Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Animated Matchbox / Acrobatic Matchbox

An early, perhaps the first, animated matchbox trick, in which a prone matchbox is made to rise to an upright position on the hand, was described in Mahatma, Vol. 7 No. 10, Apr. 1904, p. 144. Titled “The Mesmerized Match Box”, the box was made not only to rise, but to answer questions by its movement. The method was to become a classic one: a pinch of flesh caught between the drawer and sleeve of the closed matchbox. No attribution is given.

Two years later, Will Goldston wrote that Ormonde Penstone had demonstrated a rising matchbox in his office. Goldston credited Penstone with its invention. See Goldston's Magician Monthly, Vol. 2 No. 6, May 1906, p. 69. While Goldston does not explain Penstone's method here, he eventually did give it in full in Exclusive Magical Secrets, 1912, p. 39, using the same name that appeared on the earlier trick in Mahatma: “The Mesmerized Match Box.” Goldston also gives Dr. Owen Bowen as Penstone's collaborator on the trick. The method was a concealed line that ran down the sleeve to the matchbox in the hand.

Peter Warlock wrote in Abracadabra magazine, Vol. 65 No. 1685, 13th May 1978, p. 589, that, “I shall always associate Owen Bowen with one trick, a trick that he, in co-operation with Ormond Penstone originated. A fine miniature magical feat that is almost a classic, full credit is given by Goldston to these two magicians in. It is a trick used by so many in its original form, the 'Rising and Falling Matchbox.'”

In 1927, Goldston published a similar effect by G. W. Hunter Further Exclusive Magical Secrets, p. 48: “The Magnetic Match-box”. Hunter made a very clever, yet simple, modification of the threading method that made it possible for the matchbox not only to rise on the hand, but for its drawer to slide open. However, for this gain, Hunter had to make a sacrifice: The matchbox could not be borrowed or examined afterward. This drawback was solved by someone whose name seems to have gone unrecorded. The solution is described by Martin Gardner in Hugard's Magic Monthly, Vol. 12 No. 7, Dec. 1954, p. 227. Also see Eugene Burger's The Performance of Close-up Magic, 1987, p. 70, for refinements of the idea.

Another clever, but less satisfactory, solution was described by Jean Hugard in his notebooks. See Hugard's Magic Monthly, Vol. 18 No. 1, June 1960, p. 4: “Rise and Fall”.

Amedeo Vacca is often miscredited with the invention of the “Acrobatic Matchbox”, due to his elaboration to the movements of the box. However, his threading method was identical to Hunter's. "Amadeo's [sic] Match Box Routine" was marketed in the early 1960s by Louis Tannen. Also see Amedeo's Continental Magic, 1974, p. 47, by George Schindler and Frank Garcia.