Magic Trick: Tricks with Handkerchiefs - Introduction

What conjurors would do without pocket handkerchiefs, I will not venture to suggest. Almost every trick has a handkerchief of some kind as a component part. Handkerchiefs are torn up, burnt up, tied into knots, made receptacles for money, and used in a variety of other ways; in fact, they are the conjuror's most faithful allies.

Burning a Handkerchief is usually made a stage trick, and belongs properly to Grand Magic; but there is a method which may be successfully tried in the confined limits of the drawing-room. I do not allude to the use of the "burning globe," which article entirely dispenses with the necessity for the display of anything approaching sleight of hand, with which I, in this book, have only to deal. By using mechanical tricks, many feats of sleight of hand are imitated; but then the apparatus cannot be shown round, and the audience goes away from the performance impressed with the idea that conjuring means exhibiting a certain number of cunningly-devised boxes, canisters, &c. I remember being present at an amateur conjuring entertainment, where tricks were exhibited that must have cost two hundred pounds, at least. The eye was perfectly bewildered with the array of electric clocks, drums, &c.; but every third trick failed at some point, which was not to be wondered at, seeing that the thing was got through as though against time. This sort of thing is not conjuring; although it would be bad for conjuring-trick manufacturers if everyone thought the same. Some apparatus one must have; but only what is absolutely necessary. The difference between an apparatus conjuror and an adept at sleight of hand is as great as that between an organ-grinder and a skilled musician.

To burn a handkerchief in what I may term a small way, be provided with a piece of cambric, or other material resembling a handkerchief, about four inches square. The best way is to cut up a cheap handkerchief that has been hemmed. Have this piece rolled up in the hand, and concealed by the act of holding the wand. Borrow a handkerchief, which carelessly roll up in the hands, as if judging as to its size, and get the piece mingled in its folds. Ask the owner if he or she has any objection to your burning the end of it. Say "Thank you," whether the answer be "Yes" or "No" (conjurors are often afflicted with a convenient hardness of hearing), and proceed at once to burn what is, in reality, your interpolated piece, but which will appear to the audience to be the handkerchief, at a candle. When you have burnt a tolerably large hole, put out the flame, and walk towards the owner of the handkerchief, as if about to return it to him, thanking him, at the same time, for the loan of it. If you had not permission to burn the handkerchief, the owner of it will probably now tell you so; and if he is at all testy on the point, so much the better for the success of your trick. Say that you really thought he said "Yes," are sorry for the mistake, which, however, cannot now be helped, &c. If, on the other hand, you had permission to do as you pleased, which a flattering, implicit faith in your abilities will frequently accord to you, you must affect to see in the person's looks an objection to take the handkerchief in a burnt state, and so, in either case, eventually set yourself the task of having to restore the injured article. This you can very simply do by rubbing it in your hands, and concealing the fictitious piece rolled up in the palm; or you can prolong the operation by folding the handkerchief in a piece of paper, omitting the burnt piece, and then pronouncing some cabalistic words over it, whilst it is held by someone in the audience. This is, perhaps, the better way of the two. If the beginner is afraid to trust to his own skill, and prefers using apparatus, he can procure many kinds of canisters, &c., for changing handkerchiefs, the working of which will be explained by the vendor, so there is no necessity to do so here.

To Pull a Handkerchief through the Leg.—This is a trick which will bear exhibition in any company. It recommends itself especially for drawing-room purposes. Take a very long handkerchief, and, seating yourself, pass the handkerchief (apparently) twice round the leg, just above the knee, and tie the two ends securely together, or have them tied for you. Take hold of a single thickness of the handkerchief, and jerk it sharply upwards, when it will appear to pass through the leg. The secret of the trick is thus explained: When you pass the ends below the leg, for the purpose of ostensibly crossing them, so as to bring them up on opposite sides, you rapidly make a bend in one, and pass the other firmly round it. By this means, a temporary junction is formed strong enough to bear a slight strain. By distending the sinews of the leg, the folds are compressed, and additional security is thus obtained. The ends are of course brought up again on the sides on which they descended, and the knot tied above the thigh—not beneath it. The formation of the bend and loop round it must be practised assiduously, for I do not know of any trick of the same magnitude requiring more skill in execution than this one. The hands should not remain an instant longer under the leg than one would require to merely cross the ends, and there must be no fidgeting observable. For performing this trick, Döbler (the original one) received a diamond ring from the Emperor of Russia.

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