Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

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Dustin Stinett
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Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby Dustin Stinett » October 10th, 2008, 4:33 pm

With apologies for the delay (from both Clay and me; he sent this to me over a week ago), please to enjoy Parts III and IV of Mr. Shevlin's wonderful article titled "A Visit to the Old Bailey" that ran in Magicol:

Librarium Magicum
by Clay H. Shevlin
A Visit to the Old Bailey Part III

The testimony at the December 7, 1768 trial of John Blanch for simple grand larceny (pickpocketing a linen handkerchief) yields a common description of sleight of hand and also generates a question for historians. The victim, Herbert Elderton, states that Blanch had a very quick motion with his hand, as I have seen gentlemen exercise dexterity of hand. The question arises from Mr. Blanchs comment that Elderton could not find his handkerchief: then he said he supposed I might have swallowed it, as men do cups and balls. While it seems reasonable to suppose that Blanch is referring to a magician, is his testimony accurately published? Is Blanch giving us insight into a mid-18th century cups and balls routine and telling us that the performers sometimes swallowed the balls (and cups?) as part of the routine? Or did he actually say as men doing cups and balls , intending a more general reference to magicians? We dont have the answer to this minor puzzle, but we are told that Blanch was found guilty.

On October 24, 1770, Williams Williams [sic] stood trial for highway robbery of some coins and buttons, and like many other prisoners discussed in the Old Bailey series, Williams shewed dexterity of hand and thus apparently performed magic as part of earning a living. He also performed on the slack wire, which suggests that some magicians of the day retained their ancient ties to equilibrists and acrobats, all of whom performed under the general category of feats of activity. Even though Williams produced at least three positive character witnesses at his trial, he was convicted.

Thomas Pointers indictment for felonious assault of George Aylin gives us an interesting description of one of the ways that innocent citizens were scammed in the late 18th century. We let the victim, Aylin, tell his story:

I was going from Whitechapel to Shadwell; I was alone; it was between twelve and one in the day; when I came to the cross path leading to Spice Island; when I came there, I saw a parcel of men standing together; I had a mind to see what they were doing; and I saw the prisoner playing at cups and balls; he was laying wagers with the rest of the men that were with him; I saw some money won and lost, while I stood looking on; he asked the rest of the men that were there, if they had no more money, whether they would lay a watch against three guineas? some of the men said, no; there might be seven or eight standing about him; he perceived I had a chain hanging out of my pocket; and he asked me if I had a mind to lay my watch? I had not betted with him before; I said, no, I was but a poor man, and could not afford to lose my watch, so well as he could three guineas; I said to him, no, Sir, I shall not lay you any thing; and he answered done, as if I had betted; and he repeated it again, done, as if I had laid him; and I said, no, I do not lay any thing; when I said that, I wanted to get from them, and I could not; the rest of them shoved me close to Thomas Pointer, the prisoner; and the more I tried to get away, the more they crouded; Pointer then said to a one-eyed man that stood by, that man has lost his watch; no playing was then going on; and the other man answered to Pointer, yes, and I would have it; I went to secure my watch-chain with my hands; and I could not get my hands down lower than my stomach, by the people crowding me, and holding my two arms behind; I am sure I felt some hands upon my arms behind, but I could not see; the prisoner was not one of those; he was in front of me; immediately the prisoner, Thomas Pointer, snatched the watch out of my pocket; he said nothing to me at the time; he never laid hold of me: after my watch was gone, I could get from them very easy then.

The transcript for Pointers January 12, 1791 trial is long and contains detailed testimony occasionally contradictory from several witnesses. But from these accounts we can surmise that Pointer probably had several accomplices who crowded his table and the victim, and we learn that multiple cups were used (perhaps three in number, since there are several references to the middle cup), that they were made of tin, and that the game consisted of guessing the location of a single ball under one of the cups. We are also told that Pointer had lost some teeth in front and that he was a well set man, in a blue jacket, short light hair, a full face, and talked hoarse.

In his defense, Pointer claimed that he came across a boy playing with these cups and balls and [after losing some wagers], I said let me try if I can do it. The jury did not believe him and found him guilty as charged.

The next case of interest comes after the turn of the century. On July 1, 1812, Robert Webb was tried and convicted for the theft of a small amount of money, and we are told that when he was taken into custody by a Mr. John Hutt, I searched him, and found upon him these cups and balls.

