Earliest Rabbit From Hat -- 1836??

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 03/29/07 01:47 PM

Jesse Shiedlower is the American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and is an email acquaitance of mine. The dictionary is continually revising its entries, looking for earlier known usages of words/figures of speech, etc. He knows of my interest in magic, and recently asked for help with "rabbit from a hat" as a turn of phrase.

The gist of our correspondence:
JS> By any chance can you antedate 1872 for taking rabbits out of
JS> hats as a conjuring trick? We're working on the _rabbit_ entry
JS> now, and it occurred to us that you might have access to
JS> something on this.

BM> Are you just looking to establish that the trick itself
BM> existed before 1872? Or is there a particular turn of
BM> phrase that you are interested in?

JS> Any example of _rabbit_ in the context of being pulled out
JS> of a hat, in literal or figurative senses, would be great.
JS> The OED draft definition reads "A rabbit produced by a
JS> conjuror from a hat; hence in figurative or allusive use, with
JS> reference to an action that is fortuitous, surprising, or
JS> involves an element of deception."

BM> The best I can do quickly is the attached -- a page from a
BM> Swann Auction catalog referring to A. B. Engstrom's book
BM> "The Humorous Magician Unmasked", which seems to be the
BM> earliest known reference (within conjuring circles) to the
BM> trick. I'll ask around to see if I can get a verbatim quote
BM> or a photocopy of the page with the reference.
Does anyone know of an earlier reference than Engstrom to the trick, which has almost become a cliche for laypeople? (I've seen speculation that there is an 1820 French book that refers to the trick.)

The OED needs an exact quote to support a new entry, or an antedating of an existing entry -- does anyone have a copy of the book? Would you be willing to send me a scan/photocopy of the relevant pages?
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 03/29/07 02:03 PM

Bill,
There's some info about this over on the Cafe ( here ), with a couple of references. Based on info there, which comes from Whaley, it may have been Louis Comte in 1813.

-Jim
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/29/07 02:25 PM

I'll stick with 1836 for it being the first time in print. I paid $40 bucks for it many moons ago.
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