"Things are not always what they seem," but though the wine of this capital trick is only an imitation of the real article, it is always well received by an audience, and that, from a performer's point of view, is the first thing to be considered. Besides, it requires very little practice or skill, which is a still further recommendation.
In presenting it a China, quart pitcher, filled with water, and about twelve or sixteen tumblers are used. To prove that the water is not doctored in any way, a glass of it is offered to the audience and the performer takes a few swallows of it. He then proceeds to fill the tumblers, pouring into them, alternately, wine and water from the pitcher.
"It may seem strange to the average man and woman," says the performer, "that at my own sweet will I can pour from a pitcher that is absolutely not prepared in any way, wine or water. But one thing must be remembered, that when the surrounding atmosphere has become thoroughly impregnated with the fumes of the wine, especially a wine produced by a weird magical process, it becomes exceedingly difficult for most people to distinguish whether wine or water fills the glasses. Many of you may imagine that these glasses are filled with water; others are positive that they are filled with wine; while still others, looking with a somewhat distorted vision, see both wine and water. There is nothing in the pitcher, as you all may see. Let us fill it again." Here he empties the contents of the glasses into the pitcher, and almost immediately refills the glasses. "And now see what we have—wine, the pure juice of the grape. Once more, let us fill the pitcher." As he says this he empties the glasses into the pitcher, and then refilling them there appears to be nothing but water. He calls attention to this, and then, correcting himself, adds: "Excuse me, I have made a mistake. There is one glass of wine."
For a third time he empties the glasses into the pitcher, and pours out all wine, and finally turning it back into the pitcher, ends the trick by filling all the glasses with water, with which he started.
As our readers probably surmise this is a chemical trick, and the solutions for it are made as follows:—
Six of the glasses are perfectly clean; in each of six others there is one drop of strong tincture of iron, put in about half an hour before attempting to exhibit the trick. Two other glasses are about half filled with a saturated solution of oxalic acid (a deadly poison) in water, and in another is some strong ammonia. To prevent the fumes of the latter from passing into the room, the glass is covered with a heavy napkin folded several times. Last of all, a glass is quarter filled with a saturated solution of tannin in water.
In a row on the performer's table are the six clean glasses and the six containing the iron solution, arranged alternately. Behind these, in the following order, are the glass containing tannin, one glass with acid, the one with the ammonia, and the second one with acid.
To begin, the performer fills a clean glass and the glass with tannin with water from the pitcher. The clean glass he offers to the audience, but seldom finds any one to take it; then he takes a swallow of it himself. Then he empties both glasses into the pitcher, thus adding the tannin to what was pure water. Next he fills the clean glasses and those containing the iron with water from the pitcher and they will seem to be filled alternately with water and with wine. Turning the contents of the glasses into the pitcher, and refilling the tumblers at once, they are all filled with wine. Before filling the last glass the performer takes hold of one of the acid glasses in such a way as to conceal its contents, and, as he fills it, says: "All wine—no! here we have water and here" filling the twelfth glass, "is wine." When the pitcher is again filled from the glasses, the acid that goes in with the others bleaches the solution perfectly and on filling the glasses again nothing but water is seen. Picking up the glass that holds the ammonia and filling it, it appears to hold wine, but of a lighter color than any of the other glasses. Turning the contents of the glasses into the pitcher, wine is again produced, the ammonia nullifying the action of the acid. Once more the glasses are filled with wine with the exception of the second acid glass, which the performer has filled. Finally, the pitcher is again filled and when the contents are poured out for the last time, it is found there is nothing but water, "Which is only right," says the performer, "for as we begin so shall we end."
Let us advise our readers who would attempt the trick to experiment first for the proper proportions of acid, tannin, and ammonia, as they vary in strength, always bearing in mind that the smaller the quantity used, the better it will be. Let us also caution experimenters to empty the pitcher and glasses into a sink as soon as the trick is finished as the solutions are deadly poisons.
Some performers affect to sneer at this trick because neither the water nor the wine may be drank after the first glass has been emptied. Yet Mr. Kellar, who was supposed to stand high in his profession, frequently included it in his program, and in our experience of many years we do not remember that we ever heard any objection to it from the audience. To silence the captious critics, however, we present here formulas for liquids that produce nearly the same effects as those already described, and yet may be drank at any stage of the trick. Who originated them we do not know or we should be glad to give credit for them.
In presenting the trick a glass pitcher holding about a pint of water, and five whisky glasses, that hold about four ounces each, are brought forward on a tray. In the pitcher, besides the water, is about half a teaspoonful of liquor potassæ glass No. 1 contains three to four drops of a solution made by dissolving in an ounce of alcohol as much phenol-phthaleine powder as will cover a dime; glass No. 2 is clean; glass No. 3 contains another three or four drops of the phenol-phthaleine solution; glass No. 4 contains a pinch of powdered tartaric acid dissolved in a little water; and glass No. 5 is prepared the same as Nos. 1 and 3.
In beginning the trick the performer picks up the pitcher and pours into the glasses alternately, starting with No. 1, wine, water, wine, water, wine.
He then mixes the contents of Nos. 1 and 2, when both will become wine. To show that he really uses water the performer takes a swallow of No. 4; then picking up No. 3 (wine) he is about to drink it, but just as it reaches his mouth it turns to water, which he drinks. Following this, he mixes Nos. 4 and 5, when lo! both glasses contain water.
The contents of Nos. 1 and 2 are poured into the pitcher when all is seen to change to wine. Nos. 3, 4, and 5 are now poured into the pitcher when the entire contents become water.
The effect of changing wine into water just as the performer is about to drink it is brought about in this way: Just before he picks up glass No. 3, the performer takes a mouthful of the acid solution in No. 4, but instead of swallowing it, he keeps it in his mouth. As he lifts No. 3 to his mouth, he ejects into it the acid solution from his mouth, causing the "wine" to change to "water," which he then drinks.
The liquor potassæ must be kept in a green glass bottle and be tightly corked.
There is nothing harmful in any of these solutions and the performer may drink them—wine or water or both—without experiencing any bad effects, though, personally, we do not believe that such concoctions were ever meant for the human stomach.