Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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This secret pocket in the performer's coat, used mainly for vanishing items, has long been believed to have been adapted from a pocket used by poachers. British magician Harold Comden has been credited with this adaptation in 1919, which he marketed in the form of a deck vanish, and established the name “Topit”; see Stanyon's Magic, Vol. 15 No. 6, Mar. 1920, p. 43. However, Bills Mullins discovered the following description of the device in The Cincinnati Inquirer, Aug. 7, 1880 (reprinted from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat). The reporter was taught it by a magician named Robert Nickle. No indication is given that Nickle was or claimed to be the inventor of the idea.

“Another and a harder trick, and one that it would take considerable space to explain so as to be fully understood, was done with a coin, a cork ball and an egg, the three articles being 'palmed' in turn, being mysteriously interchanged, and finally disappear altogether. The final disappearance of the article requires a trick-coat with low inside pockets in to which to throw the articles. The full meaning of every motion, every step taken, every turn of the head and of the body, the rise of the wand, the absolute necessity of 'palming' articles properly were here brought out, and although the young men could progress only a short distance in the difficult feat, they went far enough to make them familiar with the theory, and to perfect themselves after a little practice.

“THE MAGICIAN'S SUIT. Mr Nickle wears his full stage suit in giving instructions. The coat, which is swallow-tailed, has six large inside pockets, four in the breast and one at each side of the tail; also two outside tail pockets. The vest is of the ordinary pattern, but the inside pockets are large, extending the full width of the cloth fronts and being very high at the back and low at the front. Any article thrown in the bosom would not miss one of these pockets, and very large objects can easily be secreted in them.”

The large pocket model of the Topit, with a slit through the jacket lining to allow retrieval from the side pocket, was invented by Bobby Baxter; see Genii, Vol. 60 No. 11, Sept. 1997, p. 60.