This trick has been associated with China since the early 1800s, when an East Indian conjurer, Kia Khan Khruse, performed it in England, claiming it came from China. However, its provenance is still uncertain. In his De subtiltate (1550), Girolamo Cardano gave a vague description of conjurers in 1630s Italy making rings magically link. However, he does not state how many rings and whether the effect was a sudden linking of separate rings into a chain, or whether the trick featured multiple linkings. Consequently, this trick may have been simply a forefather to today’s Linking Rings.
Written explanations of the trick as we know it did not begin to appear in Western literature until the mid-1800s. An early explanation is given by J. N. Ponsin in Nouvelle magie blanche dévoilée, Vol. 2, 1854, p. 39. Two years later the trick was explained in an English work, the anonymously authored The Magicians' Own Book, 1857, p. 31 (also published as The Boy's Own Conjuring Book, 1859).
However, ninety years before Ponsin, a detailed explanation was published in Japan, in Hirase Hose’s Hôkasen. By the 1800s, Japanese magicians began calling the trick the “Chinese Rings,” but this may be only the practice of theatrical embellishment through exoticism. No early record of the trick is known to have survived in China. While the possibility cannot be ruled out that the trick may have been imported to Japan in some form from China or even from the West, no evidence of this has been discovered to date.
In the 1840s, Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser created innovations in the Linking Ring routine, although the extant records may confuse his ideas with those of his student Georg Heubeck. See Hofzinser Zauberkünste by Ottokar Fischer, 1942, translated into English by Richard Hatch as The Magic of J. N. Hofzinser, 1985, p. 136. Martin Chapender's routine in Mahatma, Vol. 7 No. 1, July 1903, p. 756, has been said by some to be the first modern routine, which influenced much of what was to come after. Among other things, it features the crash link.
Also see Linking Finger Rings