Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Man in the Bottle

In 1749 a newspaper advertisement announced that on the night of January 16th, at the Theatre in the Haymarket an unnamed conjurer would appear at the theatre and would perform for the following feats:
  1. He takes a common walking-cane from any of the spectators, and thereon plays the music of every instrument now in use, and likewise sings to surprising perfection. 
  2. Secondly, he presents you with a common wine bottle, which any of the spectators may first examine; this bottle is placed on a table in the middle of the stage, and he (without any equivocation) goes into it in sight of all the spectators, and sings in it; during his stay in the bottle any person may handle it, and see plainly that it does not exceed a common tavern bottle.

On the evening of Jan 16th the theatre was sold out for the show. People inside waited for a quite a while for the show to start and had begun to get restless.  The theatre management came out and announced that if for some reason the performance did not go through, everyone would get their money back. The management was aware that at this point, the supposed conjurer had not arrived for his performance and they were understandably nervous.

Haymarket Theatre Today/ photo by K.B. Thompson
A member of the audience yelled out, "For double the prices the conjuror will go into a pint size bottle!". It was at this point that the audience realized that they had been taken advantage of and began to tear the theatre apart. Draperies, chairs and furniture were thrown into the street and set ablaze.  Apparently the nights receipts were also stolen from the theatre as well so no one got their money back. Not the best night at the theatre.

The theatre were this took place still stands. Today it's called the Theatre Royal Haymarket and it is the third oldest theatre in London.

Who was the Bottle Conjurer? A number of people were accused of being the hoaxer but no one confessed. Edwin Dawes in his book The Great Illusionists says that the culprit was actually John, Second Duke of Montagu who had made a bet to test the public's gullibility. A couple online sources also mention the Second Duke of Montagu, but other books claim that no one knew the identity of the hoaxer. If the revelation of the Second Duke of Montagu as the hoaxer is to be believed, then basically a govt. official was behind the hoax!

So it's wasn't a real magic trick nor was there a real conjurer involved. Instead what you have here is a life lesson that apparently people need to be reminded of again and again.  

I live near Washington D.C. the Nations Capital.  There have been more hoaxes and lies started from this town than anywhere on the planet. In this day and age it's a good idea to remember the lesson of the Bottle Conjurer when it comes to politics, religion, advertising, fad diets and online dating. Remember what Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute". Don't be the sucker. There is your lesson for the day from the Magic Detective! :)


  1. Yes, don't get taken in by men in bottles. Or emails from Nigeria.

  2. Crap! You mean that email that said I won a million dollars is fake too? Suckered again.