On The Square

Houdini Brooch has its Own Magic

By Brett Morris

Mar 24,2017 | 16:00 EDT

In 1903 Harry Houdini spent five months of his extensive European tour in Russia. Within two weeks of his arrival, the legendary magician had gone from virtual anonymity to the most famous man in Moscow. Houdini performed before the highest ranks of Russian royalty, right up to the big man himself, Tsar Nicholas II. Accompanying him on this epic adventure was his wife Bess.

Prominent among Houdini’s Moscow patrons were the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich and his wife, the Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Hesse and Rhine, who were instrumental in helping Houdini establish himself in the Russian capital. The couple performed privately for the aristocrats, who were so taken by their magical abilities that they showered them in valuable gifts, a customary gesture at such performances.

Harry Houdini with wife Bess, seen wearing her favorite brooch

Nestled in amongst the Houdini haul was a brooch that Bess would grow increasing attached to as the years past. Snaps show her sporting it not just after its presentation, but also many years beyond her husband’s death. Clearly a piece of great value to her, she presented it as a gift to her close friend Geraldine Larsen, with whom, in 1939, she formed Magigals, an organization for female magicians. 

On Saturday, April 8 Potter & Potter Auctions presents bidders with a once in a lifetime opportunity when they offer the Houdini brooch as Lot 290 in their Spring Magic sale. Crafted into a gorgeous 14k gold crown outline, the brooch is encrusted with 39 old mine diamonds, 17 round sapphires, 14 round rubies, an emerald, and four 4mm rubies set six prong. Not exactly a piece then, likely to go unnoticed...

Houdini dressed for the office

Interestingly, there is another theory concerning the broochs origin, and it comes from none-other-than Orson Welles. According to Welles, Bess received the brooch from Tsar Nicholas, who was astounded when Houdini caused the bells of the Kremlin to ring for the first time in more than a century. True or not, no such story was ever recorded by the great magician, who passed away aged 52 in October, 1926.

Potter & Potter Auctions Spring Magic Sale is set down for Saturday April 8 and contains over 440 expertly curated lots including magic memorabilia, books, posters and apparatus. Look now at the full catalog.