Inscribed Houdini book on Antiques Roadshow

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Postby JohnCox » 02/15/11 01:23 PM

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Postby Andrew Martin Portala » 02/15/11 06:11 PM

wow!! 25 cents
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Postby magicam » 02/15/11 08:43 PM

"Houdini autographs are relatively rare"

LOL
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Postby David Byron » 02/16/11 12:57 AM

I found one of these in a bookstore in Florida back in the 70s, and I paid $12.

It was a possession I prized until the morning when my infant sister climbed out of her crib, pulled it off a shelf, and tore two of the front pages out. :/

Byron Walker was kind enough to appraise it as sentimentally valuable....
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Postby Garry Hayes » 02/16/11 11:32 AM

magicam, you are right - rare? I heard he even signed his toilet paper sheets before wiping.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 12:02 PM

So are you guys saying a signed Houdini book isn't valuable?
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Postby Jack Greenberg » 02/16/11 12:06 PM

In 1960 I visited the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls, and bought an autographed copy of Houdini's pink pamphlet, "Margery the Medium" (+ Argamasilla Exposed). A few years later I asked a friend (who knew Houdini) whether it was a "rare" item, because of the autograph. He replied that if it **didn't** have the autograph, it would be rare. He seemed to agree that Houdini's signature was to be found everywhere. However, I'm seeing such items drawing big money these days on eBay, and on some legitimate online magical-seller spots.

Has something happened within the "Houdini" market ... or is it just a flash in the pan?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 02/16/11 12:40 PM

Hi Jack,
It's just a flash in the pan, so put that booklet in an envelope and send it my way. :)
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 12:52 PM

Well, it's not the '60s or '70s anymore. I bought most of my signed Houdini items in the '80s for $150 - $300. Nowadays it's very hard to find anything signed by Houdini for under $1000 (unless you get lucky).

BTW, a signed Margery pamphlet sounds rare to me. Maybe what your friend said could apply to The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, but a signed Margery pamphlet seems pretty unique. I only have an unsigned copy.

Wait! What am I saying!? No, Houdini stuff is not rare. Yes, he signed toilet paper. You can't walk into a bookstore without finding shelves of signed books. I'm happy to unburden you all of your worthless Houdini artifacts. Just send 'em my way and I'll PayPal you $20. ;)
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 12:53 PM

Ah, Richard beat me to my joke. :p
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Postby Ivanovich » 02/16/11 12:57 PM

Houdini is a name that people recognize, and he isn't signing any more autographs. ;-)

Those two things combined keep ANY autographed item out of my price range. It doesn't make a difference that it isn't the rarest of autographs in the magic world.

I kick myself for not purchasing something 15 years ago when the prices were "reasonable" compared to today. However, for my income level back then they were just as "unreasonable" as they are now.

Perhaps someday...

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Postby Bill Mullins » 02/16/11 02:02 PM

Ivanovich wrote:Houdini . . . isn't signing any more autographs. ;-)


Yeah, but if he lived in Chicago, he'd still be able to vote!
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Postby magicam » 02/16/11 02:53 PM

JohnCox wrote:So are you guys saying a signed Houdini book isn't valuable?


You're confusing rarity with value. Not all things rare are valuable and not all things valuable are rare. Collecting 101, my friend. ;)

Houdini's signature is almost certainly the most common signature of any magician of note.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 03:13 PM

Got it. Thanks.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/16/11 04:38 PM

The book that the dealer is appraising is correct in saying that it is rare. Do a check on the net for this book, with its' attributes and see what comes up.

My guess, without looking, would be less than 5 available for sale.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 02/16/11 04:48 PM

5 "available" with those attributes doesn't sound rare to me. 5 "in existence" worldwide with those attributes would be rare. My guess is that if 5 are "available", there are probably 50 or more in existence, which I wouldn't consider rare personally. "Desirable" and "valuable" sure, but not "rare".
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Postby Richard Hatch » 02/16/11 04:50 PM

PS: I thought it interesting that the appraiser made a big deal about Houdini's debunking of spiritualists. This book is not about that topic (perhaps he was confusing it with A MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS).
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/16/11 05:26 PM

But there aren't 5 available. And that's worldwide ;)
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 05:34 PM

I like that the book appears to have the dust-jacket image cut out and glued inside. That excites me as much as the signature. Of course, if it still had the d/j that would make it "rare" by any definition.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/16/11 06:30 PM

So rare it would be, that it would tour parts of the country. Going from one museum to another, for years to come.
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Postby magicam » 02/16/11 07:12 PM

JohnCox wrote:I like that the book appears to have the dust-jacket image cut out and glued inside. That excites me as much as the signature. Of course, if it still had the d/j that would make it "rare" by any definition.


You're batting 0/2 John! A 1st ed. Miracle Mongers in dj isn't rare. An example of a rare-ish Houdini item would be my inscribed copy of H's early (ca. 1903) Russian pitchbook.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 07:18 PM

Oh, come on. ANY Houdini book pre 1930 in the original dust jacket is awfully hard to find nowadays. That much I know.

