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McColl Mirror Handcuffs

Type: Handcuffs

These cuffs are a fantastic reproduction of the Mirror Challange Cuffs created to test Harry Houdini's abilities. They have a number of interesting features, the obvious one being their relative security through mass and shape. The wrists cannot turn in the cuffs which hold them together such that reaching the keyhole is impossible. The locking mechanism is a warded screw lock, security based on lack of access to the keyhole and its depth (which is 2" or so.) These are a little different than the originals in that they snap shut rather than turning the key to push the bolt home. The key mechanism is as accurate as is possible given that only TWO of these were ever made by the original company and none (to my knowledge) are available for inspection - thus the design had to be based on verbal and written testimony.

Quoted (without permission) from "HOUDINI the untold story" by "Milbourne Christopher"

The special matinee at the London Hippodrome on March 17 - St. Patrick's Day - 1904 drew a capacity audience of 4,000. Five days earlier, Harry Houdini had been challenged by the Daily Illustrated Mirror to escape from what it believed was the strongest pair of handcuffs ever made. The manacles had six sets of locks and nine tumblers in each cuff. A Birmingham man had labored five years, and used five hundred dollars' worth of material, to make them. The Mirror was confident that this test would thoroughly deflate the American magician's claim that he could free himself from any device that the ingenuity of man could create.

The six acts that preceded Houdini might just as well never have gone on; the crowd was there to see the heavily advertised test. Harry, in a black frock coat, stiff collar and dark tie, was given a roof-shaking welcome. When he asked if the Mirror representative was present, the challenger walked down the aisle and up to the stage where he shook hands with the challenged. The request for a committee from the audience brought forty men from their seats.

The newsman displayed the Birmingham handcuffs, then closed them on Houdini's wrists. He inserted a key and turned it six times in each keyhole. The committeemen assured the audience that the cuffs were locked.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Harry said, "I am now locked up in a handcuff that has taken a British mechanic five years to make. I do not know whether I am going to get out of it or not, but I can assure you I am going to do my best."

It was 3:15 p.m. when he bent down to enter his small black cabinet. The committeemen surrounded it on all sides except the front. The theater orchestra struck up a rousing tune. Houdini's wife, Bess, waited anxiously in the wings.

Time slipped by. The man from the Mirror paced restlessly back and forth, one eye always on the small enclosure. Twenty-two minutes after he had vanished from view, Houdini's head came up from the top of the cabinet. There were excited shouts: "He is free." But Houdini merely wanted more light on the cuffs. As he slipped from view again, the orchestra struck up another number.

After thirty-five minutes Harry came out of the cabinet. Perspiration ran down his face. His stiff collar had wilted and broken. He took a few brisk steps, bent his legs. "My knees hurt," he said, then he glanced at the man from the Mirror. "I'm not done yet." There were cheers. The newsman turned and spoke to the theater manager. The manager whispered to an usher. Soon a large pillow was in the Mirror representative's hands.

"The Mirror has no desire to submit Mr. Houdini to a torture test," he said graciously, "and if Mr. Houdini will permit me, I shall have great pleasure in offering him the use of this cushion." Houdini smiled and tugged the pillow inside his enclosure.

For twenty minutes more the music continued. Then up came Houdini. The tense audience was ready to cheer, but the manacles were still in place. He walked over to the man from the Mirror: "Will you remove the handcuffs for a moment?" He explained that he wanted to take off his coat.

The journalist hesitated. If he unfastened the cuffs Houdini would see how they were opened. He had seen them locked on his wrists, but not the opening sequence. "I am sorry Mr. Houdini, but I cannot unlock these cuffs unless you admit you are defeated."

Most performers would have accepted the reply, shrugged their shoulders, and gone back to work on the cuffs. Not Houdini! He twisted his hands until he could reach a pocketknife in his vest pocket, then pulled a blade open with his teeth. With contortions similar to those he went through to escape from a straitjacket he yanked his coat over his head so that it hung inside out between his manacled hands. Gripping the knife firmiy between his teeth, he sliced the coat into shreds. The audience roared with sheer delight at this unexpected display of determination and agility. Houdini tossed the strips of his coat aside and went back through the curtains of the cabinet.

An hour had passed without complaints of boredom from the audience. The orchestra swept into a march. An hour and ten minutes. Houdini suddenly leaped from the cabinet. His hands were free. He held the cuffs aloft. The crowd shouted, cheered, stamped their feet, waved their arms. Some of the committeemen lifted Houdini to their shoulders and paraded him around the stage. Then Houdini's reserve broke. Tears gushed from his eyes. Eventually he took a deep breath, wiped his face, and accepted the hearty handshake and the compliments of the man from the Mirror. The journalist said that the newspaper would present him with a trophy - a solid silver replica of the Birmingham cuffs - as soon as it could be made. Harry assured the audience he had never been treated as fairly, or as gentlemanly, in a challenge test.

Bess had watched until shortly before the coat-cutting. Forty minutes of strain had forced her to leave the theater, knowing that she would collapse in public if she did not. She was overjoyed when she heard he had escaped. No one knew how she suffered during the difficult challenges, how she cried as she wiped away the blood from the cuts and scratches on Harry's swollen wrists and dabbed his wounds with ointments.

When Harry learned how upset she had been during the Mirror test, he told the reporter: "Eleven years ago she brought me luck and it has been with me ever since. I never had any before I married her."

Like many of Houdini's feats, the exact method by which he accomplished this one remained a mystery. Will Goldston, a British maglcian and friend of Houdini's, wrote in his Sensational Tales of Mystery Men that an unidentified man informed him that Bess had cajoled the key from the newspaperman while Houdini was struggling in the cabinet and smuggled it to her husband in a glass of water. Goldston said, that in his opinion, the story was "an exaggeration." Nonetheless, later writers offered this as the solution to the Mirror release. How little they understood Houdini and his methods. He would never accept a challenge, especially one as highly publicized as this one had been, without devising a surefire release long before the day of the test.

There was an amusing postscript to the Mirror episode. Houdini offered five hundred dollars to any handcuffs performer who could do what he had done. One man took him up on the offer. As he stood beside Houdini it was obvious that his small wrists could be pulled free from the cuffs without any effort on his part to open the twelve locks. Harry was equal to the situation. He locked the manacles, then tossed them to the man. "Get them open now!" His money was as safe as if it had been in the Bank of England.

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