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    An Archive of Original Manuscripts, Letters and Photographs of the Most Famous Spiritualist "Debunking" Case of the Twentieth Century: Mina "Margery" Crandon Proven a Charlatan by Scientific American and Harry Houdini

    [Harry Houdini, association]. Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock. The Archive Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock of the Mina "Margery" Crandon Case. [Various places, mainly New York and Boston, various dates, mainly ca. 1924]. Archive includes the following: Photography Album [n.p.], 1924. With one hundred original photographs, dated from May 7, 1924 to July 1, 1924, of Mina Crandon conducting séances, and other poses. Photographs mounted onto leaves of the album and are approximately 5 x 4 inches. Notes in white ink on most leaves. Final photograph is of Crandon in a wooden box, designed by Houdini to prevent her moving to produce phony psychic phenomena; sitting next to her holding her hand is Houdini himself (this photograph ran in the November 1924 issue of Scientific American accompanying the article about this case). Most leaves loose, album worn. Photographs are generally fine. [and:] Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock. Original typewritten notes (dictated to his assistant, G. F. Wood) including original typed sheets and sheets of carbon copies of the notes. Consisting of 234 leaves of carbon copies of notes, and 103 leaves of original typed notes, with carbon copies duplicating virtually all of the typewritten notes (some original typewritten notes missing from this archive). All leaves approximately 11 x 8.5 inches, rectos only. Dr. Comstock signs the notes in three different places. A few different styles of blank white papers used. Some sheets with tears and most sheets with paperclip marks, some with toning and wear, generally good. These notes describe in great detail the séances attended, the precautions used, and the dialogue of the participants. Houdini is mentioned as having attended the July 24, 1924 and August 27, 1924 séances (although he also attended the July 34 séance, those notes are not present). In the notes, Margery Crandon is referred to as the "Psychic". [and:] Archive of Material Related to Crandon, including: three original photographs of Houdini with people involved in the case (one of the photographs shows Mina Crandon and Houdini; photographs are approximately 2.5 x 3 inches, and are creased). [With:] seven pamphlets and other printed material related to the case, including two copies of Houdini's pamphlet, Houdini Exposes the tricks used by the Boston Medium "Margery" to win the $2,500 prize offered by the Scientific American (New York: Adams Press, 1924; one copy of this pamphlet is missing the covers, the other has loose covers). [With:] thirty typed letters signed by various people involved in the case to Comstock (various dates, sizes; people included are Walter Franklin Prince "Psychical" researcher; J. Malcolm Bird, managing editor of Scientific American; Dr. William McDougall, Professor of Psychology at Harvard; E. E. Free, editor at Scientific American; Orson Munn, publisher of Scientific American; and others). [With:] carbon copies or typewritten copies of letters sent by Comstock to various people involved in the case, including some to Houdini (various places, dates, sizes; sheets toned and brittle). This portion of the archive is housed in Comstock's original file box with folding lid.
    A fascinating archive of material relating to the most famous "debunking" of Houdini's career. Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock (1883-1970) was an American physicist and engineer, who co-founded Kalmus, Comstock & Westcott as well as Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation (inventors of the second major color film process, which was the most widely used in Hollywood from 1922 to 1952). From the John McLaughlin/Book Sail Collection.

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    Comstock was one of the experts who was on the Scientific American Prize Committee (in 1924 Scientific American began a contest in which anyone who could demonstrate genuine psychic or telekinetic abilities under scientific controls would win $2,500). Others on the Prize Committee were Harry Houdini, William McDougall, Walter Franklin Prince and Hereward Carrington (amateur magician and "psychical" researcher). Mina "Margery" Crandon (1888-1941) began conducting séances as a hobby (supposedly channeling her dead brother, Walter) and her name was submitted as a candidate for the contest (she had gained a great following in members of Boston's upper classes and Ivy League figures, even acquiring the support of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). J. Malcolm Bird informed Houdini that she might actually win the prize, and so Houdini and the other committee members attended séances (the other committee members attended more séances than Houdini did). Houdini was able to convince Orson Munn not to run an article praising Margery's abilities. In August of that year Houdini was able to expose the machines and trickery used by Margery (and other confederates). There was significant controversy in the whole affair, as J. Malcolm Bird conspired with the Crandons in order to help her win the prize (he was enamored of her, despite the fact he was not on the Prize Committee), and she had an affair with another member of the Prize Committee, Hereward Carrington. The committee voted that she was not a genuine psychic, with only Carrington voting in favor of her abilities. However, Bird had leaked to the press that the committee was voting in favor of her; this incensed Houdini, and he returned from a tour in Europe to cast his vote against her (in his later stage act, Houdini would discuss the Crandons as well as demonstrate their tricks). The Crandons insisted that they were genuine and spent several more years adding new gimmicks to her séances, all of which were ultimately proven to be false. Despite this, she continued to perform her act until her death in 1941. Many people believe that her discovery as a fraud almost brought paranormal research in America to an end.

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    Auction Dates
    April, 2013
    10th Wednesday
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