A pair of handcuffs which once belonged to Harry Houdini were found to have been altered to allow the legendary escapologist to easily unlock them
The secret behind Harry Houdini’s incredible escapes has been revealed as a pair of customised handcuffs which unlocked when the illusionist was in a certain position.
The iron shackles were worn by the Hungarian performer when he attempted the famous Chinese Water Torture trick, during which he stunned audiences by freeing himself from the restraints and wooden stocks while underwater within just three minutes.
Made in Birmingham, the rusty cuffs were inherited by Houdini’s brother Theo Hardeen after his death in 1926.
They are the first pair of handcuffs belonging to the escapologist which are known to have been altered.
The special quick release locking system was discovered by British magician Billy McComb, who bought them as part of a collection of props from the estate of Houdini’s brother in the 1960s.
Mr McComb discovered Houdini’s secret while cleaning the handcuffs.
It is believe the legendary magicians head the shackles over an open flame to loosen the spring mechanism inside, before putting them.
When they were placed on his wrists and held upright they would lock securely, but when turned upside down they snapped open.
The historic cuffs, which were bought by a private collector after Mr McComb’s death in 2006, are now going up for auction at Bloomsbury, London, and are expected to fetch £3000.
Michael Heseltine, specialist in conjuring and performing arts at Bloomsbury, said: “Houdini started using handcuffs in his routines from 1895.
“He did a variety of water stunts and it is a possibility that these handcuffs could have been used in the Chinese Water Tortune trick, which was seriously dangerous.
“This pair have been altered so they unlock when manouvered in a certain way, and this is the first time I have heard of him using handcuffs like this.
“There is no secret mechanism and they lock in the normal way, but it is thought that when he was wearing them he heated them up which relaxed the pressure on the spring.
“This meant that when they were on they would be locked, but if they were manouvered in a certain way they would come open as a security measure.
“He would have needed to have that precaution to make sure he could get out, the audience wouldn’t have known because his tricks were done in a matter of seconds.
“I haven’t ever seen anything before like this or heard of any handcuffs of his that have been altered so these are very rare.”
“I expect these will sell to a private collector.”
The auction takes place on December 12.
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