Whether originally Chinese or not, is of little moment: the trick has received the name, and is known by it only, so I adhere to it. The trick consists in apparently accomplishing the evident impossibility of linking strong metal rings, that have no break or opening in them, one within the other. The secret of the trick lies in the fact that one of a number of rings is provided with a slit or opening, which is kept carefully concealed by the performer's fingers. As, however, one ring with an opening would not alone suffice to link several others together in a continuous chain, the rings are made in sets of three and two welded together, besides three or four single ones. The set of two I always dispense with as useless. There is not the slightest necessity for going to a conjuring repository to obtain the rings, for an ordinary smith can produce a much more serviceable article. My idea of a good ring is one made of iron wire fully ⅜in. in thickness and 9in. in diameter. Let the metal be well burnished, and see that the welding is properly done. The opening in the one ring should be &frac7 16;in. wide so as to admit the other rings freely. Some rings have a slit merely, whilst others have the ends springing one into the other. These precautions are quite unnecessary, for the secret ring is never given round for examination. When the performer comes on, he has the open ring concealed either under his armpit, in his breast pocket, or in the vest; or he may have it hanging behind a chair, if he has one with an opaque back on the stage. The other rings he has in the hand, and gives them round for examination. Unless this examination takes place, there is nothing in the trick, for the audience would justly argue that all the rings have secret spring-bolt openings which are invisible at a short distance. To abstract the concealed ring without detection requires, at times, considerable address. A good way is to allow some of the others to fall, and whilst stooping quickly for them, get out the concealed one. Turning the back upon the audience, and deliberately taking the ring out from its place of concealment whilst walking towards the stage, is the method I usually adopt. When it is hung at the back of a chair, the bulk of the rings should be placed upon the seat, and two or three taken up in one hand; say, the right. In stooping to pick up some more rings with the left hand, the right, naturally enough, finds its way to the top of the back of the chair, and, as the ring will be suspended half an inch down, the end of one finger will be sufficient to obtain it.
I lay some stress upon this recovery of the open ring, for in its neat execution lies the whole secret of the trick. If the performer feels that he has accomplished the feat without being observed, he may boldly assert that he knows that other conjurors perform the same trick with prepared rings—he does nothing so mean and despicable. As a rule, I disagree with any hint whatever that may give a clue to the secret of a trick; but this particular one is so widely known that I doubt if an audience of ordinary size could be found with everyone ignorant of its secret. Under these circumstances, the conjuror who wishes for success must be different to everyone else. If he is not "prepared to do or die," let him leave the Chinese rings alone.
The method of "working" the trick is to first take up the open ring and one of the single ones, one in each hand. Unless the performer be left-handed, or ambidextrous, it is always advisable to hold the open ring in the right hand, the opening being between the finger and thumb. Stand at the front of the stage (if there are side boxes, then a little back), and let the open ring hang carelessly on the thumb, only broadside on to the audience. By turning up the point of the thumb ever so little, the opening is rendered quite invisible to spectators, who will think that two perfect rings are being held before them, they having no possible reason to suspect even that an open ring is anywhere about. Bang the two rings together several times, and pretend to make two or three attempts to fit one into the other, by what precise movement does not matter in the least.
Presently slip the solid ring rapidly through the opening of the other, without ceasing for an instant the movements you have hitherto made, which continue as if the two rings were still apart. Soon you will work the two close together, and, by degrees, bring round the solid ring to the bottom of the open one, and then allow it to hang from it. Be careful, however, that the opening is never so much as approached by the solid ring after the latter has been passed through it. By a reversal of the proceedings, the ring must be taken off again, the two rings being held touching one another, and worked about as if still linked, long after the actual detachment has taken place. The audience are supposed to actually see one ring pass through the other, and the performer must cause this to appear to be done at the lower half of the open ring. Performers always make a grand mistake in hurrying over this, the opening part of the trick, which is really the most important part of it. Within reasonable bounds, the linking of the two first rings cannot be much too long drawn out. If he be possessed of sufficient daring, the performer may advance to one of the audience with the two rings linked, and give him one of them (the solid one, of course) to hold. Just as the ring is put into his hand, the disconnection should take place. This is an interlude, which the performer may use or not, according to how he feels in spirits, for conjurors are like race-horses, and are at times "in" or "out of form." Two loose rings can then be put on the open one, one at a time, and then removed and held together. The open ring can be passed over the arm out of the way, the opening being, of course, concealed, and some "business" can be gone through with the other two, which, as they never were together, can be separated without much difficulty.
Some conjurors become breathless at the bare idea of allowing the open ring to leave the hand, whereas, when properly managed, there is not the least danger to be apprehended. When the ring is passed over the arm, the hand does not leave the opening until it is well embedded inside the elbow joint. It is bad policy to hold one ring continually in the hand, as the fact is extremely likely to be noticed. When a few evolutions have been performed with the single rings, including throwing one in the air and catching it on the open ring on its descent, the triplets should be taken up, and, after plenty of shaking about and turning round and over, an end one should be linked on. By linking up the other end as well, a square is formed. Give two rings of this to be held by different people, and tell them to pull. Give one or two jerks yourself, and at one of them disconnect, and then gradually appear to unlink the square, bringing, at last, the four in a single chain. Make a lot more flourishes, but merely bring the four side by side in one hand, hanging. Hold the open ring firmly, and allow the others to drop steadily. This they will do in two distinct stages or jerks, at each of which you make a movement with the disengaged hand as if controlling them. As a finish, it is usual to put all the rings in a bunch on the open one. When this is done, one of the solid rings should be made to sustain the rest for a short time in place of the open one, which may be allowed to hang down in the rear of the others, where it will not be seen. The solid ring thus temporarily used should be held alternately in several places, so that the audience, and especially such as know the secret of the trick, may see that there is actually no opening it. This is an excellent ruse to adopt. When performing with the rings, always make a deal of clatter with them; it adds to the effect. An effective finale is to grasp the open ring by the solid part immediately opposite the opening, and, turning the whole bunch rapidly over, shake the other rings loose upon the floor, dropping the open ring amongst the rest. The apparent recklessness of this goes still further to disarm suspicion as to an open ring.
It will be seen that, beyond obtaining the open ring, everything is what is understood as "hankey-pankey"—in fact, downright humbug—but it is humbug of a superior order. The performer who introduces it injudiciously and unskilfully will have reason to regret any imperfect study of this trick. There is not much true sleight of hand in it, but the perfection of "address" will be required.