Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Phantom Tube, Ghost Tube, Organ Pipes and Genii Tube

Precursors can be found in a flower-production tube invented by Robertson Keene and described in Goldston's 1907 Magician Annual, p. 47. Keene's tube was corrugated on the outside, which formed D-shaped compartments inside, large enough to hide dart-tipped feather bouquets. Plugs in one end of these compartments allowed the tube to be displayed empty. In 1908 Edmund Younger (Li Chung Soo) invented the Sen Yen Barrel Mystery, which was an improvement on Kellar's Growth of Flowers. Younger's idea was to install a “barrel”-shaped insert inside the flower cone, to conceal the load. The principle, on a larger scale, was that of the Ghost Tube (aka Phantom Tube), but Younger claimed his Barrel Mystery was conceived several years before the invention of the Ghost Tube. (See The World's Fair, Sept. 2 1939, bottom of fourth column of “About Magicians” by B. W.) Chung Ling Soo was also known to use a combination of the Organ Pipes and double-loading ghost principle in a flower production. This apparatus is thought to have originated in Germany.

Ernest Noakes published another variant in his Magical Originalities (1914, though the invention of the trick is claimed for 1908). And before this appeared a birdcage production from a cylinder in Goldston's Tricks and Illusions (1908, p. 55), which tube was closed at one end. For an even earlier version, using liquids, see Bland's 1890 version of the “Pyramids of Egypt” in More Magic, p. 375.)

The most common form of The Organ Pipes (for which two inventors have been proposed: an Austro-Italian, Antonio Molini, and a New Yorker, A. de Kerbec) used six tubes, as described in W. H. J. Shaw's Magic Up to Date, 1896, p. 4. In the March 1912 issue of The Magic Wand (Vol. 2 No. 19, p. 301) appeared “Charmed Organ Pipes (Improvement)”. This idea was a contest entry made by Curtess Dressen of Victoria, Australia. A set of three tubes was used, but the Organ Pipes method of secretly shifting the load was abandoned for that of the Ghost Tube. The conical inner wall was centralized in each tube, and the Phantom Tube had arrived – as a triplet.

In April 1919, Jules Danby (Daniel J. Brewer) contributed “The Silver Tube Illusion” to The Magic Wand, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 25. This was virtually the same as Dressen's tubes, the difference being that Danby used a single tube, and the conical inner wall was fixed to one side, rather than centered. By this article, he would in 1939 claim to have invented the Ghost or Phantom Tube, apparently being unaware of Dressen's earlier publication of the idea. (See The World's Fair, August 19, 1939, right-hand column of the “About Magicians” page by B. W.)

When the Norton-Bretma Company manufactured the tube, c. 1920, they centered the position of the gimmick, as Dressen had had it, and this became the standard construction. Stanley Norton of that company, inspired by Devant's “Diogenes” illusion, also came up with the idea of capping the ends of the tube and casting finger shadows (a ghost at work) through the paper caps before breaking one and making the production. Because of the shadow play, this became best known as the Ghost Tube, but was alternatively called the Phantomo Tube, from which name Phantom Tube was probably derived. Shortly after releasing the Ghost Tube, Norton-Bretma marketed the “Ghost” Drum Head Tube, combining the principles of the Ghost Tube and the old Drumhead Tube to produce a double load. The Genii tube marketed in 1933, first probably by Al Baker and Martin Sunshine's Broadway Magic Shop, was a still later variant, originally made from a rectangular tube, the two sides of which hinged open to display the inside. A circular version followed.


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