Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Watercolor poster design for Houdini's vanishing elephant act, 1918. Harry Houdini Papers.

The Harry Ransom Center holds one of the largest archival and rare book collections on the history of magic and illusion (pre-1950) at a public research institution. At the core of these holdings are the personal and professional papers of famed illusionist Harry Houdini, which includes his some of his collection of other magicians. In addition to the listings below, the Ransom Center's rare books library holds a number of important volumes on the history of magic, including Houdini's first edition of Reginald Scot's Discourie of Witchcraft (1584), one of the earliest books in the English language to explain the illusions behind supposed witchcraft. The library catalog can be searched by keyword, limiting the search criteria by setting the Location to Harry Ransom Center.

Magic and Illusion

Harry Houdini Papers
Size: 76 document boxes (31.92 linear feet), 26 oversize boxes (osb), 12 oversize folders (osf), 10 bound volumes (bv), 3 note boxes
Access: Finding Aid
The papers of magician, escape artist, business man, aviator, author, and actor popularly known as Harry Houdini consist of correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, posters, business documents, and material related to magic, performance, theatre, and other topics. The Houdini Papers were purchased by Messmore Kendall from Bess Houdini following Harry Houdini's death, and constitute one of the largest singular archives of Houdini's personal and business papers.

Harry Houdini Collection
Size: 4 document boxes (1.68 linear feet), 1 flat box, 1 oversize folder (osf), 1 object
Access: Finding Aid
Materials in the Harry Houdini Collection came from sources other than the Houdini/Kendall papers. New additions to the Ransom Center's Houdini-related holdings can be found here.

Harry Houdini Library
Size: ~62 volumes
Access: Library Catalog
A portion of Houdini's library was included in the sale of his papers to Messmore Kendall. Most of these volumes are not related to magic, but formed what Houdini referred to as his dramatic library. Sixty-two books have been identified as belonging to Houdini, but others in the collection attributed to Messmore Kendall may have originally come from Houdini's library.

Magic Collection
Size: 31 document boxes (13.02 linear feet), 3 oversize boxes (osb), 20 flat file drawers
Access: Finding Aid
The Magic Collection contains rare clippings, correspondence, handbills, photographs, playbills, posters, printed material, and other items related to a broad range of magicians and entertainers who performed tricks and illusions, including ventriloquism, sleight-of-hand, mind-reading, levitation, and other acts. Also included are subject files, publications, and magic trick descriptions.

McManus-Young Collection
Size: 2,085 volumes
Access: Library Catalog
The McManus-Young Collection contains over 2,000 books and periodicals on the practice and history of conjuring, sleight of hand and stage magic, card tricks, hypnotism, spiritualism, ventriloquism, and witchcraft, as well as biographies and memoirs of well-known practioners. Assembled by John and Hanna McManus with Morris and Chelsey Young, the collection is particularly strong in 19th and early 20th century printed material. When the collectors decided to split their collections, they wanted to place it geographically in three separate institutions across the country. As such, other parts of the McManus-Young collection (with some overlapping duplicates) can be found at the Library of Congress (ca. 1096 volumes) and the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley (ca. 580 volumes).

Carl L. Moore and Bennett Averyt Collection of Magic
Size: 4 document boxes
Access: Preliminary inventory (Contact Performing Arts)
A gift of magic-related materials was received from Bennett Averyt in 1990 from the Gifts Department of the General Libraries.  The great bulk of the gift consisted of magic periodicals, apparently originally collected by Dr. Carl L. Moore a Texas dentist who also performed as a magician, and subsequently by Averyt, a student at the University of Texas at Austin. These items now form a part of the Ransom Center Library. The remaining four document boxes largely consist of printed instructions and diagrams for a variety of magic tricks, as well as magic catalogs collected by both Moore and Averyt.  There is only a single folder relating to Averyt, but nearly an entire box documents Moore's magic career, by way of correspondence, clippings, programs, publicity, and other materials.

Spiritualism and the Occult

While not meant as a performance practice in the vein of entertainment, spiritualism and the occult often intersect with the history of magic and illusion, and the Ransom Center holds notable collections that support inquiries into these areas.

Aleister Crowley Collection
Size: 18 document boxes, 1 oversize box, 1 galley folder, 2 oversize folders
Access: Finding Aid
Works, magical and poetic, comprise the majority of the Aleister Crowley Collection, which also includes prose, correspondence, and personal papers. Also present are materials relating to several occult groups with which Crowley was involved.

Arthur Conan Doyle Collection
Size: 19 document boxes (7.98 linear feet), 1 oversize bound volume (osbv), 3 galley folders (gf), 1 oversize folder (osf)
Access: Finding Aid
Includes literary and other manuscripts of the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, as well as letters he wrote and received. Much of the material concerns spiritualism, spirit communications, mediums, séances, psychics, and spirit photography, often with transcripts describing events. Also present are some personal and financial records for Doyle as well as papers of various Doyle and Leckie family members, chiefly his wife Lady Jean Leckie Doyle and his son Denis Percy Stewart Conan Doyle. Correspondence from and about Harry Houdini is also included.

Arthur Conan Doyle Library
Size: 1835 volumes
Access: Library Catalog
Arthur Conan Doyle's sizable library covers a variety of subjects that interested him personally from true crime stories to volumes on spiritualism, mediums, psychics, and mysticism.

Arthur Conan Doyle Photography Collection
Size: 830 items (2 boxes, 8 bound volumes)
Access: Finding Aid
The Arthur Conan Doyle Literary File consists of 440 photographic prints, 13 glass plate negatives, 4 nitrate negatives, and 355 prints in 8 albums. Images include portraits of Doyle and/or his second wife, Lady Jean Leckie Doyle, numerous spirit and fairy photographs, and a series of large exhibition prints used by Doyle during his Spiritualism lecture tours.


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