The Fakir of Oolu (he is known in private circles by a far less sounding and much more cockneyfied name than that) was the first to introduce this trick to the British public.
The performer is provided with an ordinary conjuring wand, blackened all over. He passes it through one hand, to show that it is not attached to any suspending medium, and then performs a series of feats with it, which apparently entirely upset the laws of gravitation. For instance, when placed horizontally against the under side of the outstretched hand, it does not, as one would expect, fall at once to the ground, but remains in the unnatural position. When placed perpendicularly against a finger or thumb, the result is the same; and it can be just as easily suspended from the tip of the finger by its extreme end. There are three methods in general use for producing these phenomena. One is to have the rod provided with several black pins, which stand out a little from the wand, and are then bent at right angles. The heads are taken off, and the exposed ends left rough. If two of these pins be placed about five inches apart, with the points of each turned towards the other, a hand placed flatly between them will be enabled to sustain the rod in any position by merely opening out the fingers, thereby causing a pressure on the two pins. This is the whole secret of the first method. The conjuror can arrange his pins according to fancy. I find five ample viz., two about two and a half inches apart at each end, and one small one at the actual tip. There is no necessity for more; and the space of two and a half inches admits of the introduction of two fingers, which possess quite sufficient power to sustain the rod. The advantage of using two fingers only is that, by employing the middle ones, those on the outside are left free to be moved about, as they should be, to assist in abolishing the idea of any connection existing. When the wand is drawn through one hand, the action must be quickly executed, and no notice given of the intention to perform it, otherwise the attention of the audience will be sufficiently attracted to the wand to cause it to be noticed that the hand does not actually touch it, although it appears to do so. A serious pantomime of mesmerising the wand by means of a few passes may be indulged in with advantage, according to the ability of the performer in this direction; but he must treat it seriously. If it is at all well done, one half of the audience will remain almost convinced that some influence has been exercised over the rod. The wand should then be taken in one hand, and struck smartly on the palm of the other, to show that it is solid, or it can be done previous to the mesmerism. This is very necessary, as a universal idea exists, amongst those who do not know the trick, that the wand is made of pith, and that the performer has some "sticky stuff" on his fingers. It should next be held horizontally at the end by one hand, and the other passed slowly along it once or twice, the motion becoming slower and slower until it ceases altogether. The fingers will then be between two pins, and, on the rod being released by the other hand, it will apparently cling to the under surface of the one above it. To cause it to attach itself to a finger or thumb perpendicularly, it is only necessary to hang it by one pin on the outstretched member, and the prodigy is accomplished. The pin at the tip is for the purpose of suspending the rod from the end of a finger. This is accomplished by pushing the pin under the nail. No trick could be simpler; therefore the performer must do all he can to make the audience believe in its extreme difficulty. Once or twice, at least, the mesmeric power should fail, and fresh passes resorted to in order to restore it. An effective action to introduce is that of placing both hands above the wand whilst it is in a horizontal position, and then appearing to move them backwards and forwards along it. This is accomplished by fixing the fingers of one hand only in the pins. The hands are then parted, and joined twice with considerably rapidity. The disengaged hand must not alone be moved, but the other as well, otherwise it will be seen that the wand is affixed to one hand, and the other merely moved along it. The care taken by the conjuror will make this trick the more or less successful.
The second method is to have a ring upon the finger provided with a clamp, which receives the wand in its embrace. The only thing to be said in favour of this device is that it enables the wand to be shown round. In all else it is vastly inferior to the bent pin arrangement. The number of positions in which it is possible to suspend the rod are exceedingly limited, and the probability of the ring being accidentally exposed is by no means remote.
As it is decidedly advantageous to give the rod round for examination, it is always well for the performer to devise a method for handing round one rod, free from any preparation whatever, and then exchanging it for a prepared one. This is, perhaps, best managed by concealing the prepared one up the coat sleeve. The one that is shown round is dropped into the tail pocket, which can be specially arranged for such a use without much difficulty. The change behind the table is weak, and a large majority of the audience invariably see through it, in which case all the performer's subsequent actions with the article are looked upon as farcical. When a dummy article is to be exchanged for a prepared one, the change must be perfect, or left alone altogether. If the performer have any doubt about it, let him rather dispense with the examination and consequent exchange, for then the audience can only suspect; but, if any covert action is detected, then the suspicion resolves itself into a tolerable certainty.
