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
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.