Read an Excerpt
Magic Tricks & Card Tricks
Two Books Bound as One
By Wilfrid Jonson, Chesley V. Barnes
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1954 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THERE is good reason to believe that conjuring has been practised since prehistoric times: it is certain that the world's oldest conjuring trick, The Cups and Balls, has been known since the dawn of civilization. Even if we set aside the dubious evidence of an Egyptian wall painting, and the vague testimony of a Greek vase, we find written descriptions of the trick in early Roman literature which show that even then it was an old and much developed feat of legerdemain.
But this is not the place to write a history of conjuring: our aim is to show you how to take your place in the long line of conjurers who have practised and developed the art from its early primitive stage to its present extensive cultivation. For that you need but two things, intelligence and perseverance. We regret the necessity for the latter but, although we shall do our best to smooth away your difficulties, a certain amount of diligence will still be indispensable.
Most books on conjuring begin by asking the student to learn a multitude of "sleights" before he is shown how to do any "tricks." We shall avoid this tedious method and teach you the sleights as, and when, you need them in the performance of tricks. Only by doing tricks can you learn to be a conjurer, and the sooner you start doing them, the better. The first part of the Handbook will therefore be given over to Impromptu Tricks with common objects which you can do at a moment's notice for the amusement of your friends. The. second part will be devoted to tricks which can form a place in a set programme when you have advanced sufficiently to give a complete performance.
It is commonly supposed that the conjurer needs great dexterity and it is true that at times he exhibits very considerable skill, but his skill generally lies, not so much in the quickness, as in the precision of his movements, in the timing of his actions. The trick that follows will illustrate our meaning:
THE COIN THROUGH THE HAND
A coin passes through the back of the conjurer's hand.
We must ask you always to read our instructions with the simple properties required, in this case only a quarter or a half-dollar, in your hands, and to follow our directions carefully and, at first, slowly, until you understand them thoroughly. Proceed step by step and master each point as you go and you will greatly simplify the labour of learning.
With the half-dollar held in the right hand at the tips of the fingers and thumb, close your left hand into a fist and hold it in front of you, breast high, back uppermost. Tap the edge of the coin on the back of the hand ... once ... twice ... and at the third time allow the coin to slide behind the fingers so that they hide it from the view of persons standing in front of you. It will then be held flat against the two middle fingers by a slight pressure of the thumb. Keeping the right hand quite still, turn the left hand over, and open it, as if you had suddenly remembered that you had not shown that hand empty at the beginning. Then turn the hand back to its previous closed position and, as you do so, allow the coin to slip from behind the right fingers inside the left hand, by slightly releasing the pressure of the right thumb. The appearance of the two hands remains as before. There is nothing to show an onlooker that the coin is not still behind the fingers of the right hand, resting on the back of the left hand. Now move the position of the right fingers as though you were placing the coin flat on the back of the hand and then, with a little rubbing movement, pretend to push the coin right through the hand. Turn the left hand and open it to show the coin inside.
Let us summarize. Close the left hand, tap the coin on its back, and let the coin slide behind the right fingers, which hide it. Open the left hand and show it empty and, as you again close it, let the coin drop from behind the right fingers into the left hand. Finally, pretend to rub the coin through the back of the hand.
Stand before a mirror (which shall be your first "audience" and will let you see yourself as others will later see you when you attempt to do the trick to friends) and go over all these movements again.
You will see at once that, to obtain a good illusion the timing of the trick must be perfect. The coin must be dropped just at the moment when the edge of the left hand, in its turning movement, passes just below the tips of the right fingers. This is the part of the trick you must assiduously practise and you must not attempt to show it even to your best friend until you have thoroughly mastered it.
Perhaps you have realised by now that to make the trick a pleasant little comedy you will need to act it out a bit and I will here tell you the true secret of conjuring. The real secret of conjuring is ACTING. In your first efforts try to imagine that you are really doing what you pretend to do, that is to say, imagine that you are really rubbing the coin through the back of your hand by means of some magic power. Let your imagination direct your actions so that later you can act as if you were really doing what you say you do. There are some conjurers who perform with such ease, and act so well, that, watching them, one forgets that "there is a trick in it" and is content to marvel. It is then that conjuring has a right to be called "magic."
In addition to Timing, two other principles of conjuring were illustrated by the little trick we have just discussed: Simulation and Afterthought. After the coin had been dropped into the left hand the right fingers were held as though they still contained it, simulating the presence of the coin in the right hand. The principle is very widely used and you will employ it often. The Afterthought also is often used. You will remember that at the beginning of the trick you very conveniently "forgot" to show your left hand empty. This gave you an excuse to open it at the opportune moment. It is obvious however, that if you were to repeat the trick, immediately, to the same spectators, you would have no excuse for once more forgetting to show the hand at the start. This brings us to one of the accepted rules of conjuring. Never repeat a trick to the same audience unless a considerable interval of time has elapsed or you can perform it by some other method. It is not that every trick has an afterthought but that every good trick has an element of surprise which is its most effective point, and that all surprises are less astonishing when they are repeated. In addition, all tricks are much more difficult to perform successfully when the spectators know what to expect and are more on their guard at the critical moments.