The trial of William Adams and John Barratt on May 31, 1827, discloses another minor scheme by petty criminals and once again links such criminals with the cups and balls. We quote from the victims testimony:

WILLIAM PERKINS. On the 10th of April I was mending a fence by the road side, at South Mimms - Adams came up, and asked it is about five oclock, is it not? - I took out my watch, and said, It is. Barratt then passed by, and dropped a needle-case out of his hat - Adams took it up, and asked if it was mine - I said, No, it is that mans - he said, I wonder what he has got in it - he shook it, then opened it, and there was a needle in it - he took it out, and said, Now Ill have a little fun, and get a little beer of him - he then called to Barratt, and said Have you lost any thing? he said Not that I know of - he then said Yes, a needle-case; he called him back, and gave it to him. Barratt took it, touched his hat, and said, I am much obliged to you, and was going away - Adams said What is in it? - he said A needle; Adams said he would bet a pint of beer that there was not. Barrett said he would lay 5s. there was; they went on till they got up to a sovereign. Adams asked me to lay the sovereign - I refused, but through his persuasion I did, at last. I gave Adams my watch to hold against the sovereign - the case was opened, there was a needle and pin in it. Adams then gave him my watch

When the constable, Frederick Propstring, apprehended the accused men, he found Barratt to be in possession of some cups and balls. Both Adams and Barratt were found guilty of simple grand larceny.

Although both John Paget and James West were found not guilty of theft and pickpocketing at their April 10, 1828 trial, it is worthy to note that when Mr. West cross-examined Richard Carter, the witness replied, I never knew you charged with theft, but you have been in trouble about cups and balls. Alas, we dont know exactly what Carter meant by his trouble about cups and balls comment, but theres clearly an unsavory association being made.

That same day, Catherine Dumphy and Robert Hull stood trial on similar charges due to the losses suffered by James Thompson while he was intoxicated one evening. In essence, defendant Hull was charged because he supposedly stripped Thompson of his belongings after Thompson passed out from his drunken binge, and Dumphy was charged because some of Thompsons property was found in her house. According to Thomas Haynes, constable of Shadwell, when he went to arrest Hull, he found some cups and balls on [Hull], which [Hull] got his living by. Hull was found guilty and Dumphy was acquitted.

In the next installment of Librarium Magicum, we shall conclude our survey of these Old Bailey records, and take our leave for the moment with the following question: would a famous magician ever advertise his services in a legal journal?


Librarium Magicum
by Clay H. Shevlin
A Visit to the Old Bailey Part IV

Without further ado, we shall relieve the suspense created in the prior installment by when we asked, would a famous magician ever advertise his services in a legal journal? The answer would appear to be, yes! In the advertisements section of Proceedings of the Old Bailey, dated October 16, 1717, we read the following on page 8:

By Authority, Lately aarivd, and to be seen at the Duke of Marlboroghs Head in Fleetstreet, where the Cloth [illegible]:
A German, born without Hands, Feet, or Thighs, (that never was in the Kingdom before) who does such miraculous Actions, as none else can do with Hands and Feet: He has perform'd before most Kings, Princes, and Nobles of Foreign Countries: He makes a Pen, and writes several Hands as quick and as well as any Writing Master, and will write with any for a Wager: He draws Faces to the Life, Coats of Arms. Pictures, Flowers, &c, with a Pen very curiously: He threads a fine Needle very quick; shuffles a Pack of Cards, and deals them very swift: He plays upon the Dulcimer, as well as any Musician: He does many surprizing Things with Cups and Balls, and gives the Curious great Satisfaction thereby: He plays at Skittles several Ways very well: He charges a Musket, and discharges it at a Mark: He shaves himself very dexterously: He cuts several curious Fancies in Wood, which he puts into Bottles with each art, that none can comprehend; and many other Things too tedious to insert here.
He waits on Gentlemen and Ladies as their own Houses, as any Hour of the Day, if desir'd.
VIVAT REX

Because Matthew Buchingers name is not stated in this advertisement, we cannot be certain that it was his. The evidence, however, suggests that Buchinger did indeed place the ad. According to Sidney W. Clarke in his The Annals of Conjuring (Seattle: The Miracle Factory, 2001), certainly [Buchinger] was performing at the Duke of Marlboroughs Head in 1716 and 1717. Clarke does not provide his source for this statement, but it is likely the same primary source noted by Dr. Edwin A. Dawes in The Great Illusionists (Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books Inc., 1979). Dr. Dawes cites E. J. Woods Giants and Dwarfs (London: J. Bentley, 1868) as verification that Buchinger was performing in London around the time that the advertisement appeared in the Proceedings, and reproduces the text of a hand-written bill, dated 1716/1717, which resides in the British Museum as part of the Harleian manuscripts collection. While the date of this bill provides good evidence that Buchinger was in London in 1717, perhaps more compelling is the fact that its text is nearly identical to the text of the 1717 advertisement in the Proceedings. While we cannot be sure, it seems very likely that Matthew Buchinger placed this advertisement in the Proceedings. In any case, it is clear enough that someone with conjuring skills elected to advertise his entertainment services in the pages of the Proceedings.