But maybe our definitions of "rare" are far apart, especially if you'd only call your signed Russian pitchbook "rare-ish." I'd call that is Holy s*** rare! :)

Maybe I should say "scare."
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Postby magicam » 02/16/11 08:07 PM

John, see http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubb ... Post199942

Re "holy [censored] rare," that's the problem, my friend. Common -- and I mean dirt common -- stuff like Houdini's signature (probably as many Houdini sigs exist as Milk Pitcher Magic) is called "rare," "very rare," "extremely rare," etc., which means that when stuff like this early edition of Hocus Pocus Jr. comes along that actually IS rare (less than half a dozen copies known to exist of this edition), there's no word left to describe it because the word "rare" has been hijacked and rendered meaningless by us collectors.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/16/11 08:10 PM

You are correct John, it's rare. And you might want to buy some boots, as the BS is becoming very deep here.
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Postby JohnCox » 02/16/11 08:43 PM

Thank you, Kevin. I was just about to line the birdcage with pages from my signed books.
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Postby magicam » 02/16/11 11:22 PM

Kevin Connolly wrote:You are correct John, it's rare. And you might want to buy some boots, as the BS is becoming very deep here.

You're right, and I concede: my shovel isn't big enough to get rid of what you're dumping.

If you have something of substance to say, say it. You can always provide your definition of "rare" and then inform us how many copies of Miracle Mongers exist in dj.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/16/11 11:58 PM

No need to provide the definition of "rare". We all know what it is when we see it. What I don't need is someone telling me what the definition of "rare" is.

Now that you conceded, I know you'll live it up to your word as a man.
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Postby magicam » 02/17/11 01:34 AM

John, maybe Kevin's acting like this because he thinks I've come on too strong with you, and if so, maybe he has a point. What I perceive to be the widespread misuse and overuse of the term rare is a pet peeve with me, but it's unfair to take it out on you. I like the enthusiasm in your blogs and hope you keep up the good work. The only thing I'll add on the concept of rarity is that it seems to be an extremely subjective concept, when it really shouldn't be that subjective IMHO, and as you think about what rare means to you, try to take into account the wide range of items and levels of scarcity and rarity in the collecting world, and see if you can create your own definition that is internally consistent, so that when you use the term rare, it has a clear and definite meaning for you and for others after you've told them in clear terms how you use the term rare. That way, when someone asks you what you mean by rare, you won't sound like a horse's ass when you say, We all know what it is when we see it. because very clearly we do not all know it when we see it. That's the problem. Too many different ideas of what rare is!

Kevin, if you don't even have a rough idea of how many copies are known to exist of MM in dj, that seems a clear enough indication of where the BS is coming from. I don't know how one can opine on rarity without having a clue about the number of specimens known to exist.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 02/17/11 02:46 AM

Clay,

You can do your search for the title and you'll have a number to work with.

The next time you work on a Houdini book, documentary, newspaper article, etc., you can put your Houdini expertise to work. That's if you have it.

I promise you I will never post again in a thread where you have posted before me. Do me a favor? Don't email me any more.
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Postby magicam » 02/17/11 04:46 AM

You think an online search tells you anything about rarity? Can you find an 1856 edition of Strutts Sports and Pastimes, or a 14th edition Modern Magic, or a copy of Tricks in Magic Volume I or the 1974 Walter Johnson reprint of The Art of Jugling online? You think any of those books are rare? And the idea that an online search tells you whats available in the world is ridiculous and incredibly nave.

Do I have to collect Thurston to have an idea of how many copies exist in d.j. of My Life of Magic? Or Maskelyne and Devant to have an idea of how many copies exist in d.j. of the first U.K. edition of Our Magic? Or Burlingame to have an idea of how many copies exist in d.j. of Leaves from Conjurers Scrap Books? Etc. Etc. Etc.

This is the logic and level of knowledge and sophistication you bring to the table as a veteran collector? An online search determines rarity, and simply because you collect Houdini that automatically makes you an expert on the rarity of a first edition MM in dj? Or put another way, because I dont collect Houdini I couldnt possibly have a clue about the number of copies in dj of that book? :crazy:

My god, man. No wonder people like Ricky Jay think most magic collectors are idiot dilettantes.

I'm done with this farce.
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Postby Garry Hayes » 02/17/11 10:10 AM

I would not say a Houdini Autograph is rare. When you look at a magic collectors collection and see they have 5 - 40 items signed by Houdini, I would not say that is rare. Some collections have a couple hundred items signed. The thing that makes Houdini valuable can be attributed to Bess and Ed Saint. Like Elvis, Houdini still attracts fans after their death. Houdini, because the campaign Bess and Ed Saint made to keep his name alive all the way into the 1940's. Houdini is the most famous magician in the history of time, even more than Merlin. Because Houdini is the most recognized Magic Name in the World, he moves into other collecting categories like Americana, Europeanana, etc. In my opinion that is what makes his inscriptions / signatures / autographs valuable.

