Mirror Keys – “Hidden where no one can find them?”


The above press photo just sold on eBay for $97.50. Congratulations to the winner!

It is an amazing photo of Bess Houdini and the Mirror Cuff originally published on April 13, 1936, the day that Thurston died.

And what Bess said in the publication is just as amazing:


Back of Press Photo with words for publication

“She said the keys to the handcuffs have been hidden where no one can find them.”

What did she mean by this statement?

Notice that “keys” is plural.


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Below is the photo that just sold on eBay for $132.50 that is referenced in the comments below.

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Here is another photo courtesy of WAH to ponder:



Here is another photo (dated November 10, 1936) from WAH to ponder:

bess mirror


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Mr. & Mrs. Harry Houdini wish you A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

Merry Xmas Happy New Year to TF from HH

Image courtesy of Handcuffs.org


“Just to remind everyone, Houdini and Tom Froggatt [Mirror Cuff Maker (?)] were friends for 20 years. His first Christmas card was sent to Tom at Christmas 1904, and the last one was Christmas 1924.

If Nathanial Hart [Mirror Cuff Maker (?)] existed (and I still think he did) I think it would be inevitable that he and Tom would meet up, considering that he was interested in handcuffs, was himself a metal worker, and they lived in the same city.

I originally thought that Tom and Nathaniel were the same person, but now I’d like to think that they knew each other.”

[Michael Hanzlik quote dated November 25 2014]

Master Locksmith, Houdini historian, an authority on the Mirror Handcuff Challenge passed away on the 1st of November 2015 after a battle with Cancer.

Rest in Peace Mick Hanzlik!

Is this flipped photo really from 1904?


The David Copperfield (DC) mirror cuff (shown above) is nearly always shown with its best side – with less plating missing.  It is believed that the Harry Houdini (HH) image in the photo was flipped to mirror it.  All other advertisements and postcards that I have seen, have the photo of HH holding the DC mirror cuff facing the other way without a date written on it.

This photo in DC’s museum has 1904 written on it, so does that mean it was taken in 1904? That’s what we are led to believe.  Note: March 17th, 1904 is the date of the famous Daily Illustrated Mirror Challenge.

Well, if we flip the photo (see below) to be facing the original way, 1904 becomes 4091.

10DCwithHoudiniPhoto_zps7986e002-1-300x234 flipped

So what does this mean?

Not sure, but we need to find when this image or a similar image was first seen.   Below is the first image, that I was able to find.  It has 1907 written on it, but it is actually from 1909. So far, not so good for 1904.

mirror handbill from laid bareHowever, below is a clearer image of him “sitting in a chair”, with the DC mirror cuff, but it is not dated.


If we examine his 1904 pitch book cover below of him “sitting in a chair”, it may very well be the same suit, hair, and chair as the image of him holding the DC mirror cuff.

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1904 Pitchbook 20 pages Credit: John Bushey

The below postcard which sold at auction for $474 and matches the image on the 1904 pitch book shows it much more clearly, and it definitely appears to be the same suit, hair and chair and could have been taken during the same photo session in 1904.

HH Postcard Around 1904

Epilogue: On Saturday May 14th, 1904 Harry Houdini (HH) was presented with the solid silver manacle.  The solid silver manacle was always thought to be pictured in the photo with HH sitting, but we now know that it is really the DC mirror cuff.  HH obviously doesn’t want us to know that this is the DC mirror cuff, which could explain why he is covering the key hole and the center of the cuff in the photo. On March 20, three days after the challenge, Houdini offered a challenge to the Mirror that he would offer 100 guineas to anyone else who could get out of the cuffs with him present, which implies to me that HH was not supposed to be in possession of the DC mirror cuff. That said, it is likely that this photo with the DC mirror cuff was taken before he officially received the solid silver manacle and may have even been taken during his London engagement at the Hippodrome.