The wand for this trick is very easily made, any ordinary wood being suitable, and a packet of black pins, a pair of pliers, and a file will do the rest. It is best as a stage trick, private audiences in small rooms being somewhat too close for safety.
There is, however, a third method, which I think the reader will, after giving it a trial, find commend itself highly, as it enables him to use his ordinary wand, and so avoid the suspicion naturally engendered by the employment of a fresh article expressly for a special trick. Our old friend, the silken thread, is once more the means employed, and it may be either passed round the performer's neck, in the form of a large loop, or be affixed to a waistcoat button. Experiment will at once determine the proper length, which will naturally vary with the physical proportions of each performer. The wand is, of course, given round for examination, and may be passed through the loop whilst the performer is facing the audience, although it is, perhaps, the safer way to do this whilst retreating to the stage. It will be found that when the thread is stretched outwards from the body by means of the wand, acted upon by the hands, it supports the wand by drawing it hard against the fingers. At first the wand is taken in the two hands, one near each end, and held out very gingerly. When the thread is felt to be tightly stretched, the fingers are opened, and it is as well to at once give a swinging motion to the hands. The hands should then be drawn together and parted again two or three times, both slowly and fast, a slight swinging being still kept up, and then two or three, or single fingers can be employed, as may the sides and backs of the hands. These movements will necessitate some little practice, in order to ensure facility of execution. When enough has been done by two hands, one hand should be placed in the centre of the wand, the thread passing between the fingers, when the wand will be just as securely supported. The hands should be changed, the one hand taking the wand from the other, from beneath. The finale to this method of doing the trick is the most startling of all, the wand being suspended by one end from the tip of a finger, and from thence given to the company. To bring this about neatly, grasp one end of the wand with the right hand and place the tip of a finger of the left hand against the other end. Let the wand assume a perpendicular position, the right hand undermost, and, at the same time, cause the thread to slide along until within a bare inch of the finger at the other end. If the wand be fitted with ferrules, as directed, the thread is certain to rest at their terminations. The pressure of the finger against the resistance of the thread, delicately dispensed, will cause the wand to be supported, and with it in this position the performer advances to the company, and, with the right hand, places it in their hands, a very slight under sweep, quite compatible with a graceful presentation of the article, sufficing to free it of the slight tenure the thread holds over it. As the Fakir's wand has been on sale for very many years, there will probably be amongst the spectators some who know its secret. With these the method now described will be most successful in creating astonishment, for it will be quite beyond them.
A little additional sleight may be practised, which gives finish to the trick. This is to cause the wand to apparently attach itself to the tips of the outstretched fingers of one hand. To the spectators, it appears as if the fingers were merely outstretched, and the wand placed against them, when it adheres. It is quite true that only the tips of the fingers touch the wand, but they must be so disposed that the first and fourth are on the inside, and the second and third on the outside. The theory of the grip is the same as though the wand were held between the four fingers, an inch or more down them. What the conjuror has to study is to bring sufficient pressure to bear by means of the tips only, the nails of the first and third fingers resting against the wand. The hold is really of the most fragile description, only one longitudinal half (the inside one) of the wand being operated upon. A strong and rather fleshy finger will succeed best, but, in any case, the first and fourth fingers must be stretched out as wide as they can be made to do, and the whole operation will be very materially assisted by using a wand that is neither heavy, thick, nor slippery. An unvarnished wand would be the best, and it should be as much less than half an inch in thickness as can be made convenient. Weight will then be comparatively immaterial. The performer will find the effect of his trick wonderfully enhanced if, in handing the wand from one member of the company to another, he does so by means of the apparently magnetic tips of his fingers. The sleight is illustrated at Fig. 53.