Think of all of the SAM membership cards he signed. Then there was the campaign for the SAM, where he signed hundreds of copies of his book THE UNMASKING OF ROBERT HOUDIN. Would you say that book is rare to be found signed compared to a signed copy of LIFE OF A VERSATILE ARTIST or A MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS?

There is a defined difference between rare and valuable. Many rare items in magic are not very valuable.
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Postby Ted M » 02/17/11 01:29 PM

Clay, it's pretty heavy handed to prescribe usage to other people, especially when you desire a word in common speech to instead be employed in the manner it is used in a very specialized lexicon.

Maybe you could start appending an quantitative suffix to your own specialized usage of "rare" to mark it as specialist usage and allow it to carry more information, understandable to all.

Usage example: "Hocus Pocus Jr is rare-6, while Cards as Weapons would be rare-50,000" (or whatever the figure might be).

It is distinct from the common usage, is more informative, does not require others to change their own speech, yet is easy for others to adopt if they choose, and might make for friendlier conversation!
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 02/17/11 01:36 PM

Ted, language is a gift few have and most would not wish upon others. Context often suggests (if not dictates) efficient language choices in communication. I hope we can agree that rare does not mean undercooked to me or hardly ever to be found on the bottom shelf of my bookcase on Tuesdays and in this context one would do well to defer to the specialized market's use.

This post is AU, that is almost uncirculated - to phase in terms of coins. ;)
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Reason: Okay it's only XF
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Postby Ted M » 02/17/11 02:18 PM

Context is everything.

- opening line of Motherless Brooklyn, by a different Jonathan

Jonathan T, in actual practice I think it's been demonstrated pretty clearly over and over again that relying on the limited context of a discussion to cue specialized usage of "rare" isn't sufficient. The wider context of all participants' backgrounds, experiences and attitudes come into play, and that wider context is not easily knowable among all participants. In that case -- when insufficient context is available -- terms with multiple definitions like "rare" can break down and communication can fail.

Terms like "Good" and "Fine" in coin and book grading present similar difficulties since they too conflict with general usage, though many times they can be resolved by simple inspection since they often relate to a specific object at hand, rather than to the entire wider, possibly unknowable, set of objects not physically present.

Language has many applications, but here my focus is simply on language as a utilitarian tool for clear communication.

Usage evolves over time, and in different contexts. I'm basically just advocating a usage tweak for "rare" when in mixed company.
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Postby magicam » 02/18/11 12:21 AM

Ted M wrote:Clay, it's pretty heavy handed to prescribe usage to other people, especially when you desire a word in common speech to instead be employed in the manner it is used in a very specialized lexicon. ...


Ted, it should go without saying that I was merely expressing my opinions. I don't think disagreement with another opinion constitutes prescribing usage if that were the case, then anyone who has ever disagreed with anybody else here would be prescribing usage, a notion which seems kind of silly to me. But I do think you make a fair point, and believe we're in general agreement (see my post on 02/17/11 12:34 AM), that the term rare has widely (and wildly) varying usage among collectors, and people in general. Ideally, it'd be great if there were some consensus amongst collectors on what rare means, but that's a near-certain pipe dream, which (to repeat what I've already said) leads to at least this more modest hope: any individual collector should (i) formulate and be able to clearly communicate to other collectors what rare means to him or her, and however he/she defines the term, such definition should take into account the wide range of items and levels of scarcity and rarity in the collecting world, and (ii) however such term is defined, he/she should always try to use it in a manner which is consistent with his/her definition. In addition, collectors would agree that the market value of an item does not equate with rarity. i.e., that some expensive collectibles are not rare, and that some inexpensive collectibles can be rare; or put another way, the fact that an item is in high demand or expensive doesn't automatically mean it's rare.

Collectors and people in general often confuse the concepts of demand, value and rarity. These three concepts are quite distinct, and while there is often a correlation among the three, any such correlation(s) are not automatic or absolute. For example, some collectors think Ricky Jay's Cards as Weapons is rare because it is (or was) in high demand and/or expensive. But if Cards as Weapons is truly rare, then that means probably 99% of all magic books ever published are rare, which doesn't make any sense to me.

If you are interested, here are some links to GF threads which discuss some issues relating to rarity, how the term rare is used, etc.:

http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubb ... ber=132900

http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubb ... mber=77581
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Postby Ted M » 02/18/11 09:57 AM

Right, that's why I used Cards as Weapons being rare-50,000 as my example.

As the attached number rises, the term becomes increasingly oxymoronic. "Rare-50,000" succinctly makes it self-evident that the book is in no way rare, thereby implicitly suggesting that its market value must be driven by some other factor(s).
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Postby Brad Henderson » 02/18/11 05:38 PM

I agree with Clay - when we are talking about books and their value (as it often relates to scarcity), then it is more than reasonable to use terms that have quantitative and established meanings even if they are, to a degree, jargon.

Otherwise we get into nonsense like "well, it's rare to me."

Which may be true, but useless when it comes to the anything beyond a conversation with the voices inside one's own head.
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