The gist of our correspondence:
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.)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.
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?