Crocheted covered balls -- first appearance/usage?

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Postby Guest » 04/20/06 10:42 AM

I have been trying to track down the first appearance of the crocheted covered balls that are so commonly used in the cups and balls these days. So far, the best I have been able to do is The Dai Vernon Book of Magic, but I'm fairly certain that Al Wheatley was using them in his chop cups as well.

Does anyone have an earlier example?

Postby Guest » 04/20/06 12:11 PM

As far as I can tell, the balls that Bertram used in his book were crocheted. I've spent at least a couple of hours squinting at the photos in The Modern Conjurer hoping to see some detail that might indicate otherwise, hoping that I'd be able to recreate a forgotten knot that would describe the same pattern -- all for naught (sorry). I don't think they were plain cork as you might think.

If someone had the capability and time, it would be interesting if they would scan a good copy and enlarge and enhance the photos so we'd know for sure. Photos 1 and 3 on pg. 184 are the best examples.

Postby Guest » 04/20/06 01:20 PM

You might look to books in the crochet world for this info. This technique was orginally applied to buttons. Interestingly, while at Walmart I saw necklaces with crocheted balls on them in the jewelry department. Fairly expensive.

Postby Guest » 04/20/06 03:01 PM

Those photos in my edition do look like crocheted balls. I'll have to try doing some scan and enhance work.

Well, the halftone screen in the photos makes it very difficult for me to enhance them enough to tell whether these are crocheted balls or compressed cork.

Bertram says to use cork or pith. I think thatth thilly, mythelf.

Postby Guest » 04/20/06 09:55 PM

Since none of the above posts suggest dates, I don't know whethes this is germane or not.

In the late 1950's or thereabouts crocheted balls were not new but it was said that Frank Garcia's mother crochet covered such in her spae time. It was not hinted that she was the first, merely that she found it a useful way to make a little money.

I think I got my first set of crochet covered balls in 1949 or 1950 - but I will take refuge in senility if challenged as to the date. After all, that was over a half century ago.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 08:28 AM

That seems to be about the time the general magic community became aware of them. I spoke to Ray Goulet about this yesterday, and he seemed to think they came out about the time that Al Wheatley produced the Master Cup.

I may ask some of the fellows who get around to the Magic Circle HQ if they have any information about this.

Maybe Peter Lane will have access to the original photos that the half tones were done from. The screen on those half tones is just the right size to obfuscate the details of the photographs.

The Modern Conjuror was first published in 1902.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 11:08 AM

The photographs of John Scarne in Stars of Magic show him using crocheted balls.

The original series began around the mid to late 40's, and Scarne's was the first manuscript of the series.
This is the earliest photographic record of the use of crocheted balls that I can think of.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 11:29 AM

I have the cups and balls set, with wand, that Vernon used in New York at the Casino de Paree, the Madison Hotel and which appear in the Desfor photograph from the KitKat Club (1936). The balls are crocheted. Further, as hopefully you will read in the forthcoming biography, the cups and balls as a close up trick came back into vogue after Vernon started featuring it in his table work at the Casino De Paree - 1934. There may be an earlier reference or use of the crocheted covered balls, but I am not aware of it at this time. Hope this helps.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 11:34 AM

In The Modern Conjuror there is mention of the load move done from the tips of ones third and forth fingers. Was that move popular? By way of contrast I see it in the Ramsay routine and not used in the Vernon routine.

I'm Asking as when working on the former routine I recall crochet balls were not so good in my hands, and had to be smaller, so perhaps the sleights used affected the available options for the balls.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 12:42 PM

If Bertram was using cork or pith balls, they would probably be easier to manipulate than the crocheted ones, with respect to that loading move.

Thanks for all the help.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 01:09 PM

Johnathan, using the palm that Bertram and Ramsay used in their routines it is a standard load for the cup and typical of routines featuring that sized ball. I think the reason you had difficulty with that loading technique is twofold; the size of the core and the material used to cover it.
The cores that most everyone used back then was about 1/2" in diameter first of all (something never seen these days), and secondly the set you were using were probably covered in the slick-as-snot synthetics that are typical today. Most likely the older balls were crocheted with cotton or linen used as the cord, affording a much better grip than Rayon or Nylon fluff.
In fact I think that is precisely what Scarne is using in his ball routine featured in the Stars of Magic-- and maybe, just maybe Mr. Bertram as well.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 01:33 PM

That IS April Fool's Day.

Postby Guest » 04/24/06 10:23 AM

Originally posted by dben:
I have the cups and balls set, with wand, that Vernon use ... which appear in the Desfor photograph from the KitKat Club (1936). The balls are crocheted.
I suspect, that although the cups and wand are the original ones that Vernon used while performing at the KitKat Club, the crocheted balls that accompany them are probably from a later date.

One tends to use the same set of cups and the same wand for a lifetime, whereas the balls are rather frequently replaced. I'm sure that your own experience would bear this out.

I say this, because the balls shown in the 1936 Desfor photo are not crocheted.

