YORK — Gordy Price has always sensed that the book was valuable. Now the York County man wants to find out just how valuable.
It's a first edition of a 1909 aviation manual – a bit worn, but in very good condition considering that it's more than a century old. But what's most intriguing is what is inside. Two pages appear to have been autographed by the legendary magician Harry Houdini, who was fascinated by the idea of mechanical flight in those first years after the Wright Brothers.
After sitting on the book for several decades, Price is now interested in selling it. He said he has already fielded an offer from magician David Copperfield, but for now he is considering putting it up for auction.
"My aunt had a costume shop in Glendale, California, back in the 1940s and '50s, and at some point she bought out am old bookstore that was going out of business," Price said. "In 1972 I was looking through that collection of books when I found this one. I saw the Houdini autograph on the title page, and I definitely thought it was interesting."
The signature on the title page is made out to Montraville M. Wood, a highly successful inventor who was a colleague of Thomas Edison and a friend to Houdini. The autograph is dated Oct. 1, 1909.
It wasn't until 2012, however, that Price noticed the second Houdini autograph in the book – on an inside page bearing the text of a landmark speech that Wilbur Wright made in 1901 to the Western Society of Engineers at a conference in Chicago. The speech, delivered more than two years before the first flight at Kitty Hawk, was titled "Some Aeronautical Experiments."
Price, who operates a music shop in York County, said the signatures have been "unofficially authenticated" by a top New York auction house, and an expert on Houdini collectibles. He believes the unique combination of factors – the first edition book, the two signatures, and the links to both aviation and Montraville's legacy in science – could push the book's value to several thousand dollars.
The aviation angle is most intriguing to Price, and to his friend Robert Sebold, who has helped Price investigate the book. It is a little known part of Houdini's extraordinary life – that he purchased a $5,000 biplane in 1909 and learned to fly.
"Freedom and exhilaration, that's what it is," Houdini told an interviewer after a two-mile flight in Germany in 1910. Later that year he became the first person to fly over Australian soil, covering a distance of six miles.
"Most people don't know that part of his life," Sebold says. "But there was a point when Houdini had more flight hours than the entire Army Air Corps. It's a really amazing detail about him."
On eBay, the online auction site, Houdini autographs are up for bid. Price has the 1909 book listed there with a minimum bid of $28,000. As of Thursday, there were no bidders on the book. Documents featuring Houdini's signature range in price on eBay from $2,400 to $3,250, while signed photographs have minimum bids of $18 to $45.
Price said the book had been kept in a suitcase for more than 40 years, but it wasn't until recently that he got a hint of its potential value.
"Now it's really got me interested," Price says. "I'm really curious to see where this will go."
Holtzclaw can be reached by phone at 757-928-6479.