A glance through some of the advertisements placed in the Proceedings yields several other items of interest. On the very same page as Buchingers advertisement is Christopher Pinchbecks most detailed description of the exhibition of his Astronomical and Musical Clock:

This is to acquaint the Curious,

That there is to be seen at the Sign of the George, over against the King on [illegible] at Stocks-Market, near the Royal Exchange, the most wonderful Piece of Art in Europe; being an

Astronomical

And

Musical CLOCK,

Far exceeding the Original, and valu'd at 1000 Guineas.
The chief Performances of this most Noble and Famous Machine, are as follow, viz.
At the end of every three Hours, or at pleasure, it plays variety of [illegible], Minuets, Marches, Country Dances, and Opera Tunes, on the Organ, Flute, and Flageolet, single or in Consort, with such regular Shakes and proper Graces, that its Performance is infinitely beyond what can be imagin'd.
But what most agreeably surprizes all that hear it, is, the sweet Harmony that follows from an Avery of Birds, which is imitated to such wonderful Perfection, that it's not to be distinguish'd from Nature itself.
It shows the [illegible] Number, Space, the Cicle of the Sun, and Dominical Letter, for ever, both Old and New Style, by Indexes or Hands; the one makes its Revolution once in [illegible] Years, the [illegible] 26 Years.
Likewise it sheweth the Diurnal and Apogeal Motion of the Sun, with the exact Time of his Rising and Setting, the Length of the Day and Night at all Times, also his Meridian Altitude, the Increase, Decrease, Full and Change of the Moon, with its Southing; Likewise Eighteen of the most noted Fixed Stars, with their Time of coming on the Meridian.
Also it shews the Time of High-Water at thirty several Sea-ports and the Aspects of the [illegible] great [illegible]; and several other Curiosities too tedious to mention.
To be seen from Nine in the Morning to Nine at Night, without [illegible] of Time. The Prices are 2s. 1s. and 6d. the lowest. Vivat Rex

Note: This Famous C L O C K was never shown before, and was made by Christopher Pischbeck living at Smithfield Bars, that made the [illegible] which was shown this time [illegible], and was [illegible] by a Noble Peer of this Realm.

Pinchbeck advertised his Astronomical and Musical Clock in the Proceedings on at least three other occasions, although in a less detailed fashion. His November 5, 1716 and January 11, 1717 advertisements noted that his clock could be viewed at the first House on the Left-hand in Charles Court in the Strand near Hungerford-Market, and by the time his February 27, 1718 notice was published, the exhibition was located at the Grocers, next Door to the Duke of Mgh's Head in FleetStreet.

Next to Pinchbecks February 27, 1718 ad is an advertisement for a fire eater, which reads as follows:

This is to acquaint the Curious,
There is to seen at the Grocers, next Door to the Duke of Marlboroughs Head in Fleetstreet, a new and
Wonderful Fire-Eater:
Who Eats such vast quantities of Combustible Matters, that he astonisheth all Mankind that ever beheld him: His Fellow is not in the World. In short, he eats Fire and Brimstone like Sa Salamander, and swallows Flint-stones like an Ostrich: With divers other great Curiosities which must be reserv'd to his Quarto Bills. Prices, 2s. 6d. 1s 6d. and 1s.

We note that the performance of this fire-eating act was held at the same location as the exhibition of Pinchbecks clock, but of particular interest is the mention of the fire eaters Quarto Bills, which of course prompts us to wonder if any of those bills have survived!

Perhaps the two most interesting advertisements yet discovered in the Proceedings, however, relate to the Moving Skeleton, with the dates November 5, 1716 and January 11, 1717. Like the fire-eating act, the Moving Skeleton was also exhibited at the same location as Pinchbecks clock. The Moving Skeleton ads are nearly identical, and here we reproduce the text of the earlier one, dated November 5, 1716:

To all Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, who are Lovers of Curiosities.

