I do not mind admitting to the reader that, where my imagination will permit, I am inventing new names for my tricks. I do this in order to save those who may hereafter undertake performances a certain amount of trouble, and also to get a little out of the beaten track. Ever since this trick has been invented it has been known as "Ribbons and Bottle." Now, that is a very poor title to put upon a programme, which, as it cannot possibly give any very valuable information to the spectator, may as well be embellished with neat terms as slovenly ones. A bottle and some ribbons certainly are used in the trick; but, as the old title does not reveal whether the ribbons go into or come out of the bottle, or whether the bottle comes out of the ribbons, a more fanciful one, so long as it is near the mark, seems just as appropriate, and much more ornamental. At the same time, it is very unadvisable to fill a programme with outrageous and ridiculous titles. I went to an entertainment once, given by a gentleman afflicted with a liking for high-sounding titles. At first I thought I was going to see something totally new, and waited for the curtain to draw up with some impatience, for the first item on the programme was thus designated: "The Celestial Mystery; or, the Winged Fairies of the Emperor Foo-Chow." This was the butterfly trick. However, although greatly disappointed, I kept up my courage, for item No. 2 was "The Sorcerer's Secret; or the Sheik's Visit to the Great Mogul." The egg bag! I collapsed, and took no further interest in the "Arabian Necromantic Divinations," "Scandinavian Second Sight; or, the Finnish Seer," &c., for they were all tricks of the most ordinary class. Let the performer, by all means, embellish his programme with well-chosen titles; but let him, at the same time, steer clear of the other extreme. Experience teaches one that there is more in a programme well got up than at first meets the eye.
Although there is rather more of mechanism, and less of sleight of hand, in it than I usually adopt, still this is such a very pretty trick that it would be a pity not to mention it. The performer comes on with a bottle, from which he pours a quantity of wine, beer, or other liquid, and then, either still holding it in his hand, or placing it upon a table or chair, he draws from it a ribbon of any colour that may be asked for by the audience. More liquid is poured out, and more ribbons produced.
The secret lies in the manufacture of the bottle. In most cases, an imitation one of blackened tin is used, but, as the difference between a metal bottle and a glass one is easily discernible, this is a bad principle. The best method is to procure a tapering bottle, quart size, and opaque, and get the bottom neatly cut out by a lapidary. If the glass be semitransparent it is easily rendered opaque by being painted with Brunswick black on the inside. Into the bottom fit a block of wood nearly an inch thick, the upper half of which has been turned away half an inch, so as to form a step. To this step have fitted a long tin funnel of such a length that, when the block of wood is fitted into the bottle, the small end will be within the third of an inch of the mouth. This funnel is much smaller than the interior of the bottle, so that when it is in position there is space for a considerable quantity of liquid between it and the glass sides. The small end is closed up with a piece of metal, which is provided with a number of slits, each large enough to admit of a ribbon passing through it.
On the block of wood arrange as many tiny reels as it will take. It will be necessary to do this in tiers. There is no reason why they should be like the ordinary reel, for the smaller they are the better. Each of these reels carries a differently coloured ribbon, which has been previously passed through one of the slits at the closed end of the funnel. It will be discovered that it is not possible to wind them up quite tightly, but an inch or two hanging loose will not signify if care be taken not to cross the ribbons in any way. That end of the ribbon which appears outside the slit must have a piece of wire sewn in it, to prevent its going quite through. With the block thus prepared, and the funnel fitted firmly upon it, put the whole into the bottle, and then pour the liquid carefully down the sides of the funnel, taking care not to let any get in through the slits.