Related Posts:

Update: The photo from the 1904 pitch book also appears in The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin as well as a similar image in Silverman which was signed by HH on Aug 1904:

Photo of HH from The UnMasking of Robert-Houdin

Photo: The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin


Photo: Silverman

Update 2:

HRC 1904 photo

Photo: Harry Ransom Center


Houdini Presented with Silver Manacle and a Silver Bowl

Since it was 111 years ago today that Harry Houdini was presented with the Solid Silver Manacle, I thought I would share the text from an article that appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post the day after he released himself from the Mirror Cuff that makes reference to this triumph and being presented with a solid silver model as well as another challenge of this kind where he was presented with a silver bowl.  Enjoy!


As already mentioned in the “Gossip of the Day,” Houdini the “handcuff king” was challenged in London to free himself from pair of handcuffs forged by a Birmingham blacksmith, and which took five years in the making. Though Houdini confines himself in public exhibitions to  ” regulation ” patterns, he accepted the challenge, and the contest took place at the London Hippodrome yesterday afternoon. After being duly manacled, he was shut up in a cabinet in the arena. Alter about half an hour he came out “for change of air.” Another half-hour passed. and then he came forth to say that could not work with his coat on. Holding a knife between his teeth, he cut his coat away, and then, amid great applause, he emerged free, and was borne in triumph round the arena.


But the strain had been too much for the “handcuff king,” and he sobbed as though his heart would break. With a mighty effort, however, he regained his composure, and received the congratulations in the true sportsmanlike spirit he has shown throughout the contest. It was intimated to the audience that beautiful solid silver model of the handcuffs would be made, and presented to Houdini.


This is not the first challenge of the kind Houdini has accepted and won. The students at Krupp’s works at Essen forged him a bracelet, from which they said it would take him a week to free himself. He was free within the hour, and was afterwards presented by the students and his admirers with a silver bowl in celebration of his feat.

Silver Bowl aka Silver Loving Cup Mahatma October 1901

Silver Bowl aka Silver Loving Cup (Mahatma October 1901)

Note: One of his finest feats was this undoing of a handcuff specially forged in May 1901, by Herr Krupp’s workmen at Essen.  These cuffs took twenty minutes to lock.  They gave, and could be narrowed by screws to squeeze the wrist and the Krupp man screwed it down until it touched the bone of Houdini. It took him 35 minutes to get free, and years later he still bore the marks of that struggle on his right wrist. As an acknowledgment of that wonderful effort he was presented with a silver bowl and a check according to Yorkshire Evening Post dated December 06, 1902.


On March 20, three days after the challenge, Houdini offered a challenge to the Mirror:

“London Hippodrome, March 20, 1904

To Whom It May Concern!

Since my success in mastering the celebrated Daily Mirror Handcuff it has come to my knowledge that certain disappointed, skeptical persons have made use of most unjust remarks against the result of last Thursday’s contest.

In particular, one person has had the brazen audacity to proclaim himself able to open the Mirror Handcuff in two minutes.

Such being the case, I hereby challenge any mortal being to open the Mirror Handcuff in the same space of time that I did. I will allow him the full use of both hands; also any instrument or instruments, barring the actual key. The cuff must not be broken or spoilt. Should he succeed, I will forfeit 100 guineas.

Furthermore, it has reached my ears that people are saying that at the contest I slipped one hand before undoing the Mirror Handcuff. I now agree to forfeit a further sum of 25 guineas to anyone who can pick the handcuff within twenty-four consecutive hours with one hand locked in the manacle.

Should anyone accept these challenges, with above simple conditions, they must agree to make the test in my presence.

Harry Houdini “


Search for “Pearson’s Weekly”

William Bennet the MirrorRep and HH

1904 image of Will A. Bennet

One of the many mysteries of the famous Mirror Handcuff Challenge on March 17, 1904 is the identity of the “Mirror representative” who challenged Houdini with the famous cuff. His name, Will A. Bennet was not known to Houdini Historians until January 1, 2014, when I shared an April 1910 article I found from an Australian Newspaper.