The following excellent impromptu, for forty years a favourite trick of many first rate conjurers, illustrates the same principles.
THE WANDERING COINS
Four coins travel invisibly to join each other.
You require four coins (quarters or half-dollars, as nearly alike as possible) a large handkerchief or a table napkin, and two playing cards, pieces of paper, or envelopes; two used envelopes from your pocket, containing letters, will do admirably. You spread the napkin on the table and place a coin at each corner, A, B, C, D, thus:
A B D C
You then toss the two envelopes down on the table so that they cover the two coins D and B, and you tell your audience a story something like this:
"This is an old Chinese mystery with four coins, two of which must always be visible and two invisible. All sorts of combinations can be made, but always two coins must be visible and two invisible." As you say this you pick up the envelopes and, holding one in each hand, you shift them about so that they cover, successively, coins A and B, A and D, B and C and C and D. The exact order in which you cover the coins is not important provided you make up a definite order and stick to it, so that you can make all the movements rapidly and without hesitation, while you are talking.
Naturally you will hold the envelopes with your thumbs on top and your fingers underneath and, as you cover coins C and D, the right second finger nail is slipped beneath coin C and the coin is quietly picked up beneath the envelope. At the same moment the left hand, bearing its envelope, moves just in front of the right hand, and as the right hand moves away with coin C beneath the envelope, the left hand drops the other envelope on to the space vacated. The right hand passes on to cover, momentarily, with its envelope, first, coin D, and then coin B, and the envelope, with coin C beneath it, is then placed over coin A, care being taken not to let the two coins "chink" against each other or, as conjurers say, not to let the coins "talk." During all these movements you continue your story, saying: "It does not matter which two coins are visible so long as two are invisible, as we have them now."
These movements, which have taken so long to describe, take only a few moments to make, and they must be practised until they can be made with the utmost precision. When coin C is picked up beneath the envelope no movement of the fingers must be visible to the spectators and you must not look at your hands while you are doing this, nor pause in your speech. And the left hand must approach at exactly the right moment to cover the abstraction of the coin.
You now pick up coin D with the right hand while your left hand takes hold of the near left hand corner of the napkin and raises it a little from the table. The napkin is held between the first finger and thumb with the middle fingers left free. The right hand, holding coin D, goes beneath the napkin and, without the slightest pause or hesitation, deposits the coin upon the waiting left middle fingers and continues beneath the napkin until it is underneath the two coins at corner A. It gives a little flick to the napkin, making the coins clink against each other and displacing the envelope to show two. The effect is as though the coin had passed through the fabric of the napkin.
The right hand is immediately withdrawn from beneath the napkin and it picks up the displaced envelope. The left hand releases its hold of the corner of the napkin and, at the same moment, the right hand places the envelope into the left hand, thus covering the coin D. The envelope, with its concealed coin, is then replaced over the other two, care being taken, once more, not to let the coins talk.
There are now three coins under the envelope at A and one, uncovered, at B. The spectators believe there are only two at A and that one is under the second envelope at C. (You will notice that you are always one move ahead of your audience, a stratagem very common in magic and generally called the One-ahead Principle.)
The coin at corner B is now passed through the napkin in exactly the same way. The right hand lifts the envelope to show three coins at A and transfers it to the left hand to cover the fourth coin. The envelope, with the coin, is then replaced at A.
The last coin, you say, you will pass through the covering envelope instead of through the napkin. With your left hand you slightly raise the envelope at corner C and, placing your right hand beneath it, you pretend to remove the coin. Holding your hand exactly as you would if the coin were held between the fingers and thumb, you bring it over the envelope at A and about a foot above it. Your left hand you drop to your side, where you hold the other envelope between first finger and thumb. You press the tip of your left second finger firmly against the first finger nail. The right hand pretends to drop the coin it is supposed to hold and, at the same moment, the left second finger is allowed to slip off the first finger nail and strike the envelope with a resounding "whack." The effect is both surprising and amusing. Allow the spectators to see that the right hand is empty and then daintily lift the envelope to show the arrival of the fourth coin.
