Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin Launches Free Houdini and Magic Digital Collections

Houdini scrapbook pages as seen in Page Flip View

Houdini scrapbook pages as seen in Page Flip View (Image: Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin)

By Tom Interval

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has launched a new website featuring several free digital collections, including two that will interest Houdini buffs, magic fans, historians, and researchers: The Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection and the Magic Posters and Playbills Collection. Prior to this launch, both of these outstanding collections were available only through the Victorian Popular Culture Portal for a fee (or free if you happened to be a student or faculty member at a university that subscribed to the Portal).

I’ve included brief descriptions of both of these collections below, with direct links to each subcategory or individual image so you can quickly dig in to the material yourself using the Ransom Center’s online viewer, which includes useful tools such as zoom in/zoom out, full-screen view options, page rotation, and “Page Flip View” to view images as if you’re turning the pages of a scrapbook or photo album. There is a combined total of 1,180 images in both collections, and individual images are downloadable (small sizes only).

Keep in mind that these digital collections do not represent all the material housed in the Ransom Center. Researchers are welcome to visit Austin to peruse the stacks and even take pictures in the reading room at no charge (for personal use only). To obtain a more detailed working inventory of either collection (in Word format), contact the Center’s Performing Arts staff or email me a request and I’ll forward the documents to you.

Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection

(Descriptions from the Ransom Center website)

In the circle. The medium at work.

In the circle. The medium at work. (Image: Confessions of a Medium, by Griffith and Farran)

Description: The Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection contains ten scrapbooks owned by the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926), whose vast collection of memorabilia pertaining to the history of magic was obtained by the University of Texas in 1958. The scrapbooks contain playbills, theater programs, clippings, photographs, prints, correspondence, and other materials dating ca. 1820s to the 1920s. Most of the content falls into two categories: notices and reviews of performances by magicians, and articles about magic and spiritualism. Nearly every scrapbook contains elements of both categories. Read more »

Total number of pages/images: 1,101

Links to individual sections:

Magic Posters and Playbills Collection

(Description from the Ransom Center website)

Balabrega, the Swedish Wonder

Balabrega, the Swedish Wonder (Image: Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin)

Description: The Magic Posters and Playbills Collection contains selected visual images from the Ransom Center’s Harry Houdini collection and Magicians collection pertaining to magicians and the history of magic from 1750 to 1920. Approximately 3,000 magicians are represented in the full collection. This digital collection includes selected posters, playbills, prints, and other ephemera documenting the careers of Harry Houdini, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, Harry Kellar, Henry Evanion, and others. Read more »

Total number of images: 79

Links to individual images:



About Tom Interval

San Diego Magician Tom Interval, owner of Interval Magic, provides magic entertainment and training to private and corporate clients locally and nationally. A member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM), Society of American Magicians (SAM), and the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA), Interval has captivated tens of thousands of people at numerous venues, including Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia. With a BA in professional writing and minors in communications and business administration, Interval writes magic-related e-books, magazine articles, and blogs and produces tutorials and related videos for his YouTube channel. Most recently, Interval earned The Linking Ring Award of Excellence for a cover story he wrote for the magicians' publication. To learn more, please visit https://www.intervalmagic.com.
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