Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Mouth Coil

Producing long lengths of colored ribbon or lace from the mouth is such an old trick, in 1584 Reginald Scot, in The Discoverie of Witchcraft, p. 343, called it a “stale jest”. It was used not just by conjurers, but by street peddlers of ribbons and laces. The ribbons and laces were rolled into tight, flat coils that could be secretly loaded into the mouth, and then unrolled as they were produced.

Over the centuries, ribbon and lace were replaced by paper rolls. An interesting variant, a coil of variously colored paper strips, that when uncoiled formed a tapering, spiral “barber's pole”, is briefly described by “C. H. B.” in Games of Skill, and Conjuring, 1861, p. 40. Larger versions, called “hat coils” and “tambourine coils” were also common production items by the 1800s.