Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Beginning & Maybe The End of Rabbits From Hats

Comte
The rabbit and hat trick. Old as recorded magic history some might think. But actually not quite so old. The first recorded event of rabbits magically appearing did not in fact come from a hat, but rather from a woman giving birth to them. The woman's name was Mary Toft and she was from Surrey England. She apparently gave birth to numerous rabbits over a short period of time. News of this event caused quite an uproar and soon an investigation took place. Eventually, Mary Toft would admit the entire thing was a hoax. Too bad. I do not see a real connection to conjuring however, even though Barry & Stuart used this incident as an idea for their 'rabbit from hat' routine. There is a video of B&S doing their rabbit routine but I'm not going to post a link because it's graphic (not meant for younger eyes).

The first magician to pull a rabbit from a top hat might have been Louis Apollinaire Christian Emmanuel Comte, known as 'The Kings Conjurer'. Born June 22, 1788 in Geneva Switzerland, Comte became a popular Parisian performer. One of his more famous effects was borrowing a hat and producing various objects from it.  I have found several places that list Comte as the first to present the rabbit from top hat effect, but I don't can't seem to find where the original source information came from.

John Henry Anderson
Milbourne Christopher in his book The Illustrated History of Magic says the rabbit from hat trick originated in the 1830s, but does not give the name of the first person to present the effect. 1830 was the height of Comte's career so perhaps he was the one.

But Christopher does give a great deal of credit to John Henry Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North, for popularizing the trick. John Henry Anderson was born in 1814 in  Scotland. I had always heard that Anderson was the first to do the rabbit from top hat, but if it began in 1830, it would have been before J.H. Anderson's career started. There are numerous posters and woodcut illustrations of Anderson not only pulling a single rabbit from a hat, but numerous rabbits from a top hat.

The top hat itself seems to have originated in Europe sometime in the late 1700s. Given the size and shape of the hat it was an ideal object for a magician to borrow and make things appear from. Even into the 20th Century magicians were still using a borrowed hat for productions and even for the Misers Dream effect.
Magicians today have shifted from the top hat to other ways of producing rabbits but unfortunately, those days may be coming to an end. The long arm of the US Federal Govt has decided that magicians and rabbits need governmental supervision. They now require magicians to have a liscense to use a rabbit in their show and apparently, magicians must also provide the USDA with a detailed disaster plan for protecting the rabbit in case of dangerous weather. This news came about from magician Marty Hahne of Missouri who has been all over the news of late with his story of the USDA Rabbit Police. No offense to rabbits, but I don't even have a written disaster plan for myself! I guess this means every undocumented rabbit puller is now an outlaw. Fantastic (not)! For the record, I've never pulled/removed/extracted/picked up or lifted a rabbit out of a hat. I don't own a rabbit, so nothing to see here, move along! I have recently purchased a top hat as strange as that is for me to admit, but upon last check, it was rabbit free!

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