Of very important assistance in Grand Conjuring are the specially prepared tables, of which one, two, or three will be used, according to the size of the room. These tables differ from ordinary ones, in the first place, by being considerably higher, their height being from 2ft. 10in. to 3ft. This is to render it unnecessary for the performer to stoop when taking anything from or placing anything upon the table, as the action would take away a great deal from an effective execution of many things. The next important difference (unknown, however, to the audience) is that the body of the table is a hollow box, of which that side which is unseen by the spectators is perfectly open, and is furthermore provided with a protruding shelf, technically called the servante. This shelf is one of the conjuror's most invaluable assistants. It is always at hand to receive any article which it is desirable to get rid of, and is a patient holder of others which it may be required, at a particular moment, to produce from an invisible source, but which are too large to be concealed about the person. This shelf should be about 5in. or 6in. broad, and should have the ends either rounded or cut off obliquely. If this is not done, the shelf will be noticed by persons standing or seated at the extreme sides of the auditorium. The edge should be furnished with a small raised beading, to prevent articles from falling off. The depth of the body of the table should not exceed 6in., or it will excite suspicion and remark. If the shelf is fitted to the body of the table by means of hinges, it will be found a great convenience. It will never become mislaid or knocked about, and so be either missing or useless when most required; and it also enables one to use the body of the table as a means for conveying the bulk of the conjuring apparatus. The legs should be made to screw on and off, so as to increase the portability of the whole; but see that the worm of the screw is long and deep, or the table will be unsteady.
But, if the back of the table is mysterious, the top of it is still more so. For the speedy, easy, and completé vanishing of objects, particularly solids, it has been found convenient to fit the tops of tables with spring traps, which, yielding to certain pressure, resume their position when it is removed. Judiciously used, these traps are very useful, and the results attained by their use are most bewildering. In a table 36in. by 18in. (a very convenient size) there should be a round trap, 3½in. to 4in. in diameter, in each front corner, and an oblong trap, 9in. by 5in., in the centre. These traps are made of zinc; but I would recommend no one to attempt manufacturing them at home whilst they can be purchased so reasonably at conjuring trick repositories. I would certainly recommend having the table itself made, under personal supervision, by a carpenter, who will let the traps into the top of the table. The ordinary price for a 4in. trap is about 7s. 6d. There are many elaborate mechanical traps devised for changing articles, but I have never found them of much assistance in the hands of amateurs, so cannot conscientiously recommend them. There are also several methods for arranging piston rods, which work up and down by means of a string drawn by a confederate at the side or rear, or by electricity. But such assistance is so seldom required by the amateur conjuror, that I cannot recommend him to encumber his table with more than three traps. Everything beyond this he will find an unnecessary expense. The amateur will also find that his sphere will be continually changed, one day performing at this friend's house and the next day at another's. Hence he will be unable to produce the results which are attainable only by those who, like professional conjurors, have sole dominion over their stage and its surroundings at all times. As this is written solely for the edification of amateurs, and not for the purpose of training up professionals, I shall not launch out into descriptions of things impossible to the great majority.
When the size of the room permits of it, the performer should have, besides his oblong table in the centre, one or two small round tables at the sides. These tables should be of the same height as the large one, but only about 18in. in diameter. They should be provided with one round trap and a small servante. The border should have a deep fringe. The tops of all three tables should be covered with a check pattern, in order to hide the lines of the traps. On a perfectly plain surface these might be noticed. Do not forget to provide the smaller traps with bags to receive the articles passed through. An egg would make an unseemly mess inside the table, whilst an orange or a lemon would descend with a thud sufficiently loud to reveal to the audience what had taken place. The centre trap, being used almost exclusively for vanishing live stock, need not be furnished with a bag.
Whilst on the subject of traps, I will describe the method for passing articles through them. Supposing an orange has to be made to disappear. After showing that it is a real orange and perfectly solid, &c., place it upon the trap, the spring of which must, of course, be strong enough to bear the weight without giving in the least. Turn up your sleeves very deliberately, and then place the hands around the orange as if about to take it up in them. Screened by the front hand, the rear one presses the trap down quickly, and the orange falls through, the hands being brought together as though holding it. Advance towards the audience a step or two and commence rubbing the hands together, gradually making the circumference of the hollow smaller and smaller until the orange appears to have been rubbed away. The action of vanishing the article must be assiduously practised, for the hands must not dwell perceptibly on the table, but appear to actually take up whatever they are supposed to. When pretending to rub it away, the eyes must be directed attentively to the hands as if interested in the experiment. When passing one article into another, as an egg into a lemon, place the lemon just in front of the trap, and, holding the egg in the rear hand, pass it down the trap under cover of the front hand, which will at the moment be just closing upon the lemon. The two hands then take the lemon, and, after rubbing it about a little, show it minus the egg, which you will say is inside. In the drawing-room, without the table, the same results would have to be arrived at by means of "vesting." The present instance affords an excellent illustration of my remark that drawing-room conjuring is more difficult than grand conjuring.
Another method for vanishing articles through traps is to fix a cord to the under side of the trap, and, by means of a tiny pulley and staples, bring it to a hole in the end of the table, on the outside of which a knot is tied. The article can be then placed upon the trap and covered with a hat, &c., and made to disappear by pulling the cord. It is better to have the cord belonging to the right-hand trap coming out at the left-hand side, and vice-versâ; otherwise the audience would be likely to notice the action of the hand pulling the cord, from its close proximity to the hat. By standing at that end of the table which is opposite to the hat, the performer can turn sideways, and point with his wand to the hat or tap it, when the action of pulling the string will be concealed by his body. In covering any article with a hat, be careful that the front or back part of it is towards the audience. The arch formed by the side brim of the hat of the present day enables one to see anything placed underneath it, and it must be admitted that it would be rather awkward if any of the audience saw the article suddenly drop into the body of the table. The uses of the large trap will be dilated upon at another time and place.
The uses of the servante being to hold things as occasion requires, they will make themselves manifest in due course.