Fred Pittella has been an upstanding member in the Magic
community since he was a teenager. A member of the Society of American
Magicians, The Long Island Mystics, and the Inner Circle for the Sid
Radnerís Houdini Sťance for over twelve years, he is also on the Board
of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, and one of the co-founders of
Escape Masters. His work has given him the opportunity to travel all
over the country viewing endless magic collections, helping to identity,
authenticate, and appraise many pieces in these collections.
Along with consulting, his research and collection has appeared in
numerous projects and publications over the years on the subject of
Houdini, handcuffs, and escapes. Some of these include:
Houdini The Key by Pat Culliton
The Houdini Code by William V. Rauscher
Houdini: The American Super Hero by Larry Sloman and William
The Encyclopedia of Escapes Volume 2 by Bill McLaury
The History Of British Handcuffs by Joe Lauher
Gimmicked Handcuffs and Restraints by Ian McColl
Fredís passion and love for the History and Art of Escapes has led him
on his lifelong journey to accumulate a varied collection of Houdini
memorabilia, rare handcuffs, and Escape apparatus. He has had the honor
of meeting some of the most knowledgeable and well-respected members of
the Magic community who were kind enough to share their time,
experience, and collections.
And now Fred would like to share his knowledge and collection with this
A Visit with Fred Pittella
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Fred
Pittella and received a grand
tour of his tremendous collection of restraints, Houdiniana and
escapology equipment. Fred's collection is not only extraordinarily
impressive on its own; it is displayed in an absolutely first class
museum quality manner.
February - 2004
Some the highlights of the Fred Pittella
collection include an Elias Richards, a pair of McKenzie mitts, and some
rare German cuffs.
This is quite a handcuff collection Fred. How did you get
It started with my
interest in magic. I have been interested in magic since I was about
twelve years old. Then after reading Gresham's bio on Houdini I was
hooked on Houdini and escapes. So handcuffs where a natural. After
reading the few books that I found that were written on escapes. They
suggested that you should own your own handcuffs and key sets, so that's
what I set out to do.
As I got older I
spent my Saturday afternoon at Al Flosso's and Lou Tannen's magic shops.
Taking in whatever secrets I could. I was able to get a job working in
the backroom of Tannen's for a while and was also performing escapes.
There I meet people like The Amazing Randi, Amedeo, Milbourne
Christopher and others who fueled my interest in escapes and Houdini
with their GREAT stories. In the early seventies at a Tannens Jubilee a
magic dealer, Jack Chanin had his booth filled with old escape tricks
and handcuffs. My eyes popped right out of my head. There on the tables
was the stuff I only read about.
I had begged Irv
Tannen at the time to lend me some money so I could buy some of these
treasures. His reply," what do you want that old junk for kid". Being
the person that he was Irv felt my excitement and reached into his
pocket and opened up a whole new world for me COLLECTINGÖ.. One of those
items where a pair of Bean Giants for twenty- five dollars. Boy I
thought that was a lot of money to pay for a pair of handcuffs but I
bought them and I'm happy to say there still part of my collection
After that I was
hooked! It was flea markets and antique shops from then on. That was
before eBay. There were a couple of other folks that where a big help
along the way; Larry Weeks, Mario Gonzales, Prynce Wheeler, Joe & Pam
Tanner, Raymond McKee, Mario Carrandi, Norman Bigelow and my brother
Steve. Without there help and advice and most importantly their
FRIENDSHIP!! It wouldn't have been so much fun!!
A selection of Palmer handcuffs and leg iron,
John Lovell cuffs, Bean and Hiatt neck collars.
With so many fantastic items to choose from, what do you
consider the highlights of your restraint collection? Do you have some
I think you mentioned most of the highlights in the photos.
They're maybe a couple of more but I think you covered them rather well.
If I were to choose my favorite one I guess I would have to say the Bean
Giants just because that's the first vintage cuff I started with and it
has the whole Houdini history behind it.
Several classic American cuffs plus a
selection of plug cuffs. An unusual plug 8, marked M & C 1875, is shown
at the middle bottom.
I am very impressed with the quality of your display. It
looks like a museum. The cabinets are particularly nice. How do you
manage it all?