NYPL image of Will A Bennet

1913 image of Will A. Bennet. (Image courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Later in 2014, Paul Davies at Handcuffs.org found evidence that Will A. Bennet was a real person and shared another version of the “How I Handcuffed Houdini” article that appeared in February 1909.

However, the 1909 version of the article did not mention the Mirror representative’s name.

The main difference between the 1909 article and 1910 article is the following sentence:

“Will A. Bennet, press representative, Moss Empires, London and the London Hippodrome, recently told in “Pearson’s Weekly” of a match he made at the Hippodrome with Houdini the Handcuff King, now appearing at the Tivoli Theatre, Sydney.”

Both articles reference the “Pearson’s Weekly” Magazine as the original source.

So did the Mirror representative’s name appear in the original article or did it manifest itself in 1910?

And what is the significance of when and where it appeared?

Thus, the search to find the original article that must have appeared in “Pearson’s Weekly” Magazine sometime between March 1904 and Feb 1909 [April 1910].

Well, thanks to Paul Davies, we know that the original article is not in Pearson’s Weekly in 1904, 1905 or the last half of 1906.

And thanks to a Librarian that I contacted at The British Library, we know it is not in the first half of 1906. So that leaves 1907, 1908 and Jan/Feb 1909 left to search, which are held in microfilm at the British Library. Given its scope, the Librarian suggested I hire a freelance researcher to finish the search. That is when I contacted Narinder Chadda, a Houdini colleague of mine, who grew up in Birmingham and had been following the excellent discussion on Handcuffs.org.

Narinder and his daughter who is completing her MSc studies in London were delighted to carry out this search on everyone’s behalf.  Narinder’s daughter did all of the legwork on Thursday.

So what did we find and what is the significance of it?

The “Pearson’s Weekly” was a UK 16PP tabloid magazine published by C A Pearson Ltd, edited by Peter Keary and others. It ran weekly from 26 July 1890 to 1 April 1939.  “Pearson’s Weekly” was the first magazine C. Arthur Pearson set up when he left the employ of George Newnes and “Tit-bits” weekly tabloid in 1890. “Answers” magazine created in 1888 by Alfred Harmsworth [who owned Daily Mirror in 1904] was the other imitator of the Tit-bits weekly.  The “Tit-bits”, “Answers” and “Pearson’s Weekly” were all successful popular journals that thrived and for around fifty years formed parts of a trinity.

“Tit-Bits” measured about 12 inches high by ten inches wide, normally had 16 pages, and was bound in green covers smothered in advertising.  “Answers” was similar, but bound in salmon-pink covers.  “Pearson’s Weekly” elected on a larger format, about 15 inches high by 11 inches across, and its 16 pages consequently gave its readers rather more words for their pennies; it was bound in dark red-covers.

“Pearson’s Weekly” was notable for its publicity stunts and fictional short stories.

Fiction – literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels that  describes imaginary events and people.

  • Invention or fabrication as opposed to fact

Does this mean that the story appeared in Pearson’s Weekly as fiction?

Well I can tell you, that the story (How I Handcuffed Houdini) is not listed in George Locke’s 1990 book, titled Pearson’s Weekly – A Checklist of Fiction 1890-1939.

So did the story appear in Pearson’s Weekly as non-fiction?

Click this link to find out what Narinder and his daughter found.

Click this link for some observations of what was found.

Special Thank You to Narinder Chadda and his daughter of the UK and Paul Davies of Australia for their significant efforts in the search for “The Pearson’s Weekly”.


The Hungarian Handcuff

If you were observant, my last two posts on handcuffs, had references to a Hungarian Manacle and a Hungarian Cuff.  And if you were really observant, you would have noticed in the ad with Houdini wearing the Hungarian Cuff that is was upside down.

Hungarian Cuff The Boston American April 26 1904

The Boston American April 26, 1904

So what is the deal with this Handcuff?

