Magic Trick: The Cannon-ball

One of the commonest articles which it is still the fashion to produce from a hat is a cannon-ball, or, rather, the wooden semblance of one. This is introduced from the shelf, which is provided with little hollows for the reception of such unstable articles. It has a deep hole, just large enough to admit the middle finger, and is so disposed that a hand placing a hat momentarily, brim downwards, on the back edge of the table would be able to introduce the finger without difficulty. The finger firmly inserted, the hat is drawn off, and, naturally falling backwards, covers the ball, which is furthermore curled into the hat by means of the finger. If the ball were solid and made of any heavier material than wood, this would not be possible of accomplishment. The usual method is to have two cannon-balls, one a hollow one of zinc, blackened, with a hole about two inches across made in it. This hole is covered by means of a sliding lid, which lid has a smaller hole in it for the introduction of the middle finger. The ball is filled with articles, almost invariably purchases made at a baby linen warehouse, which are produced, with all possible effect, one by one, before the ball itself. Sometimes the ball is packed as tightly as possible with feathers, in which case a very large quantity can be produced, a small pinch from the ball sufficing to apparently fill the hat, which should be exhibited, ostensibly full, to the audience every now and then. If feathers are used, a large cloth should be spread upon the floor, or there will be a sad litter.

The introduction of the cannon-ball must not, however, form the commencement of the trick, but follow on something else in which a hat has been required. It would never do to borrow a hat and straightway march with it to the table, there to execute divers entirely unnecessary movements. Under such circumstances, the audience would be surprised if something were not produced from the hat. There are many tricks mentioned in which a hat is used. Whilst the result of one of such tricks is being exhibited with one hand, the other can easily introduce the cannon-ball, without fear of detection, if the performer's manner leads the attention elsewhere. The ball safely in the hat, the performer steps briskly forward to return the borrowed article, and, just as he is about to put it into the owner's hand, he makes a slight start, saying, "I did not notice it before, sir, but there is a little something just at the bottom of your hat. What is it? Something belonging to your little girl, I presume—a pair of socks," &c. The articles are then deposited on a chair or side table, and a motion made of returning the hat when "a little something else" is noticed. The ball being by this time worked round in the hat so that the opening is concealed from view, the hat can be exhibited with the ball sticking inside. After remarking that it is a very extraordinary thing to carry in a hat, and surmising therefrom that the infant to whom the clothes just discovered belong must be a "Woolwich infant," great, but unvailing, efforts are made to extract the ball. In order to make it appear to stick in the hat (which sticking makes its presence there at all seem all the more inexplicable), invert the hat, and introduce a forefinger from each hand beneath the ball. The whole can be then well jerked two or three times. It is at length got out by the assistance of your attendant, who is directed to give it to the gentleman to put in his waistcoat pocket. For the sake of effect he staggers towards the audience, but the performer recalls him, saying that he will send on the articles by parcels delivery. Whilst this is being done, the wooden ball is got inside the hat, which is once more carried down towards the owner. The discovery of more contents is made, as before, and the performer remarks that had he known that the owner of the hat carried a complete arsenal about with him he would have borrowed someone else's hat. The hat is jerked as before, and at the third or fourth attempt the ball is allowed to drop on the stage. This will confirm the idea in the audience that the first ball was solid, should there, by chance, be any wavering on the point.

The only objection to this really very effective phase of the trick is, that it has been done so often; the consequence is that so many, anticipating correctly that which is about to come, are better able to divine the means by which it is accomplished. The best way to guard against this is to introduce the features at unusual moments, taking advantage of any favourable circumstance or opportunity that may casually transpire.

A cabbage or cauliflower is often introduced into a hat in place of the solid ball, and is very effective. A hole for the finger can be made in the stalk, but it is advisable to push a tin tube into the hole, or bind the outside of it with cord, as the stalk will sometimes give way, and a disaster, in the shape of a vegetable falling down heavily from behind the table, occur. In using a cabbage or cauliflower, be careful to clean and dry it well on the outside, or a hat lining may be spoiled.

Index of Magic Tricks | Previous Trick: THE CORNUCOPIAN HAT | Next Trick: The Distribution