Magic Trick: The Coffee Trick

A trick always popular with the professional conjurer is that known as the "Coffee Trick," though some "highfalutin" title, as, for instance, "Marabout Mocha," is better for a program. It has the advantage, too, of not conveying any idea of what the trick is to be. The trick is as suitable for the drawing-room as for the stage, and may be done easily with a little practice. Remember, with a little practice, for, like everything in conjuring, not only a little but sometimes a great deal of practice is necessary if the performer desires to do his tricks with ease and skill and so as to bewilder his audience.

When about to present this trick the performer has on a table three large wooden boxes, a large goblet-shaped glass jar, and two German silver "shakers" or cups, such as are used in mixing the lemon-juice, ice, etc., for a glass of lemonade. In one of the boxes is a quantity of bran, in another some pieces of chopped-up white paper, and in the third a similar lot of blue paper. These, with two pieces of black velvet, each about nine inches square, and a paper cylinder, are all that appear to be used in the trick. Picking up one shaker, the performer fills it with white paper, and immediately pours its contents back into the box. Again he dips the shaker into the box, and, with a shoveling motion, fills it and stands it on a table so that everyone may see it. The other shaker he fills in the same way, but with the blue paper. Finally, the glass jar is filled with bran and stood on a table by itself. Over one shaker is spread one of the velvet squares and on top of it is placed a small, round, metal plate. The other shaker is covered with the second velvet square, but without any metal plate.

"Remember," says the performer, "this cup is filled with white paper, and that one with blue"; and pulling the velvet piece off one cup he pours from it into a small pitcher about a pint of milk. "The milk of human kindness, as extracted from the daily press." Removing the metal plate and the velvet from the second cup, he pours from it into the first cup "steaming Mocha coffee. No grounds for complaint." Picking up the paper cylinder, he drops it over the upper part of the glass jar, and lifting it up almost immediately, it is found that the bran is gone and the jar is filled with lump sugar.

It is a showy trick which is generally followed by applause, that sweetest of music to a performer.

In each box of paper is a duplicate shaker, one filled with milk, the other with coffee. Fitted into the mouth of each shaker is a shallow metal saucer, the edges flaring out so as to rest on the mouth of the cup. At one point on the edge of each saucer is soldered a semicircle of stiff wire about the size of a dime, so that the performer may easily grasp it. On each saucer is glued some bits of the paper with which the shaker is supposed to be filled. These shakers stand upright in the box, in such position that the wire piece of the saucer will be toward the performer when he is ready to remove the velvet cover. As he shovels the paper into the shaker he leaves that one in the box, grasps the other filled with milk or coffee, and brings it out, some of the loose bits of paper clinging round the top. These he brushes off carelessly, and in doing so, when necessary, adjusts the shaker so that the wire finger-piece will be in the proper position. In covering the shakers the performer takes hold of the velvet covers so that the thumbs are under the cover and the fingers on top, and with these he catches hold of the projecting finger-piece, lifts up the saucers and draws them off, dropping them instantly into a padded box or a bag fastened at the back of the table.

As the glass jar is transparent it follows that a mere saucer of bran in its mouth would not do, so resort is had to another device. A hollow shape of tin, slightly tapering, that fits loosely in the jar is used. The larger end, which is the top, is slightly larger in circumference than the top of the goblet, and is closed while the bottom is open. Bran is glued over the outside of the shape and some loose bran is spread over the top. The shape is filled with lump sugar, placed inside a second jar and stood inside the box of bran. When the first jar is put into the box, ostensibly to be filled, the performer exchanges it for the second. This he takes out and shows it apparently filled with bran. It is covered with the paper cylinder, which goes on loosely, and in removing this the performer grasps the overlapping top, through the paper, lifts out the tin shape and the sugar falls into the jar. As the shape is taken out, the performer's hand passes carelessly over the box of bran, into which the shape is dropped. At almost the same moment the paper is crumbled up, and tossed into the audience. The trick is so neatly done, and is, withal, so simple, that he must be a bungler, indeed, who cannot deceive even a clever audience.