According to The Key by Patrick Culliton on page 141:

Houdini named this cuff the Hungarian Manacle. It is known today as “the Séance Cuff” because Sid Radner uses it at his annual Houdini séances.


HUNGARIAN MANACLE Denver Post June 12 1904

The Denver Post June 12, 1904

According to The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare on page 109:

The so-called séance cuffs were called the “Hungarian Cuff” by Houdini and they were pictured by him in numerous articles [two of them are displayed above] as well as on his famous poster.


Hungarian Seance Cuff

The Hungarian Manacle/Cuff is thought to be an earlier prototype of the Mirror Cuffs. These cuffs, unlike the Mirror challenge cuffs, are adjusted by moving screws in and out against the wrists so they could have been used to challenge people with different wrist sizes. It was originally thought to feature a single Bramah lock on the handcuffs shaped like a figure eight.  But thanks to Chris Gower who examined them in quite good detail when he met Sidney Radner at The Magic Circle, we know that:

They do NOT have a genuine Bramah lock on them and use a 5 slider copy lock, possibly French – the sort of cheaper Bramah locks found on small boxes. [Handcuffs.org – April 26 2007].

Radner with Seance Cuff on table

Image courtesy of Robert Sciarrino/ The Star-Ledger

Mirror Handcuff on Table

Unsatisfied, Houdini developed the diabolical Mirror Cuffs, which is said to consist of two nested Bramah locks.

Master Locksmith, Mick Hanzlik, suggested that Houdini wanted something bigger and brighter so that they could be seen at the back of a theatre, so the Mirror Cuffs were created. [Handcuffs.org – May 29, 2007]

10DCwithHoudiniPhoto_zps7986e002 (1)

Image of Mirror Cuff in David Copperfield Collection

As far as I know the only time that the Hungarian Manacle/Cuff was used by Houdini was to take a photo with them to be used for advertisements and the poster.  If you are aware of other times, please share.

Of course, now they are used at the annual Houdini séances.

2012 Seance Table with Cuffs

Image from 2012 Seance I attended

According to interviews with Sid Radner, he knows how to get out of the Séance cuff without the key.  When asked how long it would take for him to get out of them, he said “not too long, but I know the secret”. In fact, I read on Handcuffs.org that there is an article on Radner and the séance handcuff that has three photos showing him shaking the handcuffs off with the cuff falling open at the locking end.

In Backstage with Sid Radner [Mystifier 1st Qtr 1994], he mentions that sometime in the near future, he will supply the missing link to the Mirror Handcuff Challenge.

Are prototype cuffs like the Hungarian/Seance cuff the missing link to the Mirror Handcuff Challenge?

When were these handcuff photos taken?

Campbell and Grey Cheapside Handcuff Photos

These photos were all taken by Campbell and Grey, Cheapside and they might have been taken at the same session. If this is true, the photos below suggest they were taken sometime in 1903.

1903 Handcuff Photos from Original H Scrapbook

1903 Morris Young Collection

However the photo below suggests it was taken March 1904 during his engagement at the London Hippodrome.

Frank Koval photo

The famous photo of Houdini on stage at the London Hippodrome was also taken by Campbell and Grey, Cheapside the day of the Mirror challenge.  If this is true, then it was taken on March 17, 1904.


What about the photo with Houdini sitting in a chair with the Mirror Cuffs now in David Copperfield’s collection.

Harry_Houdini-sittingWhen was it taken?  The photo in David’s museum has 1904 written on it.

10DCwithHoudiniPhoto_zps7986e002 (1)

Is that the same suit in the photo where he is sitting as the photos where he is standing? Possibly!

Is that the same haircut in the photo where he is sitting as the photos where he is standing? Not so sure!