Having poured out a little of the liquid, for the benefit of the company, say that you are now going to ask the bottle to give you a colour, and request the audience to say which particular one it shall be. Of course, some half-dozen, at least, will be given by as many persons, which is all in your favour, as you may then choose which you please, or, more properly speaking, not notice any extraordinary one with which you may not be provided. Some clever person is sure to rack his brains for some impossible colour, but, as you will take no notice whatever of him, it will not matter much. Each time a colour is asked for, turn to some object of that particular hue, and pretend to convey some of it on the end of the wand to the mouth of the bottle. There is nothing in this, perhaps, but it gives an air of finish to the trick. Snatch up the bottle every now and then, and pour out some liquid fron it, and also call attention in an indirect manner to the fact that the ribbons are perfectly dry. Also tap the bottle once or twice with the wand, for the unexpresed purpose of showing that it is glass, and handle it generally in a careless manner, swinging it about by the neck, taking care, however, not to expose the bottom. This makes a very effective stage trick.
A second method, which the reader is not at all likely to have seen performed, seeing that I invented it myself, enables the conjuror to employ an ordinary glass bottle, having no preparation whatever about it. It should be a dark bottle, so as to be quite opaque at a distance. The bottle is shown for examination, and placed upon a low table or chair, and the performer extracts coloured ribbons, just as they are called for. As the bottle has been examined, no necessity exists for occasionally pouring out liquid from it, which is a dumb way of saying that the bottle is an ordinary one. Secreted beneath the vest band, the performer has his rolls of ribbon arranged. They may be either upon bent pins, stuck in the vest itself, or the performer may have a band, fitted with wire hooks, which may be buttoned on in a few moments. As the ends of the hooks or pins are towards the performer's body, the ribbons cannot fall off; but the ends of the fingers, curled slightly underneath, obtain them at once. The colours must be arranged in a certain order, which the performer will, of course, have to remember, and he must depend entirely upon his sense of touch. Directly the colour is named, the performer commences to seek for some article of furniture or dress containing it; and whilst the wand is extended towards the object, for the purpose of magically bearing away some of its colour, the other hand is getting down the ribbon, that side of the body upon which it is secreted being turned from the audience. Proceeding to the bottle, the wand affects to place the colour magically obtained into the bottle, and, as soon as the other hand has secured the loose end of the ribbon, it is brought to the mouth, and the ribbon allowed to unroll. A tiny piece of lead, sewn in the end, will assist this greatly; but the ribbons should always be kept flat, except when in actual use, otherwise they will assume a curl, which will betray the fact that they have been rolled up. If symptoms of curling manifest themselves, the wand should be held at the mouth of the bottle and pressed against the ribbon as it comes out, and it should be then taken in both hands and held stretched until placed upon the table.
By adopting this method, the performer is enabled to produce a very great number of colours; and it is advisable to have two or three of them twice over. However well the trick may be performed with the prepared bottle, the company instinctively feel that a certain number of ribbons are concealed somewhere or other, and that when they are once produced no more can come. By producing the same colours twice, the notion of an inexhaustible productive power is conveyed.
There is a third method, which can only be employed on a regular stage. The bottle is a specially constructed glass one, that part which is known as the "kick" extending upwards to the neck, and having a hole in the top. Thus there is still space left in the bottle for plenty of liquor, whilst there is an open passage up the middle of it. This bottle is placed over a hole in a table having a hollow leg (a small, single-legged round table is invariably used), and the ribbons are passed up on the end of a rod by an assistant below. By this method, an endless supply can be taken from the bottle, but few of my readers will, I fancy, be able to adopt this method, although it could be done over a draped table under which a small boy was secreted for the time being. When the performer advances to the bottle he gives out the name of the colour very loudly, and places his fingers over the mouth, at the same time pressing hard, to prevent the bottle being shifted by the action of the ascending rod. The assistant below has his ribbons arranged in order, and, as soon as he hears the colour given, attaches the proper one to the pin at the end of the rod. When the performer is quite ready he strikes the bottle with the wand, upon hearing which, but not before, the assistant pushes up the rod. He must be in no hurry to withdraw it, but give the performer plenty of time to clear the ribbon. A suitable bottle may be manufactured by knocking the bottom out of an opaque glass bottle, and then fitting a tin lining to it, inside, which can be fixed and rendered watertight by means of putty, afterwards blackened, if white putty be used. The bottle is occasionally taken up, and liquor poured from it, as in the first method.