Friday 31 May 2019

The Baffler Box, Prevalence to Obscurity.

In most magic sets sold from the 1920s to the 1950s was a small metal pot with which small items could be vanished. This powerful little tin was a stalwart pocket money effect in the catalogues of practically every dealer of the early twentieth century. Despite its prevalence for more than thirty years a few factors have pushed this trick out of the dealers' lists.

This example is the earliest I have, taken from a Gamages magic set from the early 1920s. An object, usually a silk handkerchief, would be pushed into this pot, the magician's sleeves would be rolled up or adjusted and the pot would be shown empty. It requires a small amount of skill, but is very effective.

This early Davenports advert shows the box in use. Davenports produced a huge number of these pots over many years and it must have been one of their best sellers for decades. Most of their little cups look like the example below.

This Davenports box was sold in its own packaging but most were sold in magic sets such as the Maskelyne's Mysteries sets in this post. Made in many colours they almost always had two bands painted either silver or gold. Ernest Sewell's sets normally included a Baffler Box too and his were decorated the same as those manufactured by Davenports though manufactured in his workshop. Davenports also sold a plain version, though I have only seen this one.

Davenports also sold a tube from which a cigarette could vanish using the same principle. They marketed this as the Baffler Vanishing Cigarette, pointing out to purchasers the method used. One of these can be seen on the left of the last photo on this post. In the 1930s Davenports marketed a different effect which built on the main secret of the baffler box.

This tube is broadly the same as a baffler box with the bottom removed and with the gimmick a dye tube rather than a closed pot. Although it was retailed by Davenports it is possibly an imported trick.

The handling of this effect and the baffler boxes is a real pleasure to use, but has some draw backs that have assigned them to the collectors' cabinet. Not only do they depend on the magician wearing a dark jacket or blazer, but also one they're not too worried about about jabbing holes in. The necessity of a very sharp point on the gimmick perhaps explains why it is no longer considered a good item for children's magic sets.

Friday 3 May 2019

The Mystic Bottles, a Pocket Novelty.

Pocket novelties that walked the line between magic trick and puzzle were common place in catalogues through the first half of the twentieth century. The Imp Bottles were already a long established trick as discussed in this article but there were other pocket puzzles with miniature bottles such as The Mystic Bottles. This little toy appeared in the early 1930s when small magnets were not as commonly used as today.

These bottles, sold as a pair, interact with each other in a range of different ways due to their magnetic corks and a magnet in the base of one bottle. One bottle also has rounded corners to its base allowing it to fall over when stood near the other. The range of different tricks the bottles can do can be seen in this advert from a 1937 Davenports catalogue.

In 1937 these bottles were sold decorated to celebrate the coronation of George VI. The box was red, white and blue with labels featuring a version of the royal cypher affixed to the turned wood bottles. This set has a label on the inside of the box and a stamp on the instructions for James A. Sinclair and Co. Ltd., a London manufacturer and retailer of scientific equipment.

James A. Sinclair and Co. Ltd. don't appear to be the manufacturer of these bottles however. The bottles are stamped with a patent pending number, 4256/36. This patent seems to have been dropped before being fully filed however as the patent for that number is totally unrelated. The patent immediately following this number however, 4256/37, was filed and granted. This patent, filed in December 1933, was for a system to mount light pieces of scientific equipment using magnets for educational demonstrations. It doesn't seen too big a jump to assume the company who filed this patent using small magnets, W. J. George Ltd. of Birmingham, also manufactured these magnetic bottles. They were a scientific equipment manufacturer so would have had all the necessary equipment to make these and the network to distribute them with their products.

Magnetic novelties were popular during this period and it's possible W. J. George Ltd. were responsible for others on the market. Maybe they kept their name off these bottles as they were also selling more educational products and marketing "mystic" bottles may have undermined their scientific reputation.