Approaching Coin Magic
By Terry Ford
Coin magic is often seen as a difficult branch of our art. There are no self-working tricks; you have to use sleights, concealments and palms straight away.
Unfortunately new students to coin magic often have a discouraging start, as they find that they are ‘‘caught” performing their sleights. The purpose then of this piece is to give you some tips to make your coin magic more deceptive.
The first thing to say is that in coin magic the routine is of the utmost importance. Try not to perform a single sleight instead of a routine. If you perform a completely baffling vanish, the first thing a spectator will want to see is your other hand, which in many vanishes is where the coin is concealed. This is not good. However display a coin and make it vanish and then reappear in an impossible location! This can seem like a miracle. Don’t forget that many people’s first memory of magic is seeing a coin
reproduced from behind their ear. Try it, you’ll like it.
Tied in closely with the routine is the patter story. A good story accomplishes many functions, the two most important are that it makes the effect more entertaining, the second is that it makes the effect more baffling. How does it achieve the latter you may ask? Well, by psychological misdirection. After an effect is over and the spontaneous (we hope!) astonishment subsides the first question the spectator asks
themselves is ‘how did they do that’? One way to prevent them from reconstructing what really happened is by use of patter. The most obvious way is to suggest false methods, these are of the…‘the coin travels up my arm, across my shoulders and down my other arm’…type of thing. Even more subtle is to recap on events but make the conditions sound even more impossible than they actually were, for instance
don’t mention that you put the coin into another hand, thus people will not tend to remember a false transfer. The other benefit is that if people find your routine interesting and entertaining then they will not be looking for ways to catch you out or trip you up. It is essential in coin magic to avoid the ‘Challenge’ type situation, you can only ever lose.
The other misdirection device that you should make use of is the magical gesture. Professor Hoffman said, ‘always do something to account for the magic’. The magical gesture does two important things, first it defines the moment when the magic takes place for the spectators, and secondly it provides a false explanation as referred to above. So what is a magical gesture? The best example in coin magic is waving your hand over your empty fist before revealing a coin vanish. If you have a coin classic palmed in the hand that is waving then you are also providing indirect proof that the hand is empty. Sublime! Other magical gestures involve the use of magic words, waving the magic wand, snapping your fingers, anything you want really. One word of caution try to avoid reaching into your pocket for ‘woofle dust’ to ditch things, most people will be suspicious about this move.
Probably the most used coin sleight is the vanish. The vanish is often created by means of a fake transfer. That is you appear to put the coin in your left hand but really retain it in your right hand. Unfortunately many beginners use these sleights on it’s own, we looked at the importance of using them within a routine in part one. This then leads us to look at more ways to make coin magic look more, magical!
First a little theory. If you think about it any vanish actually has two parts. There is the actual vanish (The sleight) and there is the apparent vanish, this is when the vanish is revealed to the spectators. You could think of the actual vanish as the method and the apparent vanish as the effect. This is a good way of looking at this, as one definition of misdirection says that misdirection is directing the attention away from the method and towards the effect.
So how is this achieved, well some tips were given in part one. Here we will be more specific. The first thing to think about is how natural your sleights look. By that I mean that they should mimic natural movements. Paul LePaul said that if a sleight looked like a natural movement then no further misdirection is needed. So when you perform a fake transfer it should look like you really did put the coin in the other hand.
I have two tips for helping with this. The first is to learn the retention of vision vanish. In this vanish the coin is ‘seen’ in the empty hand after the coin has been stolen back. If you try it out before a mirror you will see what I mean. Instructions for this vanish appear elsewhere on this site. The second tip is to practice the movement without the sleight, actually put the coin in the other hand. This way you build up muscle memory, and it will make your sleight look more natural. Remember also to use a magic wand, pen or anything else to help make the hand look natural.
When you have a coin concealed in your hand there are other ways to help make it look natural. Try to touch the tip of your second finger to your thumb. This puts a natural curve in your hand and helps to stop you flashing the concealed coin. Make movements with the hand, point, pull up your sleeves, scratch your nose, these are all natural movements that say ‘‘my hand is empty’. You can also make use of subtleties like the Ramsey Subtlety that apparently show the hand empty, maybe adding a little sleight of tongue remarking, ‘The hands are empty’.
One important point is that the magic happens in the mind of the spectator, they do not remember exactly what happened. If you place an idea in their mind, it will often be repeated as what happened. ‘His hands were completely empty, he showed us!’ Quite.
One last point is to vary the methods you use. Repetition can give them the opportunity to catch you out, and that would spoil the magic!