When was this sitting photo published, first?  I would love to know.  There is evidence, he gave out signed copies with this image, as well has had handbills with the image advertising upcoming shows.   All the ones that I could find have dates from 1909 to 1914. Anyone know of any earlier?

mirror handbill from laid bare


Mirror Hippodrome Sheffield Jul 26

1913 Engagement Cancelled due to death of Houdini’s Mother


Mirror Handcuff Photo from Origal H Scrapbook

1914 Signed

If you have any additional thoughts or other information on possible dates for these, please share.


  • The Boston American April 26, 1904
  • The Original Houdini Scrapbook
  • Houdini The Career of Ehrich Weiss
  • The Illustrated Research Diary
  • The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare
  • Houdini His Legend and His Magic
  • Handcuffs.Org

The infamous glass of water


This photograph of the ‘Handcuff King’ was taken while Houdini was appearing at the London Hippodrome in 1904 – the occasion of his Mirror Challenge.

The March 17, 1904 Mirror Handcuff Challenge [click link to read a full account]

In the 1929 Sensational Tales of Mystery Men by Will Goldston:

  • At the end of an hour, he asked his wife to bring him a glass of water.  This she did, placing it on the edge of the cabinet.  Houdini took the glass between his hands and drained it.  Ten minutes later, he emerged from the cabinet and flung the handcuffs on to the stage.

In Houdini by Kenneth Silverman:

  • Houdini did not reappear for another thirteen minutes [35 minute mark]. Perspiring this time, his stiff collar broken, he explained that he needed to stretch his aching knees but was determined to continue.  Parker or by one account Bess gave Houdini a glass of water and [the Mirror Representative] consulted with the manager of the Hippodrome, who directed an attendant to bring a large cushion.  [Note: Silverman incorrectly refers to the Mirror Representative as Parker]

In The Secret Life of Houdini by Kalush:

  • Then at thirty-five minutes, Houdini emerged again.  His collar was opened, and sweat poured off his face. “My knees hurt and my legs have cramped,” Houdini explained. “Please allow me to stretch them.  I am not done yet.” The crowd cheered.  Mr. Parker, the manager, brought Houdini a glass of water.  Then the Mirror Representative conferred with Parker.  Parker nodded his head and signaled to an assistant. In seconds, the assistant was back with a large cushion.

In most newspaper accounts, a glass of water is not mentioned, only the large cushion.  The newspaper account that I found that mentioned the glass of water does not mention the large cushion nor does it mention who gave him the glass of water:

  • After the expiry of 32 minutes he re-appeared, sweating profusely, and with his collar hanging down his back. He wanted a drink of water and having quenched his thirst, retired once more.

Many magicians assume Houdini must have had a key to the cuff. If this is true, how did Houdini get the key?

Will Goldston, writing in his Sensational Tales of Mystery in December 1929, claimed that an informant of his “whose sources of information are usually correct”, had told him that Bess smuggled it to him when she gave him a drink of water.  The story goes as follows:

  • Houdini never escaped from the handcuffs.  After an hour’s struggling, the magician realized he would never escape.  So he asked his wife for a glass of water and gave her to understand that she would have to procure the key at all costs.  Bessie, realizing the terrible predicament of her husband, called one of the journalists aside, and frankly told him that her husband was beaten.  Since failure would have meant the end of everything for Houdini, whilst to the paper it meant but little, she asked to be given the key to pass on to her husband.  This request was granted.  It was rumored that Bessie placed the key in the glass of water and took it to Houdini on the stage.  Shortly afterwards, he walked from the cabinet with the handcuffs free from his wrists.

Considering the size of the Mirror Key, it would be hard to hide in a glass of water according to Kalush and Silverman; however, Handcuff Experts point out that the working area of the key is all that is required and that the key could have been cut down to a length of about 1 ½ inches.  The actual nested mechanism is only about an inch from the keyhole and not deep inside the cuff lock tube.

Bringing a glass of water for Houdini to drink does figure into several of his most phenomenal escapes, including the Hodgson torturing.