We have reached a point when, we think, we should talk to you about practising. Beginners are invariably too enthusiastic and try to show their new tricks to their friends before they have really learnt them. The result is Generally disastrous, but it usually takes some time for the truth to be realized, that, however simple a conjuring trick may seem, it cannot be done successfully without a good deal of practice. Professional conjurers of long experience realize this full well and never dream of attempting to show a trick until they have run through it, privately, some dozens of times. Moderate your enthusiasm then, practise your tricks well, and you will be saved many moments of vexation.
The principle of Simulation which we have examined is the basis of a large number of methods by which small objects can be vanished. The books on conjuring are full of these methods, all slightly different from one another, but all based upon the same idea.... the simulation of the action of taking something in one hand, or of putting it into that hand, while the object is really retained, concealed, in the other hand. And this brings us to:
When an object is thus concealed in the hand we say that it is "Palmed" although, originally, that meant holding it by a slight contraction of the palm of the hand. It is neither particularly easy nor particularly difficult to do, but it requires some practice. Place a coin (say a half-dollar) on the palm of the open hand, rather towards the wrist, and then very slightly contract the hand so as to grip the coin by its edges between the fleshy base of the thumb and the opposite edge of the palm. After some practice you will find that you can hold the coin quite securely and freely use all your fingers. Practice it at odd moments. Practice also, balancing the coin on the tips of the two middle fingers with the hand held in the position shown in Fig. 1, and bending the fingers inward to press the coin into the palm, where it can be securely held.
Practice palming other small objects also, a ball, a cork, a piece of sugar.... anything that is not very heavy. Try to hold the hand loosely and naturally, as though it were empty, and learn to use the fingers freely. It is this last point, the freedom of the fingers, that makes true palming superior to Finger Palming and Thumb Palming, which we shall next describe, but for all that, many highly skilled performers have never used the true palm.
We will teach you the Finger Palm by showing you how you can use it to vanish a coin.
Toss a coin into the air, perhaps a foot, and let it fall, flat, upon the centre of the two middle fingers of the right hand. Bring the left hand up to the side of the right and turn the latter so that the coin falls from the fingers into the left hand. Immediately close the left hand upon the coin. Repeat this several times until the action is thoroughly familiar to you and then do it once more with the following slight difference. As you turn the right hand to tip the coin into the left, contract the right middle fingers so as to grip the coin by its sides, and retain it in the right hand. Close the left hand as though the coin had fallen into it, exactly as you did before, then move the left hand away and let the right, with the finger palmed coin, fall naturally to the side. Keep your eyes on the left hand. Pause a moment or two and then blow gently on the closed left fingers before opening them to show that the coin has disappeared.
Fig. 2 shows a coin held in the Finger-palm as you yourself see it. The hand, with its slightly pointing finger looks very natural and innocent to a spectator, and it is an excellent palm for many objects besides coins, and especially for comparatively heavy objects.
In another form of the Finger-palm, very useful for small balls and other round or roundish objects, the article is gripped by contracting the little finger alone, as shown in Fig. 3. In practice the ball, for instance, is held, first, between the right first finger and thumb. The left hand is held open and palm upwards. The right hand approaches the left to transfer the ball and, as the back of the hand is turned to the spectators, the ball is rolled by the thumb from the first to the little finger, and there held. The left hand is closed at the moment precisely necessary to complete the illusion. It is, again, a question of Simulation and Timing.
When you can satisfactorily execute this little manoeuvre you will be ready to attempt one more trick, a fine one which we call:
THE SURPRISING TUMBLER
You require a sheet of business letter paper, a tumbler, and a one dollar bill. The latter you will, in exercise of the conjurer's time honoured privilege, borrow from one of your spectators. You seat yourself at the table and, placing the tumbler mouth downward in front of you, wrap the paper round the tumbler to make a close fitting cover to it, and twist the top of the paper to keep it from unwrapping. You must mould the paper closely to the form of the tumbler and make sure that the glass is completely covered by the paper. Take the one dollar bill and crumple it into a ball, placing it by the side of the covered tumbler. Gaze rather critically at the two objects as though they were in the wrong positions and then move them, lifting the covered tumbler with the right hand by grasping it near the table, between the first finger and thumb, and replacing it upon a different part of the table. Now pick up the one dollar bill and apparently place it into the left hand, but really retain it in the right in the crook of the little finger. Lift the covered tumbler once more, as before, with the right first finger and thumb and, as you replace it, turn the hand slightly so that the palmed bill comes under the rim of the tumbler. Replace the tumbler in a slightly different position, leaving the bill beneath.
You now hold your left hand over the tumbler and tell the spectators you are going to make the bill pass from the hand into the tumbler. You make a little rubbing movement with your left fingers and slowly open them to show that the bill has gone.
Excerpted from Magic Tricks & Card Tricks by Wilfrid Jonson, Chesley V. Barnes. Copyright © 1954 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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