Postby Guest » 04/24/06 10:43 AM

Brad, the balls that I have are the ones in the photograph, and they are crotched. The crotcheting - the weave - is extraordinarily tight and probably not visible in whatever photo you may be referring to because the material is very fine.

Postby Guest » 04/24/06 10:59 AM

Prehaps so.

In the Desfor photo each of the three balls is reflecting a tiny spot of light. This is of course caused by the balls surface reflecting the light of the flash bulb.

I was thinking that if the balls were covered by a crocheted material, then there would be no noticable reflection of light.

I'm no photograhpy expert however.

Postby Guest » 04/25/06 08:13 AM

If the material is silk and worn smooth from use it is possible it would appear shiny in a flash photograph.

And on replacing balls, Leo Behnke gave me a set of loosely-crocheted balls for the Balls and Net when I walked on the Princess Patricia as the first Princess Cruise magician in the mid-1960s. I still have and use the same balls for the same trick 40+ years later.

Postby Guest » 04/25/06 10:58 AM

I would like to make it clear that I don't dispute that they are indeed the same balls as in the Desfor photo.

I just thought that prehaps they may have been replaced somewhere down the line. I based this partly on my impression of the balls in the Desfor photo (from volume 3 of The Vernon Chronicles), which did not appear to me, to be crocheted.

I find it interesting that Vernon would have kept possession of the same balls for over 50 years, especially in light of THIS ARTICLE by Mike Rogers.

In 1936, was Vernon aware of the historical significance that his props would someday hold? I wouldn't have thought so. He didn't seem like the type to concern himself with such things.

Postby Guest » 04/25/06 12:10 PM

Brad - you are correct in noticing that Vernon did not anticipate his props would become collectibles. The cups, wand and balls were in a box, along with scores of other props - many different sets of balls, cups, wands, the props from the Stars of Magic shoot, the props from the Harlequin Act and over 300 of his silhouettes, in the attic of his former home in Tuckahoe. Evidently, the box had been up there for over forty years, and remained there - unnoticed - until I asked Derek Verner whether he still had any of his father's items. Nothing, he said, but a box full of junk in the attic. Needless to say, it was an extraordinary find, one that set the stage for the biography that will be out shortly.

Postby Guest » 04/25/06 12:21 PM

And thank you, David Alexander, for mentioning silk. I used to work at Herb Morrissey's store and he, in later years, used to send Vernon the wool crotcheted balls, the type now associated with such routines. That's what puzzled me orginally when I acquired the balls. The original balls, at least the ones that I have, are silk. Very fine silk thread - and very tightly woven, far tighter than the type of crotcheting that Herb's local ladies ever achieved.

As for Vernon's cavalier attitude circa 1974 as suggested in the Mike Rogers article, one must remember that, at that time, Vernon was 80 years old and can, perhaps, be forgiven for being unconcerned about the state of his props.

Postby Guest » 04/25/06 12:47 PM

You're welcome. Silk seemed the logical explanation.

Some people's attitudes change as they age. Vernon's, at 80, aren't much different from a lot of seniors I know. A close friend of mine is 90 and about to retire from teaching at USC. He's world famous as a scholar and authority in two or three fields. He still has all his faculties and is as sharp as a tack.

I asked him if he was going to write another book or two and he laughed (he's done a dozen or two) and said, "Hell, no. I'm going to walk on the beach, put my feet up and read detective stories."

A retirement with good priorities, I think.

Postby Pete Biro » 04/27/06 10:59 AM

Brad: Thanks for the Mike Rogers link. :cool:
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Postby Guest » 05/21/06 05:51 PM

I was going through some photographs I took in the Magic Circle museum last summer and found some that I took of Bertram's cups and balls. The balls are cork or pith, without crocheted covers. The surfaces of the balls are mottled.

Postby Guest » 07/02/06 06:16 PM

I have now posted photographs from the Charles Bertram display at the Magic Circle Museum in the Centre for the Magical Arts in London.

I believe these are the same cups and balls that Bertram used for the photos in The Modern Conjuror. When you see the way the ball on the left in the b&w halftoned photo looks, you will see how it could appear to be crocheted.

The photos are at

In The Modern Conjurer, there are two photographs of the "fingertip palm" which is used to introduce a ball under a cup. One shows the hand with the ball at the tips of the little and ring finger. The other shows the ball being loaded under a cup. There are subtle differences between these two grips. Figure 3 shows the ball at the fingertips. Figure 4 shows the ball being introduced under the cup. Careful examination of the photo in Figure 3 indicates to me that the hand, as well as the ball, were lying on a flat surface, because there is no way to hold onto the ball with the fingers in that position, unless either the fingers or the ball are slightly tacky. Figure 4 gives a different finger position. In this picture the ball is clearly between the tips of those fingers, which will provide a secure grip.

These are not extremely small balls. They are about 3/4 inch or slightly larger in diameter. Bertram had fairly large hands. This is apparent from a couple of the photographs in the book.

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