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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Ever so sleightly » » History of the Cups and Balls (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

BarryFernelius
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I am looking for good sources of information about the history of the Cups and Balls. (I am NOT looking for methods in this search.) Are there any books that you might recommend? Websites? Other resources?

I know that Bob Read had an enormous collection of Cups and Balls artwork. Was this ever published? Are there other sources of artwork that I should investigate?

And who are the people who can point me in the right direction? Bill Palmer? LawrenceO? Others?
"I don't teach people stories about the coyote for them to tell. I AM the coyote. They tell stories about me."

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Mobius303
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Diffcult question because the history is scattered all over the place.

Bob Read did a DVD set that has great details on his artwork and lectures on that art work.
There is hidden history or perhaps a better description would be legacy knowledge that people have that you can get from things like the Cups and Balls get together that is held annually in California in October every year.
Some history is in volumes of magic books. Ammar did a decent job with putting moves and such together in his book and it is a decent start to it.
The Thompson book also is excellent on Charlie Miller bits and then his routine on the Cups.
Tommy Wonder books are now reprinted so you should check those 2 excellent volumes out as well.

https://www.magicana.com/oldest-trick-book

Enjoy the journey it is a fun and well traveled road.
ekins
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Bob Read did publish his book, but I believe it quickly went out of print. You can read a description about it here: http://conjuringarts.org/2014/06/new-and......ob-read/
Al Schneider
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This is not an answer to your question but some observations about cups and balls.

Over the years I collected several works about cups and balls. Because of my long involvement with magic, people would just give me cup and ball material. The pile got large and I noticed something about the history of cups and balls. The material depended on the printing technology of the time. My oldest document was printed in 1942 using a mimeograph system. It was blue and was blurry. My guess is that little was recorded before the advent of the mimeograph system as it was cheap and fairly easy to use.

While going over this I feel I got a sense of what older cup and ball manipulation was like. It is my opinion that the balls were made by the practitioner. The props were not for sale in a local magic shop. I believe the ball was made of some sticky material and the standard palm was pinching the ball with the flesh between two fingers. This enabled the hand to be held flat while palming the ball. It is my opinion that back then the palm was assumed to be a flat hand which was assumed would convince the audience the hand was empty.

Jimmy Martin, that ran a magic shop in Detroit before my time, talked about getting some rubber and partially burning it in a candle flame for the use in cups and balls. That may have been intended for the shell game. He talked about doing the shell game at small fairs. He set up a folding table between the fair and the men’s outhouse. He used a shill that walked away from his table counting money when a mark came down the path. He also mentioned that he watched out for someone not intent on using the outhouse. He said that was usually the local law and then he folded the table and disappeared.

As the magic industry developed, I believe that commercially making the sticky balls was difficult, the industry turned to balls covered with some kind of cloth covering or stitching. The flat hand approach evolved into the use of the classic palm where the hand could still be held somewhat flat.

Just thought some of you would find that interesting.
Magic Al. Say it fast and it is magical.
BarryFernelius
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Thanks to everyone for their helpful comments. I have all of the Ammar, Thompson, and Wonder material, as well as many other great sources like Al Schneider's book and Ganson's book on Dai Vernon's magic. I'm going to see if the Magic Castle library has the Bob Read material. (I know that they have the DVD set, but I'm not sure about the book.)

I started to wonder about the history of this effect after attending the annual Cups and Balls marathon session last month. And you're right; there seems to be an oral tradition associated with this ancient trick. It seems to me that most of the stories that I've heard are re-tellings of the material in The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher. Milbourne's accounts are widely accepted in the magic community, even though some of them are probably not true. (For instance, in the opinion of most archaeologists, the Beni Hasan picture probably is not related to the Cups and Balls.)

I'm hoping to see how non-magician historians tell this story. I'd also like to find more in-depth information. For instance, Christopher states that the Cups and Balls were known to Seneca, the Younger. If that's true, in which work does Seneca describe what he saw?
"I don't teach people stories about the coyote for them to tell. I AM the coyote. They tell stories about me."

-Pop Haydn
kShepher
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This is off topic, but does not warrant a new post. I just picked up a set today. I used to do this in high school. I learned The Cups of Cario from the little Fromer book The Cups. I was at Denny and Lee and he had had that book, also. Picked it up for sentimental reasons.

I forgot how much Ioved this trick. I am going sit down and master the Dai Vernon routine out Stars of Magic. It's going to take a long time.
DGillam
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In 1956 Carl W. Jones, who published "Greater Magic", published a slim work by Kurt Volkmann titled "The Oldest Deception". It is a collection of wood cuts, engravings, drawings and paintings depicting magicians of the 15th and 16th century performing cups and balls. Along with the illustrations there is extensive commentary for each detailing not only the history of the images which are reproduced, but also what we may infer from them about the state of medieval conjuring. Apparently, Bob Read had written an even more comprehensive commentary to accompany his extensive collection of art, illustrations etc., but after his death only the reproductions along with cursory attributions regarding the artist were published. "The Oldest Trick in the Book" is not the book Bob Read envisioned publishing.
Mobius303
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This is from lint here on the Café and contains a wealth of information.