Thank you!! I like to think of it as my museum of NEAT SH*T.
When I first started to collect, I decided that I would keep my stuff
out and well displayed, so I would be able to enjoy it with others. I
felt what is the sense of collecting if you can't always get to your
collection when it's put away? Collecting has also been my escape I like
to get lost in my stuff so I take my time working on setting it up and
The showcases are my own design and I had designed them with that in
mind my stuff is out in the open for me and others to always enjoy. I am
very fortunate to have a dad who is a master woodworker and has turned
my ideas into a reality and built the cabinets, bookcases and display
fixtures for my collection. I also believe in framing things and filling
the walls with the stuff I like. It does take some time and effort but
that's one of the things I enjoy most.
A selection of tricked handcuffs
I have never seen so many tricked handcuffs. Where do you
find them? Do you have a favorite?
It hasn't been easy finding them. But magic is one of one
those things that just stayed with me. I always enjoyed being around it.
So I would go to magic conventions and magic shops. I would meet and
talk to other magician and collectors and try to buy or trade with them,
again before eBay. Here to I meet some great friends.
I was always looking for vintage escape items and handcuffs and I am
still actively looking today. Every once in a while very rarely you have
to remember I have been collecting on and off for more years then I care
to remember I would find something that is a great piece to me. That's
something about collecting. What's a great piece to me may not be to
someone else. My favorite pieces sometimes are not because they're rare
or valuably but how I got them or the story behind that particular
I would say it's a toss up which trick pair is my favorite. It is
between J H Trudel's gaffed Hamburg 8's or the pair or Tower leg irons
that Dick Norman gaffed himself. In my opinion these two men are giants
in the escape and handcuff world. I also still collect any of there
Fred, your Houdini collection has to be one of the best in
the world? What are some of the highlights?
Thank you Joe, But there are some incredible Houdini
collections out there! With much more unique and rare pieces, that I
have had the privilege of meeting their owners and getting to see some
of there amazing stuff.
Being one of the best, not right now, maybe at one time or
sometime in the future. Some of my unusual pieces are a pair of Houdini
King Breaker cuffs and a few other restraints that Houdini owned all
with provenance. That's the hard part getting the documents that state
that they did belong to Houdini. I also have one of the original
newspapers from the Mirror cuff challenge that I like. But it is not the
objects in my collection that are my personal highlights; it is the
people who I got to hang around with because of my interest in
collecting. Dr. Morris Young, Sid Radner, Joe Fox, John Bushey, Pat
Culliton, Ian McColl, just to name few. And being part of Sid Radner's
Official Houdini Sťance for the last few years has been a real thrill.
And more again. Where does he get this stuff?
What advice do you have for new collectors?
My experience has been to buy what I like. When I see it I try to buy
If something comes a long and the condition is questionable if the price
is right I will buy it and then try to replace it later when a better
piece comes along. I always have a set price in my head what I think its
worth to me and I try not to go over that price. That's the hard part.
I buy with my heart not my head most of the time. Because if I think
about it to long I will usually talk myself out of that piece. If your
in it for the long haul which I have been it kind of balances out
sometimes you pay more then you like to then there are times when you
run across something that you pay next to nothing so it kind of works
I guess there is no real good advice for collectors it becomes a passion
and sometimes reason goes out the window. Do a little research and ask
questions. There are some great people in this circle of collecting
where in who are always willing to help and then again there are not so
great people. So be careful and just have fun with it!!!
Any final words for the visitors to Handcuffs.Org?
This is a GREAT site for research uses it!!! Joe does a fantastic job
with it and there are some real knowledgeable people on the forum use
it!! Ask questions All the answer may not always be right But there are
no wrong questions! Ask for advice but follow you're heart. But always
ask! Have a good time collecting and enjoy yourself with it.
ALL THE BEST AND HAPPY COLLECTING!!!
Thanks Fred. Thanks for an incredible visit. Joe
You can contact Fred at:
Fred Pittella at the official Houdini sťance, featured in a 2011 Boston
CLICK HERE to read the article.
Fred Pittella, Larry Weeks, Teller (of Penn and Teller),
and Bill Radner at the