It is probably impossible to ascertain the origin of the old optical illusion of dropping one metal cup into another and having it seemingly pass through the cup. However, the written record can perhaps give us some sense of the age of the trick. It is described and illustrated in Henri Decremps's Codicile de Jérome Sharp, 1788, p. 99.
It seems to have taken almost eighty years after Decremps for an English description of the maneuver to appear. In several issues of the nineteenth-century magazine Our Young Folks appears a series of articles titled "Lessons in Magic" by P. H. Cannon. In the Sep. 1865, Vol. 1 No. 9 issue is the continuation of a discussion of “The Inexhaustible Hat”, in which is a description of the stunt of passing one tin cup through another (p. 574), using the same method that has long been a standard in the Cups and Balls.
An additional finesse was later added to fool audience members who suspected the real method. In The Sphinx, Vol. 32 No. 5, July 1933, p. 143, Monte describes “Glassy Passy”. In it, the magician is able to place a red sticker on one cup, and a green sticker on the other one. After dropping the “red” cup into the “green” cup, the “red” cup emerges from the bottom just as it would if the effect were genuine.