A bibliography of over 1000 entries on the cups and balls including a publishing history of it.

http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/uploa......408).zip
BarryFernelius
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Many thanks!
"I don't teach people stories about the coyote for them to tell. I AM the coyote. They tell stories about me."

-Pop Haydn
Jonathan Townsend
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? Is this about history or magic shop ad copy? Proceeding along the history option:
The source from Seneca the younger is available online : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistulae_Morales_ad_Lucilium
A thousand years later in the Scot book (1584) there's some discussion about why it's not easy to find much "how to" text of the sort we have. Here's a link for starters on that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Discoverie_of_Witchcraft
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Jonathan Townsend
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Here's an ancient Greek reference from Alciphron of Athens via his letters https://archive.org/details/alciphronlit......age/n266
Quote:
A man came forward with a three-legged table. On this he placed three little cups, under which he hid some little round white pebbles, such as we find on the bank of a torrent. At one time he put them separately, one under each cup; at another time he showed them all together, under one cup; then he made them disappear from the cups, I don’t know how, and showed them, the next moment, in his mouth. After this he swallowed them, called some of the spectators on to the platform, and pulled out of their nose, head, and ears the pebbles which he ended by juggling away altogether.
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BarryFernelius
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Jonathan, the original query was intended to be about history. Thanks for the pointers to more sources.
"I don't teach people stories about the coyote for them to tell. I AM the coyote. They tell stories about me."

-Pop Haydn
malaki
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From Magical Renaissance: A Modern Wizard's Grimoire, Volume 1:

According to archeologists and anthropologists, magic began at about the same time that man started using tools. Groups of small, round, carefully matched pebbles on
several prehistoric sites, suggest that some form of cups and balls may have been performed since the stone age. 3 (circa 50,000 BCE) 23. If, as some archaeologists claim,
the birth of magic accompanies the use of tools, then magic can possess a deduced age as far back as 2 million years BCE, according to modern archeological finds. 24

3) Hunt, Douglas, and Kari Hunt. The Art Of Magic.
23) Darbyshire, Lydia: Editor. The Magic Book, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, Inc., 1997.
24) Legrand, Jaques: Chronicle of the World, Paris, France: S.A. International Publishing, 1989.
funsway
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I agree with the age possibility of magic, but the existence of matched stones does not imply "cup." Many fine effects with multiple stones are possible
with no container involved other than the hands. Yet, it does seem reasonable that a performer (Uncle Ung) might explore using a container as a substitute hand.

So, this begs the question of what is meant by "cups and balls" as compared with other effects using small objects? At what point did the use of a container as a substitute hand
become popular? Was this to dilute the notion of "sleight of hand," or a convenience basedin not having pockets?

The nice thing is that one's story line can embrace any of these "histories" and be accepted by an audience. In my experience, audiences are not impressed by "oldest trick in the world,"
but will readily accept, "In ancient times magicians used special stones that became hot from the magical energy. Some used cups or baskets to protect their hands and the eyes of the observers. I choose stones covered with cloth so that I can use both hands and cups."
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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malaki
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Funsway said: "I agree with the age possibility of magic, but the existence of matched stones does not imply "cup.""

My apologies, I was writing while at work and suddenly got slammed, forcing me to wrap it up. I meant to include the fact that in many of these sites were found three, matching ceramic bowls. This does imply the Cups and Balls, dating from the stone age. Some sites have been dated as being nearly two million years old. Our craft is far older than for what it is ever given credit.

When writing the "Timeline of Magic", I quickly realized that magical history books would only take me so far (with some of those references being contradictory), so I also looked into archeology and anthropology, which had their own views on magic's most colorful, and at times, checkered history.
Magic.J.Manuel
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Or they could be Momma bear's bowl, daddy bear's bowl and little bear's bowl.
Nothing would get done at all, if man waited so long that no one could find fault with it.
critter
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"The fool is one who doesn't know what you have just found out."
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BarryFernelius
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Thanks! Bill's collection is incredible.
"I don't teach people stories about the coyote for them to tell. I AM the coyote. They tell stories about me."

-Pop Haydn
imgic
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Not sure if historical accuracy, but most entertaining lecture on cups and balls is from Ricky Jay:

https://youtu.be/QwF1ec4Ji7Y
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Magic Mark
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I had the pleasure of watching Ricky Jay perform in the close-up room at the Magic Castle (many years ago). His recent passing is a loss for all of us.

If I lived in LA, I'd definitely be attending this tribute tonight:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/magic-intri......12776848

Mark
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