The Root of all Coin Tricks

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/19/12 10:17 AM

David Graeber's book, Debt the First Five Thousand Years, aside from being a historical resource for folks who conjure with cash, coin, specie, notes... may also serve as trove for conjuring plots.

What happens when you conflate bullae with piggy banks?
What does it mean to restore a symbolon?
At what point do symbolic items become transparent or meaningless?
Is a torn note more valuable than an untorn note?
What else might occur when the note is restored?

Even if you don't owe it to yourself...
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Postby Kent Gunn » 04/19/12 06:35 PM

Ok, got my notebook and secret decoder rings out . . .

You still lost me. I have a couple of quick questions.

1. Bullae . . . do you mean to refer to balloons or wax seals?
2. Symbolon . . . tarot reference or restoring something that's broken.

And once you do confess which definition of these archaic/obscure words you're obliquely referring to, where in the holy hell does that lead me?

Don't get me started on the sentence:

"At what point do symbolic items become transparent or meaningless." That's a rabbithole and I'm not going down it!

Did I mention I've actually read Graeber's book and I still don't know what the hell you're talking about.

I'm sending you another copy of "The Elements of Style". (this will make three) I insist you read it, really!

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Postby Michael Close » 04/19/12 10:08 PM

Jonathan should not be mocked. One day he'll collate all of his Internet posts into an ebook and market it as a sleep aid. Who'll be laughing then, huh?
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Postby CraigOusterling » 04/19/12 10:25 PM

I understood
"What happens when you conflate bullae with piggy banks?"
to mean what happens when you beat the lil f'r into giving up the goods. If you put something 'not-so-valuable' inside it and then break it to reveal riches, you have a routine (after scripting).

I'm still working on the other big words that aren't in my pocket dictionary. ;)
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/19/12 10:32 PM

Puzzling post you left there. It's late but let's at least address the usage of bullae. From pages 214/215:
...Most of these took the physical form of clay tablets, inscribed with some obligation of future payment, that were then sealed inside clay envelopes and marked with the borrower's seal. The creditor would keep the envelope as a surety, and it would be broken open on repayment. In some times or places at least, these bullae appear to have become what we would now call negotiable instruments, since the tablet inside did not simply record a promise to pay the original lender, but was designated "to the bearer"-in other words, a tablet recording a debt of five shekels of silver (at prevailing rates of interest) could circulate as the equivalent of a five-shekel promissory note-that is, as money.

IE the clay ball with tokens inside, about the size and shape of a piggy bank, was being used as money. What's different about this object and a piggy bank is that the items that represent value (tokens for sheep, grain...) are first pressed into the clay when wet and then sealed up in the clay - while piggy banks are made empty with a slot on the top so you can drop in tokens of value and may also have a cork on the bottom so you can extract the value without damaging the clay ball.

Symbolon citation from Graeber's book tomorrow.

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Postby Kent Gunn » 04/20/12 01:26 AM

I puzzled Jon Townsend.

I am chuffed!

Jon, I was trying to be good-natured and not mock.

When I mock, you can hear it. I gots no subtlety left.

I simply found your references too obscure, even with pointed research, to decode. I know you've got stuff to say/relate. I try to pay attention. Perhaps this time I'd have been better off just staying in the sensory deprivation tank a little longer before attempting a decode.

I do appreciate your answering my questions.

Oddly enough I was thrown by IE this time, until I decided you were pulling a reverse e.e. cummings. (was that obtuse enough, that I get to play too?)

Oh, it is not the book on debt I've read, sorry. I'd read Graeber's "Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value" which is apparently different.

I cannot play anymore, mumsy says, 'Playtime's over!".

G'night Jon.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/20/12 07:49 AM

Turning to page 298:
When Aristotle argued that coins are merely social conventions, the term he used was symbolon-from which our own word " symbol " is derived. Symbolon was originally the Greek word for "tally"-an object broken in half to mark a contract or agreement, or marked and broken to record a debt. So our word " symbol" traces back originally to objects broken to record debt contracts of one sort or another.

Which leads to the question of what it means to do a torn and restored trick.

From page 269 on paper money:
Tallies weren't just used for loans, but for any sort of contract which is why early paper contracts also had to be cut in half and one half kept by each party. With paper contracts, there was a definite tendency for the creditor's half to function as an IOU and thus become transferable. By 806 AD, for instance, right around the apogee of Chinese Buddhism, merchants moving tea over long distances from the far south of the country and officials transporting tax payments to the capital, all of them concerned with the dangers of carrying bullion over long distances, began to deposit their money with bankers in the capital and devised a system of promissory notes. They were called "Flying Cash," also divided in half, like tallies, and redeemable for cash in their branches in the provinces.

Does putting the corner back onto a borrowed and torn bill mean the magic (contract) is gone too?

Before the magic goes, does a torn IOU for a quarter also move the quarter when you move both parts somewhere else?
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/20/12 11:09 AM

Aristotle did a killer Han Ping Chien.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/20/12 11:24 AM

Dustin Stinett wrote:Aristotle did a killer Han Ping Chien.

That's an interesting statement, Dustin.

Were you there in person to make this report?
How about a credible reference to this historical surprise that may well put the credit for a useful coin sleight to ancient Greece as well as add some insight about the character of such a prominent philosopher?

A lost book by Aristotle on magic... that would be an impressive find.

Here's a link to some serious efforts to reconstruct some of his work on comedy: ... 0732745991
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Postby Kent Gunn » 04/20/12 01:57 PM


I thank you for fleshing out your references. On occasion, peering into your mind is . . .

It's always interesting. I believe one can think too deeply when working up magic tricks. Sometimes we tear stuff up to restore it because it's a straightforward example of magic. I still cut and restore a rope. When I bust out some clothesline, people expect me to chop it up and restore it. The audience and I are pleased with this arrangement. I've never torn corners from currency. I don't tear playing cards up or let people write on them.

I try desperately not to make the folks watching do stuff to I cannot motivate. I hope everything I do is within the context of a simple to perceive effect. If I put in verbage I found in an anthropology text it wouldn't be me.

A little mocking never really hurt anyone. It's all Greek to me.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 04/20/12 02:09 PM

I'm suggesting looking into the history of money as fodder for coin trick plots. Consider this as a short routine:

You borrow a quarter - have it marked. The marked coin becomes a slip of paper that says "I O U 25 cents". You give the volunteer half the IOU and ask them to step to one side. You also take a step to the side and touch your half the slip to their half. You turn the restored paper over and it's blank. They find their quarter somewhere nearby. IE the quarter becomes the IOU and restoring the IOU brings back the quarter. Not told, not foretold just done - illustrated in action.

Another item might be taking a coin and having it become the one of four items that is chosen by a volunteer. That one seems a cute use of a rattle box.
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Postby AJM » 04/20/12 02:33 PM

Aristotle did other stuff as well if the following is to believed: -

Immanuel Kant was a real p*ssant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.

David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
Bout the raising of the wrist.

John Stuart Mill,
of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away;
Half a crate of whiskey every day.

Aristotle, Aristotle was a b*gger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken f*rt:
"I drink, therefore I am"

Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker but a b*gger when he's p*ssed!

The Philospher's Song
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