Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Coin Boxes

Perhaps the earliest coin box on record—with the exception of the Rattle Box, which was used to vanish not just coins but also finger rings and other small objects—was an elaborately gimmicked, round, lidded metal box conceived to vanish a stack of coins placed into it. The box consisted of a bottomless ring, a knobbed lid and two removable bottoms. One bottom fit loosely, the other wedged tightly. The lid concealed a shallow insert, containing a single coin. This insert, when released by the lid onto the box, sat on top and made the box look like it was full of coins. The lid could also pick up this insert to reveal the box empty. This coin box is known to have been used by J. N. Hofzinser, almost certainly prior to 1850. It is uncertain if the box was his invention or older. As much of the working as is known is described by Ottokar Fischer in Hofzinsers Zauberkünste, 1942, p. 41. (Also see Richard Hatch's English translation, The Magic of Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser, 1985, p. 53.)

Another early coin box that performed the same task in a far less complicated way was the lidless German Coin Box, which was described under the title of “Der Changier-Cylinder” in the May 1896 issue of Der Zauberspiegel, Vol. 1 No. 9, p. 138. The box has a shallow recess in the bottom, into which a coin neatly fits. When the box is secretly turned bottom up, the coin in the recess makes the box appear full of coins. The anonymous article (probably written by Friedrich W. Conradi-Horster, the publisher) in Der Zauerspiegel gives no indication of the origin of the box. It is probably some years older than than 1896, as by 1913 it was being referred to as “a very old principle”.

Sometime after the lidded Okito box became popular (see below), someone added a lid to the German Coin Box. This became known as the Boston Box. Attributions to George Boston and Dr. Arnold Boston are erroneous.

In 1902, Ellis Stanyon came out with a metal coin box made for vanishing a single coin and resembling a Rattle Box in effect. When the lid was placed on the box, the box was shaken and the coin heard inside. Then the rattling stopped, signaling the vanish of the coin. The box was made so that the bottom could be inverted, like the German and Okito Boxes, and it had just enough space to permit the coin to rattle, until pressure was applied to the lid. Stanyon described this on p. 70 of Magic, Vol. 5 No. 9, June 1905.

In 1907, Stanyon advertised another coin box, this of boxwood. The base was fitted with an inner shell that did have a bottom. This shell could receive a stack of coins and be lifted from the box base by the lid, and returned, to vanish and reproduce the coins. The idea is reminiscent of the old box used by Hofzinser.

In the April 1910 issue of Magic (Vol. 10 No. 7, p. 52), Stanyon described “The New Brass Cap and Vanishing Coin”, a lidded box with a small hole drilled through it. A coin was made to vanish through the use of a double-faced coin, one side made of brass to match the box bottom. The coin feke also had a small hole drilled through it. The hole feature appealed to magicians and was later added to Okito Boxes for some years.

The Okito coin box was invented by Theodore Bamberg sometime before 1914. The story goes that he conceived the idea while playing with a wooden pill box. Mentions and advertisements for the box began appearing in 1914. The first published description appeared under the title of “A Novel Coin Box” in The Magic Wand, Vol. 5 No. 2, Oct. 1914, p. 30, where it is introduced as “This little novelty (which has somewhat recently been placed upon the market)”, without attribution. This was remedied by Bruce Hurling in the next issue, in a contribution titled “Coin Box and Handkerchief” (The Magic Wand, Vol. 5 No. 3, Nov. 1914, p. 40). There Hurling identifies the box as “The Bamberg coin box”. Munro's of London marketed the prop under the names of “The Hindu Box and Flying Coin” and “The Hindoo Box”.

A number of coin boxes have since been devised, most of which recycle and vary the above ideas, with occasional innovative touches.

Also see: Slot Coin Box