At the First House on the Left-Hand, in Charles-Court, near Hungerford-Market, in the Strand, is to be seen the Moving Skeleton; Or, the Skeleton of a Man, which performs such strange and wonderful Actions, that none can Credit, but those who have already seen it, to whom it has given a general Satisfaction. And that it may be less surprising to the Spectators, I have here inserted its several Performances, which are as follow, (Viz) 1. At the knocking at the Case in which the Skeleton[i] stands, the Door immediately flies open. 2. The Curtain which hangs before it gently draws up out of sight, which presents to your View, a Humane [i]Skeleton, with an Hour Glass in one Hand, and a Dart in the other. 3. He first raises that Hand with the Hour-Glass, which has a few Sands to run, and when those are spent. 4. He raises the other Hand with the Dart, and makes Three Offers with it, as if striking at a Person. 5. He then opens his Mouth and Groans 3 times most surprisingly. 6. He then again with his Jaw, strikes the Hour past on a Bell. 7. He lets down his Hand with the Hour-Glass. 8. He lets down his Hand with the Dart. 9. A Pipe of Tobacco being put in his Mouth, he lights it himself. 10. He blows the Candle out, and smoaks his Pipe as Naturally as any living Person can do, till being gently mov'd with a Stick: upon which, 11. He immediately opens his Jaw for the Pipe to be taken from him. 12. The Curtain then falls down into its Place and all is over. V I V A T R E X.

Note. Persons with Child, Children, or others, whose Courage cannot be depended on, are desir'd not to see it, lest is should surprize them to their Prejudice.

Prior to the discovery of these advertisements, we were unaware of the Moving Skeleton, and while more thorough research needs to be done, a review of the tables of contents and indices of the usual historical works (i.e., Evans, Houdini, Clarke, Christopher, Dawes, Price and Jay) suggests that the Moving Skeleton has not been a topic of discussion. Given the dubious nature of advertising, we are of course compelled to question the accuracy of the description. Yet some of the Moving Skeletons strange and wonderful actions do seem to have mysterious and magical qualities, and the warning to the faint of heart reinforces that impression. What animates the Skeleton? How does the Skeleton make the groaning sound? How does the Skeleton blow out the candle and smoke the tobacco? Could the Moving Skeleton be a marionette? Or perhaps an automaton of sorts? And since the proprietors name is not given in either advertisement, perhaps it is not a coincidence that the Skeleton was exhibited in the same room as Pinchbecks Astronomical and Musical Clock. Maybe the Skeleton was Pinchbecks creation, but he did not want to risk his mainstream reputation by being associated with the exhibition of such a menacingly occult device.

It has been great fun rummaging through some of the Old Baileys records, and the results of these explorations suggest that there are still many fertile hunting grounds waiting for conjuring historians. Many thanks to Bill Kalush for his help with Fortunatus Wishing Cap, and to David Avadon for his insightful comments regarding the cups and balls and thimble-rigging.

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Dustin Stinett
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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby Dustin Stinett » October 10th, 2008, 5:41 pm

Its been so long that it has been requested that I post quick links to the first two parts. As the boss likes to say, the Genii grants all wishes (but in my case, within reasonable limitations):

Part I

http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubb ... ber=110317

Part II

http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubb ... ber=108561

Enjoy!

Dustin

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magicam
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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby magicam » January 28th, 2009, 9:38 pm

Well I can see this article went over big! :D

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby Richard Kaufman » January 28th, 2009, 10:38 pm

Welcome back, Clay.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

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magicam
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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby magicam » January 29th, 2009, 4:18 pm

Thanks, it's nice to be back! Thank you, Dustin, for posting the columns during the columnist's sabbatical. :cool:

Is anyone still reading these columns? :D

Bill Mullins
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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby Bill Mullins » January 29th, 2009, 5:15 pm

Yes, Clay, Welcome Back!!

And yes, we do read the columns.

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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby castawaydave » January 30th, 2009, 4:25 am

Indeed, thank you--very interesting.

"... after my watch was gone, I could get from them very easy then." Classic.

Matthew Buchinger was mind-boggling BEFORE reading the above. Each new thing one learns about him FURTHER boggles the mind; an endlessly fascinating character.

--And what must the atmosphere have been like, at that first house on the Left-hand in Charles Court, almost 300 years ago? It is fun to think about...

Thanks again, :^D

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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby Frank Dudgeon » January 30th, 2009, 7:25 am

Mr. Shevlin,

Your columns, the result of excellent research, are indeed appreciated. One of a number of great reasons to receive Magicol, and to appreciate the resource that is the Genii Forum.

My thanks.

Frank Dudgeon

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magicam
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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby magicam » January 31st, 2009, 7:53 am

Wasn't fishing for compliments, just really wanted to know if this stuff is still worth posting. But many thanks for the kind words, gents. Coming up: a checklist of the English language printings of Robert-Houdin's autobiography from my library.

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Re: Librarium Magicum: A Visit to the Old Bailey – Parts III & IV

Postby Joe Pecore » January 31st, 2009, 8:43 am

I read them too. Please keep them coming!
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