Two Kinds of Classics

By Joshua Jay - Sunday, August 28, 2022


I have been asked to write a blog about “classics in magic,” since it relates, in a way, to the recent release of “Cylinder and Coins,” which is a kit that allows you to perform this classic of magic. It also comes with my personal handling of this great effect.

What I’d like to talk about regarding classics is a fairly simple, yet troubling aspect of our craft that comes down to semantics: we speak about Classics and classics interchangeably, yet the two have very little to do with each other.

Many magicians speak about the die tube, paddle tricks, and ball and vase as classics. And they’re right. Those tricks (and dozens of others) are classics in the sense that these tricks are performed by many, many magicians around the world. They are visible in the iconography of magicians, and are staples of magic shops and sets. But I wouldn’t call these tricks “classics.” I would consider them “classic sellers.”

Classics (with a capital C) are different: Cups & Balls, Snowstorm, Zombie Ball, Matrix, Ambitious Card. Some of these tricks date back to the earliest era of our craft. Others are comparatively modern; we even know the inventors (performers alive today could have met the Zombie’s inventor, Joe Karson, and I’ve met Al Schneider, creator of “Matrix”). What makes these tricks “Classics” is, perhaps, that they are frequently performed on a professional level.

These two lists aren’t mutually exclusive. There are intersection points like Linking Rings and Cups & Balls. These are tricks you can find in any shop and many magic sets, yet you also find them in the repertoires of some of the best magicians in the world.

My observation is that classic sellers are tricks that are self-contained and easy to learn. For example, one can spend a lifetime studying the Linking Rings. But one can also learn a basic routine in under an hour. The packaging is nothing more than the props themselves. A Square Circle is a classic seller: two tubes, some silks, and a square cover is all that you need and require to perform the trick. It can be learned easily and deceives the eye. But the Square Circle is hardly a professional-caliber prop.

“Cylinder and Coins” is, I think, deserving of the term “classic.” But the trick is not particularly easy to learn or do. And the method isn’t self-contained. Most of what is required is secret, and requires practice to master.

This isn’t just semantics: when we have conversations about what makes a magic trick worthy of study, there ought to be some agreement that we’re talking about Classics, and not classic sellers. Yet the two are too often used interchangeably.

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