As a pretty wind-up for the trick we would suggest the following: Have a large cup, in the shape of a coffee-cup, made of tin and painted white so as to resemble china. The inside of the cup is divided in two by a partition. At one side of this partition, in the bottom of the cup, is cut a small hole. The other side of the partition is filled with paper "snow," that is, tiny bits of white paper.

Set the cup in a very deep saucer, which may also be of japanned tin. After the performer has produced the coffee, he pours out some for himself, using the trick cup. Of course, the coffee is poured into that side of the cup that has the hole in the bottom. The result is, the coffee runs out into the saucer, but the audience cannot see this. When the cup is apparently full, the performer walks down to the footlights, cup in hand, indulges in a little pantomime to convey the idea that he is about to drink the health of the audience, and then, suddenly, and to their astonishment, blowing into the cup, throws the contents of the cup toward them—and instead of coffee it is only a cloud of little bits of white paper. It is amusing to see the startled look on the faces nearest the performer; and the trick, as we have said, makes a pretty ending to the evening's performance.

A Second Method. In this form of the Coffee Trick the performer introduces a cylindrical vase, A, of polished, not japanned, heavy tin, Fig. 170, measuring from its top to the bottom of the base about fifteen inches in height and four inches in diameter. It is entirely without preparation, as may be seen when it is handed out for examination. Accompanying this is a cylinder of embossed leather, lined with heavy manilla paper, to give it a body. It is made to go easily over A, for which it is intended as a cover, and is open at both ends. On a table toward the rear of the stage are two lighted candles in candlesticks.

Fig. 170

Before beginning the trick, the performer allows both vase and cover to be examined. Then he stands the cover on his table and proceeds to put some cotton wool from a box into the vase. This done, he puts on the cover for a moment, and on removing it, stoops over and breathes into the mouth of the vase. Instantly the cotton wool bursts into flame and almost as rapidly goes out. Picking up a tray on which there are cups and saucers, the performer pours from the vase fragrant, boiling coffee.

This trick differs in most respects from the first version. The top of the conjurer's table is covered with a black baize or velvet; about seven inches from the front and six from one end is cut a round hole, four and a half inches in diameter; this is not discernible by the audience as everything below it is of a dull black. Directly under this hole is a sort of elevator, Fig. 171, made of four upright rods, and between these runs a grooved block, which is pulled up and down by a string on pulleys, moved by an assistant behind the scenes or, if preferred, by a simple clockwork controlled by the performer. The top of this block, at the center, is hollowed out to the depth of half an inch, and in this hollow stands a tin cylinder, filled with hot coffee. This cylinder, which is to be a lining for the vase A, must fit tightly in A at the mouth, but the bottom tapers slightly and is rounded, as shown in the illustration, so that it may go into the vase easily. The outside of this cylinder as well as the elevator and block are painted a dull black. Around the inside of the mouth of this cylinder-lining some loose guncotton is fastened by fine iron wire.

Fig. 171

When the performer is putting the cotton wool into the vase, he stands the cover directly over the hole in the table, and in the brief moment it is there the lining is run up inside of it. Then he picks up the cover, and with it, the lining, covers A, leaving the lining inside, thus pushing down what little cotton wool is there to the bottom of A. He lifts off the cover and drops it on the floor. All that remains is to fire the guncotton. For this purpose, he has palmed in his left hand a metal disk about the size of a half-dollar, and to the center of this is brazed (not fastened by soft solder) a bit of brass tubing, an inch in length and not larger in diameter than an ordinary leadpencil. Into this tubing is stuck a piece of wax taper. After the vase A is placed on the table and before it is covered, the conjurer moves the candles nearer to the front, as if to get more light. The first candle he picks up with his left hand and as he changes its position gently blows on the light; as it flickers, he places his right hand around it as if to shield it from the draft. The second candle he picks up with his right hand (his left side must be toward the audience) and repeating his action with the first, shields it with the left hand, which gives him an opportunity to light the taper. When he stoops over the vase, to breathe on it, his open hands naturally go up one on each side of it, and just a touch of the lighted taper fires the guncotton. It burns out in a second; he pours the coffee into the cups and serves it out to his audience.

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