The October 24, 1902 Hodgson Torturing Challenge  [click link to read a full account] 

In Houdini – The Key by Culliton:

  • According to Richard Clegg Jr.: He guarded his little cabinet so’s nobody could tamper with it. They arranged that while he was there, if Houdini wanted anything – maybe a drink or something – he would tell my father and he’d hand it through.  But his brother traveled with him, and he asked my father if he could take him a drink.  My dad, said “if he wants a drink I’ll take it”, but in the end he decided to let him go up.  My father followed him, though, and watched him give Houdini this tray.
  • According to Myrum Carruthers: After he had been in the cabinet awhile he asked for a drink. This was taken to him by a woman (I expect his wife).  A member offered to take this to him but refused.  This was repeated quite a number of times.

Note: Bess and Hardeen were both nearby on the stage at the time.

In the Northern Daily Telegraph 24th October 1902:

  • The crowd, however, was fast losing patience, and they loudly hooted as Hardeen, brother of Houdini, approached the cabinet to give a word of cheer, or maybe some advice, to his imprisoned relative.  On receiving a refreshing drink Houdini, after again calling upon the people to have a little patience, exclaimed that every lock had been changed, and that made it all the more difficult for him to get free.

In The Secret Life of Houdini by Kalush:

  • And when the brother approached the cabinet to give him a word of cheer, some of the crowd began booing.  Apparently Houdini told Theo he was thirsty, because a cool glass of water was provided him.  Then he addressed the audience again from his cabinet.

Comments and Questions about the Challenges

So in the mirror handcuff challenge there was a glass of water and a pillow and in the Hodgson Torture challenge there was a glass of water and a tray.  In both challenges, Bess is misidentified by at least one account as bringing a glass of water to Houdini.  It was Parker, in the Mirror Challenge and Hardeen in the Hodgson torturing.

All kinds of questions could be asked about either challenge.  Was Houdini milking the situation, prolonging it for dramatic effect?  Had Houdini colluded?  Did a relative assist in the escape?  And did a glass of water really have anything to do with it. We may never know the answers for sure and they may be different for each challenge.

All of this has made me thirsty for a glass of water!

London Hippodrome Match – A Press Agents Challenge


The Mirror Representative fastens the Cuff on Houdini’s Wrists

I have been intrigued by the London Hippodrome Match and the famous Mirror Handcuff ever since I saw the cuff along with the silver replica as a kid at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in June 1980. The original cuff and silver replica are now in David Copperfield’s private museum.

In the spring of 1904 Houdini was in England playing the London Hippodrome. Each day he issued his standard challenge to the audience to bring forth their handcuffs to challenge him. One day in March a representative [TBD] of the Daily Illustrated Mirror newspaper issued a special challenge to Houdini to escape from a special pair of handcuffs supposedly built by a blacksmith [Nathaniel Hart] in Birmingham over a five year period. Houdini accepted the challenge and it was scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.  [handcuffs.org]

The account of Houdini’s great victory appeared in the Daily Illustrated Mirror March 18, 1904.

In “Houdini – The Key”, Patrick Culliton mentions a couple times (page 146 and page 155) that no one knows the name of the representative from the Mirror.

So who was this representative and what was his story?

Click the link below to finally learn the name and read the press agents entertaining story:

Some observations about the story:

The Press Agents story comes out a little over 6 years after the famous match, while Houdini is appearing at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney, Australia.

It would have been on March 11th, 1904 that the press agent 1) suggested the challenge “gag” for the paper, 2) bribed a policeman, 3) first discovered the locksmith in Birmingham who spent 5 years of his life perfecting a lock that no mortal can pick, and 4) borrowed the cuff to test Houdini.

There is no mention of anyone giving Houdini a glass of water during the match.

The locksmith is still referred to as Nathaniel Hart.

“It was only a peculiar physical defect that enabled Houdini to defeat his beautiful mechanism”.

H A P P Y  N E W  Y E A R!