'What is your opinion on using Dollar coins in the UK? As a beginner to coin magic, I read that it may be more natural to use UK coins, but in terms of learning the sleights, the UK coins are small and troublesome. Just wondered what your feelings were?'
Here's a quick lowdown on the current UK coins magicians can use:
Good and Bad UK Coins:
5p and 1p : Very small but many of the 1p coins have steel content, so they work with magnets. These small coins are perfect for loading on people, more like markers and 'chips'. For coin sleights, a larger coin is usually needed.
2p coin : Excellent practice coin. Still small, and not many gimmicks are produced for it as it's steel content makes it both expensive and hard to gimmick
10p coin : A good silver contrast to the 2p coin but the rounded worn edge and smaller size make it extremely limited for manipulation.
50p coin : Great coin for sleight of hand. The shape pretty much rules out using an expanded shell. Getting a coin box that will work for 50p coins can also be a challenge. Because it's a decent size, the coin is often gimmicked for UK versions of many tricks designed for the half dollar.
£2 coin: A very popular choice. Limited for multiple palm work and the bi metal design stop £2 coins being a popular coin for gimmicks. Once you get used to the thickness, this is probably the best coin to use for professional performances.
£1 coin : pretty pointless. OK for some coin gimmicks, but not for sleight of hand.
I'm going to suggest to you the BEST coins to use for learning coin magic. I will then tell you about the best coins to use for professional performance. Before I do that, I should tell you about the process I went through to come to that choice:
When I first began learning coin magic, I picked up a copy of Bobo's Modern Coin Magic, 5 half dollar coins and 5 old english pennies. The pennies are pretty much the same size as the half dollars, but copper rather than silver, so they make a nice contrast for colour changes. I chose those coins because that's what everyone seemed to be using. They appeared to be the 'standard' for coin magicians.
Happy in my coin magic Bubble.
I worked with those coins for a few years and didn't consider using any other coins. I thought that those coins were THE coins that every coin magician should use. This attitude was reinforced as I watched magic videos, specifically the work of David Roth. In retrospect, I think that was probably not a bad move. Choosing one type of coin simplified my practice, and the development of hand dexterity as I practiced.
At that time, almost all the coin gimmicks were produced for half dollar coins, so I was able to pick up a range of coin boxes and gimmicked coins that all fit in together. The only real exception to this was a few manufactures such as Eddie Gibson that made UK coin tricks. These tended to be stand-alone tricks like coin unique and cig thru coin tricks. They were nice, but tended to use a £1 coin, which is pretty much useless for most coin manipulation.
The joy of a UK 2p coin.
I once visited Gary Jones, when he owned a small magic shop in Trago Mills, Devon. He showed me his performance of David Roths 'hanging coins' routine, with 2p coins, and I liked it very much. Partly due to Garys excellent performance, but also, it was the fist time I saw coin magic performed with small coins, in a way that didn't lack impact. I started playing with the 2p coin in my practice sessions after that. Then I had the good luck to stumble on a 2p coin expanded shell. Suddenly, I was able to work on my coins across routines with a standard coin. 2p coins have a well defined edge which makes them a joy to palm. They are rather small, but that makes them nice and easy to manipulate.
I still preferred the US coins though as the size was more impressive.
Larger coins look harder to use, but in reality, the size doesn't matter as much as the edge definition.
I found myself practicing with UK 2p coins but performing professionally with my familiar US and old English coins.
The £2 coin was born.
This was a breakthrough for me. Finally, a coin was being minted that was of a decent size for coin work. The thickness was a real issue though as multiple coin palms become very limited. The Bi-metal design has limited the range of coin gimmicks that could be made, and to this day, most of the £2 coin shells and gimmicks tend to be terrible. The coin was great to use, and I switched to it, for just about all my coin magic tricks.
Dazzled by silver.
Then back in the late 1990's I decided to treat myself and have a custom set of US Morgan Silver Dollar coins remilled for me. They were 100 years old, so the surfaces of the coins were worn, and smooth (That makes them quiet as they slide across each other.) The edges were milled again, so they had a good grip. I fell in love with these coins the first moment I played with them. Honestly, I know it's geeky, but using large solid silver coins gives you an awesome feeling. They feel smooth, and I can only describe the feeling as 'chocolaty' to use. The difference in the way they handle is the same experience as eating a square of dairy milk and then trying a square of galaxy chocolate. Does that make sense?
Silver dollars are large, look stunning, are fascinating for spectators to examine. The coins can have a story woven into them, and the sound of them 'talking' together in your hand is lovely.
They aren't normal coins!
The way I see it, there really isn't anything 'normal' about a magician. Why should I limit myself to only performing magic with everyday objects? Nothing wrong with doing so, but that would be a theme to your magic and your persona. I don't use cheap 'waddingtons' bridge size playing cards. I don't use a mug instead of a chop cup, washing line instead of white stage rope, and my sponge balls.. well, they look very odd indeed!
It may be different for me as I'm performing professionally as opposed to doing tricks for my friends socially, but I know I'm not alone, in finding that spectators have no problem with unusual coins. After all, you start off my letting them play with the coins. Something that would be quite odd to do, if they were normal UK coins.
If you use unusual coins, make them a story. There are tonnes of ways you can build in an introduction for the coins:
'Would you like to see something from a LONG time ago?'
'Look at these coins, That ones been traveling since 1908 to be here today, that's quite a journey…'
'I'm going to show you an old fairground game, used for years, to SWINDLE people..'
'Look closely at these coins, They have changed hands so often, that they now do it all by themselves…'
'Have you ever wondered why we REALLY refused to join the Euro?'
'These US Dollars are becoming harder and harder to find in the States, and for good reason, let me show you why they are disappearing….'
Which coins are best for magicians?
It's very much a personal choice. At The Merchant of Magic, we start personal tuition students off with UK 2p coins. The 2p coin is very easy to manipulate and don't put people off learning because of their size. There aren't that many good gimmicks in 2p versions, but that doesn't matter, when it comes to learning the core techniques in coin magic. You really only need a few coins and an expanded shell.
If you want to use coins that look normal, the £2 coin is, in my opinion, the best coin to use professionally. It's large enough to show the action and very visible.
If you don't care about ensuring that the coins you use are ordinary every day objects, I would recommend playing with Old English pennies pressed in 1967. They can be polished or dull, are slim, and the edge makes them extremely easy to use. Contract this with a US Half Dollar for a silver coin of almost the same size.
If you want a very large coin, that will grab spectators attention, go for US silver dollars. They are easier to use than they appear. Silver dollars look and sound stunning.