleveland, the venue this Challenge was home to. . 

* See enlargeable image above and below

Size: 5.5x7"

*NOTE: This Houdini find is Extremely Rare and may be the Only surviving example of this specific Houdini Challenge Handbill Poster as we have never see another before in our 42 years collecting. 



Theater Handbills go all the way back to the 16th century when there was no mass media.  The theatres would take the handbill and/or herald and make copies to be handed out by theatre employees on street corners or in front of the theatre. If the theatre did not want to make the copies, there were several secondary printers that were set up to sell the heralds in quantities. 
The first public theatre in England opened in London in 1576. Performances at the early theatres were announced by the distribution of handbills (small flyers circulated by hand), a drum procession through the streets, and by a flag hoisted at the theatre where the performance was taking place.   

Playbills have fallen out of fashion, but they were the main form of advertising in the Nineteenth Century. They were a simple list of the coming attractions written in attractive fonts. Large copies were displayed as posters in the streets and smaller versions were also handed out as handbills.

Harry Houdini, wanting to keep costs down from the more expensive large broadsides, depended on handbills for promoting his act in the USA and England.  Very few of these early 20th century advertising treasures survived   and hence are Rarely seen for sale. 

*Additional Update:  From the Harry Houdini experts at "Wild About Houdini", this is their input on this Rare Challenge Handbill.
"The is a similar challenge from The May Company in Cleveland during the week of March 2, 1908. This was actually the second time they challenged him, as you can read. (This first time was in 1905.) No details on this escape, but I think we can assume he made it. :)".  See images below of articles written back in 1905 and 1908 when Houdini performed at Keith's in Cleveland, the venue this Challenge was home to. .

GUARANTEED AUTHENTIC for LIFE  (Note: There are no known Reproductions of this Challenge handbill poster)

* This is one of two historically significant Houdini Challenge posters we recently acquired. 

* See enlargeable image above and below

Note: Many historians, magicians and escape artists that spent a lifetime trying to figure out How Houdini did his seemingly impossible escapes were so frystrated they could never solve the Houdini puzzle, they resorted to, “Houdini must have been in on the act”.  But, of course they could never orive that either!   

Houdini  first attracted notice in vaudeville in the United States and then as "Harry 'Handcuff' Houdini" on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it.

From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He freed himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in sight of street audiences. Because of imitators, Houdini put his "handcuff act" behind him on January 25, 1908, and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded his repertoire with his escape challenge act, in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him. These included nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into water), riveted boilers, wet sheets, mail bags, and even the belly of a whale that had washed ashore in Boston. Brewers in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and other cities challenged Houdini to escape from a barrel after they filled it with beer.

In 1904, the London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged Houdini to escape from special handcuffs that it claimed had taken Nathaniel Hart, a locksmith from Birmingham, five years to make. Houdini accepted the challenge for March 17 during a matinée performance at London's Hippodrome theatre. It was reported that 4000 people and more than 100 journalists turned out for the much-hyped event. The escape attempt dragged on for over an hour, during which Houdini emerged from his "ghost house" (a small screen used to conceal the method of his escape) several times. At one point he asked if the cuffs could be removed so he could take off his coat. The Mirror representative, Frank Parker, refused, saying Houdini could gain an advantage if he saw how the cuffs were unlocked. Houdini promptly took out a penknife and, holding it in his teeth, used it to cut his coat from his body. Some 56 minutes later, Houdini's wife appeared on stage and gave him a kiss. Many thought that in her mouth was the key to unlock the special handcuffs. However, it has since been suggested that Bess did not in fact enter the stage at all, and that this theory is unlikely due to the size of the six-inch key. Houdini then went back behind the curtain. After an hour and ten minutes, Houdini emerged free. As he was paraded on the shoulders of the cheering crowd, he broke down and wept. At the time, Houdini said it had been one of the most difficult escapes of his career.

Guaranteed Authentic for Life
Conway's Vintage Treasures
UACC Registered Dealer No 307

Note: CVtreasures stamp Not on original 

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