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Houdini Water Torture poster sets new world record at Potter & Potter

A rare vintage poster featuring illusionist Harry Houdini has sold for a world record price in Chicago.
The poster, printed in England in 1912, featured Houdini performing his most famous escape act: the Chinese Water Torture Cell.

Having invented the illusion in 1911, Houdini first performed the escape to a single audience member in a one-act play entitled ‘Houdini Upside Down!’

This enabled him to copyright the idea, prevent other magicians from performing a similar escape, and he referred to the illusion as "the upside down" for the rest of his career.

It became his most famous escape act, and he performed it around the world up until his death in 1926. His brother Theodore Hardeen later sold the original cabinet, against Houdini’s dying wishes, and it ended up as a fish tank at the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls.

After partially surviving a fire at the museum in 1995, the cabinet was restored by illusion builder John Gaughan, and is now part of magician David Copperfield’s private magic museum in Las Vegas.

As one of just three examples known to exist, the rare poster soared past its estimate of $50,000 – $60,000 to sell for $116,850, making it the most valuable magic poster ever sold.

The previous record price for one of the posters had been set back in 2000, when a copy sold at Christie’s in New York for $51,959.

The sale also featured another rare Houdini poster, printed in 1898 during the early years of his career. Advertising him as the "King of Cards", years before he became an international star, the poster also set a new record by selling for $24,000.

Both posters originated from the collection of professional magician Norm Nielsen, who had spent 25 years assembling more than 1000 vintage lithographs from the Golden Era of magic posters.

Sold across two auctions at Potter & Potter, the entire collection achieved a total of $1.4 million.

"Advance buzz for the auction was high, and especially for the Houdini posters," said Gabe Fajuri, President of Potter & Potter.

"Chatter on social media included considerable speculation about just how high the price would go. Several outlets wondered if we’d set a new world record. We’re glad they were right!"

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