RECORD: The Most Expensive Magic Poster at Auction Stars–of Course–Houdini

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What you see: A 1912 poster touting Harry Houdini performing his famous water torture cell escape. It was printed in London one year after Houdini invented the trick, and it has a B+ condition rating. Potter & Potter sold it in February 2017 for $114,000–an auction record for any magic poster.

How rare is this Houdini poster? “There are three we know of,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter, noting he has examined two of them.

How rare are Houdini posters, generally? “Rare is relative. Houdini had a lot of posters,” he says. “Some exist in only one copy. Some in 20 to 30.”

Is this the first time that Houdini’s water torture cell escape was depicted on a poster? “It’s possible,” Fajuri says, explaining that there is another 1912 poster that shows a closeup of Houdini’s face, upside down and under water, and it’s not clear which poster appeared first.

What was the bidding like? “We started at $25,000. There was active bidding in the room and on the phone from at least five phone bidders, including a few who were new to us,” he says. “There was active participation to $80,000 [around the sum of the previous magic poster record]. It was going to beat the record without a doubt, but I didn’t think it would go as high as it did. A few guys really wanted it. It sold to a phone bidder.”

Why did the poster do so well? Is it because it’s just one of three that exist? “That’s part of it, but it’s also from the Norm Nielsen collection, a very well-established if not legendary collection of posters. Everybody knows him and everybody knows his collection,” he says, adding that Potter & Potter will soon publish The Golden Age of Magic Posters, a limited-edition book based on the auction catalogue. “It’s Houdini. It’s one of his most famous, if not his most famous trick. It’s got all the elements that lead to success.”

How long do you think this auction record will stand? “This is the most expensive magic item sold with the exception of the water torture cell itself,” Fajuri says. “I would think it would stand for a while, but anything could happen. Hopefully, we’ll be the ones to break it.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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An Extra-Rare Original Woodstock Concert Poster Could Command $2,500 at Heritage Auctions

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What you see: An original 1969 Woodstock concert poster that shows just the artwork–no small text–and is signed by Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it. It’s in Very Good Plus condition and is estimated at $2,500.

How rare are original Woodstock concert posters in general, and how rare is it to find one that lacks the band names, the concert dates, and other small text? “Woodstock concert posters are rare, and this one is unusual,” says Giles Moon, consignment director of entertainment and music memorabilia at Heritage Auctions, adding, “I think that purist concert poster collectors want the version used to advertise the concert.”

The lot just before this one in the sale is a signed original Woodstock poster that has the small text. Its starting bid is $1,000, but the starting bid for this poster is $1,250. Why? “That’s intriguing. I’m not certain why that is,” he says, noting that this is the first artwork-only original Woodstock poster that he has handled. “This one might be more unusual, and that might be why there’s a higher starting bid on it.”

The poster is signed by Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it. Does that add to its value? “It adds several hundred dollars to the poster,” he says. “It doesn’t double the value, but it adds 20 to 30 percent. It’s difficult to say how many original Woodstock concert posters he signed. The majority of the originals have not been signed. In 2009, we sold one for $1,000, and I would expect the price to have jumped a bit since then.”

Were Woodstock posters collected at the time of the concert, or only later on? “It’s nearly always the case that they’re collected later on. That’s why the posters are so rare,” Moon says. “No one imagined they’d become collectible or valuable. They were just discarded. People who saved them were keeping them for aesthetic reasons.”

What makes this poster so successful? “It’s a simple, strong image that gets across the concept of what the festival was,” he says. “And it was a departure from the psychedelia as well. Lots of posters were trippy, intricate and complicated. This is simplistic.”

How to bid: The artwork-only original Woodstock concert poster is lot #89705 in Heritage Auctions’s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction on June 17 and 18 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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SOLD At Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: The Ringling Bros Joan of Arc Poster Collects $469

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Update: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster sold for $439.

What you see: A 1913 poster by Ringling Brothers, featuring Joan of Arc and promising a ‘Magnificent 1200 Character Spectacle.’ It’s from the Richard Bennett Collection of Circus Memorabilia. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers estimates the poster at $400 to $600.

Why is Joan of Arc on this Ringling Brothers poster? Where are the tigers, elephants, and clowns? “Circuses were not seen as the most classical or tasteful form of entertainment. To drum up business and legitimize the circus, the performers would parade through the streets dressed as classical Romans or knights with Joan of Arc,” says Nicholas Coombs, associate specialist at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. “This spectacle was the first encounter the town would have with the circus, and it was a free parade down the main street.”

Why build a parade around Joan of Arc? Why would that be a draw in 1913? “Joan of Arc was a character who would have been known to a large slice of the population,” he says. “Ringling Brothers tried to appeal to as many people as possible. Joan of Arc certainly had that sort of cache among everyday, average Americans.”

What would the parade-goers have seen? “It would have been a fully-costumed production,” he says. “They probably tried to have as large a French army as possible, dressed up as knights. They tried to depict a mighty spectacle to get people to go to the circus later. They would have showed some animals as well.”

What other forms of entertainment was Ringling Brothers competing against in 1913? “It really didn’t have much competition,” Coombs says. “The circus was its own form of entertainment. A production this large, with thousands of people coming to your town–it was an event. Everyone came out to see it for miles around.”

The poster trumpets a 1200-person spectacle, but it only shows Joan of Arc and her horse. Is that unusual? “From the ones we’ve encountered, they try to sell the cast of a thousand characters aspect,” he says. “This stands out for its visual strength and its simplicity.”

How to bid: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster is lot 427 in the Documenting History: Science, Exploration sale at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on May 4, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

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